Council OKs Firefighter Deal, 911 Center

Also: Symbolic checks get written

Ann Arbor City Council meeting (Jan. 19, 2010): The Ann Arbor city council approved an agreement with the local firefighters union that reduces pay by 3% to ensure that no firefighters will be laid off before June 30, 2010.

Pam Byrnes and Karen Sydney

State Rep. Pam Byrnes, left, and Karen Sidney talk before the start of the city council's meeting, which included a presentation at the start of the meeting from Byrnes. (Photos by the writer.)

And, in a move that some councilmembers described as leadership, mayor John Hieftje announced that he was writing a check for $1,273 as a contribution back to the city, because that’s the equivalent of 3% of his annual salary – the same percentage conceded by the firefighters union. It’s also the same percentage Hieftje has suggested that all employees citywide accept as a wage reduction. Some councilmembers indicated they’d be making similar gestures, which they allowed were only symbolic.

The city council also approved a budget increase for the 911 call center modification, a project to facilitate co-location of the city and county 911 centers – it’s expected to be a cost-savings measure.

Council also directed the city administrator, Roger Fraser, to plan an event to honor volunteer members of various boards, commissions and committees that do much of the work required to make the city run.

In other business, the council approved without discussion a University of Michigan project for the soccer complex on South Main Street.

State Rep. Pam Byrnes (D-District 52) gave a presentation to the council at the start of the meeting outlining exactly how bleak the economic outlook is in Michigan.

Many of the items on council’s agenda were postponed: revisions to bicycling and pedestrian ordinances (including bicycle registration); revisions to parking fines; and the capital improvements plan.

And two of the items were pulled from the agenda at the start of the meeting: a revision to the ordinance on signs and outdoor advertising to allow portable signs; and a resolution to approve the transfer of a liquor license to BW&R GoBlue LLC, located at 640 Packard Street.

Firefighter Contract

At the city council’s Dec. 5 budget retreat, city administrator Roger Fraser had indicated to councilmembers that he intended to implement an item in the fiscal 2011 budget plan six months earlier than specified in that plan:  layoff 14 firefighters.

When the city council did not take any action at their Dec. 7 meeting to gave Fraser other direction, layoff notices were sent – to have been effective on Jan. 4, 2010. At their Jan. 4 meeting, the city council was informed that the city and the International Association of Firefighters Local 693 reached an agreement that would forestall layoffs until at least June 30, 2010, which the union would vote the following week. The union approved the agreement.

The item on the council’s Tuesday agenda was an approval by the council of that agreement. Highlights from the council packet description:

  • One-year contract: July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2010.
  • Effective Jan. 3, 2010: a 3.0% wage decrease.
  • Effective Feb. 1, 2010: an increase in Pension Contribution from 5% to 6%.
  • Effective upon Council Approval: a payment of $250 into each member’s HRA account for FY 2010.
  • Guarantee of no layoffs through June 30, 2010.

Hieftje noted that the deal did not get the city all the way to covering the budget gap they needed to cover.

Outcome: The council unanimously approved the deal preventing layoffs of firefighters until June 30, 2010.

A related item on the agenda addressed the ordinance change – to the retirement system –  needed in order to implement some elements of the agreement with the firefighters. Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) questioned why the item had been put out of place on the agenda – as an ordinance change, it should not have been included in the section on staff’s new business. City administrator Roger Fraser explained that the rationale for its agenda placement had been that it was contingent on approval of the firefighter agreement, thus immediately followed it on the agenda.

Outcome: The council unanimously approved the change to the retirement system.

Three Percent for Symbolism

Related via the 3% theme to the firefighters’ concession was an announcement from mayor John Hieftje. In his communications, he said that while he’d previously announced a challenge to all city staff, including councilmembers, to accept a 3% wage cut, it was not a simple matter for councilmembers to implement a cut for themselves.

Council Pay Raises: Legislative Background

By way of background, the city charter actually still specifies that councilmembers are not paid:

(a) Each member of the Council, except the Mayor, shall serve without pay. The compensation of the Mayor shall be fixed by the Council. When authorized by the Council, necessary expenses may be allowed to its members when actually incurred on behalf of the City.

However, in 1972, the following amendment was made to the state’s Home Rule City Act:

117.5c Local officers compensation commission; …

Sec. 5c. In place of a charter provision existing on December 31, 1972 establishing the salaries or the procedure for determining salaries of elected officials, the governing body may establish, by ordinance, the procedure described in this section, in which case the restriction contained in a charter provision with respect to changing salaries during term shall be inapplicable.

In Ann Arbor’s case, the relevant ordinance is contained in Chapter 22 of the city code. Pertinent to the possibility of reducing the Ann Arbor city council’s compensation is the timing of the local officers compensation commission’s (LOCC) meeting, as specified in Chapter 22 [emphasis added]:

(3)   The commission shall meet for not more than 15 session days in every odd numbered year and shall make its determination within 45 calendar days of its first meeting. A majority of the members of the commission constitute a quorum for conducting the business of the commission. The commission shall take no action or make determinations without a concurrence of a majority of the members appointed and serving on the commission. The commission shall elect a chairman from among its members. “Session days” means any calendar day on which the commission meets and a quorum is present. The members of the commission shall receive no compensation, but shall be entitled to their actual and necessary expenses incurred in the performance of their duties.

Council Pay Raises: Recent Local History

The city’s LOCC commission met on May 12, 2009 and made a determination to maintain compensation of councilmembers and the mayor at $15,913 and $42,436, respectively.

Because this year is an even-numbered year, an adjustment to compensation would have to wait until January 2011.

The previous determination of the LOCC, made in 2007, had recommended a 3% raise for the mayor’s position from $40,000 to $41,200 in 2008  and another 3% to $42,436 in 2009. In 2007, the LOCC had also recommended a 3% raise for councilmembers from $15,000 to $15,450 in 2008 and another 3% to $15,913 in 2009.

At their Dec. 17, 2007 meeting, the city council considered a resolution that would have rejected the recommended pay increases. It was separated out into three separate resolutions, one on the mayor, another on the mayor pro tem (which we here leave aside), and a third on councilmembers. The resolution was introduced by Sabra Briere (Ward 1) and Christopher Easthope, who then represented Ward 5, along with Mike Anglin.

The constitution of council at that time was: Ronald Suarez (Ward 1), Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Joan Lowenstein (Ward 2), Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2), Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), Leigh Greden (Ward 3), Margie Teall (Ward 4), Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), Christopher Easthope (Ward 5), Mike Anglin (Ward 5) and John Hieftje (mayor).

The resolution ultimately passed failed on a voice vote. Commentary in a Dec. 23, 2007 editorial published in the Ann Arbor News read as follows:

Quite a kabuki dance ensued as the resolution was discussed and ultimately defeated – meaning that the pay raises will go into effect. Easthope and new Council Members Sabra Briere, D-1st Ward, and Mike Anglin, D-5th Ward, voted to reject the raises for the council – though Anglin supported giving Mayor John Hieftje a raise. (A challenge by Leigh Greden, D-3rd Ward, was pure debate-club theater. Greden proposed that those rejecting the raises give the money to charity – Easthope, Briere and Anglin all agreed to do it.)

[Editor's note: The editorial was drafted by Ann Arbor Chronicle publisher, Mary Morgan, who then served as the News' opinion editor.]

Then, in the summer of 2009, a request made by Ann Arbor News columnist Judy McGovern under the Freedom of Information Act yielded emails exchanged between councilmembers during the Dec. 17, 2007 meeting. Those emails revealed the talk at the table to have been actual theater. From McGovern’s July 21, 2009 article:

7:32 p.m. – Leigh Greden to Marcia Higgins: “SK (Stephen Kunselman) is with us on the pay raise.”
7:34 p.m. – Higgins to Greden: “Welll (sic) that’s 5 of us. Anyone else?”
7:37 p.m. – Greden to Higgins: “Higgins, (Margie) Teall, (Stephen) Rapundalo, (Joan) Lowenstein, Greden, Kunselman. I think (Mayor John) Hieftje is with us too. He wants it to pass. I told him I would publicly challenge anyone who votes no (against accepting the additional compensation) to return the pay raise or donate it to a charity. I told him I would publicly follow-up on that challenge in 6 months, so he better vote yes.”
7:38 p.m. – Higgins to Greden: “Joan changed her mind?”
7:39 p.m. – Greden to Higgins: “She said ‘I just don’t want to be the only one.’ I told her we have a majority, so she said she’d vote with us.”
As the question reached the floor, Greden e-mailed Easthope.
8:28 p.m. – Subject “wait”
“I’m going to see what people say about the pay raise. I will challenge in a minute.”
8:29 p.m. – Easthope to Greden: “Make sure, that’s our deal for keeping my mouth shut. I told John I wouldn’t ask for a roll call vote.”
8:29 p.m. – Greden to Easthope: “Deal. I need to let the others speak first.”

Council Pay Cuts: Symbolic Check Writing

Against that historical background, Hieftje said that he’d be writing a check for $1,273 and handing it over to the city administrator as a contribution to the city of Ann Arbor.

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) said he supported the idea that everybody should contribute, and said that he’d be joining the mayor in writing a check.

Carsten Hohnke and Stephen Rapundalo

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) and Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) chat during a recess of the council's meeting.

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) also said he’d write a check for his 3%, noting that in tough times, symbols were important.

Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) slowed the momentum for check writing when he said he’d “be willing to give it some thought and consideration,” but noted that there were differences between the firefighters and city councilmembers at the level of benefits received.

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) told the mayor, “I appreciate your leadership on this,” noting that the council was asking a great deal from everyone.

Margie Teall (Ward 4) thanked the mayor for leading the effort, emphasizing that it was largely symbolic. She noted that she could not write a check for an entire year, but would do it quarterly.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) allowed that she did not have a problem with symbolism. But she noted that the local officers compensation commission had met and determined that there would be no pay increases. She also noted that the fire department agreement affected one union contract only, and raised the question of what the other unions were doing. She wondered what the situation looked like for non-union workers.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) remarked, “It hardly seems rational not to join in this love-fest,” but then alluded to the historical background of how there’d been a great deal of manipulation of the discussion about council pay raises back in 2007, and that she’d held to her commitment made back then to give the 2007 raise – which she’d voted against – to charity.

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) allowed that she had no problem following the spirit of the gesture, but that the amount per person of around $450 was not going to “shake loose the $5 million” shortfall they were facing. She then admonished her fellow councilmembers: “I hope you’re all as strong when it comes to tougher decisions.”

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Mike Anglin (Ward 5) did not speak to the issue.

Later in his communications, city administrator Roger Fraser, alluding to other city employees, noted that “some of our folks have been contributing already.”

Resolution Giving Recognition to Citizen Volunteers

Before the council was a resolution, brought forward by Sandi Smith (Ward 1), directing the city administrator to create an annual event that would honor and recognize the numerous volunteers who serve on boards, commissions and committees that help the city run.

Roger Fraser and Sandi Smith

City administrator Roger Fraser and Sandi Smith (Ward 1) as they discuss an event to honor citizen volunteers.

City administrator Roger Fraser remarked that such an event had been instituted in Blaine, Minn., where he’d previously been city manager, and that it had been well-received.

He reported that his recent success in dropping some weight had allowed him to fit into a commemorative T-shirt from that event in the early 2000s.

Outcome: The council unanimously approved the creation of an event to honor citizen volunteers.

Co-Located 911 Dispatch

Before the council was a resolution to approve an increase in the project budget for the co-location of the city and county’s 911 dispatch center.

Previous coverage from the council’s Dec. 9, 2009 meeting:

The city of Ann Arbor has agreed to co-locate its 911 dispatch with the county’s operation – that will take place at the city’s existing location in fire station #1, across from city hall. The cost of the remodeling will be $48,183, but will be reimbursed from the 800 MHz public safety communications millage fund.

At Monday’s meeting, chief of police Barnett Jones called the co-location a “dream come true.” The expectation is that co-location will eventually lead to consolidation of the operations.

The cooperative effort with the county on 911 dispatch, Jones said, was part of an effort to regionalize services, which already included SWAT, K-9, and training. [See also: "County Reorganizes 911 Dispatch"]

The resolution before the council on Monday was to approve the purchase of a 911 phone switch for $258,983.

During the brief deliberations by the council, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) elicited from deputy police chief Greg Bazick that the consolidation has been talked about for almost as long has he’s worked on the force – 19 years. The cost savings would lie in the ability to eliminate duplicative technology costs.

City administrator Roger Fraser pointed out that for now, the arrangement would allow the city and county to work side-by-side, which was more economical, because by state law if they made it one operation, they would have to pay the more expensive of the two labor contracts.

Outcome: The council unanimously approved the purchase of the 911 phone switch.

Capital Improvements Plan (CIP)

Although the capital improvements plan (CIP) was ultimately postponed, five people spoke to the issue during the public hearing on it.

Public Commentary on CIP

Thomas Partridge characterized one item on the plan as “selfish” on the part of the mayor – the Fuller Road Station, which in a second phase of construction could include amenities for bicyclists like showers and a mechanics shop. [Mayor John Hieftje sometimes rides his bicycle for transportation, and often mentions that he does so.] In the CIP, Phase I for the design and construction of Fuller Road Station, which is classified as “urgent,”  calls for $5.36 million to be contributed from the city’s economic development fund, with an additional $18 million coming from the University of Michigan.

Fuller Road Station was also addressed by Rita Mitchell, who echoed the sentiments of James D’Amour, who spoke to the council at its Jan. 4, 2010 meeting. D’Amour had objected to the arrangement between the city of Ann Arbor and UM for the land on which the Fuller Road Station will be built. D’Amour had characterized the arrangement as amounting to a permanent lease or a sale, which, as such, needed to be approved by voters. By way of background, on the Nov. 4, 2008 ballot had been an amendment to the Ann Arbor city charter, which was approved by voters by a 4-to-1 margin:

… (b) The City shall not sell without the approval, by a majority vote of the electors of the City voting on the question at a regular or special election, any City park, or land in the City acquired for park, cemetery, or any part thereof.

In addition to the city charter amendment is a clause of the state’s Home Rule City Act that also requires a referendum in order to sell land classified as a park. Specifically, among the powers explicitly not granted in the act:

… to sell a park, cemetery, or any part of a park or cemetery, except where the park is not required under an official master plan of the city;

Supporters of the city charter amendment argued that such an amendment was necessary in order to rule out possible abuse of the exception specified in the Home Rule City Act. That is, to circumvent the state statute, one could first revise the official master plan of the city to designate some other use for a park, then sell the parcel based on the exception.

During the public hearing on the CIP, Mitchell told councilmembers that the arrangement with UM violated the intent of the charter amendment that citizens have a say in how parkland is used.

Mitchell also criticized another item in the CIP: the expansion of the materials recovery facility to accommodate a change to single-stream recycling. While single-stream recycling seemed simpler, Mitchell allowed, there was additional complexity on the back end – both in the additional sorting that would need to take place, and in the incentive system that would be implemented to encourage people to recycle more. The program fed into the idea of more use, not reduce, said Mitchell. She suggested that the goal should be to reduce the total amount in the waste stream.

Kathy Boris also questioned the conversion to single-stream recycling. Ann Arbor already had a working two-stream system, she said, and residents were educated about it. The point of recycling, she stressed, was to be able to sell the material so that it could be re-used, not to collect as much as possible. She expressed concern that the quality of the material collected under a single stream system would suffer.

[In his communications, Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) said he'd read a report questioning some of the claims made for single-stream recycling on economic grounds and that he wanted to get a response from city staff. Roger Fraser said that solid waste coordinator Tom McMurtrie had responded to the report point-by-point, and that Rapundalo would get a copy.]

Focusing less on specific items in the CIP and more on general concepts was Karen Sidney, who asked: What’s your plan to keep up what you have? She urged the council to think in terms of questions like when will Vet’s Park skating rink need a new roof? [During his communications to council, Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) noted that this was, in fact, a part of the city's thinking, and cited his own experience in the late '90s as chair of the park advisory commission in support of that contention. Planning for facilities improvements has been going on for years, he said.]

Cresson Slotten

Cresson Slotten, senior project manager with the city, sifts through the capital improvements plan (CIP) looking for a piece of data that Sandi Smith (Ward 1) had requested.

Sidney also criticized the way that items in the CIP were characterized as a wish list, and the way the plan was defended with the assurance that the authorization for expenditures of the funds was not being voted on when the plan was approved – it’s just a plan. But when it came time to vote, she warned, councilmembers would point to the plan and say, “It’s been there for years!”

[During his communications, city administrator Roger Fraser said that the CIP reflected the staff's "best guesses" and that it was, in fact, just a plan, but that a plan needs to be funded. That, he said, required that the items be in the plan long before the budget decision.]

Brad Mikus picked up on a theme that Thomas Partridge had introduced when Partridge described the CIP as a largely “unknown issue.” He noted that as he’d read through the plan there were several dramatic increases or decreases in funding levels for various projects, reasons for which were not immediately obvious – WALLY and Fuller Road Station, to name two. He challenged councilmembers to answer some specific questions about the CIP, among them: How many of the specific line items are in your ward?

Council Deliberations on CIP

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) led off by alerting his colleagues to the fact that he’d be asking for a postponement, as he had just received a copy of the plan – he didn’t move the postponement, however, in order to give his colleagues an opportunity to raise any questions. Sandi Smith (Ward 1) asked Cresson Slotten, senior project manager with the city, to find a specific item in the plan. No other councilmembers had any comments on the plan, so the deliberations came to a halt as Slotten searched through a paper copy of the plan.

At that point, Kunselman moved to postpone the vote on the plan.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to postpone the vote on the CIP.

Bicycles and Pedestrians

Back for their second reading before the council were two ordinances – one regarding bicycles and pedestrians and another on bicycle registration. The material effect of the ordinance revisions to the bicycle code is to repeal the city’s existing ordinances, with the idea that the Michigan Vehicle Code would apply where relevant. The ordinances to be repealed have counterparts in the MVC. For example:

[City] 10:172. Brakes.
Every bicycle shall be equipped with at least 1 effective brake.
(Ord. No. 46-61, 8-14-61; Ord. No. 26-74, 8-19-74)

[State] 257.662 Bicycles or electric personal assistive mobility device; equipment; violation as civil infraction.
(2) A bicycle shall be equipped with a brake which will enable the operator to make the braked wheels skid on dry, level, clean pavement.

[The Chronicle's set of the respective city-state pairings is available as a text file: statecitybicycle.txt.]

Bicycles: Public Comment

Three people spoke during the public hearing on the bicycle ordinance revision. Erica Briggs spoke on behalf of the Washtenaw Biking and Walking Coalition – she’s also currently a member of the city’s planning commission and previously served as director of the getDowntown program. Briggs said that WBWC fully supported the revisions to the ordinances and suggested that the fee reduction from $8 to $3 for registration be even further reduced. She also said that they’d like to see progress made towards an ordinance that would require drivers to stop when a pedestrian approached a crosswalk, not just after entering.

Brad Mikus asked that councilmembers consider the question of enforcement – bicycles are required to have headlights, for example, as well as make an audible sound when passing a pedestrian. He also asked that councilmembers take a look at the definition of a bike path, which had been somewhat simplified.

Thomas Partridge told the council that the public had not been informed as to whether the ordinance would help disabled people or seniors. He also related an encounter on a sidewalk with a bicycle-mounted Ann Arbor policeman, who’d approached from behind with no lights.

Bicycles: Council Deliberations

During deliberations, Marcia Higgins (Ward 2) wanted to know why the references to the MVC were still not included. She’d requested them at the previous council meeting, when the ordinance revision had been approved on its first reading. Eli Cooper, the city’s transportation program manager, pointed out that the MVC was referenced in the ordinance revision. It reads:

10:160. Driver regulation applicable.

Every person riding a bicycle upon a street or highway shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle under the Michigan Vehicle Code, 1949 PA 300, MCL 257.1 to 257.923 and as subsequently amended, which is incorporated by reference in Chapter 126 of this Code, except as to those provisions which by their nature can have no application. A complete copy of the code is available to the public for inspection in the Office of the Ann Arbor City Clerk.

Cooper said that a copy of the specific text of the MVC could be made available at the city clerk’s office.

Higgins, however, insisted that this was not user-friendly and stated that her previous direction had not been taken seriously. She wanted the text of the MVC to be included in the city’s code, and if there was some reason why it could not be included, she wanted to know why not.

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) asked for clarification as to whether Higgins wanted the code itself to repeat the text of the MVC, or if instead that she meant it to be included in editorial fashion after publication. City attorney Stephen Postema said that typically it would be added in editorial fashion, but that he could not think of a reason offhand why it couldn’t be included in the code itself.

Higgins said that inclusion of the language in the code would force the council to make updates on a more regular basis.

With a motion for postponement on the floor, Sandi Smith (Ward 1) asked that in the intervening time period, a more detailed description of the educational campaign be made available to councilmembers. The campaign had previously been discussed by council. Cooper said he believed that it had been made available – in the form of a response to a “caucus question” he’d sent to the council. City administrator Roger Fraser weighed in, saying that staff would review the matter and make sure that the council had the information.

Outcome: The bicycle and pedestrian ordinance revisions were postponed.

When the council came to the ordinance revision addressing registration procedures for bicycles, Carsten Hohnke noted that there’d been some conversation around exactly how the registration process would be structured. He moved to postpone that item as well.

Outcome: The bicycle registration ordinance revision was postponed.

An agenda item connected to bicycle registration would have changed the fee from $8 lifetime to $3 for five years and provided an educational packet to a registrant. Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) led off deliberations by saying he was against the revision, saying that $8 was too expensive, especially in these economic times. Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) then clarified that the $8 fee was proposed to be replaced with a $3 fee, but took Kunselman’s point, suggesting that the fee be reduced even further.

Hohnke then suggested that it would be prudent to postpone the matter.

Margie Teall (Ward 4) asked how much it actually cost the city to do the registration. Cooper answered that to produce the educational materials was just under $3 and there was a nominal amount of staff time to maintain the records.

Hohnke asked how much the cost would drop if the bicycle map were not included. Cooper explained that the map cost around $1.90 – it was made of an “indestructible medium,” and could be used in the rain. Cooper pointed out that the map also included some safety information.

Outcome: Consideration of the bicycle registration fee and educational packet was postponed.

Parking Fines

At their previous meeting, on Jan. 4, 2010, the council had approved a resolution to take fines for specific violations – handicap, odd/even districts and snow emergencies – and put them on the same schedule as other violations.

At that meeting Sandi Smith (Ward 1) had queried city treasurer Matthew Horning: Is this the revision to the fee schedule? Horning clarified that it was not. That would come before the council at the next meeting (Jan. 18), he had said then. Smith had asked that it be delayed until after the Downtown Development Authority had submitted the parking report that council had requested of the DDA, via a resolution, at its Dec.  21, 2009 meeting.[Chronicle coverage: "Most Aspects of Parking Deal Approved"]

What was before the council on Jan. 18, then, was the revision to the actual fine amounts. The new fine schedule includes an increase from $15 to $20 for the basic expired meter fine. [Chronicle coverage of Nov. 9, 2009 working session: "Parking Fines to Increase in Ann Arbor?"]

Consistent with her remarks at the previous meeting, Smith then moved for a postponement until April, after which the DDA will have submitted its report to the council.

Outcome: The parking fine fee schedule was postponed.

State Rep. Pam Byrnes

State Rep. Pam Byrnes (D-District 52) gave a presentation to the council outlining the current economic conditions in Michigan. Some of the council conversation focused on term limits. The topic emerged from mayor John Hieftje’s remark to Byrnes that if the state was going to reduce funding to municipalities, then it needed to provide additional taxing authority to those municipalities. The need to enact longer-term solutions like the kind of structural change the mayor was talking about, said Byrnes, might need to be preceded by elimination of term limits.

Other Public Commentary

A total of five people spoke during the time allotted for public commentary – either during reserved time at the start of the meeting or at the end, when no advance sign-up is necessary.

Library Lot RFP: Financial Return

Karen Sidney addressed one of the three objectives specified in the city’s request for proposals (RFP) to develop the Library Lot – the objective specifying that there be a financial return to the city. Using taxes to subsidize a development was not a financial return, she said. She also encouraged the council to think about the increased cost of population density – even as tax revenues increased, she cautioned, there was a parallel increase in the cost of services required by additional people.

How Should Ann Arbor Change?

John Floyd made his remarks at the end of the meeting during the slot for general public commentary. He began by expressing his appreciation for the attempts to coordinate the city and county – alluding to the co-location of the 911 dispatch center.

John Floyd

John Floyd spoke during public commentary at the end of the council meeting.

He then introduced a topic he’s raised with Ward 5 councilmember Carsten Hohnke before at city council, based on Hohnke’s remarks that Ann Arbor could look to cities like Portland, Seattle and Boulder as examples for inspiration. When Hohnke did not appear to be paying attention to him, Floyd said, “I’ll wait until you have moment to pay attention.” The pause, which could fairly be described as awkward – Floyd standing at the podium and Hohnke looking intently downward – was broken by Floyd saying, “Any time you’re ready,” and then continued for some seconds.

Hohnke looked up, and Floyd asked Hohnke to enumerate three or four ways that Ann Arbor should change to be like the cities he’d mentioned – should Ann Arbor, for example, grow its population to be like them?

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Thomas Partridge told the council that he was contemplating running for either the state house seat in the 52nd District or else the 18th Senate District. He noted that he’d met Martin Luther King, Jr. a year before his death when he spoke on the campus of Michigan State University, where King held held forth, speaking for 45 minutes without notes. Partridge said we must challenge the old premises and – alluding to Pam Byrnes’ discussion of term limits as a reason why structural changes are hard – suggested the problem was not term limits, but rather attitudes and behavior of elected officials.


Blaine Coleman and Mozhgan Savabiesfahani both spoke to the issue of Palestine.

Coleman began by saying that Israel had massacred Gaza one year ago and left 1,400 Palestineans dead. A supporter of the Israeli defense forces, Coleman said, had been appointed to the Ann Arbor human rights commission: Neal Elyakin. [The city council approved Elyakin's appointment to the commission on Dec. 7, 2009.] On Elyakin’s blog, Coleman reported, Elyakin had written that “the term ‘Palestinean’ is a masterful twisting of history” and before the military action in Gaza, he had written “Let Israel do what Israel does.” Coleman asked if that was the public face that Ann Arbor wanted to present. Coleman carried a sign that read “Boycott Israel” and concluded his remarks with that sentiment.

When mayor John Hieftje introduced Savabiesfahani he stumbled on her name and observed that it seemed to be misspelled on the council agenda. [It was misspelled.] She remarked that she’d spoken often enough at the city council that she felt like he should know how to pronounce her name. Hieftje – who often listens as people run roughshod over the pronunciation of his own name – shot back: “Can you say mine?” She then delivered the name “Hieftje” correctly, saying, “I do my homework.” In the substance of her remarks, Savabiesfahani criticized the U.S. for the ongoing wars against Iraq and Afghanistan. She noted that in discussions of ways to trim the budget, “not a single penny has been denied Israel” by the U.S. She said that in the same way that the U.S. EPA and FDA had become obsolete, Hieftje’s appointment of Elyakin to the human rights commission was making that body obsolete. She concluded her remarks with “Boycott Israel.”


Lilly Au described conditions at a tent city of homeless people in Ann Arbor – ice on sleeping bags that comes from the water vapor freezing. She lamented the fact that there is no day warming center, noting that the downtown library had become a de facto day warming station. But the library, she said, had rules against sleeping that could result in expulsion from the facility. She said that many homeless people are under treatment for mental illnesses and that the medication they take makes them drowsy.

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

Next council meeting: Monday, Feb. 1, 2010 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 Rod Johnson
    January 21, 2010 at 11:10 pm | permalink

    “And, in a move that some councilmembers described as leadership”… LOL, as the kids say.

  2. By John Floyd
    January 22, 2010 at 12:56 am | permalink


    The thoroughness of your coverage continues to amaze. Thanks for being the paper of record for Ann Arbor government.

  3. By Had Enough
    January 22, 2010 at 9:19 am | permalink

    So the city council memebers, those that ARE willing to take the 3%, are saying they want to give the money to charity instead of the city that’s supposed to be broke?

    Hmmm… and I’m sure those council members will then take it as a tax write off. So how much are they really giving back? Funny how they ask so much from everyone else, but then are unwilling to play by their own rules. What great politicians they’re shaping up to be!

    And the cuts the fire fighters made “don’t close the budget gap”. So the FD (on of the smallest unions in the city) is supposed to take the full weight of the city councils mad spending? Wow… Way to stick it to the fire department city council. I’m sure they’re proud city employees right now willing to risk it all!

  4. By Dave Askins
    January 22, 2010 at 9:37 am | permalink

    Re: [2] “So the city council memebers, those that ARE willing to take the 3%, are saying they want to give the money to charity instead of the city that’s supposed to be broke?”

    No, the current symbolic check writing is supposed to benefit the city ["... mayor John Hieftje announced that he was writing a check for $1,273 as a contribution back to the city, ..."]

    It was back in 2007 — when council considered whether to accept a recommendation from the LOCC to raise their pay — that the contribution to charity of their own choice was discussed. Those who wanted the pay increase to go through, worried about the possibility that those voting against the increase could play that as a political card in the future. Paraphrasing the “argument”: Look, you know this pay increase is going to pass, and you’re going to benefit from the pay increase when it does, so your vote against the pay increase is just symbolic and if you REALLY want to “vote” against it, then you should make a commitment to donating the extra pay to charity. But that was 2007.

    There was an opportunity in early December 2009 (still an odd-numbered year) when Mayor Hieftje first floated the idea of the 3% wage cut — which he said would also also apply to the city council — to ask the LOCC to reconvene to make a determination lowering their pay. Of course, the LOCC need not have honored that request to reconvene, nor come to the conclusion that pay should be lowered.

  5. January 22, 2010 at 5:18 pm | permalink

    Re #3: any gift to the city is also tax deductible. That means that you deduct the given amount from total income. If you receive less income (accept the 3% cut), that is also a reduction in total income. It is not as though they are getting the money back either way. Why should they be obligated to pay tax on money they don’t have?

    Interesting how people somehow regard a tax deduction as somehow free money. There was some chitchat at the RFP advisory committee meeting last night about how Dahlmann Apartments might take their offered $2.5 million gift to the city as a tax deduction. The inference was that it didn’t really mean much if it were also tax-deductible. Odd how ungenerous some are about others’ generosity.

  6. By John Dory
    February 7, 2010 at 3:29 pm | permalink

    “Let Israel do as Israel does.”

    Has that not been the U.S. foreign policy for the last sixty years?

    Neal Elaykin should not sit on the Ann Arbor Human Rights Commission with his attitudes.

    It also should be noted Elaykin chaired the recent 60th anniversary of Israel bash that was attended by Mayor Hieftje.

    Protests should be communicated with Ann Arbor city officials regarding this most unfortunate appointment.