Police-Courts: Get Your Shovels Ready

Council OKs municipal center, tables Farmers Market renovations

Ann Arbor City Council (Feb. 2, 2009): “This is one of the most significant things we’ll do this year,” councilmember Leigh Greden said. But he wasn’t talking about the final budgetary approval of construction on the municipal center project (also known as the police-courts facility), which will likely see shovels hitting the ground in two months. Greden was talking about the commercial recycling program, which was passed on its first reading Monday – there’ll be a public hearing and second reading before it receives its final vote. In other business, council tabled indefinitely the resolution authorizing the budget for renovation of the Farmers Market, passed a raft of resolutions connected with the city airport renovation project, and gave approval to a planned project with smaller setbacks than current code allows.

Municipal Facility: Public Commentary

The majority of speakers signed up for public commentary at the start of the meeting were there to address the question of the police-courts facility. Council was considering the construction manager agreement for $35,874,422, representing the final step to approving construction on the facility, which will house the 15th District Court and the Ann Arbor Police Department.

Stewart Nelson: Nelson characterized the building as large and unnecessary. He acknowledged that the police department needs renovation,  so confined his remarks to the courts component of the project and the  $26 million in interest payments the project would require.  He said that the project meant that the city and county would duplicate services like security for the courts, and suggested that the city revisit the county’s offer to re-engineer  government in a collaborative way. Nelson was disappointed that the cost reductions sought in the new building were driving consideration of the possibility that the LEED Gold standard wouldn’t be met.

Harvey Kaplan: Kaplan said he was against moving forward with the police-courts building, citing sinking employment and decreasing general fund revenues. It was not the time to rush ahead with a new police-courts building, he said. Kaplan said that double-digit deficits in the years to come will  lead to cutbacks in services and layoffs in personnel. The current recession was not merely a bump in the road, he said, but rather had no end in sight. He said  we need public discussion on the state of our city economy and that it was a  time for dialogue between citizens and our government.

Virginia Simon: Simon said we can’t afford a project this big at this time, saying that a struggling economy had placed a burden on our citizens, and that the new building will place an additional burden. She characterized it as a luxury we really don’t need,  and that we really can’t afford.  She acknowledged that the current situation is not ideal, but said that it is working. If  it’s a good project, she said, and thoroughly thought out, it’ll go forward, eventually. But now is not the right time, she concluded.

Patricia Lesko: Lesko said that she grew up in Dearborn, where pools and other recreational facilities were free. But Ann Arbor was a municipality that didn’t even plow the snow downtown, she said, citing an Ann Arbor News editorial on the topic. She then quoted extensively from  the campaign literature of current councilmembers that reflected their commitment to basic services. A sampling here. Carsten Hohnke: “We have to get the basics right.” Tony Derezinski: “The fundamental responsibility of the city is municipal services.” Sandi Smith: “The key issue is maintaining the quality of services.” Christopher Taylor: “If you want a council representative who will think long term, vote Taylor. It’s simple – we must live within our means, we cannot spend what we do not have.”

Karen Sidney: Sidney said that the public had heard that the building would make government more efficient,  but she conveyed skepticism at the claim by asking if the city does a better job of plowing streets after construction of the new Wheeler Service Center. Sidney said that the city does not have the down payment on the building in hand, because the $3 million from the sale of the First & Washington parcel has not been transacted. She said that the repayment schedule required by the bonds does not equal the amount the city currently spends on leases. Based on her analysis, an additional $1.1 million  is needed, and when factoring in utilities, the shortfall rises to  $1.5 million. That would mean service reductions, said Sidney. She warned that if council thought a 5% budget reduction is hard right now, that in  2012 and 2013, the city’s projections show a 10% reduction, or 15% if a recommended additional pension fund contribution is made. At that point, if a new building is sitting on the lot, she wondered if the public would think that council had made a wise choice.

John Floyd: Floyd began his remarks by citing a headline in The Onion recently: “Black Man Given Worst Job in America.” He used that to segue to an Ann Arbor News report on collaboration and regionalism in government: “Thank you!” he said. He allowed that it could be that court functions aren’t amenable to consolidation, but that there must be a strong case to make, and asked council to  please make it. “No doubt you believe you’ve made the case, and God in heaven might agree with you,” Floyd said, but several thousand Ann Arbor voters [who signed the Ask Voters First petition] didn’t think they’d made the case. He asked council to sell the case to the public before proceeding.

Municipal Facility: Council Deliberations

Councilmember Marcia Higgins led off council discussion by expressing a desire that the expenditure of contingency funds in the project budget be brought back to the building committee before being spent, and asked city administrator Roger Fraser if council needed to pass a resolution or could just “give direction.” Fraser said he’d interpreted her remarks as such direction. In similar fashion, Higgins asked that the community meeting room option not be further pursued, with Fraser confirming that it was “not a part of the mix.”

Much of council’s deliberations were questions of staff meant to elicit information that was likely not new to councilmembers. Councilmember Stephen Rapundalo asked the city’s construction manager on the project, Bill Wheeler, about pricing for construction and labor. Wheeler said that costs are low now, but can be expected to go up when the federal stimulus package starts to generate many other projects and the labor market tightens up.

Rapundalo asked what would happen to the bonds if they elected not to build, given that they’d already been floated. Paul Stauder, the city’s bond advisor, said the bonds had been been issued at 4.77% and would be called in 2018. To defease them would cost something like $6 million, Stauder said. Defeasement would entail taking the $26 million from the bond issuance and putting the amount in interest-bearing Treasury securities, which currently yield between 2 and 3% – less than the 4.77% payments the city would need to make on the bonds. The difference between 4.77% and the lower percentage means, said Stauder to council, “you’d be under water,” to the tune of around $6 million.

At the conclusion of the meeting during public commentary, the suggestion was made to simply “buy back the bonds.” Reached by phone the day after the meeting, Stauder clarified that while this was technically a possibility that could be pursued, its outcome was unknown. The bonds are not callable until 2018, which means that they could almost certainly not be bought back from the bond holders at face value – the people who bought the bonds would expect a premium. So while the city could make an offer to buy back the bonds from those who purchased them, there is no way to force a bondholder to surrender their bonds at any price. If the city were to tender such an offer, some bond holders might accept while others might not, in which case the city could, as one option, choose to buy back those bonds from holders willing to sell, and defease the rest.

Rapundalo elicited from Crawford some discussion of the cost savings through collaboration with the county on a combined data center. Crawford said that the county would be paying around $35,000 a year in rent, and that the county’s IT services would be moved into the Larcom Building by the end of this month, then eventually re-locating to new police-courts building.

From city administrator Roger Fraser, Rapundalo elicited the lack of any communication from his counterpart at the county, Bob Guenzel, about the possibility of continuing to lease space for the 15th District Court on a long-term basis. Fraser said that in conversation, Guenzel had indicated that the county’s space needs hadn’t changed.

Councilmember Mike Anglin indicated that he’d been against the project all along. The council does a lot of talk about affordable housing and diversity, he said, but are pulling the bar higher and higher. He noted that the CFO of the city, Tom Crawford, had told council about the possibility of a 3% deficit by 2010, rising to 7% by 2011. It wasn’t the time to undertake a building project like this, Anglin said. He asked that the city continue to negotiate with the county, even in the 11th hour. Every argument that councilmembers present as a positive, Anglin said, was countered by citizens who had a different perspective on it. He said that he supported the need to renovate the police facilities. He noted that the library board had the wisdom to pull back from their planned building project and that council might do well to follow their example.

Mayor John Hieftje weighed in by noting that in the summer of 2008 the city’s bond rating had been improved, reflecting confidence of the market that the city was fiscally responsible, and that Moody’s (the bond rating agency) knew full well at that time the city was moving forward with this project. From Tom Crawford, Hieftje elicited a cost of not moving forward at $10 million: $6 million for the bond defeasment, plus $4 million in design costs already paid. Not moving forward would, said Hieftje, leave $10 million on the table.

Councilmember Margie Teall asked Wheeler to clarify whether the construction contract had been awarded as a no-bid contract. Wheeler said that they’d hired Clark Construction in a quality-based selection process. Clark would take bids on the subcontracting work, and those bids would be presented as if they were the city’s bids. Greden asked for clarification about the “quality-based selection process.” Wheeler said that they’d started with six firms, winnowed it down to three and determined that Clark was the most able of  the three. If someone were to claim that it was not a competitive bidding process, asked Greden, “That would be a false statement, isn’t that right?” Wheeler allowed it was a competitive process but it wasn’t a lowest bid process. At the conclusion of the council meeting during public commentary unreserved time, Karen Sidney would tell Greden that the bidding process would not meet the standard for competitive bidding required by the school system.

Councilmember Sandi Smith took up the question raised by Stew Nelson during public commentary about the LEED Gold status being in jeopardy. Wheeler said that one cost-saving option would be to make it a less green building. “We rejected that idea,” he said, because council gave the staff the direction to make it an environmentally-friendly building.

Anglin asked Wheeler to specify what areas of the construction would be the first targeted for cost cutting. Answer: They would talk to the mechanical and electrical contractors about “value engineering.” Anglin said he hoped that other improvements not included in the project might be procured through the existing contracts, like a new roof on Larcom, and a new power supply.

Concilmember Carsten Hohnke sought clarification about how much money the project budget was for new furniture. Wheeler said they’d be using existing furniture and equipment, and that there was no money in the budget for new furniture and fixtures.

Hohkne asked Crawford if the funding of the building would come from a reduction in services. Answer: Over the last five years, the city has become more efficient and the building’s funding comes from savings through efficiency, and through debt services with existing cash flow. Crawford said that over the last four years, the project has shrunk in size every year. In the initial vision, the Larcom building (city hall) was going to be knocked down, Crawford said.

In response to the question of what the city would do in December 2009 if they didn’t move forward with the building project, Fraser said, “I don’t have  a good answer to that.” Fraser said they’d spent over 2 years exploring alternatives inside and outside downtown. A task force had spent 10 months looking at 11 alternative sites downtown. The conclusion of that effort was the recommendation that they need to build something. Fraser noted that the city still needed to negotiate the lease with the county to get through the construction period, but that negotiating it into the indefinite future was not a real possibility.

Hieftje challenged those who opposed the building to look at where the city is today having already issued the bonds and spent money on design. If we back away, he said, that leaves $10 million left on the table with nothing to show for it. He compared the construction project with what the new president is asking the country to do: put money into the economy and put people to work. Hieftje said that the last he’d heard from Bob Guenzel was that the city needed to move the courts out of the leased space. Hieftje said he ran into county commissioners as a part of his job all the time and that not once had he heard that the county had changed its mind about where the courts are going to be. For his part, Hieftje said, “I think it’s clear cut.”

Councilmember Sabra Briere did not see it as clear cut. “A voice of dissent is never bad in a democracy, and it’s not irresponsible to be that voice of dissent.” [Editor's note: In council deliberations on the 42 North project, Hieftje had said that voting against it was "irresponsible." Briere voted against approval of 42 North.]

Briere said she wasn’t sitting at the council table when the project was first discussed, but rather at her dining room table and she’d read about it in the newspaper. She said she thought that repairing the existing city hall was more cost effective than constructing a new building. Investing in staff improves morale, she said, and improves services.

Briere noted that the city had submitted its wish list for the stimulus package, and she was startled to see that this project was among those proposed. We’ve been told we have sufficient funding, she said, from a mix of bonds, sale of property, and lease payments. Why, then, is this project included in the stimulus package wish list, she wondered. “Have we been misled?” she asked. She said the city should have specified that they needed $30 million to help improve the project instead of asking for $65 million as indicated on the wish list. She concluded by saying that she was not opposed to it because of the current economic circumstances, but rather that she’d opposed it consistently all along.

Councilmember Christopher Taylor focused his comments on addressing the issue of the current economic situation: How can we go forward on this? Why aren’t we spending it on snow removal or parks? Taylor sought to refute the natural (but incorrect) assumption that we’re dealing with a big pile of cash that can be used for anything. The analogy Taylor drew was to home ownership: “Our rented house is falling apart and our rents are rising.”

The money to pay for building something new, Taylor said, came from the bonds – comparing it to a homeowner’s mortgage. The down payment had come from savings. To raid that money for operating expenses would break faith with council’s predecessors, Taylor said, and saddle those who come after us with the problem. “The price is large, and is enough to make anyone reasonably blanch,” he said, but is commensurate with the value offered.

Councilmember Leigh Greden echoed Taylor’s sentiments. He also acknowledged Briere’s question about the project’s inclusion in the the stimulus package as fair. He clarified that the $65 million figure specified in the “wish list” included both Phase I and Phase II, noting that the current construction project would only be for Phase I. Phase II included a re-skinning of the exterior of the Larcom building.

Saying that Briere’s comments had been reasoned, Greden explicitly declined to assign the same description to some comments from the public voiced that evening or via e-mail. He ticked through some of them. The claim that the contract had been awarded in a no-bid process was false, he said, pointing to information elicited earlier in the deliberations. The idea that we can’t afford it at this time, said Greden, was countered by the fact that labor is cheap right now, and that soon the effect of the stimulus package will be to increase the cost of labor and supplies. As for more collaboration with the county, Greden said, they have their own plans for the space. Alluding to Anglin’s earlier comment about the library board having the wisdom to pull back from their project, Greden said they’d held back because they needed to raise taxes to execute their project, plus they had no credit. Greden concluded by saying that to delay would result in reduction of general fund services, but taking action would not.

For his part, Rapundalo echoed Greden, saying that “as usual” Greden had been extremely thorough. Rapundalo stressed the financial implications, which he felt were not understood by those who were opposed to the project. The city is obligated for the bonds, he said, and would take a penalty there by defeasing them. He noted that we’d also incur extra construction costs by any delays and pointed to the economic opportunities for local trades people. There are no definitive alternatives, Rapundalo concluded.

Briere, for her second speaking turn, reiterated the theme of the importance of respect for dissent. “I want to just remind my colleagues that a voice of dissent is to be respected,” she stated, because a “no” vote represented people in Ann Arbor who wished her to vote “no.” As for the jobs creation benefit, she noted that it would provide employment for construction workers for a year or so, and noted, somewhat dryly, that the city had already employed some architects for $4 million. She noted that one detriment to the building was its design: “It’s a big forbidding building. It would not be a pleasure to enter.”

The critique of the building’s aesthetics caught Teall’s ear. She said that while she respected Briere’s decision to vote against the building, she took issue with her assessment of the building’s aesthetics. She said it would be a beautiful, welcoming space for thousands of people, that it had been designed thoughtfully, and that the public art is going to be amazing.

Councilmember Smith concluded deliberations by responding to Briere’s question about why the project wound upon the stimulus package wish list. She attributed it in part to the shovel-readiness required by the stimulus package. There’s not a project 90 days away from being shovel-ready that isn’t fully funded – it’s in the nature of the request.

Outcome: Passed, with Anglin and Briere dissenting.

Commercial Recycling Program

After Margie Teall proposed some amendments adjusting the time frame for exemptions from the new recycling program – which were quickly passed – councilmember Leigh Greden invited Bryan Weinert, solid waste program coordinator for the city, to step forward. Weinert was asked to give a brief overview of what’s being proposed with the creation of the commercial recycling program and to describe the public process for what Greden characterized as “one of the most significant things we’ll do this year.”

Weinert reported that it had been a two-and-a-half year process, which included business interests plus the city’s environmental commission. It was spurred in part by the lagging recovery rate in the commercial sector compared to residential: Ann Arbor recovers 50% of residential waste as recycled material verus only 20% of commerical waste. Weinert described a variety of public forums as opportunity for feedback. And when queried by councilmember Mike Anglin, Weinert described in more detail that there had been breakfast forums, presentations to business associations, information sent out via the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce, as well as peer-to-peer strategies. He said they’d been very pleased with the willingness of the commercial sector to work with the city.

So what does the new commercial recycling program do? Weinert said it created a structure for building recycling services in the community, offered through the city or through other private haulers. The key feature is the creation of franchise authorities for collection of waste in the commercial sector. Franchises are designed to provide lower cost, and a cost structure that incentivizes recycling. The way Weinert described the predominant current model, once a contract is in place, you’ve got an 8-yard container, say, and you have to pay for it anyway, so that encourages waste. The new program allows for reductions in container sizes, hence reduction in costs, as businesses reduce the amount of waste and increase their recycling.

Carsten Hohnke agreed with Greden’s assessment of the significance of the program, saying: “I think this is going to be one of the more important things we do this year.” Hohnke gave it as an example of how a smart green policy can be the best economic policy. He cited the 60% recovery goal as both environmentally sound, plus leading to better revenues from the recycled material. He said the new program would be strengthening a key asset: the materials recovery facility.

Teall had thanks all around for everyone who’d worked on the program, from Weinert to Steve Bean, who chairs the city’s environmental commission. She noted that it had been a long haul with her first emails on the topic dating back three years.

Mayor John Hieftje took a cue from Teall’s reference to the history of the work on the new commercial recycling program to cite his own recycling credentials which date back nearly more than a decade to the time when he served as board chair at Recycle Ann Arbor. He said that one of the goals back then was to cut down on the amount of material going into the landfill and he characterized the new program as the next big step.

Related to the recycling theme, though not restricted to the commercial sector, were the remarks during public commentary of UM student Alex Levine, who gave council an update from last council meeting on his vision to see No. 6 plastics recycled. He said that he’d talked to some councilmembers, heard that it’d been investigated, but that it was problematic because the companies identified that might process the material wound up shipping the material overseas. Levine said that he would be doing further research and that he hoped council would take another look at the matter when he presented what he’d found.

Outcome: Passed unanimously on first reading. (There’ll be a future public hearing and second reading.)

[Editorial aside: At the beginning of the meeting, Christopher Taylor took some gentle teasing from fellow councilmember Sandi Smith as he returned the council chamber's trash container to its place: "Taking out the garbage?" To which Taylor replied, "I do what I can," but with no apparent winking emphasis on the word "can." A missed opportunity that the Ward 3 representative might well regret, when it comes time to count the best council quips for the year.]

Farmers Market Renovation

The Farmers Market renovation had been postponed from last council meeting, and it had been indicated at caucus the previous evening that the project, which had grown to include a storm water treatment component (possibly in the form of a fountain), would be tabled. That’s in fact what happened, with the motion to table coming from Sabra Briere, getting a second from Stephen Rapundalo. Marcia Higgins got clarification that the tabling would be indefinite. Hieftje alluded to a memo that everyone had received from staff on the subject. Council voted without further discussion.

During public commentary reserve time, Chris Hildebrand addressed the issue of the renovation by alluding to the adage: If all you’ve got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. When the administration of the Farmers Market transferred to the city’s parks department, she said, it looked to them like a park. “It’s not a park,” she said. The function of the market is to provide access to fresh food and as a part of that access, parking places are inherently necessary, as contrasted with a park. She said that we should be discouraging birds and rodents from the Farmers Market, not encouraging them to appear. “I simply beg you to keep it a Farmers Market,” she concluded.

Outcome: Motion to table indefinitely passed unanimously.

Wintermeyer Office Building Planned Project

This agenda item attracted the attention of Tom Partridge, who spoke against it during the public hearing, saying that the proposal would demolish two houses, with no provision that affordable housing be built in its place.

It had already drawn scrutiny the previous evening at caucus from councilmember Sabra Briere, who was concerned that the requested smaller setback in the front of the building reflected a desire to build to a new standard for area, height, and placement that had not yet been approved by council.

At the council meeting, Briere asked Mark Lloyd, head of planning for the city of Ann Arbor, to clarify. Lloyd said that the project does conform to the proposed (but as yet not approved) standards for the front setbacks, but that on the other sides, the project conforms to existing code.

Lloyd said that what might be overlooked in reflecting on this issue is that the direction from planning commission and from council to the planning staff has been to make sure that they adhere to sustainable development strategies, and that pedestrian access, reflected in smaller front setbacks, is one example.

Lloyd said that designs with a parking lot in the front are a standard suburban design technique and are consistent with current code, which has a more suburban character. Even though the new standards are not in place, the project is in line with what has been proposed, and the reasons for wanting to create the smaller setbacks go beyond the fact that it’s contained in a proposed document.

Briere also took up Partridge’s issue about the demolition of the houses on the site, and asked Lloyd to clarify for the public whether their current use was residential. Lloyd said that they were not currently, and that it wasn’t clear when the last time the structures had been used in that way.

Outcome: Approved unanimously with 7 members at the table (councilmembers sometimes filter away and back).

City Airport Environmental Impact Study

Council got a description of how the environmental impact of the planned reconfiguration of the city’s airport runway will be studied. Matt Kulhanek, the manager of the airport, introduced Molly Lamroeux, of the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), who described how the project would conform to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and would include the formation of a citizen advisory group. There would be a noise impact analysis study as well as other impact studies. There would be no less than a 30-day public comment period after the conclusion of the study, which would take 6-9 months. The anticipated date of the public hearing would be fall 2009, she said, with the design work completed in early 2010.

Kulhanek also introduced Amy Eckland of the consulting firm JJR, who described in more detail what the public process would be like. Key would be the formation of the citizen advisory committee (CAC). The CAC would consist of 12-14 people, who would meet throughout the project, providing the team with feedback. The CAC would include a wide array of people, Eckland said, with the requisite expertise so that they can provide feedback: adjacent property owners, business owners, pilots and homeowners, from Pittsfield Township as well as from Ann Arbor. There would be three meetings by the project team with CAC: (i) beginning, (ii) middle, and (iii) end. The final meeting in the fall would be a preview of the public hearing, Eckland said.

Council considered a host of separate resolutions authorizing funding for the project.

Councilmember Leigh Greden sought clarification on the funding sources. Answer: 80% federal dollars,  17.5%  state, and 2.5% from the city’s airport enterprise fund.

Outcome: Passed unanimously.

Golf Fee Modification for 2009 Season

In this case “modification” is not a euphemism for “increase.” A scanned PDF of the Golf Fee Modification Schedule 2009 shows that many of the changes from the 2008 fee schedule reflect decreases designed to make the city’s two golf courses more competitive with other facilities in the market.

However, the increase in the senior citizen qualification age from 56 to 57, with a planned increase each year until it reaches 62, drew the criticism of Tom Partridge during the public hearing on the matter. Partridge characterized the change as discriminatory on its face, and said that it had been brought to the public without any explanation as to why it’s on the agenda, let alone why it should be passed. Partridge characterized the resolution blatantly discriminatory based on age, and asked that the proposed increase be struck down.

Outcome: Passed unanimously with no council discussion.

Tom Partridge

In addition to the public hearings mentioned above, Tom Partridge weighed in, as he often does, at public commentary reserved time, as well as during the unreserved time at the end of the meeting. He called on the mayor, the city council, and all other levels of government to end discrimination in all facets of services in the city, the county and the state – starting with the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. “I am a victim,” he said, of being cut off from AATA group ride services to the 148-apartment affordable housing development where he lives, off of Jackson Road. Since the AATA stopped serving the area west of Wagner and Jackson, he had no access to service.

At the conclusion of the meeting, he used his time  to talk about regionalization of services countywide and throughout southeast Michigan. Regionalization should focus on transportation, housing the homeless, and extending healthcare that is now unavailable to the most vulnerable. He said it was gratifying to find out that an Ann Arbor News reporter had witnessed his calls for regionalization. But, he said, the AATA board, which had been appointed by Mayor Hieftje, with the consent of city council, continued to provide service on a discriminatory basis. When Partridge talked through the 3-minute time clock beep, Hieftje admonished Partridge: “Sir, your time is up.” At this, Partridge gave his standard call for the time limits on public speaking to be waived for senior citizens [Partridge is a senior]. Hieftje tried again with, “Your time is up, would you please stop!”

Partridge finished and council went into closed session to discuss land acquisition.

Misc. Communications

Councilmember Christopher Taylor advised that the Burns Park Players production of “Annie Get Your Gun” would begin on Friday, Feb. 6, continuing with performances the following weekend as well. Taylor, who has performed in past productions but not this one, said that Eva Rosenwald, his wife, had been selected to play Annie.

Councilmember Margie Teall announced that the Dicken Woods annual candlelight walk would be held on Tuesday, Feb. 3.

Present: Sabra Briere, Sandi Smith, Stephen Rapundalo, Leigh Greden, Christopher Taylor, Margie Teall, Marcia Higgins, Carsten Hohnke, Mike Anglin, John Hieftje

Absent: Tony Derezinski

Next Council Meeting: Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2009 at 7 p.m. in council chambers, 2nd floor of the Guy C. Larcom, Jr. Municipal Building, 100 N. Fifth Ave. [confirm date]


  1. By Vivienne Armentrout
    February 3, 2009 at 4:48 pm | permalink

    Regarding the county’s space needs, the county has vacated the second floor of the Zeeb Road building and had it up for lease as of a couple of weeks ago.

    Your calendar check-the-date device is a great concept.

  2. February 3, 2009 at 4:50 pm | permalink

    Great job Dave!! Pretty soon there will be no reason why any of us will ever have to go to these boring meetings!

  3. February 3, 2009 at 5:05 pm | permalink

    Dear Dave,

    It’s Hildebrand, not Hillebrand — a simple spelling correction, but important to Christine.

  4. By Dave Askins
    February 3, 2009 at 5:52 pm | permalink

    Re: “… a simple spelling correction, but important to Christine.”

    As well as to The Chronicle. Duly noted and corrected.

  5. By Vin Caruso
    February 3, 2009 at 10:04 pm | permalink

    Good job Mr. Askins although you miss a few interesting points in the debate.

    The comment that our taxes are not FUNGIBLE goes against all the economics I learned. This is why curencies were invented and are collected in taxes. These funds can be use in any way council wishes. This is why Ms. Smith said late in the debate the ‘funds could be used for services’ if Federal Funds come though.

    The mayor sites Moodys as a great reference for city status. This is one of the worst rating agency under the gun for giving those like Bear Stearns great ratings a week before they went under, taking many retirees with them.

    When asked Mr. Wheeler, to his credit, paused and was very careful not to say what Mr. Greden asked regarding No Bid contracts. Seems to walk like a duck to me.

    This weekend New York Times article states leases are dropping like lead balloons all over the country. This could have been a great opportunity for us.

    This seems to me getting very close to the depression our parents warned us about.

  6. February 3, 2009 at 11:07 pm | permalink

    There are some shovel-ready projects downtown – you could start by digging out the ice and snow from around the handicapped parking meters and by clearing the storm drains so that the snow melt would drain instead of making puddles where people try to walk.

  7. By Steve Bean
    February 4, 2009 at 1:04 am | permalink

    I appreciate and respect voices of dissent. “Have we been misled?” That doesn’t qualify as such in this case, assuming that the reported context is accurate. A dissenting vote is defensible, but publicly questioning the integrity of council colleagues and/or city staff in that way isn’t.

    Vivienne, did you have more to say about the county’s leasing of the Zeeb Road space? I don’t see it’s relevance.

  8. February 4, 2009 at 4:24 am | permalink

    I am in 100% agreement with #6 above (Ed’s comment: “…digging out the ice and snow from around the handicapped parking meters and by clearing the storm drains so that the snow melt would drain instead of making puddles where people try to walk.”

    How can AA remain with its claim to fame as the #3 (or is it #4?) walkable city of its size–when one cannot negotiate between street and sidewalk without fording a deep, dark puddle in all too many downtown sites?

  9. By Scott
    February 4, 2009 at 7:55 am | permalink

    The City of Ann Arbor’s new municipal building is warranted. The current Police Department area in city hall is horrible – an embarassment – inefficient, dangerous, cramped and demoralizing. I applaud the PD for putting up with it for so long.

    If the City were to put off building a new faciity now, lose $10 milion, and just remain in a crappy building, do the honorable “dissenters” really think we will be able to do it cheaper sometime in the future?

    I trust Fraser and Wheeler. They know we need this and they will do it responsibly.

  10. By Vivienne Armentrout
    February 4, 2009 at 10:12 am | permalink

    To answer Steve’s query: My point in mentioning the Zeeb Road facility and the vacating of an entire floor is that the county is in the midst of a major contraction. It is reorganizing, eliminating departments, and laying off employees. The deficit to be made up in this year’s budget was approximately $10 million. The loss of the lease payments will be noticeable, and there will be no money to do major renovations in the near future. So the nod to the county’s “space requirements” is puzzling.

    I have no interest in questioning the integrity of anyone, but in conversations with some Ann Arbor county commissioners last spring I was told that the court leases could be revisited – but only on the request of the city. The city never made that request.

  11. By Leigh Greden
    February 4, 2009 at 10:41 am | permalink

    Mr. Caruso comments that, “These funds can be use in any way council wishes.” With all due respect, he’s absolutely wrong.

    Here’s an example. The bonds are the largest funding source for the project, and the vast majority of the bond payments will come from the money currently spent to lease space from the County, the City Center Bldg., etc. If we don’t build the PD/Courts facility, we have to retain those leases and keep making those lease payments. Obviously those funds are not available for any other use. (Unless, of course, we decided to hold District Court outside on the sidewalk and move the Customer Service Center to Gallup Park). In fact, those lease payments would INCREASE under Mr. Caruso’s scenario, meaning we’d need to divert even MORE money in the General Fund away from parks, police, human services, etc. But by building the project, we dedicate those lease payments to the bond at their fixed 2008 level, they do not rise for 30 years, and at the end of the 30-year period, the bonds are paid off and the funds used to make the bond payments are then free to be used for anything so desired by our elected officials at that time.

    Here’s another example. The District Court has generated a special fund through a ticket surcharge. That fund is part of the funding stream for the project’s down payment and the bond payments. Those funds are available only for District Court facility upgrades, not for other General Fund uses.

  12. February 4, 2009 at 11:22 am | permalink


    I agree that it is certainly annoying when people question others’ integrity in a public forum — it is often if not usually rude, inaccurate, and counterproductive — but that’s part of robust free speech, and as such is not just defensible, but privileged; also necessary, given the long and sad history of deception by politicians and ruling classes throughout the world.


  13. By my two cents
    February 4, 2009 at 12:52 pm | permalink

    I also appreciate and respect voices of dissent as in post #7, but there comes a time when dissent becomes obstructive and non-productive. It gets tiring to hear the same old arguments and accusations repeated when they are not relevant to the current argument, which is whether to amend the contract (not whether to approve the building). If the war as you see it (current spending is too high in the city budget) is still going on, don’t get stuck in one battle (court/police building) that has already been lost, move on to the next battle.

    A prime example of dissent being obstructive and non-productive is the current US congress. Congressional republicans are still refusing to compromise and even consider any democratic proposal to help our ailing economy. The public has clearly chosen that they want a new direction, but the republicans still want to show dissent, wish for failure and not try something else that might work.

  14. By Steve Bean
    February 4, 2009 at 1:11 pm | permalink

    Briere’s question was rhetorical. She was being the politician in this case (i.e., by posing that question), not a public servant, and not a dissenting voice of the citizenry. If the question is defensible (I didn’t characterize it as annoying, btw), let her defend it with information to justify it, otherwise she is the one who is misleading the public.

    Thanks, Vivienne. What I don’t get is how you could ask several commissioners but Briere and Anglin haven’t referred to any such efforts on their own part in all this time–actually, now I remember Anglin saying something about talking to someone at the county. I don’t remember who. It’s odd, though, that he hasn’t mentioned any followup. Do you not consider Fraser’s account of his interaction with Guenzel as such a request? What’s the standard protocol?

    One opportunity at this point is to learn from how this played out so that citizens understand how to ask their reps to take meaningful steps and for the reps to understand how to follow through on them.

  15. By Vivienne Armentrout
    February 4, 2009 at 1:46 pm | permalink

    Steve, although I am aware of a number of conversations among different people, I don’t consider it appropriate for me to report hearsay about conversations where I was not present.

  16. February 4, 2009 at 1:47 pm | permalink

    Sorry, Steve, I don’t agree with your view that Sabra Briere (whom apparently you don’t like for some reason?) has to defend her comments simply because you assert they are indefensible. That’s a rhetorical gambit on your part, which I deprecate.

  17. February 4, 2009 at 4:09 pm | permalink

    “Have we been misled?” is always an appropriate question, especially in the sense “have our leaders sent us in the wrong direction”. You don’t have to assume that it’s a question that points blame or implies deliberate deceit on anyone’s part.

  18. By Steve Bean
    February 4, 2009 at 11:20 pm | permalink

    And the irony just keeps on comin’!

  19. By ChuckL
    February 5, 2009 at 12:48 am | permalink

    I was the one who asked about a bond buy back. People who hold municipal bonds trade them on exchanges and the prices are based on the face value or principle, the contract interest rate and current interest rates. Bond prices move inversely to the direction of current interest rate changes from the contract rate changes; that is, when interest rates drop, bond prices increase and vise versa. True if someone holds a bond for the full 30 years, the city would be stuck paying the bond off as per the contract. But, if interest rates rise (and they should given the low interest rates in today’s environment) the bonds that are sold will sell for less than their face value.

  20. February 5, 2009 at 1:18 pm | permalink

    On March 27th, 2008, I personally asked Bob Guenzel if he would renegotiate the lease of the 15th District Court space and he looked me in the eye and said absolutely! Two days later in the paper Mr Guenzel seemed to support Roger Fraser’s contention that the court had to leave. That lead me to the conclusion that Mr Guenzal had to publicly support Fraser so the issue would be decided one way or another. Privately if someone from the City had formally requested it, the County would have been happy renegotiate as they were in a $3 million deficit situation at that time. Now with a possible $28 million deficit there is not a doubt in my mind that the County would be happy to renegotiate.

    All that said, as the bonds have already been issued and the building looks like it will come in near budget, the time has officially passed to put this issue to bed and move on to the next problem which is how to make the our City managers realize we/they are digging a huge financial hole despite what Moody’s said about our bond rating last summer.

    Property values have fallen off a cliff and the loss of Pfizer tax revenue has made all tax revenue projections suspect. The City CFO knows what the impact is in the short run as property tax bills went out in December. Longer term his visibility is limited. Ten’s of thousands of homeowners and businesses are in the process of appealing property assessments in the State. The review process is jammed and we will not know for years what the outcome might be. This is the time to examine every expenditure and exercise caution. We also need to examine every possibility for regional cooperation with the other government units in Washtenaw County. Unfortunately we have lost the potential cost savings of a combined court system.


  21. By Patricia Lesko
    February 5, 2009 at 1:47 pm | permalink

    Leigh Greden writes, in essence, that unless the PC facility is built, money will HAVE to be diverted away from the General Fund? That is the most ridiculous piece of tripe from him I’ve heard, to date. Did Council ask to have those leases extended? Who asked whom? When?

    I toured the Police Department from top to bottom when I ran for Council, and spent a good deal of time talking to the officers who work in the various areas. Their workspace is, for lack of a better word, disgusting. It has been allowed to fall into horrible disrepair over the last decade, and our Police force is now being shamefully used for political purposes by those on Council who voted for this PC project.

    “Who, on earth, could deny the fine officers of Ann Arbor adequate space?” Council members and Mayor cry in public over and over.

    Over the past decade, the Police officers have been denied paint for the walls, space and lockers to stow their personal gear, clean carpets, office furniture that isn’t broken, space for a secure evidence room into which one does not have to crawl with a flashlight, adequate office lighting, and a leak-free roof. They work in a space, in essence, that screams loud and clear that the boss doesn’t give a rat’s bahookie about them, and hasn’t for a good long time.

    And now Council is fretting like a bunch of old biddies over the space for our Police force? What a load of horse saddles.

    The project calls for their current space to be renovated. They’re not getting new digs. We are spending $47.4 million plus interest for the next 30 years for a new building so our Police force space can be renovated. That’s something that could (and should) have been done ten times over well before now.

  22. By Leigh Greden
    February 5, 2009 at 5:00 pm | permalink

    Pat- Wow. Where do I begin.

    Police quarters: The basement of Larcom (which currently houses the Police locker rooms) will be gutted from top-to-bottom to house their new locker rooms, and new evidence storage facilities. (One of the existing evidence storage rooms is a crawl space under the staircase; it leaks). All other PD facilities — all offices, conference rooms, even the jail cells — will be in the new building. That’s why it’s known as the “Police/Courts” building. Your statement that the Police are “not getting new digs” is therefore, as usual, factually wrong.

    Leases: The City received a letter from the County Administrator advising that the County would be happy to re-negotiate a lease… but only for a few years… and only if the rent rises dramatically. Accordingly, my statement that we’d have to find more money in the General Fund to pay for rents is not “ridiculous.” It’s a fact that’s documented in writing.

    Unfortunately, Pat, your post consists of complaining about the past, reliance on false misinformation, and no solutions for the future. Although I disagree with Stew Nelson’s implication that the City has ignored its financial problems, I appreciate his forward-looking comments about the need to address the City’s long-term finances.

  23. By Patricia Lesko
    February 6, 2009 at 3:34 pm | permalink


    Can you predict the winning lottery numbers, as well? Your assertions that the city will HAVE to pay higher rents is based on the assumption, perhaps, that none of the lawyers currently on Council, yourself included, would think to ask Roger Fraser to, um, negotiate the lease terms, including the rent and length.

    You want a brand new building to work in; it’s just that you’re spending money that’s not yours. I don’t want you to spend $47.4 million plus another $40 million in interest over 30 years, because I don’t think you’re exercising fiscal responsibility given the current economic climate, and budget projections made by Roger Fraser for the next 3 years. You are not a fiscal conservative and I am.

    One hopes the Burns Park folks will choose someone with more fiscal prudence next August.

  24. By Vivienne Armentrout
    February 6, 2009 at 5:02 pm | permalink

    Leigh Greden said “The City received a letter from the County Administrator advising that the County would be happy to re-negotiate a lease… but only for a few years… and only if the rent rises dramatically.”

    When the city hall proposal was first discussed, and long into the debate, we were told that the city had no choice because “the county kicked us out”.

    This quote from one of the inside players appears to confirm what many of us believed, namely that the city hall project was not an absolute necessity, but a choice. The debate might have been different if it had been a cost comparison of different options, including leasing courtroom space elsewhere. Surely a few more years in the county courthouse would have given our policymakers and administrators time to consider all options. Instead we are committed to a project that will consume a notable fraction of our fund balance at a time of sinking revenues.

  25. February 6, 2009 at 5:19 pm | permalink

    If there was a letter from the county to the city, it should be possible to get a copy of that letter (by asking nicely, or by FOIA) to see what it really says.

  26. By Steve Bean
    February 6, 2009 at 5:53 pm | permalink

    The letter is news to me as well, Vivienne, and I agree that the debate would have been different. Whether the outcome would have been different is harder to say. (It’s about more than that, of course, but that’s the main issue.) Maybe Leigh will be generous (or Be Generous, per Chronicle request) enough to share more info about the letter, such as when it was received.

  27. By Leigh Greden
    February 7, 2009 at 2:25 pm | permalink

    The letter from Mr. Guenzel is hardly a secret. It was discussed extensively at the Council table. There was a story about it in the ANN ARBOR NEWS. Councilmember Taylor has volunteered to post the letter b/c I have no idea how to do that (I’m computer illiterate).

    In the letter, Mr. Guenzel actually writes that he would not recommend any short- or long-term extension of the lease, unless the new PD/Courts facility is already under construction, in which case he would recommend a short-term lease. He also wrote that if any Commissioner proposed a longer lease, he would recommend a “substantial increase to the City’s lease cost.” Several Commissioners have said the increase would likely be $100,000/year or more. The Commissioners were all copied on Mr. Guenzel’s letter.

    I urge Pat to follow the news more closely. Not only would she have been aware of the Guenzel letter — which has been public for ten months — but she’d know that the City explored every option that was suggested internally and externally, no matter how radical the idea. To name a few, City staff toured and/or priced out: (1) the Pfizer site; (2) Ava Maria Law School; (3) Tally Hall; (4) the old Mervyn’s site near Briarwood; (5) the City Center Bldg.; (6) a new complex located next to the County Courthouse; and (7) the parking lot next to the Library. All of these were proven infeasible and/or more expensive.

    All of this has been public for months and, in the case of touring other sites, years. Accordingly, I do not see how the debate would have changed.

    I again urge Pat and others who continue to protest to identify a VIABLE alternative that solves the Court issue AND the Police issue. I’ve asked for this at the Council table every time we take a vote. I’ve been giving that speech for years. Nobody has ever offered a viable alternative. This community deserves better than Pat’s politics of obstruction.

  28. By Dave Askins
    February 7, 2009 at 3:31 pm | permalink

    Here’s the PDF scan of Bob Guenzel’s letter, which Christopher Taylor has sent along. Thanks, Christopher.

  29. By Vivienne Armentrout
    February 7, 2009 at 6:34 pm | permalink

    I certainly hope that a future historian will get in touch with me, because I have a lot to relate on this. For now, I don’t have the appetite to revisit it any more and I agree that we should focus on things we can actually do something about.

    I retain the right to say I told you so. Not that this ever proves helpful, as we have seen this year.

  30. By Patricia Lesko
    February 9, 2009 at 12:20 pm | permalink

    Six thousand voters signed petitions asking to have the PC facility bonds put to a ballot vote. The majority of cities large and small in the United States, in fact, put general obligation bond requests to voters as a matter of course. You spoke against putting the bonds to a vote. You don’t support voters deciding such matters.

    Six thousand people couldn’t obstruct your determined desire to spend $90 million dollars on a new building over the next 30 years.

    I’m flattered if you think I, alone, could obstruct such profligacy…. :-) If that’s true, you’ll vote against doubling parking rates for Ann Arbor citizens on the 17th of this month, maybe?


    Thrill us all with a budget that increases services for taxpayers. Quadruple the puny $180K allocation to affordable housing, (with such an increase, it’d still be 35 percent of what Berkeley, California’s Council allocated this year) increase money for parks, allocate money to replace sidewalks, like they do in Dexter and Livonia, and give back money cut from the budget to adequately maintain our urban forest. Don’t accidentally “forget” to allocate money for Human Services so someone on Council can look good while “demanding” the money be put back. Heck, come up with a new service for taxpayers, why don’tcha! I love the idea of two hours of free parking for residents in downtown structures, like they give residents in Birmingham, MI.

  31. By my two cents
    February 9, 2009 at 12:57 pm | permalink

    I would like to point out to all of you who keep insisting that a majority of the public is against the Police/courts building that 6000 people really only equates to less than 5% of city residents. The rest of us may stay quiet but we support the building wholeheartedly.

    Just because you scream the loudest doesn’t make you the majority or even correct in your thinking.

    We vote in our councilmemebers to argue this for us.

  32. By Dave Askins
    February 9, 2009 at 2:17 pm | permalink

    Patricia Lesko writes: “If that’s true, you’ll vote against doubling parking rates for Ann Arbor citizens on the 17th of this month, maybe?”

    The proposal council will be considering on Feb. 17 does not double rates in any category of parking by the end of the period being considered. However, it’s true that initial discussions by DDA (reflected in board meeting minutes from summer 2008) of the kind of rate increase that would be necessary to finance the 5th Avenue parking structure included a rise by FY 2016 to $2.00 for metered parking — which represents a doubling from the current rate. Those discussions also saw a rise in rates for hourly parking in structures to $1.50 (almost double from its current $.80 rate) by FY 2017.

    But the rate increase proposal that will be before council on Feb. 17 goes only through 2012 and sees rates increase for metered parking from $1.00 now to $1.40 in 2012. It would raise hourly structure parking from a rate of $.80 now to $1.10 in 2012.

    A fair question is: What plans are after 2012? Based on Roger Hewitt’s contribution to deliberations at the last board meeting, I conclude there is no projected need to continue to raise rates after 2012. In that light, it’s also fair to ask what, if anything, changed between summer 2008 and now that yields a different analysis. It’s a question that would be useful for councilmembers to address during deliberations on Feb. 17.

    And by the way, the Feb 17. is correct. The meetings, which are usually on Mondays, get shifted to Tuesday when there’s a Monday holiday.

  33. By Steve Bean
    February 9, 2009 at 2:47 pm | permalink

    From the DDA’s web site “Parking Options” page:

    “Moreover, well over 50 downtown businesses validate parking for their customers, making it possible to park for free in the center of the action, near world-class restaurants and retail shops, extraordinary museums, galleries, and concerts, and a host of other attractions.”

    This has been true for many years.

  34. By mcammer
    February 10, 2009 at 6:33 am | permalink

    The municipal space issue has been looked at up, down & sideways. I appreciate those councilmembers who’ve worked to fix this problem when there were no easy solutions. A pro-PC position was the central factor in determining my vote in the last cycle.