A Few City Council Candidate Questions

League of Women Voters hosts July 22 candidate debate

On July 22 at the CTN studios on South Industrial Highway, the League of Women Voters of the Ann Arbor Area will host debates for candidates in the Aug. 4 Democratic primary. Ward 3 candidates Leigh Greden, LuAnne Bullington, and Stephen Kunselman will take the 7-7:45 p.m. time slot. Ward 5 candidates Mike Anglin and Scott Rosencrans will answer the League’s questions from 8-8:30 p.m.

The League welcomes submission of possible questions for candidates through Monday, July 20. [See previous Chronicle coverage of the candidate forum hosted by the Ann Arbor City Dems divided by Ward 5 and Ward 3 candidates.]

After the break, The Chronicle provides some questions we’d like to hear candidates answer.

About You

Q: Serving on city council requires a significant time commitment. For non-incumbents: If you are elected to city council, what specific commitments will you give up in order to serve? For incumbents: If you are not re-elected to council, how specifically will you use the time you currently allot for your city council service?


Q: In your vision for Ann Arbor in the context of southeast Michigan, do you see it as one of several regional economic and population centers, or do you see it as the main economic and population center? Or do you see it as something else entirely? However you see Ann Arbor in a regional context, what specific policies do you think are important to implement in order to realize that vision?

Q: For site plans, a planning commission recommendation for approval or for denial is currently given whatever importance an individual councilmember assigns it. In the end, the city council makes the final decision. Would you be in favor of giving more strength to the planning commission recommendation? For example, one could imagine this requirement: In order to contravene a recommendation on a site plan by the planning commission, the city council would need an 8-vote supermajority.


Q: What material impact would a successful GO Ask Voters petition have, and do you support that petition?

Q: Within the county’s board of commissioners, its ways and means committee is a “committee of the whole” that meets immediately before the regular board meetings. Much of the board’s work occurs during ways and means, which is open to the public and broadcast live on CTN. Would you support a city council rule change that would make the city council’s budget and labor committee conform to this model?

Q: What’s your view on the appropriate relationship between the city and the Downtown Development Authority, specifically with reference to the parking agreement that is to be renegotiated in the coming year?

Q: In anticipation of a tough budget year in FY 2011, what specific areas would you direct city staff to analyze starting now, with a goal of reducing expenses? Besides a city income tax, what specific areas would you direct city staff to analyze with a goal of increasing revenue?

Q: In anticipation of a community discussion on the possibility of a city income tax to replace the general operating millage property tax, what are the specific questions about a city income tax proposal that should frame our community discussion?


Q: In thinking about Argo Dam, which one of the following considerations has been most important in framing your thoughts on the issue: (i) economics, (ii) deferred maintenance, (iii) environmental impact, or (iv) public sentiment? If it’s some other consideration, feel free to say.

Q: Which of the following community environmental goals would you support, by directing city staff to mount a concentrated public relations campaign to achieve it? Why or why not? Reduction by 2015 of our per-capita …

  • … total waste stream by N%
  • … water usage by N%
  • … wastewater throughput by N%
  • … electric/gas by N%
  • … vehicle miles traveled by N%

Q: What’s your understanding of the possibility of using greenbelt millage money to protect land inside the city limits? What’s your view on how greenbelt money should be used?

Public Input

Q: For Ward 5 candidates Mike Anglin and Scott Rosencrans: You both attended the June 29 meeting at Slauson Middle School between residents and city staff on the topic of the city’s tree management policies. What did you find encouraging or disappointing about that meeting?

Q: By the time an issue reaches the point of a public hearing or otherwise comes before council, councilmembers will likely (though not necessarily) have been exposed to all the relevant facts and arguments on all sides of an issue. At such meetings, the material impact of the public input might be argued to be this: The actual deliberations on the issue by councilmembers are abbreviated due to the fact that their mental and physical stamina has been sapped by the lengthy public commentary. Do you have any ideas to maintain the ability of the public to provide their input, while giving councilmembers the ability to enter their deliberations in a fresh mental and physical state?

Transparency and Openness of Government

Q: Consider this hypothetical scenario: A company, XYZ Consultants, under contract with the city, produces a report that contains information not covered under the exceptions to the Freedom of Information Act. Would you support a city data policy that would entail the posting of that report on the city’s website as a standard first step when it’s received from XYZ Consultants? Why or why not?

Q: Do you think that the city council needs to develop a “Code of Ethics”? If so, give concrete examples of what specifically should be in such a code.

Q: Not all conflicts of interest meet the technical requirements of council’s rules on financial conflicts. Do you think  it is important for councilmembers to state all conflicts of interest on every occasion they come up at the council table – whether or not the conflict requires recusal? Or is it sufficient that councilmembers’ connections to a particular issue be a matter of public record somewhere?

Q: Do you think the Sunday night council caucus is even worth holding? If it’s worth holding, then what specific changes would you make to the caucus in order to encourage a meeting where the “main event” is frank, open and conversational exchanges of information among councilmembers on upcoming council business, and not just another one of myriad opportunities for residents to communicate to councilmembers? Feel free to include ideas on day, time, and venue.

Q: Currently on council, Mike Anglin (Ward 5) – and to a somewhat lesser extent Sabra Briere (Ward 1) – are “outsiders” on the body on which they represent residents of the city. What specifically would you do to create a city council culture that embraces healthy and open dissent, without destroying the possibility of collaborative work?

Mechanics of Council

Q: An apparent lack of interest in the Democratic Party’s local organization was reflected by the attendance of only 3 out of 11 of current city councilmembers at the Dems’ recent candidate forum. Would you support conversion to non-partisan elections for city council seats? If not, what specific ideas do you have to make the candidate recruitment process more a function of Democratic Party organizational structure (ward chairs and precinct delegates and the like) and less a function of informal non-Party-based discussions?

Q: The current rotating system for the start of the roll call vote was implemented fairly recently in the wake of dissatisfaction among councilmembers with the previous system in which the roll was called from Ward 1 through Ward 5, with the mayor voting last. The fact that some councilmembers are now concerned about where the roll call starts at any given meeting suggests further refinements might be worth considering. What suggestions do you have for changes in process that would encourage councilmembers to determine independently how to vote, without regard to how other councilmembers vote on the issues?

Q: Council rules specify that speaking on any motion be limited to two turns for any councilmember: 5 minutes for the first turn and 3 minutes for the second turn. Roberts Rules of Order provides an option for more conversational interaction that does not require speakers to be recognized by the chair and automatically allows for multiple speaking turns. What do you consider to be the advantages and disadvantages of each approach?

Where to Watch

CTN will air several rebroadcasts of the debates on Channel 19. The debates will also be available through CTN’s Video on Demand online service.


  1. July 19, 2009 at 2:08 pm | permalink

    I like your idea of the council’s bringing operations out of a very closely controlled committee into the public light. However, I’ll note that in practice the first and second reading of ordinances by council does a fairly good job of paralleling the Ways & Means – BOC pair. One simple thing council could do would be to move the public hearing from the second reading back to the first reading, so that public input has some chance of affecting the makeup of the ordinance.

    I must also comment that your question to incumbents about how they would replace the time they spend on council business is rather cruel. Let me rephrase it for you: “If a major part of your existence, that you live and breath all your waking hours, is torn away from you by a loss at the polls after a strenuous campaign, how will you compensate for this gap in your life?”

    I don’t understand why you think that candidate recruitment should be handled by a ward-and-precinct organization. The number of people involved in any kind of formal party organization is very small and is not representative. A strength of our democracy is that candidates come from anywhere, for many reasons. It would be too bad to see that relegated to a few political functionaries. You seem to be suggesting a primary before the primary.

  2. By Leslie Morris
    July 19, 2009 at 2:42 pm | permalink

    I agree with Vivienne’s three points.

    I do not believe that requiring a super majority of council to disagree with a planning commission recommendation would necessarily be in the public interest. Planning commission members, like all other board and commission members,serve as specialists, who spend extra time studying the proposals on their agenda. They are not, however, elected officials directly responsible to the public. They are nominated by one person, the mayor, and are often chosen for their professional background or particular interest. In our democratic system, power is supposed to be exercised by elected officials.

    In addition, I believe that such a change would require a charter amendment, which would be difficult to pass, given the problem I have noted.

  3. By Karen Sidney
    July 19, 2009 at 6:20 pm | permalink

    I’d like to see more openness in the Budget and Labor Committee. I recently filed a freedom of information request asking for minutes, agendas and staff notes for this committee from 7/1/07 through 6/23/09. The only documents I received are emails with a reminder for 6 meetings (4 in 2009 and 2 in 2008). The emails included a list of topics to be discussed. The FOIA response said there were no minutes or staff notes from the meetings.

    Because the committee is only 5 members (Hieftje, Teall, Higgins, Rapundalo, Greden) it is not subject to the open meetings act. A start toward improved transparency would be for all council committees to follow the open meetings act by publishing meeting times and location and preparing minutes.

  4. By Jerry Gilbert
    July 21, 2009 at 8:00 pm | permalink

    I support non-partisan elections for City Council seats. That is how its done in most Michigan cities and i believe we would have a more competitive general election if this was the case.