Budget, Bridge, Ball Fields, Booze, Bugs

Council readies itself for budget decisions
a plastic owl sitting on a porch bannister

A five-year-old child who's been exposed to the Leslie Science and Nature Center will be able to identify the type of bird, and explain its sleeping habits – though perhaps not recognize that this one is made of plastic.

Ann Arbor City Council Meeting, Part I (May 4, 2009): Despite assurances from Mayor John Hieftje that he’d be surprised if Mack pool and Leslie Science Center weren’t funded, city council heard from several advocates of those facilities Monday night, along with supporters of Project Grow and the senior center.

Audible through the expressions of support for programs facing cuts was also a call for the council to focus attention on bigger ticket items. One of those bigger ticket items was a mediator-mandated agreement with the Ann Arbor Police Officers Association union, which council was constrained by state law to approve – an agreement that will cost the city about $650,000 more than it had anticipated. Another was approval of the early retirement option for police officers as a part of the employees retirement system, which the city is offering instead of mandatory layoffs.

Still another big ticket item surfaced in the form of the approval of an application for funding of the East Stadium bridge reconstruction – though it’s likely to be paid by federal tax dollars. The bridge fit into the general theme of transportation at the meeting, which showed up in the form of an agenda item authorizing a study for a north-south intra-city connector (which was postponed), as well as a lengthy discussion on the Ann Arbor transportation plan update, which was ultimately adopted, despite some sentiment for postponing it. [These items are reported in detail in Part II of our meeting coverage here.]

In other business, council approved two agreements with the public schools for operation of recreation facilities, gave initial approval to a revamped liquor licensing code for the city, and approved an amendment to the partnership agreement between the city and the Leslie Science and Nature Center. [This last accounts for the last word in the headline.]

Early Retirement for Police Officers

Karen Sidney: Speaking during public commentary reserved time, Sidney began by describing the proposed early retirement plan [to reduce positions in the police department starting in FY 2010 and with the fire department in FY 2011] as fiscally irresponsible. Retirement benefits in the system, she said, are already more expensive than the public can afford. She said everyone would like to be able to retire when they’re 40 years old and get lifetime health insurance for their families at a cost of only $500 per year. For University of Michigan employees, who’ve seen their TIAA-CREF accounts fall in value, a pension at 60% of one’s salary would look great. She said that it’s even better if you can work angles in the system with overtime, vacation, and sick time to improve on the 60%. She alluded to a case a few years ago when some firefighters achieved a pension bigger than their base salary. She suggested that the five councilmembers [on the Budget and Labor committee: Hieftje, Margie Teall, Marcia Higgins, Leigh Greden, Stephen Rapundalo] could use layoffs at zero cost to the city to reduce the police force, but said it would be embarrassing to have a public ruckus about police layoffs while the city is building a new police/courts building.

Kyle Mazurek: [Mazurek's comments are included in this part of the meeting report because of item (4) below.] Mazurek spoke during the public hearing on the budget, identifying himself as the vice president for government affairs of the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce. He alluded to an email he’d sent to councilmembers from which he pulled some highlights. The highlights from the letter itself include one addressing the city’s plan to offer early retirement to police officers as well as a general characterization of employee benefits as “unsustainable”:

1. concern that commercial property values have fallen further than the city has forecasted.
2. objection to the proposal to eliminate downtown area foot and bicycle police patrols.
3. concern about the city’s jeopardizing the Downtown Development Authority’s independence by asking the DDA for monies to cover city expenses.
4. costs associated with the one-time payout to cover retirement system contributions for early retirements would place the city general fund reserve target range of 12% to 15% at risk.
5. application of a 4% fee on water/sewer services runs counter to the notion of demonstrated need as defined by actual cost of providing service.
6. elimination of community standards officers will result in diminished ticketing capacity and a corresponding decline in ticketing revenue with the additional loss of crime deterrent.

While allowing that the quality and transparency of proposed budget data and information had improved, the chamber’s letter urges the city to explore opportunities for “earlier public presentation of the proposed budget thus affording greater public scrutiny and dialogue with regard to it.”

Resolution: Add to the Early Retirement Option for Police Officers

A key element in the resolution provided for the city to

provide to eligible employees two (2) years of service credit (as determined in accordance with Section 1:561(a) of the Pension Ordinance), which will be applicable to eligibility for retirement, as well as calculation of pension benefits.

Officers also have the option of purchasing up to a year of service credit.

Councilmember Sandi Smith asked for some clarification. City administrator Roger Fraser allowed that Karen Sidney’s characterization of the possibility of retiring at a higher rate of compensation than their base salary would have been possible eight years ago, but was no longer the case. He said that the only real benefit to the deal was being able to retire early.

Outcome: Passed unanimously.

Resolution: Approve the Ann Arbor Police Officers Association Collective Bargaining Agreement

The state of Michigan’s Act 312 outlines requirements for compulsory arbitration of labor disputes for police and fire departments. The Ann Arbor Police Officers Association exercised its right to arbitration, which resulted in

Effective April 1, 2009, a redesigned health care plan which adds deductibles of $250.00 single and $500.00 family per year with increased co-payments for office visits and chiropractic services and cost differentiation between brand and generic drugs with mandatory mail order for maintenance drugs and a pro-rated $500.00 HRA deposit for the 2008-2009 contract year for each active employee, as well as a $500.00 per member health care bonus for low health care utilization for the July 1, 2006-June 30, 2007 period;

  • A 2.5% wage increase, effective July 1, 2006;
  • A 1.75% wage increase effective July 1, 2007;
  • A 1.25% wage increase effective January 1, 2008;
  • A 3.0% wage increase effective July 1, 2008;
  • Effective February 24, 2009, a wage structure change will be made to increase the educational bonus for members who have obtained an associate’s degree;
  • A reduction in certain double time overtime payments to time and one half;

The city has included $927,000 in the fiscal 2009 general fund budget for pay contingencies, but the cost of the contract settlement for the three-year period is expected “not to exceed $1.6 million.” The resolution considered by city council on Monday appropriated an additional $673,000 from the general fund reserve to cover the cost of the settlement.

In deliberations, Leigh Greden (Ward 3), who sits on the budget and labor committee (along with Hieftje, Higgins, Rapundalo, and Teall) expressed his dissatisfaction with Act 312 itself, saying that the process needs to be changed at the state level “to reflect local financial realities.” Mike Anglin (Ward 5) asked if there was any possibility of accepting “some but not all” of the agreement mandated by the arbitrator. The answer from city attorney, Stephen Postema, was no.

Outcome: The collective bargaining agreement was passed unanimously.

Budget (General)

While much of the public commentary on Monday night addressed specific programs, some of it address more general issues, or else focused on general principles using specific examples to illustrate.

Paul Bancel: Bancel said that the Community Television Network was an underutilized professional organization. He suggested that when councilmembers looked at the budget, they’d see $1.5 million for allocation by the charter to community television. “It’s up to you to make it relevant,” he said. With the demise of the Ann Arbor News, he said, there was an opportunity to upgrade CTN to make it a professional organization that brings the community the most relevant and up-to-date news. He named three organizations not currently shown on CTN: the Downtown Development Authority; Ann Arbor District Library; and the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission. [The DDA board meetings are now starting to be videotaped with equipment installed at DDA offices for later airing on CTN. The April meeting's taping had issues with sound quality. No word yet on how the May taping went.]

Karen Sidney: Speaking during the public hearing on the budget, Sidney noted that the city had a $350 million budget. But most of the discussion, she said, will be about a few hundred thousand dollars of cuts to popular programs. What about the big ticket items, she asked? Why are safety services positions down more that others? Based on peak employment figures in 2001, the police department is down 26%, fire department is down 37%, and other departments except for the city attorney’s office and the IT department are down 24%. The attorney’s office and IT department have more employees than in 2001, she said. Why? she wondered. The benefits tax millage in 2001 paid more than 100% of the cost of retirement benefits, she pointed out. Last year it paid less than half the cost of retirement benefits. By 2014, she said, it will pay for only 25% of the cost. To make up that gap with increased taxes would require a homeowner with $100,000 in taxable value to pay an extra $600 a year in taxes. Alternatively, she said, we could eliminate the police department. Or we could sell city property. She wondered if the map included in the city’s budget presentation – which depicted all the tax exempt properties in the city – was the beginning of a PR campaign to sell city parks. [Note: The letter sent by the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce to council outlining its position on the budget proposal includes the sentence: "The Chamber believes that the City is well positioned to realize significant revenue generation through policies promoting the sale of City owned land, as well as greater private development." cf. Kyle Mazurek's turn during the public hearing.]

Jim Mogensen: Mogensen said that he wasn’t enough of a gardener to know whether it was perennial or annual, but there were a number of things that kept on coming up over and over again as possibilities for cutting: the civic band, Project Grow, Mack pool, and similar programs. The reason for that, he said, was that they’re funded through the budget, but there’s nobody really in charge of them. Mogensen said it wasn’t individual programs that he was responding to, but rather the structure of the budget. He compared the budget to a movie set where there are a lot of buildings but nothing behind the facades. He drew an analogy to football: In Ann Arbor, you fake left and run right! We have a lot of things in place to make it appear that we’re working on things, Mogensen said, but the budget is really pretty thin.

Glenn Thompson: Speaking during the public hearing on fee adjustments in the community servcies area, Thompson said that he’d inquired at a recent farmers market commission meeting why the fees for stall rental at the market were being increased. [For example, the cost for a single stall per year would go from $250 to $300, which is expected to generate an additional $2,900. The increase would take effect on July 1, 2009. The last fee increase was July 1, 2004.] Thompson said he’d been told that the reason was for salary increases and a percentage of the additional cost of a newly created position of deputy manager of parks and recreation. While he’d heard the council speak often of the efforts to reduce staff and improve efficiency, he characterized this step as “empire building as usual.” Adding another layer of management, he said, not an improvement in efficiency, either. As to whether it made the city “lean and mean,” he said that while it didn’t make the city lean, asking vendors to pay more was, indeed, “mean.”

Karen Sidney: Speaking during the public hearing on fee adjustments in the community services area, Sidney noted that the budget proposal includes a 4% safety services fee for water and sewer, which residents will notice when they pay their water bill. The idea is that water/sewer facilities require police protection. Sidney began by sketching out some history of attempts to use funds from other sources to pay for police protection. She cited $250,000 from the parks millage that had previously been proposed to be used for police protection in parks. She noted that an early version of the financing plan for the new police/courts facility included a provision to take 1.5% from the water/sewer bill to help pay for the building’s construction. At this point, Hieftje interrupted Sidney to inform her that on the advice of the city attorney [Stephen Postema], he wanted to suggest that she make her remarks during the public hearing on the budget, because this one was meant to address only the community services area fee schedule – of which the 4% fee increase was not a part. Sidney said that she had something else to say during that part of the agenda, and wrapped up quickly by saying that such fee increases amounted to “backdoor tax increases,” and encouraged council to focus on getting city costs under control. [The 4% safety services fee is an internal service charge, as opposed to a water rate hike. The consequence of applying such a fee could be that the rate for water would go up.]

Thomas Partridge: Partridge reflected on the fact that he’d been elected as his high school student body president the same fall that John F. Kennedy was elected. He called for an advanced center for social research to be added to the budget to focus on real funding for affordable housing. He called on council to reverse plans and to save the senior center. To seniors he said, “Take heart, take courage, stand up, and lead.”

Paul Lambert: Lambert said that he’d learned that council was contemplating cutting money from the human services division. [The plan for FY 2011 calls for cutting $260,000 from the human services allocation.] In this time of great general need, he said, he didn’t understand how that could be considered. He cited Martin Luther King Jr. as saying that a community would be judged by how they treated the least affluent. He said that council was funding “all kinds of Disneyland bullshit,” which in good times might be a good idea. But cutting human services to fund them was unethical, he said, and encouraged council to reconsider.

Program in Jeopardy: Ann Arbor Senior Center

Margaret Leslie: Leslie said that she was there to protest the proposed closing of the Ann Arbor Senior Center. She noted that it was an important community resource for seniors who’d become isolated due to retirement, loss of spouse, or distance from their nearest family members. She also noted the emotional and intellectual enrichment that was provided there. She concluded by saying that we needed to ensure that the senior center continues to operate after July, 2011.

Program in Jeopardy: Mack Pool

Matt West: He said he’d been swimming at Mack pool for the last six years as a part of the masters swimming program. He asked all those in the audience to don their goggles and stand and support. [In The Chronicle's field of view were at least a dozen people who did.] He asked for more time to address the budget shortfalls. In particular, he said Mack pool users support the plan that allows them until July 2010 to turn around the finances. He cited the cross section of the community that used the pool, and highlighted the handicapped access ramp. Instead of being a liability on the balance sheet, he suggested, Mack pool could become an asset – by making it a “green pool” and increasing revenues through increased usership and swim classes. He cited his own experience using the pool to train to help guide a blind athlete in triathlons in different parts of the world – which would not be possible without the masters swim program at Mack pool.

Malloria Miller: Miller allowed that she didn’t know much about the budget, but said that swimming at Mack pool had helped her quite a bit, specifically in the area of health (as a diabetic it helped her keep her blood sugar down) and friendship. She said it had helped her overcome some of her fears: “I can swim now!!” She said she felt like she’d found a family at Mack pool.

Alma Fisher: Fisher approached the podium in a wheelchair and finding that the microphone was unreachable asked, “How wheelchair accessible is this?” [There is a hand-held mic available, but it took a few minutes to track down.] Once she was provided a hand-held mic, she said that she lived at Miller Manor and was there to support the Mack pool contingent. She noted that she was in a wheelchair, so getting to a pool could have been a hardship. But because she lived just cross the street, getting to the pool was not a hardship. She said it was nice to have a neighborhood pool without being run over by “jocks.” She allowed there were “jocks” who swam at Mack pool, but said there’s a lane for slow swimmers.

Kristin Burgard: Burgard related how swimming at Mack pool had helped her through postpartum depression. She described swimming as a “sanctuary.” She said that even though she still didn’t feel good, it helped “take the edge off.”

James D’Amour: D’Amour appeared wearing swim goggles around his neck, and said that swimming had had a great positive impact on his life. He referenced his background serving on the recreation advisory commission and planning commission in the past. He said he hoped that a way to keep all of the various programs that had been mentioned could be found. He found it inappropriate that the Park Advisory Commission had “robbed Peter to pay Paul” in suggesting that Mack pool be closed earlier than originally proposed, in order to save the Leslie Science and Nature center. He said he appreciated Christopher Taylor’s willingness to volunteer to be on the recreation advisory commission. He suggested there needed to be some improvement on both sides for the city and the school system in working together.

Ed Sketch: Sketch said that people might be trying to place his accent as “extreme east Boston, otherwise known as England.” He described a “good better best” scenario, noting that the “bad” outcome would be the loss of the the pool services. The good option would be to keep it open through July 2010 originally, which was a wise idea. He passed around 30 letters from first graders at Mack School on behalf of the pool. Other grades were also working on letters, he said, but the first graders had “lived up to their name.” The better plan, which is now in outline form, would be to promote greater usage, increase fees for non-seniors, and increase the public schools’ contribution. The best plan would be to implement solar heating and replacement of chemicals for purification of the water to create a “green beacon.”

Program in Jeopardy: Leslie Science and Nature Center

Adela Pinch: Pinch spoke in support of the Leslie Science and Nature Center. She stressed that the scientific content at LSNC is a vital part of her child’s education comparable to what they received in the Ann Arbor Public School system. She praised the staff as outstanding educators who are as passionate about teaching children as they are knowledgeable.

Eleanor Pollack: She encouraged council to maintain funding for LSNC. Though she no longer had school-age children, she said, she believed that the funding should be continued at a time when the federal and state governments are stressing the importance of science education. LSNC offered a hands-on approach, which she said is not possible in our school system.

Ryan Shea: Shea introduced himself as a 9th grader at Community High School. He said he’d been involved at LSNC for nine years starting out as a camper when he was five years old. He stated that he volunteered there during summer and throughout the year. He mentioned that LSNC works with the local schools. He said that on a recent trip to Traver Creek with his 9th-grade science class looking for water bugs, they’d come across a 5th-grade class from Northside School. The Northside group was led by someone from LSNC and they were also fishing in Traver Creek for water bugs. He said he “found that to be really cool” because his was a class of 9th graders and they were a class of 5th graders – learning the same material. Shea said he would like other students to have the opportunity to experience the same thing.

Marc Smith: He said he was speaking as a resident and on behalf of the National Wildlife Federation. His children had enjoyed the programs at the LSNC. He described the LSNC as a “crown jewel” of Ann Arbor. He said that the NWF had participated in negotiations to create the strategic plan to eventually put the LSNC on independent footing [the center was previously a part of the city]. That had resulted from the fact that the NWF had recognized a rare opportunity to work at the local level. The proposed cuts, he said, would undermine the sustainability plan that had been worked out, and thus he encouraged council to restore the funding.

Frances Wang: Wang said that she had four children who were attending five different local (double-enrolled) schools. She related a recent anecdote to illustrate the impact of LSNC. After the LSNC had visited her five-year-old son’s preschool, she said, they were walking down Washington Street going to the YMCA. Her son spotted a plastic owl sitting on a second story balcony, and said, “That’s a great horned owl!” He began to hoot at it like he’d learned they did in class, and was at first puzzled that it didn’t hoot back. But he concluded that the owl must be asleep, “because owls are nocturnal.”

Joe Reilly: Reilly spoke on behalf of LSNC, where he said he’d been happily employed for four years. He reflected on the symbol of the city of Ann Arbor – the Burr Oak. He said it was his personal favorite. It illustrated how they taught children about community – the tree housed a commmunity of organisms within itself. He invited everyone to come take a walk in the woods.

Program in Jeopardy: Project Grow

Sheri Repucci: [The budget proposal would eliminate funding of $7,000 for Project Grow. Last year, the $7,000 had already been eliminated from the budget, but the budget was amended later to include the funding.] Repucci said that until recently she’d been a staff member at Project Grow, in charge of the Discovery Garden, which serves seniors, children, and people with visual handicaps. She emphasized that most of the gardeners grow food, not flowers. She presented her remarks as a response to a memo written by community services administrator Jayne Miller. Miller noted that the Project Grow balance is equal to one year’s budget.  [By way of comparison to this 100% fund balance, the city of Ann Arbor's budget includes a fund balance of something like 12-15%.] Repucci explained that this was due to the fact that Project Grow’s income comes in all at one time [garden plot rentals]. The reason for the fund balance, she said, was that it would take a full budget cycle to replenish the reserve fund. In response to Miller’s memo, which suggested that Project Grow was not partnering with other organizations, Repucci noted that it was the the University of Michigan’s Matthaei Botanical Gardens that stopped the process of a possible partnership there. [Previous Chronicle coverage of part of that effort is here]. As for the suggestion that Growing Hope was a potential partner, she said that because Growing Hope did not fund staff, they had a different funding structure that was incompatible with Project Grow’s. As for the possibility of partnering with Food Gatherers, she said that there was some collaboration [e.g., some Project Grow gardeners donate food they grow to Food Gatherers], but Food Gatherers has its own struggles with funding.

LuAnne Bullington: Bullington said that she was a volunteer at Project Grow, and it was the only place she knew in the area that offered raised garden beds at Leslie and raised beds that are accessible to seniors, little kids, and people with visual impairments. After having gardened at a raised bed, she said, she didn’t think she’d ever go back. She stressed the food-growing capacity of the program, saying that she grew food for other people at her plot. She lamented the fact that expansion of Project Grow plots into city parks has encounterd roadblocks. She concluded by pointing out that the amount of money at issue was only $7,000.

Council Response to Programs in Jeopardy (Leslie and Mack)

Christopher Taylor in his communications to council thanked the members of the Park Advisory Commission for a “high degree of good faith and diligence” in bringing forward to council an affirmative recommendation. However, he said that he expected that council would be making a different recommendation, which the mayor had alluded to at the start of the public hearing.

At Higgins’ request, Fraser said that the recommendation on the table currently (not PAC’s recommendation) was to close Mack pool this summer when other pools are open and to re-open again in the fall.

In his communications to council, Mike Anglin (Ward 5) said that he was impressed by all the hard work that PAC had done, but wondered if the work was really necessary – it might have been unnecessary if there had been clearer communication between administration and PAC. [Anglin and Taylor are both ex-officio members of PAC, and attended that commission's April meeting, at which the funding recommendations were approved.] Taken as an umbrella concept, Anglin said, the commitment to a “healthy city” – a prerequisite to being a “green city” – would lead council to support the programs under discussion.

Community Services Resolution: Leslie Science and Nature Center

An item that was originally a part of the consent agenda – extracted by councilmember Sandi Smith – was a resolution to approve an amendment to the restated partnership agreement between the city of Ann Arbor and Leslie Science and Nature Center. Jayne Miller, director of community services, said that the original agreement was for 10 years, but that the time period was somewhat problematic for attracting support through donations. The proposal was thus to extend the time period to 20 years.

Outcome: Passed unanimously.

Community Services Resolution: Shade Structures at Fuller Pool

The second item extracted from the consent agenda by councilmember Smith involved a contract to construct shade structures at Fuller Pool for $46,335. Smith wanted clarity from Jayne Miller, director of community services, about how the work was getting paid for. This, apparently was to clarify if the same money could have been spent on Mack pool operations and maintenance. Miller said that the money was being paid out of the old parks capital improvement millage, which can only be spent on capital improvements, not operations and maintenance. The new, combined parks millage allows for more flexibility, Miller said.

Outcome: Passed unanimously.

AAPS: Ball Fields and Cultural Arts Building

Council considered two resolutions involving agreements with the Ann Arbor Public Schools. They’re related thematically to the Mack pool issue, because that facility is operated by both the city and schools – it has frequently been expressed during the commentary on the Mack pool facility that a more equitable arrangement could be achieved between the city and the school system for its operation.

On Monday, council adopted agreements with the schools concerning the operation of two facilities. The first was a lease agreement for the Eberbach Cultural Arts Building.

The schools will now pay the city $9,900 in “capital facilities payments” and rent of $1. The $1 lease comes with a set of obligations for the schools:

In exchange for the $1.00 annual rent payment, the Ann Arbor Public Schools will be responsible for maintaining the premises in a condition that is satisfactory to the City and will perform the following responsibilities at its sole cost and expense with respect to the Premises: (1) custodial upkeep, (2) snow removal and exterior grounds care, (3) maintenance and repair of the parking lot, (4) maintenance and repair of the heating, ventilation, air conditioning, plumbing and electrical systems, (5) installation and maintenance of exterior signs identifying the Building, (6) interior painting, (7) general inspection, repairs and maintenance, including at a minimum, all items listed in the Inspection and Maintenance Schedule. In addition, the Ann Arbor Public Schools will be responsible to provide all utilities for the Premises, including electricity, heat, air-conditioning, ventilation, water, and sewer services as well as a insure the Premises, at its expense, against loss or damage.

The other agreement with the schools concerned the recovery of the city’s costs in preparing fields for use by the school’s Rec & Ed program. Highlights:

The services provided by the City include mowing, field grooming, removing trash and loose litter, opening and closing restrooms, and making ball field repairs. The proposed fees are listed as follows:
Ball Field Usage – Resident – $21.00 per booking
Ball Field Usage – Non-resident – $24.00 per booking
Ball Field Grooming Fee – $80.00 per grooming
Ball Field Anchor Placement Fee – $121.84 per anchor placement

Outcome: Both resolutions specifying the agreements between AAPS and the city were approved.

More Coverage

Editor’s note: Coverage of the meeting continues here. The articles have been broken apart due to apparent limitations of either browsers in reading or else the WordPress platform in publishing super-long articles. We continue to explore alternatives to our Meeting Watch presentations that strike a useful balance between the granularity of detail and the summary of content with a more timely publishing schedule – a week is a long time to wait. One possibility we’re entertaining is live Twittering, copyediting that feed with reader collaboration.


  1. May 10, 2009 at 5:05 pm | permalink

    I was living in California when Prop 13 hit and forced large budget cuts in virtually every community. The first program that was axed in my town of 39,000 people was the mosquito abatement program! Seems that it is a universal reflex of the bureaucrats to want to create an irritation for the tax payers when they are put on a fiscal budget. Since we don’t have a mosquito abatement program, the next best thing would be to cut a popular program that costs $7000 a year, Project Grow, the funding for seniors at the Center and juniors at Mack Pool. Sort of gets under your skin like mosquito doesn’t it?

    I hate to be an “I told you so” but……wouldn’t it be nice to have postponed the Court project and have an extra $18M in the General Fund now?

  2. By Dusty Lake
    May 10, 2009 at 5:33 pm | permalink

    I don’t know how they could have done that. The city courts need to be out of the county court house by the end of 2010.

    If you read the letter from Gunzel and heard all the rhetoric a few years back you must know the county told the city they had to move the courts so the county could move the juvenile courts into the space where the city courts are now. The city was looking at this project for 10 years.

    Besides all the decisions were made before the big market crash and if you think the city should have predicted that then you must have make a bundle selling stocks short. If you can predict huge recessions and falling property values then I am sure you have a huge future on Wall Street.

    Also, the UM took the Pfizer property off the tax roles.

    People like to second guess, Monday morning quarterbacks abound but you have to look at the conditions at the time.

    All and all though, I don’t mind the city cutting back. When this is over they will have an even leaner organization and a new building for the police and courts, something they have needed for a long time.

    Project Grow? Its not like they need the money. They have full years worth of funding in the bank already. The city gives them land and is looking for more for them to use.

  3. May 10, 2009 at 5:57 pm | permalink


    You missed my point completely. Have you ever restructured a company or organization? You don’t start with the smallest expenditures!

    For what its worth, I spoke personally with Bob Gunzel and he told me they would be happy to renegotiate the lease. In my opinion the letter was only to help Roger Fraser’s weak case. It is too late any way! I don’t want to waste any more time on that debate.

  4. By Dusty Lake
    May 10, 2009 at 6:18 pm | permalink

    I sorry but you brought it up.

    Besides, it was time the city stopped paying rent.

    I won’t say you aren’t being truthful about talking to Gunzel and I suppose you can attach whatever motive you want to his letter but what you are saying is not what he said publicly and in his letter.

  5. May 10, 2009 at 9:41 pm | permalink

    That is Bob Guenzel. You are both misspelling his name.

    I talked with him too (shortly before he issued that letter) and I think Stew’s perception is closer to the truth. The decision to boot the city out of the county courthouse was by no means so definite as has been presented. What was really said was that the city had the choice of paying for courthouse renovations to support the 15th District Court or leaving. Fraser and Guenzel liked the second option better. We have expended a great deal of our local tax revenues on overly ambitious building programs in the last few years. There must be something in Administrator DNA that likes bricks and mortar. Too bad that we now have to pay for it in service reductions.

    Did you note that the county building on Zeeb Road (outside of mass transit access) has mostly been vacated and is up for lease? When I was on the BOC, it experienced a number of cost overruns (during construction), and has never been a very nice building.

    Stew, I was living in California during the Prop 13 era too. At least I don’t remember a concurrent (public) building boom.

    As for the hits on Project Grow, sounds as though Dusty has a direct line to Jayne Miller. She/he doesn’t get it. They have a fund balance of all of $50,000. Any organization needs to have a little money in the bank in order to operate from month to month. How the city can deny them their little bit of help ($7,000) while spending huge amounts otherwise ($600,015 to buy Tios, for example) is very discouraging. The city has not given them land. They have allowed them to use some land, as have a number of nonprofits. This is not a revenue-generating enterprise but a service that the city used to provide its residents! I really do need to get my blog posting on this done.

  6. By Dusty Lake
    May 10, 2009 at 10:35 pm | permalink

    For all the many reasons so many have sited over the years, the city needed a new courthouse and police station. The county wanted them out and it doesn’t really matter what Guenzel may have said to the two of you in the backroom or rather he said it at all. It’s just hearsay.

    Frankly I am suspect of the version of this reported by two candidates for city council who ran on this issue.

    It was very clear to many at the time this was decided that the county judges wanted the city courts out of “their” courthouse. It was also clear that the commissioners and the county administrator were not going to stand up to them.

    Not only did the judges want the city courts out, they wanted to move the juvenile courts into the space. They probably still do.

    If the city had stayed on that site they would have had to pay all the costs of building on the county site and still they would have had to pay high and higher rent. They made the right decision to move.

    There was an ultimatum to the city to move out by the end of 2010 and that is what they are trying to do.

    We all have a right to our opinion and I happen to think your opinion on this issue is a minority one.

    If you don’t want to talk about this stop bringing it up. If you do, don’t blame other people for refuting your version of what happened.

  7. May 11, 2009 at 5:12 am | permalink

    I did indeed meet with Mr. Guenzel (in his office, not in a back room) and before that I was involved for several years in many discussions regarding plans for courthouse renovation, expansion, relocation, etc., so I was well aware of all the issues. Although he did make statements to me, I did not publicize them or use them in my campaign since I was merely trying to bridge some gaps in order to find an alternative to this ruinously expensive solution.

    Yes, we have (legitimately) different opinions on the resolution of this issue. I don’t know what the actual majority opinion is, but as our city is forced to absorb more and more cuts in services and programs, I expect that questions will continue to be raised about its cost and that the defensive posture displayed here will become more and more strident. Questioning the veracity of opponents is a good start.

  8. By My two cents
    May 11, 2009 at 9:30 am | permalink

    Dave- I have a suggestion (or request). If the articles need to be shortened due to too much content, could you please include all the elected official’s comments first? Many times (this article as well as other board/council meeting coverings) you include the public commentary verbatim but then summarize a discussion by the councilmembers/commissioners with selected quotes. Although I feel the public commentary is important to hear, it is not as important as the discussion by the councilmembers or commissioners. I would like to see the official discussion take precedence over public commentary if space is an issue. Also, sometimes the public commentary has included misinformation or complete bias which is legitimized by the priority of the public commentary over the official discussion. The public is never held accountable for their opinions while the councilmembers/commissioners are.

    I realize that the public commentary comes first at the meeting, but this is because the council members are taking that into consideration for their discussion. When reading a recap I want to know what was discussed and if any action was taken. As a resident of the city, that is what is important to me; not what a few people who are opposed to the issue think. I want to form my own opinion by reading the discussion. The public commentary should follow the recap if space allows.

  9. By Dusty Lake
    May 11, 2009 at 9:48 am | permalink

    I’m sorry Vivienne but when two former candidates for office, who both ran on the same issue justify their position on that issue by saying they each had a private conversation with a respected public official and the outcome was that he told them something contrary to his own written statement, well, flags go up.

    Everyone else had to work with official, on the record statements and facts.

    But assuming your version is true, I don’t think it makes any difference. As I said before if the city had stayed on the county site they would have had to pay all building costs, the same as they are doing now but they would still be paying high rent, forever. It would have made no sense to do that.

  10. May 11, 2009 at 1:07 pm | permalink

    I think that anyone that is negotiating the early retirement package for the police or fire department should disclose before hand whether they have accepted any Police or Fire PAC money as campaign contributions.

  11. May 13, 2009 at 2:22 am | permalink

    Why, Stew? Isn’t that (already) public information? Do you really mean that they should abstain from participation?

  12. By My two cents
    May 13, 2009 at 9:21 am | permalink

    Stewart – Should all elected officials give back contributions given by citizens/activists when the elected official votes the way of the contributor?

    You seem to think that a contribution buys you a vote. It does not. A contribution supports a candidate who you feel will represent the city and you in the best way. There is no guarantee any vote will go your way. There is no recourse to get your contribution back if the vote does not go your way (except for not contributing to them in the next election).

    When contributing to a candidate one must realize that the only person who will vote 100% the way the want or expect is themselves.

    So, I think that your accusation that elected officials have been “paid off” is completely unjustified and just plain wrong. These contributions are small and do not make or break any of the candidates. The PACS have a right to contribute to candidates who they feel better represent them just like any other citizen. This does not mean that the EOs owe the PACS anything more than the average citizen. Sometimes one’s opinion may be in the majority sometimes one’s opinion may be in the minority. Ethical elected officials balance public opinion along with facts and knowledge to reach a conclusion and an opinion.

    When we contribute to a candidate we are supporting the person’s judgment not buying their vote.

  13. By UMGrad1234
    May 13, 2009 at 5:52 pm | permalink

    PACs are, of course, perfectly legal. Politicians are forever challenging each other to refrain from taking PAC money (it happened in the Mich. race for Governor recently, I believe). The issue in other communities is that the local newspapers actually do investigative journalism in the realm of politics. Ours consistently has not. So, Google the terms “City Council” and “PACs”, and you’ll come up with oodles of news stories about City Council members in a host of other cities and their PAC donations; those donations raise questions from journalists, and this serves the public interest.

    Taking PAC money at the local level is treated by journalists in other cities exactly how it should be—with a healthy dose of objectivity and lots of questions about the influence such donations can buy. Anyone who thinks large donations are not made to buy influence is somewhat missing the point of political donations, I think, and missing the point of PACs in particular.

    Marcia Higgins ran in 2007 opposed and took 40 percent of the the total money she raised from a single PAC. It just so happens that, in her role as a Chair of a Council Committee, she also negotiates contracts with the union representatives of this same PAC. She sits across from people who’ve handed her the single largest donation of her campaign and negotiates, sets policy, etc….Does she represent the interests of her contributor of the taxpayers? One would have to evaluate her votes and the contracts she recommends to Council. These things ought to be scrutinized very carefully.

    It just so happens that Leigh Greden, Rapundalo and Higgins all sit on the same Council Committee that negotiates with the union representatives of the same PAC, and all took what amounted to huge donations from that same PAC.

    That’s a clear conflict of interest, and it’s even more problematic that Marcia Higgins, Rapundalo and Greden see no reason to recuse themselves or to speak openly about the PAC donations as they go about representing the best interests of the taxpayers.

  14. By Dusty Lake
    May 13, 2009 at 7:12 pm | permalink

    Hi Grad: I suppose we all have our opinions about campaign contributions but it is expensive to run for office and candidates at all levels have to raise money. If we had a system of public financing of elections it would be different.

    I would just point out that democratic candidates have been taking donations from unions forever so it is hard to blame any one candidate without blaming all. I don’t believe it is ethically right to let some off the hook because the percentage of the donation is smaller than what other’s took.

    If city council members are guilty so are the Pres. most of the US and State House and Senate and the Gov. (All Dems.) The Republicans have their cash cows as well.

    As for disclosure, as Steve pointed out why? This is all public knowledge.

    Also, from conversations I have had with a council member on this point, council members don’t negotiate with the unions at all and it would be bad practice if they did. The city has an HR person and an attorney who does the negotiations.

  15. By UMGrad1234
    May 15, 2009 at 2:39 pm | permalink

    Hi Dusty,

    This was posted by Leigh Greden to ArborUpdate:

    Labor changes
    I am a member of the City’s Labor Negotiation Committee, and we have implemented a comprehensive plan to reform the pay, benefit, and management structure for both union and non-union City employees. These changes are necessary to save money and bring the City’s compensation system in line with other public and private sector organizations. Consider the following:

    The City began a new partnership with the Firefighters Union, and we recently approved a two-year retroactive labor contract with the Union that dramatically reformed the Fire Services Unit. The City may now call on neighboring townships for assistance in fighting fires (a process known as “mutual aid”). This practice had been forbidden in prior union contracts even though it can save lives by increasing the number of firefighters on-call to fight fires. The new union contract also reformed department work rules and compensatory time programs to save money and give the City more flexibility in managing the department. Similar changes were included in the union contract that was recently approved with the Police Officers’ Union.

    Here’s a link to the complete entry: link

    Who was the Council member who told you that members don’t oversee negotiations or vote on the contracts? The five members of the Committee vote and make recommendations on contacts. That’s why there’s a Committee with Council members on it.

    As for “public knowledge…..” yes, it’s public knowledge. Buried in archived files. Marcia Higgins, Leigh Greden, Rapundalo, Smith, Derezinski, Taylor and Hohnke took large donations from a PAC on whose members’ contracts they vote and (some) oversee negotiations. It’s a conflict of interest and slimy. Lots of legal things are slimy; I’d just like to see Ann Arbor have city Council people who have a bit of moral fiber where money is concerned.

  16. By jcp2
    May 15, 2009 at 3:55 pm | permalink

    If we are looking only for candidates that do not need to take contributions to run a competitive and successful campaign, then aren’t we restricting ourselves to candidates that are extremely wealthy?

  17. By My two cents
    May 15, 2009 at 4:16 pm | permalink

    UMgrad1234 – You seem to think that most people cannot be impartial as elected officials. You imply that by taking a contribution from a constituent/PAC that obligates the elected official to vote the way of the contributor. I say again as I stated in post 12 above that:

    “When we contribute to a candidate we are supporting the person’s judgment not buying their vote.”

    I think your opinion regarding the “slimy, conflict of interest” shows us what type of character you have vs. what type of character the elected officials who sit on city council have. When you make a contribution to a campaign do you actually believe you are buying their vote? Do you actually believe that your contribution should sway their vote on anything? You shouldn’t.

    Do you actually think the contribution by a PAC has more influence than a contribution by a voter? If an activist contributes to a candidate and the issue that the activist supports is brought up to council for consideration, is that slimy and a conflict of interest too?

    Using your logic, if a candidate takes a contribution form anyone they cannot longer be trusted because their vote has been bought. Our political system relies on contributions by supporters so that the common person can run for office. Your system (no contributions) will only allow the well-off to run.

  18. By Dusty Lake
    May 15, 2009 at 5:27 pm | permalink

    Grad: I didn’t say that council members did not approve union contracts only that they do not negotiate them. You said they “negotiate” and “sit across the table.” This is not the case.

    Voting up and or down on a contract seems different by a degree or two than actually negotiating with the union.

    It is but a degree or two that separates a council member who accepts union PAC money (when they oversee the union) from a governor, president or state or federal legislator who does the same, even if that money makes up a large percentage of their campaign funds.

    Saying that the Governor is not guilty of selling influence (isn’t that what you are worried about) by taking money from a state employee union but a council member is guilty with a city union because it’s a higher percentage of their funds, won’t wash.

    It is the same as saying someone is less guilty of murder if they only kill one person because the other killer took 3 lives.

    If you are going to indict council members on this then you are indicting all candidates who take money from unions that they have final say over. This includes a great many Democrats and of course as I said, the Republicans

  19. May 15, 2009 at 6:15 pm | permalink

    This discussion on campaign finance is useful because it is a major problem for our democracy. There is indeed a question of undue influence when interest groups (as PACs or individuals) make contributions, but in my opinion this does not necessarily mean that the politician is “bought and paid for”. Unless there is an obvious quid pro quo, it should not be assumed that money has bought outright ownership of the representative’s decisions. (A lot of what happens in Congress seems to come pretty close.)

    There is a subtle influence, though. I could digress about how opinions of campaign supporters can also be influential. Politicians are vulnerable and are continually having to jockey for moral and political support, of which money is only a part. It is only human to try to please people who support you, without any openly dishonest impulses being involved.

    With regard to the Firefighters, I was invited to be interviewed by them. I returned the call and said that I did not feel comfortable in accepting either an endorsement or a donation, since I would have responsibility for their contract if elected. But I assured them that I wanted to hear from them and would be happy to meet with them after the primary. They subsequently endorsed and gave money to my opponent. (I have no reason to suppose that he has been unduly influenced.) Truthfully, I think the Firefighters and other municipal unions are wasting their money by giving these donations. They were described as “huge”. Since city council elections are starting to cost about $20,000 for each candidate, I wonder what constitutes “huge”?

  20. By UMGrad1234
    May 15, 2009 at 8:24 pm | permalink


    Let’s not get too far afield. I agree with Vivienne that talking about campaign finance as it pertains to Ann Arbor is useful; I found Vivienne’s comments interesting. I’ll leave state and national campaign finance reform to a time when The Chronicle writes a piece about state/national politics. :-)

    As for Marcia Higgins, in 2005 when she ran opposed, the average donation to her campaign was $125. That year, she took $2,000 from the Firefighter’s PAC, or 40 percent of the total money she used. It was the single largest donation to her campaign.

    One doesn’t really need to see how she votes to judge the quality of her ethics where money is concerned. One need only wonder what she does when others offer her money, say developers who have projects in the pipeline? She took $2,000 from a union with which the Committee she chairs deals, votes and negotiates. Leigh Greden took $1,000 from the same PAC. Carsten Hohnke and Sandi Smith took $750 each. Tony Derezinski took $500 and Taylor $200. They are all responsible for the firefighters contract.

    As Vivienne pointed out when the Firefighters came ‘a callin’: she would be responsible for their contract. She managed to do what was ethical. We agree that it’s not illegal to take PAC money; the circumstances in which our Council members accepted it, however, it raises questions about their ethical standards. Heck, the Mayor took a donation from a developer to whom he then turned around and voted to award a $250,000 incentive as a board member of the DDA.

    This stuff is front page news in other cities, folks. In ours it’s business as usual and taxpayers get the shaft because of the shoddy ethical standards of the people like Marcia Higgins.

    Maybe I missed my incentive check from the city, and it’s making me cranky. Maybe I’m somewhat sick and tired of being perceived as a cash cow by people who are infatuated with throwing around and throwing away our tax dollars on hair-brained schemes that benefit their campaign donors and political pals.

    Ann Arbor News Building: 90,000 square feet (cost $9.7 million)
    Ann Arbor Municipal Building: 100,000 square feet cost to taxpayers $90 million)

    As I’ve said before: why don’t we just collect the property tax money, put it into a big pile and burn it. At least we could all join in on the fun and make s’mores for our kids as the pile goes up in flames.

    If I can’t get an incentive like the developers, I’d settle for a gew parking spaces in one of the downtown garages. They get those, too.

  21. By Dusty Lake
    May 15, 2009 at 11:12 pm | permalink

    Hmmm Grad. You are side stepping the ethics involved here. You made the claim. Why is it different if a city council member takes contributions from a union they ultimately have responsibility over than when any other Democratic candidate does it?

    I believe people can separate the campaign contribution from the policy decision.

    But please answer. Is the governor guilty by your standards? How about the President?