Council: Art Key to Ann Arbor’s Identity

Also: Most aspects of parking deal approved

Ann Arbor City Council meeting (Dec. 21, 2009) Part I: Ann Arbor’s city council meeting lasted past midnight, as the council concluded the evening with a closed session on labor negotiations. The apparent focus of that closed session was the possibility that an agreement could yet be struck with the firefighter’s union that would prevent the layoff of firefighters who’ve already received letters of termination that would end their service to the city on Jan. 4, 2010.

public art line up for public hearings

Members of the public line up for the public hearing on the Percent for Art program. (Photos by the writer)

What pushed the council meeting into the wee hours, however, were the topics of art and parking.

Several members of council backed off their previous support for a reduction in public art funding. The Percent for Art program was left at its full funding level. The council also approved a contract for management services for the Dreiseitl art project to be installed as a part of the new municipal center – amid legal concerns raised by Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3).

Also, the council ultimately approved a heavily amended version of a resolution on parking that Sandi Smith (Ward 1) had added to the agenda on the previous Friday, which left the intent of two key “Resolved” clauses largely intact: (i) the city will get revenues from a surface parking lot, and (ii) the city’s plan to install its own meters has been braked indefinitely. A third clause that would have extended downtown meter enforcement to 10 p.m. was swapped out in favor of one that is less specific.

The council attended to a variety of other matters, including its new committee organization, authorization of purchases connected to single stream recycling, and acceptance of an energy grant. Councilmembers and the city administrator also made robust use of the communications section of the agenda to provide status updates on their recent work.

In Part I of our council report, we focus on art and parking.

Percent for Art: Proposed Reduction

At its Dec. 7 meeting the city council approved on first reading a resolution sponsored by Mayor John Hieftje and Sandi Smith (Ward 1) that would have reduced the allocation to public art specified in the city’s Percent for Art program. The reduction was proposed to be from 1% to 0.5% of capital projects, and to last for three years.

The second reading of the resolution and its accompanying public hearing was held Monday night.

Public Hearing on Percent for Art

Jan Onder, Jim Curtis, Elaine Sims and Margaret Parker, who all serve on the city’s public art commission, spoke at the public hearing on the Percent for Art reduction. [The commission had strategized about their response to this resolution at the group's Dec. 8 meeting.]

Onder noted that the reduction would not generate money to cover the shortfall in the general fund. She also cited her experience owning a downtown shop [Generations] for 22 years in support of her contention that “art can bring people here.” She suggested that art can “give people something to write home about.” Onder contended that a possible 30% reduction in capital improvements, with the 50% reduction in arts support translated into an 80% reduction in arts funding.

[Editor's note: Percents are not additive in that way. The arithmetic here can be understood with a hypothetical example of a current capital improvements budget of $100. Under the Percent for Art program, there would be a $1 allocation to art. If the budget were reduced by 30% to $70 and the public art program were reduced to 0.5%, then ($70)*(.005) = $.035. Compared to $1, that would translate to a 65% reduction.]

Curtis cited his experience as a commercial real estate developer in support of the idea that investing in art, even in times of economic difficulty, could be a financial win. He also noted that the allocation to art under the city’s program was a relatively small percentage.

Sims introduced herself not only as a public art commissioner, but also as the director of the University of Michigan Health System’s Gifts of Art program. She said that 3 million people per year pass by works of art in UM health facilities, and that art had a positive impact in key moments of their lives. She allowed that Ann Arbor is not a hospital. Given the long planning associated with development of works of art – as long as three years – she feared that the reduction would represent a setback to the program.

Parker portrayed art as one of the most important ways that the state of Michigan could expand beyond the boom and bust pattern of a one-product economy. Investments in the arts, she said, paid off $10 for every dollar put in.

Others besides art commissioners also spoke at the public hearing.

Marlene Ross, a docent at the University of Michigan Museum of Art, emphasized the potential financial benefit of art – people come from all over the state to visit the museum’s new addition. Ross said that a reduction in funding would send a negative message to artists.

Donald Harrison, executive director of the Ann Arbor Film Festival, reported that he’d moved to Ann Arbor from California, and that when people asked him why, he cited Ann Arbor’s leadership in arts and culture. In contemplating his move, he said, the Percent for Art program affirmed his belief that Ann Arbor was a special place.

Shoshana Hurand introduced herself as a social worker perhaps better known as an advocate for the arts [e.g., as an organizer of Festifools]. She said that in her work in places like Detroit and Elkhart, Ind., she’d come to see art as an “indicator species” – in environmental science they can serve as a measure of the health of an ecosystem. By supporting the weakest elements of a system, she said, it can help nourish the rest of the space.

Bob Grese, who was on the municipal center art task force, acknowledged the challenges that councilmembers faced in consideration of the budget. He cited other communities that have Percent for Art programs – not just New York City, he said, but also similar-sized communities to Ann Arbor like New Haven, Conn. and Chapel Hill, N.C. As director of Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum, he said, he could attest to the value of art installations, like the 10,000 daffodils in the arboretum.

An artist spoke at the public hearing said he was embarrassed that he had to come to the city council to talk about the importance of art. He cautioned the council to consider the message that they’d be sending to the artist community in Michigan. Trying to save 0.5% in a construction budget, he reported, “feels icky as an artist.”

Thomas Partridge contended that he’d initiated the public art discussion. He reported that he was the son of a deceased award-winning artist – his mother, who inherited her talent from his grandmother. He was there, he said, to advance the cause of public art. He suggested that this be tied to making Michigan the center for film making and creativity.

Charles Loucks spoke in support of the proposed reduction in the program. The method of funding – taking monies out of capital funds – was flawed, he said. Funding the program instead out of operations would allow adequate oversight, he suggested. He said found it “galling” that the public art commission had looked to a German artist for its first major work.

Council Deliberations on Percent for Art

Sandi Smith (Ward 1), who co-sponsored the resolution with Mayor John Hieftje, led off deliberations by asking her colleagues to consider whether art was a core service that the city should prioritize. The proposal, she said, ensured that the program would be alive and funded, but that it was important to pull back a little bit for a limited period of three years. Without further council action, the full 1% would be restored after three years.

She characterized the proposal as consistent with “shared sacrifices” that would be required. She said that she’d rather the situation not be art versus firefighters, saying, “We can’t be pitted against each other.” She concluded her remarks by saying  she thought the proposal was “palatable.”

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2), who’d voted against the reduction at its first reading, had not changed his mind. He read from a communication he’d been sent from Jan Barney Newman [currently a member of the Ann Arbor District Library board] in support of maintaining funding. He concluded that art is one of those things that symbolizes Ann Arbor.  He echoed the words of the public speaker who characterized the proposal to reduce funding as “icky.”

Margie Teall (Ward 4), who’d supported the reduction at the first reading, said she was concerned that it would set the program back when it was only beginning to gain its footing. She compared the idea of reducing the percentage to taking back a tax abatement that had been granted.

Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2), had argued against the reduction at first reading, making an argument based on economic development. He took up Smith’s question about whether art was a core service saying, “I instead look at it as a core value.” He said that art was a defining element for Ann Arbor’s regional and national image. He also echoed the sentiments that Margaret Parker had expressed during public commentary, saying that economically, Michigan was still a “one-trick pony,” despite much rhetoric to the contrary. Rapundalo also reiterated a theme from the first reading, saying that no exact dollar figure could be identified as the amount to be saved.

Christopher Taylor

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) helped craft language for a revised parking resolution, which came after the Percent for Art deliberations.

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) said he was “amazed, surprised, and pleased” by the support for art he’d heard from the community. He said that cultural leadership is an important element of the Ann Arbor brand and that it was important to reinforce that brand and expand it. He allowed that these were bad economic times, but noted it was not general fund monies that were at stake.

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) said he would not be supporting the reduction, citing the fact that it would not make any difference in the general fund. Hohnke said that definition of the funding as a percentage allowed the amount of funding to go up or down in a way that was commensurate with the city’s ability to invest in its infrastructure. He compared it to the same good long-term role that research and development played in the business sector. It was important to continue those investments, he said, in order to set us up for economic vitality in the long run.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) reported that when he lived in Washington D.C. he knew all the paintings at the National Gallery because he visited them every week. He stressed that the Percent for Art program was a gift to the community, not to any one artist, and that at a time like this, we need to celebrate art.

Saying he supported public art in general, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) offered his support for Smith’s resolution, saying it was “the right thing to do.” In response to the argument that general fund money would not be affected, he pointed out that non-general fund money was also currently stretched. Art, he declared, is non-essential. He pointed out that three years is not that long.

In responding to her colleagues, Smith said she took exception to Rapundalo’s contention that the council didn’t know what dollar amounts they’re voting for. [She had provided Rapundalo at the first reading of the resolution a reference point: In the  FY 2011 capital improvements plan (CIP), there were $519,000 in eligible funding – so that the savings were around $260,000.]

But recognizing that most of the support from her colleagues at the resolution’s first reading had melted away, Smith declared that she had heard from them that art is a value that they are not willing to sacrifice, and that she was pleased to see that it’s a value they would stand up for.

Hohnke and Hieftje then stressed again the fact that the Percent for Art funding could not be spent on general fund activities. Hieftje declared that what the council had accomplished through consideration of the resolution was education of the public on that point.

In explaining why he now did not support the reduction in funding after helping to sponsor the resolution with Smith, Hieftje said that he thought that art might help us climb out of the economic downturn. Citing a recent PBS Newshour broadcast in which Ann Arbor was portrayed as Michigan’s “life preserver,” Hieftje concluded that if Ann Arbor were to continue as a shining light, the Percent for Art program needed to continue.

Outcome: The council rejected the resolution, with support coming only from Kunselman and Smith, and thus left the Percent for Art program intact.

Dreiseitl Art Project

The item before the city council was a $111,4000 contract with Quinn Evans, the architect for the municipal center, for design documentation and procurement of bids for fabrication and installation of the exterior sculpture proposed by Herbert Dreiseitl and recommended by the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission for the Ann Arbor municipal center. Dreiseitl’s project is a fountain sculpture that is fed by stormwater.

The estimated cost of the installation, which is just one of the three pieces of art that Dreisetil designed, is $737,820. [.pdf file of project budget breakdown]

The agenda item had first been expected to appear on the council’s Nov. 16 agenda, but that expectation was shifted to Dec. 7. The expectation then shifted to the council’s Dec. 21 agenda, but was not included when initially published on Wednesday before the meeting. Because staff members cannot add agenda items after Wednesday, the item required the sponsorship of a councilmember when it was added around 11 a.m. on the morning of Dec. 21. Margie Teall (Ward 4) was the item’s sponsor.

Margaret Parker, chair of the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission (AAPAC), ticked through some of the key dates in the trajectory of the project:

  • October 2008: Art commission recommends commissioning design for three pieces of art at the municipal center – one outdoor sculpture, and two indoor wall pieces.
  • March 2, 2009: City council approves Dreiseitl’s design fees at $77,000.
  • July 20, 2009: Dreiseitl visits Ann Arbor to unveil his design concepts at a public forum and at city council.
  • September 2009: Dreiseitl returns to Ann Arbor to meet with municipal center architects and others.
  • Oct. 19, 2009: At a special meeting, the municipal center task force recommends accepting designs for all three pieces.
  • Oct. 19, 2009. At a special meeting, AAPAC recommends accepting design for the outdoor sculpture – tabling and placing contingencies on the other two indoor pieces.

Public Commentary on Dreiseitl

There was no public hearing on the Dreiseitl project, but four people signed up for public commentary reserved time at the start of the meeting to speak about it. Speakers included members of the public art commission, Margaret Parker and Cheryl Zuellig.


Bob Galardi and Margaret Parker wait their turn to speak during public commentary.

Parker spoke of the need for Ann Arbor to keep pace with other communities. Jackson, Mich., she said, had a facility with a large artist live/work space. She cited Grand Rapids for its recent ArtPrize contest, which brought more than 1000 artists to that city and hundreds of thousands of visitors over the course of two and a half weeks. Kalamazoo has a four-story building featuring all of the arts, she said. And  Ypsilanti, with its artist incubator system, had become the “go-to place for young artists in our area.”

Zuellig stressed the importance of the timing – there was an opportunity to integrate this work of art into the infrastructure of the building. With respect to the project’s budget, she said that as a landscape architect she was familiar with the costs of such projects and that the costs were reasonable.

Shary Brown, who recently retired as director of the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair, spoke in favor of Dreiseitl’s project. She said that it was a permanent investment that would draw visitors to the site of a major innovative work by an artist specializing in environmental art.

Bob Galardi, a retired Ann Arbor Public Schools administrator, also spoke in favor of the project, saying that art provided a social service that nothing else can provide. The ecological theme, he said, was most appropriate for Ann Arbor as a green city. It would contribute to the education of children in the future. Galardi said that he imagined that the Dreiseitl sculpture would become a standard stop for yellow school buses on their way to the Hands-On Museum. “Art is good business,” he concluded.

Council Deliberations on Dreiseitl

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) clarified with Margaret Parker that the agenda item dealt only with the outdoor sculpture – there were two other art pieces designed for the interior. She expressed concern that the three pieces were meant to work as a whole.

Stephen Kunselman

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) pressed for an explanation of how the city was complying with the requirements of the public art ordinance.

Parker confirmed that the blue lighting elements were a connecting theme. [Additional background on the other two projects, which are not moving forward at this time: "Dreiseitl Project Moves to Council"]

Margie Teall (Ward 4) emphasized that the outdoor piece was important to move forward, because of the need to integrate it with the new building’s infrastructure.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) then spoke to what he characterized as an “urgency” to move the project forward, a feeling he said he understood but did not share. He was more concerned, he said, that the council followed its own ordinance that it had passed in November 2007.

Kunselman then ticked through requirements of the ordinance that he felt potentially had not been met. The text of the ordinance cited in relevant part by Kunselman:

1:836.  Ownership and maintenance of work.
(1) No work of art shall be considered for acquisition under this chapter without an estimate for future maintenance costs.

1:837.  Oversight Body.
… (2) The oversight body shall:
(A) Promulgate guidelines, subject to the approval of city council, to implement the provisions of this chapter, including procedures for soliciting and selecting public art and for determining suitable locations for public art;

(B) By April 1 of each year, submit to city council a plan detailing potential projects and desirable goals to be pursued in the next fiscal year; …

(G) Present an annual report to city council within sixty (60) days after the end of each fiscal year containing:
(i) A report on the status of all public art incorporated into or funded by capital improvement projects in progress or completed during the preceding fiscal year;
(ii) A maintenance report on each work of public art presently under city management detailing maintenance costs for the preceding fiscal year, anticipated maintenance costs for the next fiscal year, and any significant future maintenance concerns, including prioritized recommendations for the maintenance, repair or renovation of particular works;
(iii) A review of the city’s public art with regard to the purposes stated in this chapter;
(iv) A report on the oversight body’s efforts to promote awareness of public art;
(v) A report on donations of art and where such art was placed;
(vi) A report on additional funds raised and how such funds were used; and
(vii) Any other matter of substantial financial or public importance relating to the public art in the city.

Plans referenced in (B), said Parker, had been prepared each year. She allowed, however, that no report in (G)  had not been completed, saying that there had not yet been any art acquired under the program. She said that the commission could prepare the report. [The report appears to require elements not dependent on acquisition of art.]

With respect to the required estimate of maintenance costs, it was Sue McCormick, public services area administrator, who addressed the question. Kunselman was correct that the estimate was required, she allowed, but she presented that night’s agenda item in the following context: It was the second of three action steps, only the third of which was “acquisition.”

The first action step, explained McCormick, had been the conceptual design, which had been approved in March of 2009. What they were doing that evening was the bid to design what would be installed, complete with plans and specs for concrete and plumbing – the second action step.  The authorization of the purchase would come sometime in April, and that was “acquisition,” said McCormick.  At that time, an estimate for maintenance costs would be required.

As for the guidelines for acquisition, Parker said that AAPAC had submitted them to the city attorney’s office. They were to be finished review by the city attorney’s office in the next 30 days. [Senior assistant city attorney Abigail Elias has had the guidelines since the summer of 2008 – Parker had cited the delay at an AAPAC meeting in January of 2009.]

On Monday, in response to the question of how essential the guidelines were, city attorney Stephen Postema did not indicate he felt it was necessary, based on the ordinance, to have the guidelines in place before acquiring art.

Outcome: The contract with Quinn Evans to provide project management services on the Dreiseitl project was approved, with dissent from Kunselman.


Before the council was a resolution that Sandi Smith (Ward 1) had previewed for the Downtown Development Authority‘s operations committee the previous Wednesday. [Chronicle coverage: "City-DDA Parking Deal Possible"]

In its original form, the resolution had three key points: (i) net revenues from the Fifth and William (old YMCA) lot would go into city rather than DDA coffers, (ii) downtown parking meters would operate and be enforced until 10 p.m., which is later than their current cutoff of 6 p.m., and (iii) the city would discontinue its plan to install its own parking meters in neighborhoods near the downtown.

Before the council meeting began, Smith circulated paper copies to the press and the public of a revised resolution that swapped out language on the meter enforcement extension, in favor of a proposal that the DDA provide a presentation to the council of a plan for evening parking management options.

Public Commentary on Parking

Five people signed up for reserved time at the start of the meeting and spoke on the parking resolution. Thomas Partridge said he was against imposing any parking fees on disabled people.

Bob Snyder, president of the South University Neighborhood Association, spoke in support of Smith’s resolution, saying he was opposed to the installation of parking meters in near downtown neighborhoods. It was not just a matter of aesthetics, he said, but rather a signal of encroaching commercialism. Extending hours of enforcement, he contended, was a better way of increasing revenues.

Ray Detter, president of the Downtown Citizens Advisory Council, expressed support for all parts of the resolution. He said that all the parking should be managed by the DDA as part of a transportation demand management strategy. He agreed with Snyder’s characterization of meter installation in residential neighborhoods as “creeping commercialism” and said that the city’s installation of its own meters was in conflict with the city’s parking agreement with the DDA.

Deanna Relyea, who founded Ann Arbor’s Kerrytown Concert House, addressed the specific needs of the Kerrytown district, which she said had been chronically underserved. She feared concert house audiences would be disappointed with the extension of meter enforcement hours and that they might experience anxiety about an expired meter while a concert was going on. Kerrytown, she suggested, was different, as was each district of downtown. She suggested that each downtown area association should be consulted about its area, to develop a solution that was happier.

Kevin Sharp introduced himself as a 17-year employee of the People’s Food Co-op, but stressed that he was speaking for himself. He said that parking is enough of a challenge already. He noted that a grocery store use was different from a restaurant use. A $15 ticket on top of a $15 ticket could become a psychological barrier to shopping for groceries downtown, he said, when there is free parking at larger grocery stores outside the downtown.

Council Deliberations on Parking

The “Resolved” clauses from the resolution, in its final approved form, are as follows:

RESOLVED, That net revenues from the 350 South Fifth lot be directed to the General Fund, provided that “net revenues” shall be gross revenues less incurred installation costs (other than demolition costs) and operational costs;

RESOLVED, The City shall suspend the plan to install its own parking meters;

RESOLVED, The City requests that the DDA present a plan to Council at its April 19, 2010 meeting for a public parking management plan. The plan should include but is not limited to:

  • a communication plan to Downtown patrons, merchants and evening employees
  • options for low cost parking for evening employees
  • variation of rates and meter time limits based on meter location
  • hours of enforcement
  • methods of enforcement

RESOLVED, That the City Administrator be authorized and directed to take all necessary actions to implement this Resolution.

Getting to that exact language was a tortuous affair, as the council attempted to craft language on the fly at the table, then finally capitulated – they took a break. As they went into recess, Mayor John Hieftje directed a couple of them to “huddle up” and thrash through the wording.

Susan Pollay

Susan Pollay, executive director of the DDA, was asked to step to the podium, along with DDA board members Roger Hewitt and John Splitt. Seated in the background, from left: Councilmembers Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3).

We eschew a blow-by-blow account in favor of highlighting some of the issues that were raised.

Smith was brutally frank in explaining the rationale for the resolution: “Without a doubt it’s about revenue generation – for the city and for the DDA.” The increased revenue to the DDA, she said, would “put the DDA in better position to give it to the city when it comes asking for it.” [Chronicle coverage of the city-DDA money issue: "City-DDA Parking Deal Possible"]

The DDA was represented at the meeting in the form of its executive director, Susan Pollay, and board members Roger Hewitt and John Splitt. They were asked to the podium to brief the council on the concepts of transportation demand management as explicated in the Nelson/Nygaard Ann Arbor Downtown Parking Study.

Hewitt said that part of the idea was to make the most desirable parking the most expensive and the least desirable parking the least expensive, thereby providing people with economic choices. In term of desirability, Hewitt said, street parking is most desirable, followed by surface lots, with parking structures the least desirable.

Currently, Hewitt said, the pricing structure was consistent with that desirability, except for evening street parking, which was free. [Smith's original resolution would have extended meter enforcement to 10 p.m.] Hewitt said that street parking in the evening was taken up predominantly by downtown employees, despite the fact that a $30-per-month parking structure permit was available for the hours between 3 p.m. and 7 a.m.

He also mentioned the AATA Night Ride program, which is a shared taxi service that is free to holders of a go!pass, or $1 for those without it.

In response to a query from Smith about the city’s past history with evening enforcement, Pollay said that since the mid ’90s nothing had been tried. James Macdonald, owner of the former Bella Ciao restaurant in downtown Ann Arbor, stepped to the podium to offer some historical insight. He was initially asked to return to his seat – the public is not permitted to step uninvited to the podium during deliberations – but was later invited back.

James Macdonald

James Macdonald provided some historical insight into the city’s experience with evening enforcement of parking meters. In the early ’90s people did not enjoy the unexpected surprise of a parking ticket as a souvenir of their visit to downtown.

Macdonald said that in the early ’90s a resolution was passed to enforce meters in the evenings, but that it was quickly rescinded at a Nov. 4 meeting, based on numerous phone calls. [Editor's note: We think the year might have been 1992. Here's minutes from the Nov. 4, 1992 meeting.]

Council concerns with the resolution included Stephen Rapundalo’s (Ward 2) worry that it was too narrowly focused, and should be more comprehensive in its approach. He cited his experience serving on the A2D2 parking advisory committee in making his case for comprehensiveness. He was reluctant to take the city’s plan for installation of more meters completely off the table. The eventual swapping of “suspend” for “discontinue” seemed to address that concern.

In discussion of the term “citywide,” Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) queried the city attorney about whether the DDA could properly administer parking facilities outside its defined boundaries, according to the state enabling legislation. It was Pollay who provided the clarification that the DDA could not use its tax capture for that purpose, but that there were already several parking facilities outside the DDA district that are managed by the DDA, most notably the Forest structure. [.pdf map of DDA district boundaries]

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) wanted at one point to delete almost everything in the resolution except for the request that the DDA present a plan. Much of the wholesale deletion of “Whereas” clauses actually stuck – there seemed to be little appetite on the council to highlight the question of who was authorized under the city-DDA parking agreement to operate the city’s parking system – it’s the DDA. So the “Whereas” clauses addressing that issue disappeared from the approved resolution.

However, Smith was able to convince Taylor and Rapundalo to accept the “Resolved” clause that would give net revenues from the surface lot at Fifth and William (the old YMCA lot) to the city of Ann Arbor. It’s grossing around $25,000 per month in revenue. Rapundalo had been worried that the language of the resolution would cause the city to incur an upfront cost to reimburse the DDA for its investment in the installation of the lot. Taylor was not happy with the lack of precision in the language specifying the net revenue – “similar to” a previous agreement on a different lot wasn’t going to cut it.

Taylor’s first attempt at a revision was greeted by city administrator Roger Fraser with his assessment that Taylor had crafted a description that would require the DDA to first give the city the gross, with the city then returning the DDA’s expenses to achieve the net – which was more complicated than allowing the DDA to compute the net, then hand it over to the city. Taylor quickly abandoned that particular tack. The challenge in formulating the “net” statement was what led to the recess to thrash out the language.

Before the deliberations concluded, Smith cautioned her fellow councilmembers against trying to micromanage the parking system by trying to pull the levers within the machine. If they were interested in learning more about parking, she encouraged them to attend an operations committee meeting of the DDA.

Outcome: The council unanimously approved the amended parking resolution.

In a related matter, the agenda item calling for an $87,000 expenditure for parking equipment to be installed on Wall Street was tabled. With approval of Smith’s resolution suspending the city’s program of meter installation, the equipment is no longer needed.

Present: Stephen Rapundalo, Mike Anglin, Margie Teall, Sandi Smith, Tony Derezinski, Stephen Kunselman, John Hieftje, Christopher Taylor, Carsten Hohnke.

Absent: Sabra Briere, Marcia Higgins.

Next council meeting: Monday, Jan. 4, 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 Alan Goldsmith
    December 23, 2009 at 10:42 am | permalink

    “In explaining why he now did not support the reduction in funding after helping to sponsor the resolution with Smith, Hieftje said that he thought that art might help us climb out of the economic downturn. Citing a recent PBS Newshour broadcast in which Ann Arbor was portrayed as Michigan’s “life preserver,” Hieftje concluded that if Ann Arbor were to continue as a shining light, the Percent for Art program needed to continue.”

    It’s with logic like this that actually makes me miss Leigh Greden. No wonder the Mayor caved to his and the other council reps threats about the Police-Courts building as revealed in the FOIA released emails. Touch times call for politician with courage and obvious Mr. Hieftje has about as much backbone as a wet noodle.

    This vote shows Ann Arbor values. It’s true. Unfortunately, Ann Arbor values aren’t something the Mayor and Council should be very proud of.

  2. By Alan Goldsmith
    December 23, 2009 at 10:58 am | permalink

    Kudos, however, to Sandi Smith, for at least looking at the issue and attempting to propose a fair, temporary compromise in funding for the program. It took a lot of courage to do that when most of Council caved to the Arts Mafia after their feigned public support of the cut initially.

  3. By Alan Goldsmith
    December 23, 2009 at 11:05 am | permalink

    “It was Pollay who provided the clarification that the DDA could not use its tax capture for that purpose..”

    This would be an interesting topic. How much ‘tax captured’ money does the DDA pull from the Ann Arbor Public Schools and how much of that ends up in the City’s pockets.

  4. By David Lewis
    December 23, 2009 at 2:08 pm | permalink

    Alan: I hope you are watching your blood pressure. You exhibit a high degree of hostility in your posts attacking local artist Margaret Parker, the city council and the mayor.

    Anyone who looks at the email regarding the police courts building that you refer to, immediately sees it did not go to the mayor. Case closed. It was just Greden ranting to his council buddies as usual.

    As for the art issue, the easy vote here was obviously to cut the program and vote against the sculpture. Just look at the rancor being sent council’s way by yourself and others over the last few months.

    Many, many people believe that art is a draw for Ann Arbor and there is a study to prove how much art contributes to the local economy. Art is part of A2′s “brand” and as such part of it’s strategy for economic development.

    When you consider that a national news organization refers to the city as “Michigan’s Life Preserver” and Ann Arbor is doing better than any city in the state, it would be a mistake to fiddle with the brand.

  5. By Rod Johnson
    December 23, 2009 at 3:17 pm | permalink

    I’m on the pro-art side, but a couple questions: one, is art really part of “A2 brand”? Can you point me to some source for that? I hear people talk about the U, the Wolverines, the restaurants, Main Street, and (until recently) the bookstores, but as much as I would like it, it’s never seemed like an art destination except for that notorious week in the summer (I don’t think anyone wants to tip over that scared cow).

    Two: even if we think the city should have a prominent role supporting the arts, is it not the case that there is more than one way to approach that? Right now we have a commission heavily weighted toward the visual arts supporting an approach that is skewed toward large, expensive, bland, monumental outdoor showpieces. But other approaches have been suggested, including sponsoring citywide events and installations, dispersing art of local artists throughout the community, supporting art education and community involvement programs, and, I hope, linking public art with other cultural events in the city. All that is hard work and less glamorous than eating canapes with a “world-class” artist and his retinue, but seems likely to have a bigger ROA for the community.

    So there’s a difference between questioning the leadership of Margaret Parker and “fiddling with the brand.” I and a lot of others are skeptical that an awkwardly-located fountain is really going to do much to enhance the city’s “brand.” I’d at least like to hear AAPAC articulate why they think their approach is the right one–and not just in press releases–rather than just circling the wagons and rallying the troops to fill a Council meeting.

  6. December 23, 2009 at 3:27 pm | permalink

    My blood pressure is up too. That is what happens when people start using the PBS brief news spot as a justification for specific programs. Yes, art is a draw for Ann Arbor and more to the point is an important glue for our community and a major contributor to the quality of life in our civilization. But that specific sculpture and the Percent for Art program do nothing to enhance the ability of local artists to thrive. The vote was not a vote for Art. It was a vote for a poorly conceived, poorly timed, and inappropriately funded program that will ultimately have little effect.

    The Percent for Art program is illegal. Most of it is paid for by water and sewer projects (also roads). The water and sewer are paid for by user fees. Users did not vote to be taxed for art, but instead are paying what are supposed to be consumption-based fees. These fees are going up. The infrastructure is necessary for legal and functional reasons, so that is acceptable. The diversion to a fund for another purpose, no matter how worthy, is not. It is a slap in the face for our beleaguered residents who are being told that we will lose our parks, our fire protection, and our trash pickup service. (Some “brand” – I guess PBS didn’t know that our streets are no longer cleaned after leaf pickup.)

    I thought council member Kunselman’s question was perfect. Could we have a Percent for the Homeless from the same funds? How about a Percent for Community Gardening (my fave)? There are many worthy community-building purposes for spending money but it should not be done by improper means.

  7. By Dan Ryan
    December 23, 2009 at 3:35 pm | permalink

    Of course the mayor likes the PBS bit. He fed its stupidity. Ann Arbor as Michigan’s life preserver? You’ve got to be kidding.

    That was some of the crappiest storytelling I’ve seen from NPR and PBS. Let’s revisit. Any community, any single community, would be somewhat insulated if state taxpayers dumped $320 million into it. That’s how much U-of-M gets in state taxpayers money. But this isn’t a model for Michigan’s salvation. It’s just a way to redistribute the money from taxpayers across the state to a single community.

    The fact is the mayor’s comments to PBS reflect the way he wants Ann Arbor to be seen, regardless of the reality. The art program is the same way. I’ve often thought that what city leaders fear the most is that visitors from other parts of the country will think of Ann Arbor as another midwestern hick town. Now if we have a special art installation designed by a famous German artist we can’t possibly be thought like that.

  8. By Alan Goldsmith
    December 23, 2009 at 4:15 pm | permalink

    Last I checked my blood pressure was 110/72 but thanks for the concern. I would be a bit more concerned for the city employees who will be let go a week after Christmas if I were you. Or anyone facing a house fire with fewer firefighter availale. The Mayor was cosponsor of the resolution to cut the funding for three years and then bailed. Just as he bailed on his opposition to the Court-Police building and if you believe there wasn’t a threat from council members who didn’t want to take the heat alone, your living in a fantasy world.

    Ms. Parker has taken the lead since day one for this fiasco so she should be able to face any critical comments about her failure in leadership. She met privately with the ‘artist’ and then pushed the project through the pliant AAPAC, there’s been little project management control with timelines and budgets, she complains anyone who opposes her vision is ‘anti-art’ and has used the AAPAC as a vehicle to enhance her own art career. Personally, I think people in her position and all members of council including the Mayor should release financial disclosure statements–attorneys, real estate agents, U of M employees and artists alike. I’m not holding my breath for that but wasting tax dollars, perhaps illegally might not raise your blood pressure David. Apparently the majority of Council is right on board with you on that. But, like the Library Parking Structure lawsuit, this lack oversight could end up costing all of the taxpayers even more money to defend. Oh, that’s right, we have a HUGE city legal department for this, who apparently aren’t facing any cuts either.

    A just wish a few of the Council members and member of the ‘arts’ community would shed a few less tears over not having a oh so famous German artist staying at their houses and missing out on his genius and a few more tears over the brave men and women who save lives. But I guess that doesn’t fit into neat little NPR soundbites that Mayor can parrot back when he’s run out of arguments and political courage.

  9. December 23, 2009 at 4:38 pm | permalink

    I actually feel supporting the arts was the easier choice. Personally, I don’t think art is a big attraction compared to things such as a fully staffed/funded fire and police department. I also believe that artistic endeavors are best served by private funding and not the government. The assertion that a $1 investment in art returns $10 is one of the most ridiculous statements I’ve heard in years.

    Regardless, my beliefs are that when the belt is tightened, you first kill non-essential programs. Don’t get me wrong, I love art. I enjoy art. Art helps me relax and stimulates me. Art is not essential service for me. If you take away art, I can still function.

    On the other hand, fire suppression and emergency response is an essential service to me.

    In a time of economic issues that the city complains about, there simply is no reason to fully fund a non-essential service/program.

  10. By ROB
    December 23, 2009 at 5:43 pm | permalink

    That was a neat trick! Wait till a couple of days before the biggest holiday of the year, then squeeze it onto the council agenda at the last minute, and pack the meeting with political appointees/cronies who are in favor of the (f)art boondoggle – then pass it! Half the town is gone, and the other half is busy with holiday preps, so , of course, no one will notice. Kudos to Kunselman and Smith for having some backbone, and a pox on Parker and AAPAC and the rest of council. It’s amazing how some people manage to think with what they sit on. Vivienne suggested that the “Percent” tax is illegal. If this is true, perhaps someone with legal expertise can find a way to cut this thing off at the knees, and save the public’s hard earned tax dollars for truly ESSENTIAL city needs. The arrogance of this administration is truly breathtaking!

  11. By Glenn Thompson
    December 23, 2009 at 6:51 pm | permalink

    I must take exception to Fred and others referring to Mr. Dreiseitl as “artist”. His background is landscape architecture. He is a good one, one of the first to incorporate water into urban parks in a “natural” manner. But Ann Arbor has chosen to call him “artist”.

    Is his proposal art?

    Is it esthetically pleasing. A leaning rusty monolith? Not in any normal sense.

    Is it so difficult that only he can do it? This is standard behind most famous paintings. This was the standard of the polish of Michelangelo’s carvings. No, many Michigan companies can produce this “art” In fact Mr. Dreiseitl has said he will locally contract the production.

    Is is awesome in size or other manner? It is only 12 or 15 feet high. How can a a rusting blob 1 story high be awesome?

    Is the Dreiseitl proposal a new way of seeing or understanding an image or experience? Perhaps there is some support for the proposal in this definition of “art”. But if LED’s on a surface is art, Christmas trees, street lights and commercial LED signs are more impressive “art”. Just look at the Holiday light display on Huron near Revena.

    Will the work endure for centuries like Michelangelo’s marbles? No. It is to be constructed of Corten steel. The United States Steel Corporation, the holder of the patent and trade name of Corten steel, has said for 20 years that this steel is not recommended for exposed architectural uses. The arch on Sculpture Plaza near the Farmers Market was made of Corten steel. It corroded so severely it was considered unsafe. It was removed, new plates welded in, and now painted a very uninteresting black. The Dreiseitl will be subject to running water. How long will it last?

    The proposed Dreiseitl project is not art. Of course, the city must call it art to qualify for the 1% for art program. But we should not. It is designer jeans. We are paying for a name, not art. And we are paying $1 million to cover someone’s ass.

  12. By David Lewis
    December 23, 2009 at 8:38 pm | permalink

    So you don’t like public art or you don’t like this piece. As a poster on another site said, that’s a position.

    What is interesting is that so many refer to the fire department or some “essential service” to make their argument but if you have followed this issue at all, you know the money can’t be spent for any of that.

    It would return to the sewer fund, etc. Maybe you want that but it is disingenuous to say it would pay for the fire dept. etc.

    Or how about the “local” argument, not as easy to make when 80% of the funds go to Michigan companies and workers.

    Which was the “braver” vote? Agree with the vocal, outraged opponents and vote NO, or vote yes. The answer is clear from the posts here; it’s 10 to 1 against. You proved it with overwhelming opposition to the art piece. What’s brave about going along with the outraged majority?

    Is it art? Is Dreiseitl an artist? That is always a good question about any piece. Well, a number of other cities and institutions in the US and abroad must think so, they bought a piece.

    The panel of “local” artists, business people, environmentalists, downtown advocates etc. who selected it seem to think so. Now it looks like Alan is accusing them of being on the take, he wants to investigate their finances.

    Is Art part of A2′s brand? The city is highly ranked by arts organizations, one of the largest art fairs in the country is here and the arts economy is huge.

    I believe art adds an essential ingredient to life here or anywhere. I think it adds a lot to the city’s image and its ability to recruit some very talented people to work here. Others feel the same way, maybe you don’t.

  13. December 23, 2009 at 9:56 pm | permalink

    I should clarify and explain slightly about my “illegal” statement. I have a blog post in draft about it but haven’t gotten it produced (so many issues, so little time).

    The Headlee amendment to the state constitution laid down the precept that voters must approve any new tax. (It also provided for reducing millages yearly, which we call “Healeeization” and leads to measures for “Headlee overrides” to bring millages back to their originally authorized levels.)

    The Michigan Supreme Court, in a decision titled and described as
    BOLT v CITY OF LANSING:Docket No. 108511. Argued October 6, 1998 (Calendar No. 4). Decided December 28, 1998.Court of Appeals, Saad, P.J., and Wahls, J. and Markman, J. (Docket No.912944). 221 Mich App 79; 561 NW2d 423 (1997). (I have put the URL on my Twitter feed but have not been successful in pasting URLs in for these comments) said basically that governments may not raise fees beyond the cost of service, because “fees” as apart from “taxes” are payment for services and generally are payments at the cost of delivering services. Otherwise, if a “fee” is just raising money for revenue, it is in essence a “tax”, hence falls under the Headlee amendment.

    Bolt brought a lawsuit against the city of Lansing.
    The court found that they were charging for water (stormwater) fees above and beyond the cost of the service. (Ironically, I’ve been told that Sue McCormick, who lives in Lansing, was then working for that department.) The Supreme Court found for the plaintiff.

    According to the Bolt decision, users may only be charged according to the unit cost of the service they are receiving. Any amounts above and beyond that are in essence taxes, thus subject to the Headlee amendment (require a popular vote).

    I think we (Ann Arbor) have a number of suspect practices in this regard. Replanted street trees, for example, are being charged to stormwater funds (and thus to fees).

    The Percent for Art is a particularly egregious example of fees being charged for activities not related to the usage rate of the service being provided. My usage of water and sewer, for example, has no relevance to my usage of public art.

    The amounts involved are really large. Most of the money for Percent for Art is, in fact, coming from water fees. It is adding up into the millions.

  14. By Glenn Thompson
    December 24, 2009 at 3:00 pm | permalink

    I would ask Dave Lewis (post 12) to provide a reference to support his statement “. . . a number of other cities and institutions in the US . . . bought a (Dreiseitl) piece”. I would particularly like the list of institutions that have a Dreiseitl “piece”.

    Search for Herbert Dreiseitl and you will find his projects are parks or other landscape architecture. For example in the March 2006 Issue of Metropolis Mag.Com.. “With a new block-size park by Herbert Dreiseitl, Portland restores a piece of its natural environment.”

    Dreiseitl received a commission from Triad Development for Seattle’s new Civic Square. From their press release; “The lead Landscape Architect will be Atelier Dreiseitl ….”

    The point is Dreiseitl is known for innovative use of water in park designs. The Ann Arbor project is different in both size and scope. It even includes indoor wall art.

    I believe that this stretch from landscape architecture to multimedia artist was was just too great and the resulting design shows it. Even the material is a poor choice. Ann Arbor is buying an average product but paying for a designer name brand. We are buying designer jeans when we cannot afford essentials.

    We are paying very heavily for these designer jeans. The extra $100,000 to Quinn Evans should be considered the first overrun on this project. We will pay almost $1,000,000 for something that should cost about $100,000.

  15. December 27, 2009 at 2:07 pm | permalink

    I read the Bolt decision that Vivienne referenced–at least enough to decide that she’s correct that the funding mechanism for the Percent for Art program is illegal. We’re being taxed without having authorized it by way of a popular vote.

    I believe that a property tax proposal for the purchase of art for public display would pass. Why we didn’t take that approach at the outset would be interesting to examine. Whether this council will take corrective action will be even more interesting to see.

  16. By Christopher
    December 28, 2009 at 3:15 pm | permalink

    I found the statement “many, many people believe that art is a draw for Ann Arbor and there is a study to prove how much art contributes to the local economy” to be hilarious.

    I think if “art” is replaced by “art fairs” the sentence would be correct.

    But is public art part of Ann Arbor’s image? Even if you allow the art museum included, and our handful of galleries, I don’t think “many, many” people would think of A2 as a city of art in any way, shape or form. Dreisetl’s expensive thingy is a conceptual statement, a values statement. Maybe even a political statement. Is it art? No more than the little Liberty Square park is art.

    People should really take a look at some other cities like Berkeley or St. Louis to see what can be done with art in an urban environment.

    Oh. I forgot. We do have all those bike racks with the word “art” on them.

  17. By JM
    January 2, 2010 at 3:37 am | permalink

    Not sure if it’s an error in reporting, or on the part of Roger Hewitt, but a nightride is $1 with a go!pass, $5 without.