Pleas for Human, Safety Services at Council

Argo embankment issue settled with state, headrace to open

Ann Arbor City Council meeting (May 3, 2010): Several speakers addressed the city council at its Monday meeting asking for continued funding for human services and to avoid layoffs in the city’s police and fire departments.

Fire fighters informational picket

Firefighters held an informational demonstration Monday afternoon before the city council's meeting at Station 1, which is located across the street from city hall. Firefighters from Flint, Dearborn, Dearborn Heights, Ann Arbor Township, Ypsilanti, Battle Creek and Ann Arbor took part in the demonstration. (Photos by the writer.)

And Margie Teall (Ward 4), who faces two challengers in the August Democratic primary, announced a planned amendment to the city’s proposed budget that would maintain human services funding at FY 2010 levels. The amendment, which will be brought forward at the council’s May 17 meeting, would also avert as many layoffs in the police and fire departments as possible, she said.

The previous evening at the council’s Sunday night caucus, Mike Anglin (Ward 5) and Sabra Briere (Ward 1) had already indicated they would support using part of a possible $2 million payment from the Downtown Development Authority to avoid police and firefighter layoffs.

The council’s plan for funding the amendment, reported Teall, is to use a $2 million payment from the Downtown Development Authority that it hopes the DDA board will approve at its May 5 board meeting. Even if the DDA board approves the payment, which is very likely but not certain, not all safety services layoffs in the city administrator’s proposed budget could be covered. Averting the elimination of 35 positions across police and fire departments combined would require $3.6 million. The restoration of human services funding would require another $260,000. And that would still result in the city tapping its general fund reserves for $1.5 million.

In its business for the evening, the council passed a resolution added late Monday to the council agenda, which strikes an agreement between the city and the Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources and Environment for the future of the embankment along Argo Dam. It will allow the headrace to be re-opened by the end of this week.

The council also approved on first reading a revision to the city’s sidewalk occupancy permit system to include sandwich board signs. And the residential development now called Heritage Row – proposed along Fifth Avenue south of William Street – was approved at the council’s first reading with no discussion, but with dissent from Mike Anglin. Both of those measures will need to come back before the council for a second reading to gain approval.

The council also approved received the mayor’s nomination of the appointment of Anya Dale to the AATA board, replacing Paul Ajegba, whose term expired on May 1. Ajegba had been elected by his colleagues last fall to chair the board. Dale is a Washtenaw County planner. Her appointment will be presented for confirmation at the council’s May 17, 2010 meeting.

The council also approved some additional road closures for the June 6 Dexter-Ann Arbor Run.

FY 2011 Budget

The city council received a formal presentation of the proposed city budget from city administrator Roger Fraser on April 19, 2010. It will be formally adopted, with any amendments made by the city council, on May 17.

FY 2011 Budget: Council Discussion

Margie Teall (Ward 4) began the city council’s communications time by reading some prepared remarks on budget amendments:

Saturday was a great day for Ann Arbor and our nation’s democracy. At the beginning of his speech, President Obama spoke of the country being in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, something that all of us in Michigan are familiar with. Cities in Michigan have been hit especially hard by state revenue-sharing cuts and other declining revenues, while expenses continue to rise, especially for health care. To cope with a long downturn, many Michigan cities are facing cuts in core services. Several cities have initiatives on the ballot tomorrow in an effort to avoid closing city facilities along with layoffs in safety services and other areas of city government.

The residents of Ann Arbor should know that the mayor and members of city council and city staff have been working hard to ensure that core city services are not cut and that city facilities remain open. As my colleagues here know, I have been working with councilmember Taylor, Hohnke, and Smith on the city council-DDA working group that has been discussing mutually beneficial solutions. We presented a plan at the DDA operations meeting last week that will continue the $2 million transfer of parking revenues to the city for the 2010-2011 budget. I’ve also been working with the mayor and councilmember Higgins on the city budget.

While we still have some work to do, in refining the numbers between now and the next meeting on May 17, I want to let my city council colleagues know that we will be submitting an amendment to the administrator’s budget that will eliminate, or at least minimize, layoffs in the police and fire department. I want to keep our fire stations open and make sure that firefighters are prepared and ready to fight fires, and that response times are not compromised.

The mayor and I will also be bringing an amendment that will fully fund human services at the 2010 budget level. I know that other councilmembers feel the same way, and may want to co-sponsor this amendment. Councilmember Higgins and I have been working with neighbors in the Fourth Ward, and we will be bringing an amendment that will eliminate the need for football parking at Allmendinger and Frisinger parks. Of course, there is still a lot of work to do. Compromises and some sacrifices will be necessary, but I’m hopeful  councilmembers will support these amendments on May 17.

Mayor John Hieftje emphasized that he had been working together with Teall on the proposed budget amendment that would eliminate or at least minimize any layoffs in the safety services area. He said that some might wonder why the city administrator has even proposed so many layoffs in that area. He attributed that to the uncertainty of the outcome of the conversation that had been going on with the working group between the city council and the DDA, which has resulted in an additional $2 million for the city to work with. Hieftje noted that the DDA vote still needed to be taken.

In her communications time, Sandi Smith (Ward 1) said she was pleased to hear of the planned amendments to the budget. She reported that she and her Ward 1 colleague, Sabra Briere, had conducted a town hall meeting in their ward. What attendees were most interested in was the retention of safety services and human services. So she would be happy to be a cosponsor of the amendment.

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) also indicated that he was pleased to hear of the planned amendments to the budget, in their general form. He said he had received a great number of e-mails about the smallest of the items in the amendment, namely the provision to eliminate a proposal for football Saturday parking in Frisinger and Allmendinger parks. He praised the city’s park advisory commission (PAC) for putting the proposal for football parking in the parks into their budget recommendation.

Taylor allowed that it seemed like a funny thing to praise them for putting that proposal in the budget. However, PAC had a responsibility, he said, and that was to deal with a very limited budget. They needed to figure out how to make that parks budget work, he said, with material and substantial reductions. The challenge was made more difficult, he added, by the fact that they were trying to make the budget work even while adding back in two items that had previously been slated for removal – the Ann Arbor Senior Center and Mack Pool. Taylor concluded by saying he thought that PAC had done an honorable and diligent job.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) thanked Teall for bringing forward news of the budget amendments sooner than the meeting when the council would actually vote on the budget. He said that in years past, amendments were always kind of a surprise, with very little opportunity for review for councilmembers like himself. He described her action as a “shining moment” in governmental transparency.

FY 2011 Budget: Public Hearing, Commentary on Human Services

Thomas Partridge told the council that they need increased funding for the city, for the county, for southeastern Michigan and for the entire state. He called for tax reforms on all levels. He contrasted the size of the University of Michigan football program budget with that of the Ann Arbor city budget and questioned whether our priorities were in order.

Paul Lambert encouraged the council to maintain a basic commitment to human equality.

Caleb Poirier told the council he was grateful to them for doing a tough job. He thanked Margie Teall, Sabra Briere, and John Hieftje for preserving the human services funding in the budget amendment that’s coming up. He wanted to draw the council’s attention to a metaphor. He said he saw the world partly through a job that he used to hold as emergency room technician. When you have a whole bunch of folks who come into the ER, he said, and they get put on stretchers after their workup is done, the ER would get clogged, because they could not send them upstairs, because the upstairs was full.

We have a similar situation, Poirier said, with the homeless population. There’s a lot of folks, he told the council, whose “workup” is complete, and who are awaiting housing options. But the city doesn’t have those options and they are still in the system. He asked the council to consider the continued funding of the affordable housing trust fund.

Lily Au cited the Biblical passage from Isaiah 58:7, which calls on people to feed the hungry and house the homeless. She reported that a homeless camp, Camp Take Notice, had been forced to move last Wednesday before President Obama’s Saturday visit. She said she was not claiming that there was any connection.

But she noted that if Obama’s family visited the camp, they would have a new experience. She said that Michelle Obama would have to hold her kids tight, lest they be hit by a car, and that she would have to take off her high-heel shoes in order to navigate the steep path down to the camp. They would also need flashlights, she said, because it is really dark. Obama would have the experience of a “pain in his butt,” she said, because the campers had not yet set up their public bathrooms. She had peed there last week, but had not been able to stand back up because her butt was stuck on a thorn bush. It really hurt, she said.

Last Friday, she reported, the Vineyard Church had donated five boxes of food. She said she had parked near the camp and that several police cars had arrived, along with a fire truck and one ambulance. One of the officers, she reported, had told the campers that if they did this again, the officers would drive them to Lansing or drive them up north. No matter where they go, she said, they cannot run away from the authorities. She praised the efforts of the city councilmembers, the county, and state officials to find a solution to the problem of just pushing the homeless from one place to another.

Au also was against any cuts in human services, noting that the level of civil society is judged by how well we treat those who are most in need.

Ned Staebler introduced himself as chair of the housing and human services advisory board. He said he’d been encouraged to hear that a budget amendment would be coming forward to restore human services funding and avert safety services layoffs. He noted, however, that he’d not heard anything about the affordable housing trust fund in the budget amendments that might be coming forward. So he reminded the council that in past years there had been a $100,000 contribution every year to the trust fund. This year that money had been used to increase the number of affordable housing units, to increase the number of beds in the shelter system, as well as to fund foreclosure prevention programs.

The proposed amount that was to be cut from human services, Staebler said, was $260,000, which represents more than a 20% cut – more than the 8% applied to the rest of the budget. That showed the wrong priorities, he said. One of the reasons he was proud to live in Ann Arbor was that the city made it a priority to take care of the least fortunate. He asked the council what good a social safety net was if you pull it out from under people when they need it most. He noted that human services agencies are also an economic engine in that they leverage other funds. More than $10 comes into our community, he said, for every dollar that we fund to one of these agencies.

Katie Doyle introduced herself as executive director of the Ozone House, telling council that Ozone House was celebrating its 41st anniversary, largely because of support from the city of Ann Arbor. Ozone House works with young people who are homeless and runaways, and tries to prevent them from entering costlier systems. She pointed to the leveraging effect of dollars allocated locally. For Ozone House, it’s even higher than the $10 that Ned Staebler mentioned, she said.

Lori Bush introduced herself as the director of family support programs for Child Care Network. She said she wanted to echo the comments of the many speakers who had come before her. The city had funded the child care network for over 25 years, she noted. The organization gives childcare scholarships to low-income families, so that they can continue to work in the community.

Michael Appel, executive director of Avalon Housing, a local nonprofit that provides affordable housing throughout the city, addressed the council on the topic of human services funding. He urged councilmembers to try to avoid thinking of the budget picture as completely either-or: We can fund human services, we can fund public safety, we can fund parks, but we can’t find everything. He urged them to resist that kind of thinking, even though it was a time when the budget choices tended to move a person in that direction. For example, the city council had given Avalon Housing support for starting a community center program. One of the effects of starting a community center, Appel said, was to reduce police calls to the area. It was a more appropriate use of public spending to put human service dollars towards a human services goal. It was a more appropriate use of police time, responding to police issues rather than what were essentially management and tenant problems that could be better resolved without the use of police time. He encouraged the council to apply that kind of logic to other areas of the budget.

Julie Steiner introduced herself as the executive director of the Interfaith Hospitality Network Alpha House, one of the community’s three homeless shelters for families. She thanked the council for all the support that they had given to the IHN and other human services agencies that they worked with. She thanked the council in particular for the emergency support that the council had approved for last winter.

Steiner said her daughter had in the past encouraged her to get on city council and that the reason she didn’t want to is that she could not imagine being in their position, with the choices that they had to make. She reminded the council that human services are their safety net for the entire community. Two years ago, she said, 50% of the people who came to the shelter had a job when they came. Now less than 1% have a job. She said they had the help of a full-time job developer, who works with all of the housing agencies, with the support of the Michigan Rehabilitation Services and the county’s Employment Training and Community Services (ETCS).

The job developer says she’s never before seen the kind of trouble people are having finding jobs, Steiner reported. Even people who come to the shelter with a job can’t make ends meet. She reported the case of a woman who had a full-time job at Arby’s but whose husband had lost his job at a construction site. They could no longer support their babies in housing.

If the council eliminates affordable housing in the budget, Steiner warned, the community is really going to be in bigger trouble. She reminded the council that there are three things that human services partners do for IHN: (i) they make it possible to bring in $32 million of other funding; (ii) they volunteer – at IHN 2,000 people volunteer every year; and (iii) they provide the shelter with $1.5 million worth of in-kind support.

Ellen Schulmeister introduced herself as the executive director of the Washtenaw Housing Alliance and of the Shelter Association of Washington County at the Delonis Center. She thanked the council for its past support on issues regarding housing and homelessness. She also thanked the council for the work on the budget during a very difficult time. There were 4,212 homeless people in the county in 2008. Of those, 1,494 were children, she said. That’s a 20% increase from 2007 levels. The increase came mostly in families and unaccompanied youth. There’s been a 138% increase in requests for food since 2006, she reported, which is one of the highest increases in the country. She noted that there is some stimulus money coming to the community that’s been allocated to prevent people from becoming homeless. They’ve interviewed over 600 families and given 232 of those families some help. They’ve spent over $.5 million. But she cautioned that the stimulus money will run out soon. When it does, she warned that some of those folks may end up homeless. She concluded by saying, “We can’t really take a cut at this time.”

Jim Mogensen began with his trademark, “So, here we are again!” He noted that as everyone knows, all cities are struggling. Ann Arbor has had a structural issue with its budget for a very long time, he said. So, Mogensen said, some of the issues faced by the city are “enhanced” by the financial crisis, but there are still some basic structural issues. One of the themes in the current budget cycle, said Mogensen, is: When in doubt, outsource everything.

Mogensen said that 20 years ago he worked in Washington D.C. as a consultant for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) working on regulatory analysis. They had a company that wanted them to conduct a mock inspection like OSHA would do it, and so they did. And he said he remembered the phone calls he got from the corporate legal department, asking him to please modify his report. He quipped, “I used to work in West Virginia doing mine inspections.” As they relate to planning, the conflicts of interests are like Goldman Sachs, he warned.

Looking at the two-year cycle for the budget, he asked: What will happen next year? The city has already outsourced its social safety net to local nonprofits. And the nonprofits, in turn, have to make contingency plans for what’s going to happen. He cited Michael Apple’s comments about how if you make cuts in human services, you end up spending those dollars on police instead. He warned that it would eventually cause a situation where they would not be able to respond. If all of a sudden there is a tipping point, there will be no mechanism to respond.

For example, Mogensen said, think about the affordable housing trust fund – you have the Avalon Housing and Washtenaw Affordable Housing Corporation issue, plus the Housing Commission. The city would need money in the housing trust fund if they wanted to do something with those areas. He asked that the affordable housing trust fund also be incorporated in possible budget amendment resolutions. Those are immediate issues that could have an impact next year, he cautioned.

David Blanchard, who also serves on the city’s housing and human services advisory board, said he wanted to echo a lot of the comments that had already been made. He noted that there are dozens of agencies that are funded in part with the city’s dollars. He asked the council to not pull the safety net out from under people when it is needed most. If the $100,000 cut to the affordable housing trust fund were included in the cut to human services, he said it would reflect a 30% cut. He pointed to the documented increase in need, with several agencies reporting their needs had become 30-50% greater. There is no way that need is going to be served, he warned, if there is a cut now when those services are needed most.

Budget FY 2011: Public Hearing, Commentary on Safety Services

Doug Warsinski, representing the Walden Hills Condominium Association, said that before 2007 there was virtually no problem with crime in his neighborhood. Then they were suddenly faced with a series of auto thefts and auto break-ins over the span of only a few months. There had also been isolated incidents, he said, of burglaries, attempted sexual assault, and robbery. He said that while the community had returned to a relatively normal, quiet state, the board of directors had taken some costly steps to improve their own security.

Ann Arbor Fire Station Map

Locations of Ann Arbor's five current fire stations. Colored shading correspond to wards. The circle with the slash is the location of former Station 2. (Image links to higher resolution file.)

Taxpayers have reasonable expectations of levels of service from their police department, Warsinski said. A national survey that he cited showed what citizens expect as reasonable response times: 5 minutes or less for a crime that’s in progress or if the suspected criminal is still at the scene; 15 minutes, in a case where a suspected criminal has left; 30 minutes for nuisance calls. A performance metric should be established for the city that is in line with these national expectations, he said.

With respect to fire safety,Warsinski reported that neighboring condominiums had had a serious fire with a trapped occupant, who was rescued by the Ann Arbor fire department. They themselves had experienced several small arson fires and a roof fire that had been caused by a contractor. As multi-family structures with a significant number of older residents, he said, the potential for catastrophic fire is great.

As one of 50 National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) certified fire protection specialists in the state of Michigan, Warsinski said, he wanted to point out that their condominiums, along with apartments, offices, mercantile, and industrial occupancies – and generally any other building except single family dwellings – are classified by the NFPA as “medium hazard occupancies.” Such structures had a recommended minimum initial response as follows: three pumpers, one ladder truck, staffed by 16 firefighters, a chief officer, plus a safety officer and a rapid intervention team. As far as regionalization went, he said, surrounding fire departments had too few personnel and equipment, and were too far away to effectively protect the residents of Ann Arbor.

John Maguire told the council that he was born and raised in this town and that his parents live in this town. Some of his reasons for choosing to raise his family in Ann Arbor, he said, included the things the town had to offer – parks, sporting events, art fairs, Top of the Park, museums, as well as other activities. But the most important reason he had decided to raise his family here, he said, was the ability to enjoy all those activities and also feel safe. He asked the council to not make any more cuts to public safety. He noted that the city had already closed a fire station and closed police substations. He contrasted nice-to-have items with need-to-have items. Parks, art, and a transit center are nice to have, while police and fire protection we need to have, he concluded.

Jamie Adkins introduced herself as a police officer with the city of Ann Arbor, speaking on behalf of the Ann Arbor Police Officers Association. She noted that the city council has a lot of hard decisions that are coming up and told them that she had attended all of the work sessions on the budget. She told mayor John Hieftje that he had been quoted in the local media as saying that Ann Arbor had never laid off a police officer.

While that might be true, Adkins allowed, what has not been discussed was the staggering reduction in personnel over the last nine years. In 2001, she said, the police department employed 191 sworn officers. Currently, that number is 124. One way services had been reduced, she said, was that patrol response times had increased. Other ways: the city has eliminated downtown beat officers; response to private property crashes has been eliminated; the animal control officer has been eliminated; public housing dedicated patrols have been eliminated; the domestic violence advocate has been eliminated; fingerprint services has been eliminated; detective bureau case follow-up has been reduced; and gun registration services have been reduced.

While addressing the city council during a public hearing on the budget, Jamie Adkins asked everyone on the police layoff list to stand. In the foreground is Tom Fegan, former planning director with Washtenaw County. (Image links to photo of Fegan when The Chronicle encountered him the previous Saturday when he was ushering at Michigan Stadium for Obama's commencement address.)

With the proposed layoffs currently in the budget, Adkins said, on July 1, 2010 the total number of sworn officers would be reduced to 111. That reflects a reduction of 42% over the last nine years, she said.

She told the council that many of the officers who were on the layoff list were not there at night, due to their lower seniority – they were out on patrol. She ran out of time to introduce each officer individually as she’d planned, but did note that the first person on the layoff list had been hired on Oct. 23, 2000. That’s 10 years, she said, that they had served the city. The least senior person on the layoff list, she reported, was hired on Jan. 30, 2006.

She finished her remarks with an invitation: “All those on the layoff list, please stand up!”

It earned them a round of applause, which was met with Hieftje’s standard admonishment that applause was not encouraged during public hearings.

Patrick Maguire introduced himself as one of the police officers who was due to be laid off, and asked the council to seriously reconsider the idea of laying off police and firefighters in Ann Arbor. He told the council that he been born and raised in Ann Arbor and gone on to earn a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. When considering his career choices, he said, he considered federal law enforcement jobs, jobs in other states, and police jobs in cities around the state of Michigan.

But Maguire said he felt a special connection to the city of Ann Arbor and eventually decided that because he was from Ann Arbor, and knew Ann Arbor, he wanted to come back to Ann Arbor to work and give back to the community that had raised him. He was hired in 2000. He’s currently one of the city’s two K-9 handlers.

While people are attracted to Ann Arbor for a variety of reasons, Maguire said, one of the main things that makes Ann Arbor a great city is its overall relative safety. He attributed its safety to the hard-working dedication of those police officers who come to work every day to protect the citizens of Ann Arbor. He called the Ann Arbor police department one of the highest educated and best trained police departments of any city around.

Maguire described police officers in Ann Arbor as smart, compassionate and willing to invest themselves with those with whom they come into contact. He described the detectives as highly trained who are able to solve a high percentage of their cases. What it comes down to, he said, is that Ann Arbor has a great proactive police department that is able to address the specific needs of the city.

With the proposed cuts, Maguire warned, the city’s department would be transformed from a proactive department to a reactive one, providing levels of service that would be unlikely to satisfy anyone. In his 10 years as a police officer in Ann Arbor, he reported, someone had tried to run him over with a car, and he’d been hit, kicked, punched, sat on, attacked by pit bulls, and so on.

Keith Harr weighed in against the proposed police and fire cuts. He said his neighborhood was between two stations that were being considered for closure and that it would affect his neighborhood a great deal.

FY 2011 Budget: Public Hearing, Commentary on Other Fiscal Issues

During the public hearing on community services fee increases, Karen Sidney warned that the city kept raising prices, apparently thinking that the increased prices would have no effect on people’s behavior. She recalled that a few years ago the city staff had recommended that the parks fees all be raised, and in fact the fees were raised. The next year, she said, less revenue was actually generated, despite the higher rates. That was because people stopped using the parks. For example, people stopped going to Vets Ice Arena and started using The Cube. Once those customers are lost, she cautioned, you don’t get them back right away. “Use some business sense, for god’s sake!” she admonished the council.

Sidney also spoke during the public hearing on the budget. She told the council there were so many things wrong in the spending priorities for the proposed budget that it was hard to choose what to talk about: reducing police and fire positions to below the minimum levels recommended by former chief of police Dan Oates in a February 2005 press release; spending over $330,000 to redo the city’s development rules, while turning off 2,000 streetlights to help pay for it; water and sewer capital spending that meets the needs of new developments but ignores the needs of people who are living here.

The item that stood out for Sidney this year, she said, was over $1.3 million in the general fund budget for three items that should be covered by the $47.4 million police/courts building project budget. The general fund reserve, she warned, is already below the level recommended by the city’s outside auditor.

The public was told, Sidney said, that the police/courts project would cost $47.4 million and that that amount would cover all costs. Now, she contended, the city is redefining “all.” After it finished redefining “all,” she quipped, it could tell us what the meaning of “is” is. The items Sidney ticked through totaling the $1.3 million were: $165,000 to fix the sixth floor Larcom Building roof; $185,000 in moving costs; $975,000 for audiovisual and security equipment.

Sidney suggested that if the $47.4 million was not sufficient to cover the entire “wish list,” then the solution should be to cut costs out of the police/courts construction budget, not to use the general fund. A start, she said, would be to eliminate the conference center and the gym in the basement of the Larcom Building. She suggested that a security system could be achieved for less than $975,000 – the county had achieved that, she contended.

Sidney addressed mayor John Hieftje directly, saying that he had said the project was within budget. She asked the mayor to share with the rest of the community the data he’d used to reach that conclusion.

Libby Hunter again rendered her public commentary in the form of a song. This time the melody was from “Help Me, Rhonda” – the Beach Boys tune from the year 1965. Lyrical highlights included “Help us, Roger, help us get out of this mess.”

Lou Glorie, a candidate for a Ward 5 council seat in the Democratic primary, said she thought there were some things in the budget that could probably be trimmed a bit. She wondered about the $6.299 million in IT charges and figured that a couple million could be cut out of that part of the budget. In fleet services, she suggested that a couple of new garbage trucks could wait a bit. She also pointed to the Smart Zone and LDFA (Local Development Finance Authority), and wondered if the city was getting enough “bang for the buck” out of that. As for alternative transportation, she said, she wondered what kind of improvements they would get. She said she really hoped they were not going to be laying off police and firefighters.

Argo Earthen Embankment: Consent Agreement

During her communications, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) introduced the topic of the earthen embankment along Argo Dam by reporting on her activities the previous weekend – not the weekend of the University of Michigan commencement, but the one prior to that. She’d had the pleasure of helping clean up the Argo Dam earthen embankment, she said.

Briere described how she had worked with volunteers from the high school rowing teams and their adult mentors, helping to clear underbrush off the embankment. She noted that it was now possible to actually glimpse the river from the path that runs along the earthen berm. The volunteer efforts are part of the city’s strategy to put a woody vegetation management plan in place for the earthen berm in response to directives from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment (MDNRE).

Before the council on Monday was a resolution that charts out a plan resolving the up-to-now ongoing conflict between the city and MDNRE, which resulted in the closure of the headrace along the earthen embankment in the fall of 2009. The headrace is used by canoeists and kayakers to circumnavigate the Argo Dam, which requires a short portage at the end of the headrace. With canoeing season starting, the city would stand to lose a significant part of the revenue from the Argo canoe livery with the headrace closed.

Briere also led off deliberations on the resolution before the council by saying that she was really happy to see the resolution, even though it came too late to be published on the agenda. She said it’s the kind of item that is worth doing at the last minute and she was delighted to see it.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) also indicated that she was excited to see the item on the agenda. Sue McCormick, public services area administrator for the city, was asked to come to the podium. Mayor John Hieftje asked her about Section 10 of the agreement, which covers reconstruction and repair of the embankment. He asked for clarification on that section. McCormick said that as the city looked at its options, they have looked at primarily two approaches.

The first would be essentially a maintenance project whereby toe drains in the earthen embankment would be daylighted and extended so that they would be more efficient and meet the minimum standards. The city had previously gone out for bids on a similar kind of project, she said. The city have delayed moving forward with that project the last time.

The second approach involved the creation of a different kind of amenity, she said – that had come from the community and had evolved through the Huron River and Impoundment Management Plan (HRIMP) Committee  process. Instead of retaining the existing headrace, a different amenity would be created that might remove the need to portage at the bottom of the headrace. That might make it more amenable to canoeists.

The consent agreement allows the city to consider both kinds of options. Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) said he had had an opportunity to look at one of the proposals about a year ago, which involved a series of ponds. He thought it might work around some of the problems that the current headrace has, and expected that it could benefit a lot of people. He asked McCormick to outline the timetable in the consent agreement.

McCormick explicated the following milestones:

  • Oct. 1, 2010: Send out a request for proposals (RFP) for one of the two options.
  • Feb. 1, 2011: Select a construction option.
  • May 15, 2011: Obtain MDRNE permits for the construction.
  • June 1, 2011: Start construction of the selected option. But McCormick cautioned that it is contingent on receipt of the MDNRE permits.
  • Nov. 15, 2011: Construction will be complete

Between now and the request for proposals, she said, there would be a lot of community discussion about that process. The city would be requesting that the MDRNE also hold a public hearing in connection with the permitting process, McCormick indicated. That meant there would be plenty of opportunity for public input all along the way, she said.

As Briere had noted, the resolution had been added late the same day to the council’s agenda.

City administrator Roger Fraser reported that McCormick and Sumedh Bahl, who’s unit manager of the water treatment plant and interim community services area administrator, had met with the “folks in Lansing” on a conference call that morning. That had been a follow-up to a series of meetings that they’ve had trying to hammer out an agreement. He contended that it had been recognized early on that the original approach being taken by the regulatory offices was more extreme than the city of Ann Arbor thought was justified.

That morning, he said, when they got to a point where they had something they felt they could recommend, they recognized that the council would probably like to see it as soon as possible. So they parked in the office of Abigail Elias – who’s on the city attorney’s staff – and spent the better part of Monday working on the details. That was how they got the document to the council as early as they did, Fraser said.

Bascially, he said, it was all done that day. McCormick indicated that the city hopes to be able to remove the stop log that closes off the water to the headrace and to have the headrace restored to operation as soon as the end of the week. The consent agreement, however, specifies that the stop log must be re-installed on or before Oct. 15, 2010, but may be removed again after May 1, 2011.

After Fraser and McCormick had sketched out the main points of the consent agreement, Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) asked for a short recess to evaluate the proposal, saying he had not had a chance to do so, because he’d received it so late in the afternoon.

In regard to the recess requested by Hohnke, the proceedings mirrored a previous council resolution brought on Oct. 19, 2009 that sought to effect the repairs that the MDNRE (then called the Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality, or MDEQ) had required the city to undertake. Hohnke asked for a recess on that occasion as well, due to the late hour at which the resolution had been brought before the council.

The October 2009  resolution was tabled, with the council unable to reach an agreement amid confusion about the significance of the resolution regarding a commitment to keeping the dam or eventually remove it completely.

During Monday’s recess, Hohnke and Margie Teall, both of whom have advocated for a dam-out option for Argo, retreated to the council workroom to discuss the resolution. On returning from the recess, Hohnke said that the piece he had not had a chance to absorb was the question of whether the resolution opened the city up to significant costs. For example, if the city issued an RFP, did that mean they had to accept whatever came back. He’d satisfied himself, he reported, that this was not the case.

Outcome: The city council unanimously approved the resolution to accept the consent agreement on repair or reconstruction of the earthen berm at Argo.

Sandwich Board Sign Sidewalk Occupancy

The city council had considered a revision to its sign ordinance at its Feb. 16, 2010 meeting, that was ultimately defeated. The task force that had been established at the council’s Oct. 5, 2009 meeting and then appointed on Oct. 19 had brought that resolution forward.

The goal was to find a way to make legal the fairly common practice of using portable sandwich board signs. The revised strategy was to look at the city’s sidewalk occupancy permitting system as a mechanism to allow sandwich board signs – within the area of the city’s Downtown Development Authority. [Recent Chronicle coverage: "Ann Arbor, Give Me a Sign"]

Before the council was the first reading of a revision to the city’s sidewalk occupancy permitting system.

Sandwich Sign Boards: Public Commentary

James Agnew addressed the city council on the topic of sandwich signboards. He introduced himself as co-owner of Aunt Agatha’s mystery bookshop at 213 S. Fourth Ave. On Fourth Avenue, he said, very often on a Saturday night he would leave the store and there would be maybe two or three people. Walking up to Liberty Street, there’d be a stream of people, and up on Main Street there typically is a stream of people. That’s one argument, he said, for sandwich boards – increased visibility of places that are not among the spots most often thought of as retail.

People often think of the retail areas just as State Street, Main Street and Liberty, Agnew said. A sandwich sign board, he said, gives you some visibility to people who are passing by, who might not otherwise be aware that you are there. He reported that his bookstore used sandwich boards mostly for special occasions like book signings. It’s helpful for people who don’t know where the store is, who read about the event in the newspaper or online.

The larger context, Agnew said, is retail. It’s not a dirty word – rather, it’s very helpful to the city. People who come in on a Saturday night are not coming here for the university, but rather for the stores and the restaurants. These stores and restaurants are unique – Aunt Agatha’s is the only mystery bookstore in Michigan, he said.

Agnew said the store often sells books off of carts in front of the store and that they would be willing to pay the same amount for a sandwich sign as they do for the book carts. Small unique stores like his, he said, did not typically have the kind of advertising budget that would allow planes towing banners at football games, so they had to do what they could – a sandwich sign board.

Nina Juergens introduced herself as owner of Acme Mercantile at 111 W. Liberty and Salon Vertigo at 212 S. Fourth Ave. She said she felt a big part of the charm of the Main Street area was the eclectic variety of businesses that you don’t find in other places. Sandwich sign boards, she said, allow businesses to express their unique character. She noted that sidewalk permits can’t really be used most of the year due to the weather, so she relied on signboards to announce sales and highlight products, or whatever is happening in the store.

Juergens said that recently they had not been putting their signboard out, because right now it’s being refurbished. As a result, sales had been about half of what they normally are when the sign is out. That’s because no one can see the store, she said. At the salon, she said, it’s hard for staff to build a clientele when nobody knows that salon is there – it’s located in a hallway.

Dawn Nelson introduced herself as a salon owner in the Washington Building. She told the council that her salon is on the third floor, so without a sandwich signboard, no one would know that she was there. She had signed a five-year lease there, but probably would not have if she knew that she would not be allowed to advertise on the street. She said she believed in regulation, but sandwich boards were an option, whereas it was not an option to put signs on the building itself – it’s in an historic district.

Vicki Honeyman introduced herself as a 26-year tenant on East Ann Street, operating a small retail and haircutting business – Heavenly Metal and Vicki’s Wash-and-Wear Haircuts. It’s right across the street from the Hands-On Museum, she said. She described her situation as unique. Her operation is the only retail on the block, so there’s very little foot traffic on the street, except for people from city hall who are going to get lunch and come back to work. The building and entrance, she said, is set so far back from the street that there’s literally no visibility at the corner of Ann & Fourth.

Honeyman asked the council for a reasonable and local-business-friendly ordinance for signage, but also asked for consideration to be made to allow her to place her sandwich sign boards on her landlord’s private property next to her neighbor’s sign. She also asked to be able to place her Heavenly Metal sign at the end of her walk. When shoppers see the signboard at the corner of Fourth & Ann, she said shoppers would realize that there was actually a business down the block. She reported that 90% of her new customers tell her that it was the signs that drew them to her store. Without the signs, she feared, she really could not make it. She encouraged the council to allow for atypical situations.

After the council deliberations at the very end of the meeting during public commentary unreserved time, Jim Mogensen urged the council to get some input from the Center for Independent Living before the ordinance comes before them for its second reading. [At the council's February 2010 meeting, when an earlier ordinance had been voted down, speakers during public comment had addressed the issue of sandwich signs obstructing accessibility for handicapped people.]

Also addressing the council at the end of the meeting was Michael Slaughter, who weighed in for tasteful sandwich board signs, saying that they were allowed in other Big Ten college towns as well as in other Michigan cities. He also raised the issue of commercial-free speech in the context of the First Amendment.

Sandwich Sign Boards: Council Deliberations

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) led off discussion of the sandwich signboard ordinance by asking why the resolution was coming back to the council outside of the context of the signboard review task force that had been assigned to take up the matter.

In February, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) said, they been assured that the referral to the task force would result in follow-up within four months. Since then, she reported, the task force had not met. To wait through the summer until the sandwich signboard task force meets or is reconstituted, she said, would be a burden to the council and also to the merchants involved.

Higgins said she had heard very compelling arguments during the public commentary for the sandwich boards, in particular for businesses that are not in the city’s most walked-about streets. She had some concerns, however, in locations where there was sidewalk dining, bicycle hoops, and also sandwich boards. Just how pedestrian friendly are we making that area, she wondered. She asked if that issue was addressed in the ordinance revision.

Briere noted that she had not designed the ordinance. But on reading it, she said there was a certain amount of sidewalk available in front of the business. There is only a certain amount of sidewalk available as a maximum amount. It’s limited because it’s part of the sidewalk occupancy ordinance.

Wendy Rampson, head of planning for the city, was called to the podium by Higgins. Rampson explained that the way the ordinance is drafted, if the sidewalk is reserved for dining, a sandwich board sign would have to be inside the dining occupancy area.

Businesses that front onto the sidewalk would have first priority. After that, Rampson said, other businesses would have the opportunity to bid and put in a permit request. The other piece includes a limit of two signs. There could be multiple businesses on those signs, but it would preclude five or six different signs being lined up on the sidewalk. The third piece that’s addressed, said Rampson, is that many of the signs get placed right next to the entrance of the building, which causes pedestrians to have to jog back and forth on the sidewalk. For that reason, that ordinance was drafted to require at least a 6-foot path from the “right-of-way edge,” which is essentially the building face.

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) asked if there was a process to allow a variance that would accommodate the kind of situation that Vicki Honeyman had explained for her business. Rampson clarified that as drafted, there’s no opportunity for a variance. However, there is a possibility for a variance under the sign ordinance, as opposed to the sidewalk occupancy ordinance – something that was drawn out also by mayor John Hieftje. Smith said she supported the ordinance and suggested that the council revisit the issue in November and evaluate how things are working.

Hieftje asked how the sign that Honeyman wanted to place on her landlord’s private property would be viewed in the meantime. Rampson explained that it would not be allowed.

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) drew out the fact from Rampson that the usual sidewalk occupancy season lasted from April to November, but for the sandwich board permits, it would be an annual system. It would run from July 1 through June 30. That offsets it from the application process for other sidewalk occupancy, which will allow the city staff to process both kinds of permits efficiently.

Rampson explained that in contrast to the regular sidewalk occupancy system, permission would be required for a sandwich board to be placed in front of a neighbor’s property, as opposed to a simple notification. Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) asked if a business outside the DDA could ask permission from a business inside the DDA to place sign on a neighboring property. Rampson explained that the draft specified that it’s a business inside the DDA area that can seek such an occupancy permit.

Kunselman had questions for the city attorney about whether it was possible to have an adjacent property owner provide permission to use a public right of way – he was a little concerned about the legalities. City attorney Stephen Postema said that Kristen Larcom, a senior assistant city attorney, had looked at the issue but that he would discuss it further with her.

Focusing on the language “as is available,” Kunselman wanted know who would make the determination about what is available on the public right-of-way. Rampson clarified that the applicants are supposed to provide a diagram, which would allow the determination to take place. Based on observations of current usage, she said, when there are conflicts, they are worked out among co-tenants in the building.

As an example, Kunselman noted that he’d seen a sandwich board sign recently advertising for one of the businesses inside Nickels Arcade. He asked what would happen if all the businesses wanted to have a sign and they could not all fit on one board – who would pick and choose? The property owner? Would it be the person who processed the permits? Rampson indicated that the staff would not be mediating among tenants of a property.

Rampson clarified that the permits would be issued to business owners, but they provide a place on the application for the property owner to acknowledge the application. If there are two signs that can be issued at a given location and they are already taken, Rampson said, it was up to a business owner who did not have a sign to work it out with those who did. Kunselman concluded that “not everybody will be happy.” Rampson deadpanned back: “That’s rarely the case.”

Briere brought up the fact that the ordinance had been drafted in a way to require signs to be placed at least 18 inches from the curb, with the idea that this would help mitigate against blockage of car doors opening and wheelchair access to the curb.

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) noted that the size of allowable signs is specified in the ordinance. He wanted to know how that compared with what’s currently used in actual practice. Rampson said that it would likely cover 80% of existing signs. Those that are larger, she said, were actually obstructions and probably should be ruled out.

Taylor also drew out from Rampson the clarification that permits are parcel-based, as opposed to street-frontage-based because it was specifically businesses located on upper stories who might be most interested in having sidewalk sign boards, but they have no street frontage.

Taylor said that he thought the ordinance should read “building-side edge” instead the “right-of-way edge,” because the right-of-way had two edges. Rampson replied that staff who dealt with it on a day-to-day basis understood that the edge of the right-of-way is the edge of the right-of-way, but assured Taylor that they would try to find some language that was more descriptive.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) said he’d been receiving indications from people outside the downtown, who had been asked to take down their sandwich board signs. He asked if the city staff might not be a little bit more “negotiable” on the issue. Anglin was specifically concerned about Dragon’s Lair Futons.

Rampson noted that Dragon’s Lair had no frontage on Liberty Street. She also noted that the staff can’t negotiate what the code says. A directional sign in the case of Dragon’s Lair was okay, Rampson said. But for portable signs throughout the entire Liberty Street corridor, the city has been asking others to take them down and not use them. They had to be fair to everyone.

Outcome: The sidewalk occupancy ordinance designed to accommodate sandwich board signs passed unanimously on first reading.

Fuller Road Station

The topic of Fuller Road Station arose during council communications as well as during the budget hearing and general public commentary time.

Fuller Road Station: Council Communications

During her communications time, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) acknowledged that the Ann Arbor planning commission would be considering an amendment to the city’s zoning code that would revise the definition of public land (PL). The proposal was to broaden a use currently specified as a “municipal airport,” changing it to a “transportation facility.” The change would rule in the Fuller Road Station as a possible use for public land. [At its May 4 meeting, the planning commission voted unanimously to recommend the change. The topic was also discussed at the council's Sunday night caucus.]

Mike Anglin (Ward 5), during his communications time, said he wanted to give some updates on the Fuller Road Station project. He reminded the council that the University of Michigan board of regents had been presented with a plan in January 2010 totaling $46,000,550. Of that, he continued, the university had agreed to pay $36,000,309.

That meant, said Anglin, that the city would be putting up around $10 million. He said when he first voted in agreement with the intermodal transportation center, it was after it had first been presented to him at the city’s park advisory commission (PAC) meeting. [Anglin serves as an ex-officio member of PAC, along with councilmember Christopher Taylor (Ward 3).]

The PAC discussion, Anglin said, went on and on and included the potential of having things like a bar where people could go after they had played soccer. The whole thing had become a “tremendously glorified project,” Anglin said. There was a long-range plan, Anglin stressed, even though it appeared right at this moment that it was simply a parking deck. He stressed that the meeting on Thursday, May 6 on the Fuller Road Station should be a public hearing and that the public should be heard from.

Anglin said he did not believe that there had been a public hearing on the topic, yet. He said he did not want the city staff to come and explain what was going on, because people already know what is going on. What the staff should do, Anglin said, was listen to the public’s concerns. There’s a lot of disappointment, Anglin cautioned, that the city had moved so quickly ahead with something involving the parks, that could perhaps set something in motion that they don’t really fully understand yet. And for that reason, he said, it was important to have that discussion.

At first, Anglin said PAC thought it was a great idea. But now, he said, PAC is wondering if Ann Arbor is giving up a park.

During the budget hearing, Ann Arbor resident Rita Mitchell told the council that at a time when all of these budget cuts are proposed for essential services – police and fire and human services – she was concerned. She asked the council to direct its attention to funding those kinds of things and not undertake something like a parking structure on Fuller Road.

It’s been proposed that the city would contribute $10 million to the project, Mitchell said, which would primarily benefit the University of Michigan to address its parking needs for its commuters. But it would not provide a benefit to citizen taxpayers, who would be providing that funding, she contended. She asked the council to consider dropping that project. The project also represented a giving away of parkland to the university, she said.

John Satarino led off his comments during general public commentary by saying that he was a bit depressed. He had not thought of coming to address the council that night, but he’d been reading up on municipal immunity. He said he was a supporter of Fuller Park, and that he was against an eight-story, 1,600-car parking structure that was planned to be built there by the University of Michigan, with the city’s help.

Satarino noted that the next evening, on May 4, there would be a meeting of the planning commission where they would change a few words to make it possible to build a transportation center there. He told the council that he did not think that was a good way to go. He contended that there was a deed with a restriction on it, and that the parcel was designated in the master plan for the area as a park. [City staff have stated that a title search did not show any deed restrictions on the property.]

DDA Bylaws Revisions

Before the city council was a resolution that approved changes to the bylaws of the Downtown Development Authority, which the DDA board had itself approved back in February 2010.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) asked Susan Pollay, executive director of the DDA, to the podium to clarify what was meant by “financial systems.” Pollay explained that the DDA runs its checkbook out of her office, and that the financial systems consisted of a method for separating out the three main funds of the DDA – the TIF (tax increment financing) fund, the parking fund, and housing fund. Higgins also asked about the preparation of the annual financial report by the “treasurer or their designee.” She wanted to know who the designee could be.

Pollay indicated that what the phrasing was meant to suggest is that the staff does the work and the board treasurer ensures that it gets done. Higgins confirmed with Pollay that the revised bylaws reflect what the practice already is. Hearing Pollay’s confirmation of that resulted in Higgins’ conclusion: “Perfect, thank you.” Sandi Smith (Ward 1) – who also serves on the DDA board in addition to the city council – said that in general, all of the changes to the bylaws reflected the practice that had been in place for several years.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) asked Pollay what the current bylaws required of her. Pollay explained that in the previous bylaws, her role as executive director is not designated. The executive committee of the DDA board, she said, had brought to the full board the idea that it probably made sense to actually state what the role of the executive director is.

Kunselman inquired whether the issue was addressed in the enabling legislation. Pollay said that the executive director is certainly mentioned in that legislation in the context of the DDA hiring for itself an executive director and explaining what retirement and benefits director might be entitled to. But she said it’s not specific about what the person does.

Kunselman asked Pollay if she was a city of Ann Arbor employee. Pollay allowed that it was an interesting question but said she did not believe so. She indicated that she was an employee of the DDA, but all of the DDA staff follow all of the city rules and the paychecks come through the city finance office. She said they actually did not take a lot of time reflecting on the question. They function as if they were a part of one whole organization.

Pollay indicated, however, that she worked at the pleasure of the DDA board. Her job, then, was to make sure that she met their expectations and goals, as expressed in their resolutions. Mayor John Hieftje added that the board of the DDA in a very real way serves at the pleasure of the city council – given that the city council appoints DDA board members. “So you can feel better about that,” he told Kunselman. Quipped Pollay, “I’m not sure I do!”

Outcome: The revised bylaws of the DDA were unanimously approved.

Dexter-Ann Arbor Run Road Closures

At the previous city council meeting, Hal Wolfe, race director of the Dexter-Ann Arbor Run, had appeared to ask for the street closures necessary for the race, which will be held on June 6, 2010. At Monday’s meeting, he reminded councilmembers of that previous appearance before them. He was there this week, he said, to discuss additional requested road closures.

He quipped that he was not going to stop until he achieved the closure of every road in the county. Returning to a more serious demeanor, he told the council that the road closure in question involved the exit ramp from M-14 to Main Street. He reported that they had been working on a plan to get the ramp closed for the race for the last six months. He noted that it is a hospital exit as well as a major interchange, so they were taking it very seriously.

The stretch along Main Street, he explained, is about 1.1 miles of the race course. Along 0.9 of those 1.1 Main Street miles, he said, there are runners, cones and cars. In particular, where the off-ramp comes off of Huron River Drive there’s a lane of runners and a lane of cars going at close-to-freeway speeds getting bottlenecked before they can get over to the other side of Main Street.

Wolfe reported that he had been working with the Michigan Dept. of Transportation (MDOT) and the Ann Arbor police department over the last six months to develop a successful plan to get the closure accomplished properly. The difference between two weeks ago and tonight, he said, was that the University of Michigan Hospital had given their consent to allow the approval, based on the plans they been shown.

MDOT had provided the requirements for the closure sign designs, and there would be a police officer stationed at the off-ramp, he said. The approval that night, he said, would be an authorization to go back to MDOT to finalize plans to make sure that everything was done properly. He thanked Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) for helping him get the item onto the council’s agenda. He told the council that he would stay until the vote in order to answer any questions they might have.

Later towards the end of the meeting, councilmembers had several clarificational questions, but ultimately approved the road closures.

Outcome: The council unanimously approved the M-14 exit ramp closure for the Dexter-Ann Arbor Run.

Delinquent Charges Added to Tax Rolls

Before the council was a resolution to move a total of $204,821 in delinquent fees to the July 2010 tax rolls. Residents with charges on the list for water utility, alarm, board up, clean up, vacant property inspection and housing inspection fees would have 30 days to pay the delinquent fees or face having the charges added to their tax bills with a 10% penalty fee. With the penalty, that translates to a total of $225,303.

City treasurer Matthew Horning explained that a letter would be sent out the following day to everyone who has a “receivable” with the city, and from that point they will have 30 days until it goes onto the tax rolls with a 10% penalty.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) asked what the vacant property inspection meant. He noted that there were more buildings in town that seemed vacant, and it could become a concern. Horning allowed that it was a concern – it’s part of the planning and development services area. On a monthly basis, vacant property is inspected to make sure there are no fire hazards and that everything is still safe. There is an inspection fee associated with that service, he explained.

Anglin asked if there was any consequence to the inspection. Horning explained that the “consequence” was the fee, which ranged from $40-$50. Anglin described a particular building that he found to be an eyesore. Horning indicated that once the building became categorized as a nuisance, then it became the city attorney’s responsibility.

Anglin said he felt that the $40 fee was perhaps not adequate to convey that the city took the issue seriously. At a time when more houses are becoming vacant, he said, it was not appropriate to relay a message that it was okay to simply walk away from a property and that the city would look after it for a $40 fee per month. He said he was not satisfied with the situation and would be willing to increase the fees quite dramatically.

Horning clarified that the inspection fee was exactly that, namely, an inspection fee. If there’s something about any property or a structure that is lacking, then the owner of the property is given a time frame in which to rectify the situation. If the property owner does not do so, continued Horning, the city has the right to cause improvements to be made.

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) noted that with many people struggling with foreclosure situations, she would not want to have the city be the one to tip the balance by applying these fees. She advised to proceed with caution.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) clarified with Horning that water utility delinquencies were quarterly water bills that were not paid as of Jan. 1 of this year. Higgins asked if water had been shut off. Horning said that the shut-off process is one method to get payment. He deferred the specifics of the water shut-off program to the public services department. He said that shared meters for multiple dwellings in many buildings in the city made it impossible to shut off water, because it would mean shutting off water to a large number of dwelling units.

Sue McCormick, the public services area administrative for the city, came to the podium to explain that the addresses on the delinquency list were probably a result of a variety of different circumstances. Some could be residential or small commercial, she said. Nothing goes to the tax roll if it is not aged over six months, she explained. Addresses on the list are past due and owing for more than six months.

Outcome: The resolution to move delinquent charges to the tax rolls passed unanimously.

Greenbelt Advisory Commission Re-Appointments

Before the council was a resolution to re-appoint four members of the greenbelt advisory commission (GAC). Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5), who serves as the city council’s representative to GAC, noted that the city was fortunate that all four had agreed to devote their time and specific domain knowledge on the commission.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) asked if anyone else had expressed interest in the positions, noting that these are city council appointments. That contrasts with most other appointments, which are nominated by the mayor and then confirmed by the council. Hohnke said that the openings on the commission had been communicated at the last city council meeting during his communications time. The terms are posted on the city website and the application materials are available on city website.

Higgins asked if any other applications had been received. The city clerk, Jackie Beaudry, confirmed that no others had been received. With that, Higgins was content.

By ordinance, Hohnke said the positions are specified to be a real estate development professional (Peter Allen), an environmental organization representative (Laura Rubin of the Huron River Watershed Council), an agriculture landowner representative (Tom Bloomer), and a public-at-large representative (Dan Ezekiel).

Outcome: The council unanimously approved all four GAC re-appointments.

Other Public Commentary

Kathy Griswold reported that a site visit had been made to the crosswalk at King Elementary School, which is at a mid-block location. Griswold has addressed the council on the following previous occasions, encouraging the city to move the crosswalk to an intersection in the interest of safety:

  • 2009 Aug. 16 city council caucus [link]
  • 2009 Nov. 5 city council meeting [link]
  • 2009 Dec. 21 city council meeting [link]
  • 2010 Jan. 4 city council meeting [link]
  • 2010 Feb. 1 city council meeting [link]
  • 2010 Feb. 16 city council meeting [link]
  • 2010 March 15 city council meeting [link]
  • 2010 April 5 city council meeting [link]
  • 2010 April 18 city council caucus [link]
  • 2010 April 19 city council meeting [link]

Present at the site visit on April 23, 2010, reported Griswold, were the mayor, as well as Ward 2 councilmembers Stephen Rapundalo and Tony Derezinski, plus six parents of King School students, the principal, as well as local media.

It was her understanding, based on communication with Rapundalo, Griswold said, that more background was needed. She offered that the transportation safety committee, which had recommended moving the crosswalk to the intersection from its mid-block location, had been created in the 1960s and she’d served on it since 1994. She’d been hired by the Ann Arbor Public Schools system in 2000 as a safety consultant. She told the council that she hoped they would respect the process established by the committee.

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

Absent: Stephen Rapundalo.

Next council meeting: May 17, 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 Jack F.
    May 5, 2010 at 12:55 pm | permalink

    “By ordinance, Hohnke said the positions are specified to be a real estate development professional (Peter Allen), an environmental organization representative (Laura Rubin of the Huron River Watershed Council), an agriculture landowner representative (Tom Bloomer), and a public-at-large representative (Dan Ezekiel).”

    I guess council is totally happy with the financial mismanagement of this group and their failure to have a proper process in place to prevent overpayment to the tune of $2 Million for property and developement rights? We can talk for hours about sandwich boards but not for more than five minutes about millions in taxpayer funds? So much for our “public-at-large” rep.

    No wonder the city is facing financial problems!

  2. By David Lewis
    May 5, 2010 at 4:52 pm | permalink


    I think your statement is building on a myth that is not based in fact. I don’t believe the transaction you appear to be referencing ever occurred or at least has yet to occur.

    I believe you are referring to a property that was appraised a few years ago but has not closed. In the mean time the value fell (has it has done everywhere) and a new appraisal showed the property was worth less but I don’t think it was $2 million.

    Anyway it has not closed.