DDA Parking Enforcement Prospects Dim

City, DDA talks point to limited role for DDA in enforcement

The “mutually beneficial” committees of the city and the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority met on Monday for the second time this month. The committees are charged with re-negotiating the contract under which the DDA manages the city’s parking system.

Fifth Avenue looking north

What's the relationship of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority to the city of Ann Arbor? Ann Arbor DDA offices on Fifth Avenue are on the left. The new city hall building is visible behind the backhoe one block to the north. The construction work is part of the DDA's streetscape improvements for Fifth and Division streets.

At the meeting, the committees focused on the question of how the DDA might take on responsibility for enforcement of parking regulations. The DDA would like the ability to manage parking enforcement, so that it can implement an approach to enforcement that complements a demand management pricing strategy and a customer-service approach to downtown. However, the city has identified a number of ways in which it believes the DDA would be constrained in its ability to enforce parking regulations.

At Monday’s meeting, those constraints had accumulated to the point where it became a fair question: Would the DDA still find parking enforcement an attractive proposition, given the constraints? The meeting did not settle the question, with some hope maintained on the DDA side – by Sandi Smith, specifically – that the DDA might play some role in enforcement.

However, if parking enforcement is not something the DDA takes on, it’s not clear what the basis will be for the additional payments the city would like the DDA to make, beyond what is required by the current parking contract. That contract was renewed in 2005. It required a $1 million per year payment by the DDA to the city, with the provision that the city could request $2 million in any given year, and that the total amount did not exceed $10 million from 2005-2015. The city requested $2 million for the first five years, and the DDA agreed unilaterally this past May to make an additional $2 million payment to the city.

When the discussion at Monday’s meeting moved from parking enforcement – which seemed like it had been pushed to the edge, if not completely off the table – to the calculation of a formula for a DDA payment to the city, Susan Pollay, executive director of the DDA, questioned on three separate occasions: Where is the benefit to the downtown in this?

Also at the meeting, the committees got a preview of an outline sketch regarding how the DDA might play an active role in the development of city-owned downtown surface parking lots.

The committees are scheduled to meet next on Sept. 13. Their twice-monthly meeting schedule was adopted starting in July, when it became apparent that the target date of Oct. 31 for a new contract ratified by the respective bodies would not be achieved with a once-monthly schedule.

Mutually Beneficial Background

Members of the council’s committee are Margie Teall (Ward 4), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) and Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5). Representing the DDA are board members Sandi Smith, Russ Collins, Roger Hewitt and Gary Boren. Smith is also a city councilmember, representing Ward 1.

The committees are working from a term sheet for discussion, which contains four main points. The second item, code enforcement, was eliminated early on from further discussion.

  • Parking Enforcement: DDA assumes responsibility for enforcement of parking rules.
  • Code Enforcement: DDA assumes responsibility for enforcement of other community standards codes (e.g., sign violations).
  • Services: DDA assumes responsibility for various services in the downtown.
  • Development: DDA assumes responsibility for development of city-owned downtown surface parking lots.

Most recent Chronicle coverage: “City, DDA Parking Talks Gain Tempo

DDA Responsibility for Parking Enforcement

Carsten Hohnke had been absent from the last two meetings, so he asked to be brought up to speed, by telling the other committee members that his understanding was that significant headway was made in understanding the parking enforcement issue.

Susan Pollay, executive director of the DDA, confirmed Hohnke’s understanding by saying that she and Sue McCormick, public services area administrator for the city, had been constantly updating “the matrix” – a grid of all the points of entry into the parking system, with associated policy points and recommendations.

Parking Enforcement: No to DDA Referees

Pollay noted that they’d recognized the difficulty in assigning responsibility to the DDA for parking referees. Referees hear appeals of parking tickets. There are two reasons militating against DDA responsibility for the referees, she said. First, half of the cost for the referees is shouldered by the University of Michigan, because the university refers appeals of tickets written by UM Public Safety to the city’s process. That introduces a complication that would require UM participation in the agreement. Second, there is a “productive distance,” Pollay said, in assigning separate entities to handle enforcement and appeals. Currently that separation is maintained by the city’s assignment of enforcement to its community standards officers – who ultimately report to the chief of police – while appeals are handled through the city treasurer’s office – whose referees ultimately report to the city administrator.

All mentions of “parking referees” in the set of recommendations in the matrix are now struck through.

Parking Enforcement: No to DDA Citing Specific MVC Violations

There’s continued interest on the DDA’s part, said Pollay, in managing enforcement. There are also challenges inherent in that. For example, there are a variety of parking infractions [e.g., no parking in handicap zone without appropriate sticker] that require the enforcing entity to have a reporting relationship to the chief of police, which a potential parking enforcement subcontractor like Republic Parking does not have.

The discussion of these kind of infractions at Monday’s meeting did not come immediately with Pollay’s summary. Sue McCormick picked up the topic later, saying there are certain kinds of Michigan Vehicle Code infractions that require a police officer to write the ticket. As an example she gave handicapped parking. Sandi Smith wanted to know if it was not possible to deputize someone to perform that function. Pollay wanted to know what exactly it meant to have a “reporting relationship” with the police chief. McCormick clarified that if Republic Parking did the enforcement, then there would be no direct line of reporting.

Pollay commented that it appeared the DDA might only be able to write tickets for a couple of different kinds of infractions.

Smith observed that if someone was out writing tickets for over-the-limit infractions, it just made sense from an efficiency point of view for that person to be able to write a ticket for a handicapped parking violation. It didn’t make sense to have to call someone else or have someone else cover the same ground.

McCormick pointed out that to a certain extent there would be people covering the same ground – there would be patrols for vehicle impoundment and patrols for community standards violations. In addition, McCormick stressed, the authority to write over-the-limit tickets would not be exclusively granted to the DDA.

Pollay indicated that she would explore how other communities handled enforcement of the MVC infractions to see if there was a model that would provide for the DDA’s contractor to enforce those infractions.

Parking Enforcement: No to DDA Contractor LEIN Access

The lack of a reporting relationship to the chief of police also prevents a subcontractor like Republic Parking from getting access to the Law Enforcement Information Network (LEIN). That would prevent an enforcement officer from getting the history of infractions incurred by a specific vehicle and taking action calibrated to any previous tickets. For example, a fourth unpaid ticket is supposed to result in the towing of the vehicle.

As Sue McCormick had pointed out at the Aug. 9 meeting of the two committees, monitoring for vehicles that should be towed could be handled fairly efficiently with mobile license plate reading equipment that was paid for through a Department of Justice grant, which was accepted by the city council at their June 15, 2009 meeting. So the issue is not really so much about a general inability to enforce the four-unpaid-ticket rule. However, part of the DDA’s interest in taking responsibility for parking enforcement is based on a desire to implement a system of fines that would escalate the cost of a ticket based on prior tickets, or perhaps provide for first-time forgiveness. Without access to LEIN, such a system would not be possible.

Parking Enforcement: No to DDA Enforcement Outside District

An additional challenge is a dispute between the DDA’s legal counsel, Jerry Lax, and Mary Fales in the city attorney’s office over the question of whether the DDA could be granted the authority to enforce parking rules outside of the DDA tax district. Pollay described Lax’s argument as based on two factors: (i) the precedent of the DDA managing parking facilities outside the DDA tax district, and (ii) the latitude provide by the state enabling statute.

On Monday, McCormick identified the outside-the-district issue as leftover from the Aug. 9 meeting and suggested that what needs to happen is for the two attorneys to meet and to “duke it out.” She suggested that Lax needed to contact Fales.

Pollay responded by saying that Lax had done that and that Fales has not responded. What the DDA would like, Pollay said, is for Fales to lay out why she thinks it’s prohibited for the DDA to enforce parking rules outside of its district.

Christopher Taylor interjected that the question is not as simple as inside versus outside the DDA district, but rather it relates to corridors leading to the DDA. [Apparently, it's Fales' legal opinion that corridors leading to the DDA district, but still outside the district, might be fair game for the DDA management of parking enforcement.]

McCormick described the difference in opinion between the two attorneys as involving a fundamentally different view of the law: Lax is looking for prohibitive language and not finding any; Fales is looking for enabling language and not finding it – except perhaps for corridors.

Pollay then pointed to two occasions on which the city council had approved DDA activity outside the DDA tax district. One was the DDA renewal plan, adopted in 2003, which extended the DDA’s charter for another 30 years to 2033. It explicitly contemplates DDA activity outside the district: “In an effort to accomplish its mission, it is understood that the DDA may elect to participate in important projects outside the DDA District.”

A second set of occasions on which the city council had explicitly acknowledged the ability of the DDA to exercise responsibility outside the district, said Pollay, were the parking agreements that had included provision for the DDA to manage specific parking facilities outside the district.

Responding to the precedents cited by Pollay, McCormick said that Fales had specific views about what was unique to those circumstances that made DDA activity possible outside the tax boundary.

Pollay noted that in any case the conversation between the attorneys did not seem to be moving forward.

Parking Enforcement: No to Local Downtown Bank

A topic of conversation from a previous meeting was the idea of re-bidding the contract for processing payments for tickets, so that a local, downtown bank might do the processing. Pollay reported that Joe Morehouse, deputy director of the DDA, had done some background research, and concluded that when the RFP was issued, only two responses had been received, and of those, only one of them had arrangements with the secretary of states of all 50 states. That was a deciding factor in awarding the contract to the Complus Data Innovations Inc., a Tarrytown, N.Y.-based company, because they had the ability to pursue payment in all 50 states. That’s a consideration in a city like Ann Arbor, where a significant percentage of tickets written are to university students who leave the city after a few years.

Some limited discussion unfolded concerning the possibility that Complus might set up a lockbox in Ann Arbor, so that the perception would be conveyed that people are not paying money to an out-of-state firm.

Parking Enforcement: What Do All These Nos Mean?

After discussion of the various challenges that had emerged that are inherent in the DDA’s management of parking enforcement, Carsten Hohnke floated the idea that there might be enough constraints to make it no longer attractive to the DDA to pull parking enforcement “into its fold.”

Sandi Smith was not ready to sign on to the idea that the DDA would give up its pursuit of parking enforcement, saying that she would like to have chief of police Barnett Jones come speak to the committees about how possible communication might work between enforcement personnel contracted by the DDA and the city’s community standards officers.

Roger Hewitt, who arrived at the meeting after the various challenges to DDA enforcement of parking had been discussed in detail, wondered what the DDA was getting out of the “mutually beneficial” arrangement, if parking enforcement were eliminated from it.

Fuller Road Station

Hewitt and McCormick had a brief exchange about Fuller Road Station and how it might fit into a revised parking agreement. [The planned project is a joint city of Ann Arbor/University of Michigan parking structure and bus depot, which might eventually include a train station.] Hewitt felt like it should be included as part of the city’s parking system and covered in the agreement. McCormick saw the city’s share of the parking there simply as sufficient to meet the needs of possible future use in connection with the facility as a transit station.

Hewitt allowed that when it is first built, those parking spaces might well reflect simply a “money in, money out” proposition, but he could imagine that eventually those spaces would generate revenue. He cautioned against the creation of two separate parking authorities.

Russ Collins noted that the topic of a parking authority had arisen at previous meetings. The question, Collins said, is how to add parking enforcement to the DDA’s responsibility and have appropriate levels of cooperation between the city and the DDA.


If the DDA were to assume responsibility for enforcement of parking regulations, then the city wants to ensure that its revenue from fines is not diminished. The other piece of the revenue equation is the DDA’s revenue currently collected from users of the parking system.

Revenue: Enforcement

One of the principles that is supposed to guide the discussion of the two committees is the idea that the city of Ann Arbor is to be “held harmless” with respect to revenue and costs if the DDA assumes responsibility for parking enforcement. Part of the equation is revenue from parking fines. At Monday’s meeting, Sue McCormick provided a chart of fine revenues broken down by violation code. Expired meter and parking-past-the-allowable-time type violations were easily the highest revenue generators, together accounting for $2.4 million in tickets owed.

Sandi Smith and Susan Pollay both quickly spotted a crucial detail in McCormick’s data set – it was a summary of July 2005 through June 2006. Said Pollay, “This data is four years old!” Smith noted that fine revenues have been declining since then. About the old data, McCormick said, “This is all I got from treasury.” [The city treasurer had given the city council a presentation in November 2009 about more recent parking fine revenues.]

Roger Hewitt wanted to know if there was a proportionate time investment in writing tickets for the top revenue-producing tickets – the answer seemed to be that it was not. Such tickets could be written more efficiently than other types of tickets.

For ballpark purposes, there was a consensus that between $1.5 and $2.5 million could be added to existing parking system revenues for purposes of determining how big a revenue pie was under discussion.

Revenue: Parking System Patrons

Pollay provided pie charts showing how the DDA parking fund revenues were distributed as expenses. For FY 2010, here’s the breakdown:

Ann Arbor DDA
Parking Fund Expenses
FY 2010

$6,337,237  (35.7%) Direct parking expense (Republic)
   441,823  ( 2.5%) Alt transit (go!pass)
 2,093,605  (11.8%) Parking maintenance transfer
 2,825,901  (15.9%) Rent to city plus street fund to city
 1,699,451  ( 9.6%) Down payment on 5th Ave. underground
 3,779,516  (21.3%) Bond payments
   563,635  ( 3.2%) DDA administration

Fundamentally, the fourth line is the one under discussion by the two committees.

Structure of DDA Payment to City: Mutually Beneficial?

Roger Hewitt introduced the topic of how to structure the DDA’s payment to the city. If it’s specified as a percentage of the net revenue, then it would not amount to much, no matter what the percentage is, he said.

Although she did not raise the issue on Monday, at the Aug. 9 meeting, Sue McCormick had pointed to the basic notion of the city being held harmless and left “whole” as a result of the agreement, which underpinned the entire conversation. A percentage as opposed to a specified sum, she’d said on that occasion, did not leave her feeling “warm and fuzzy about being whole.”

Mutually Beneficial: Rewind to Aug. 9 Meeting

Also on Aug. 9, Collins had also pointed out there’d been an agreement that the DDA would pay $1 million a year to the city. [Collins was alluding to the 2005 parking agreement, which stipulated $1 million per year, or an option for the city to take $2 million in any given year provided that the total amount over 10 years, from 2005-2015 did not exceed $10 million.]

The agreement was “practically invalidated” said Collins, so it’s not really a hold harmless situation. Rather, it’s how the DDA and the city, with the best interest of the citizens in mind, benefits everybody to the best of their ability. The $10 million was paid in five years, Collins said. Because of the city’s dire financial situation, the DDA had paid another $2 million [in May 2010]. So what the DDA is looking to do, said Collins, is find a way to rationalize that kind of payment to the city annually. At the same time, he said, they were looking for a way to benefit the city, the DDA and citizens by changing the way that parking enforcement is done.

As far as “hold harmless,” Collins said, they had a situation where there is a contract and the DDA has now paid an extra $2 million more than required by that contract. They wanted to do the right thing by the city and by the DDA, but mostly they wanted to do right by the citizens by making the right decisions “in these complicated times,” Collins said. Whatever the mechanism of arriving at the price, he said, it had to be in the spirit of doing the right thing for the citizens. That’s what mutually beneficial means, he concluded.

Gary Boren followed up by saying that before the $2 million was discussed, they already knew that revenues due to fines [collected by the city] would be decreasing and revenues due to compliance [fees paid to park, collected by the DDA] would be increasing. That trend was due to various parking technologies. For that reason, Boren said, it didn’t make sense to think in terms of holding harmless with respect to profit levels at any particular point in time.

Collins then returned to the theme of whose interest they were working for – citizens and the community. He spoke of the disconnect between the nature of the dialog and the nature of the press coverage and the nature of merchant organizations’ response to all of this on the one hand, and a DDA board that he felt was trying to work in the best interests of the community on the other hand.

By doing that, he said, the DDA board was “getting hammered” on all sides: by merchants who think the DDA is trying to “screw their customers;” by the city which needs funds; by themselves due to internal political conflicts within the board. It feels like the DDA is trying to do a good thing for the city, but they’re not getting the “attaboys” for trying, he said. Instead, the reaction from the community was “You guys are all nuts!” Either the DDA was nuts, he said, because the DDA had a contract – why didn’t they just insist that it be adhered to? Or the merchants think the DDA is nuts, he said, because they say they don’t “need this stuff anyway.” In this city, “no” is the easiest thing to say, Collins said, and the DDA is trying to say “yes.”

Mutually Beneficial: Fast Forward Return to Aug. 23

On Monday, Smith identified the expenses the DDA would incur for writing tickets as an unknown that would need to be balanced against the $1.5-$2.5 million in ticket revenue from fines.

At that point, Pollay noted that the discussion had already moved to a calculation for a payment, when the whole nature of the mutually beneficial arrangement appeared to be in question. If the DDA were not to take responsibility for parking enforcement, she said, she asked if the city had any suggestions for a mutually beneficial arrangement on which a payment could be based.

Carsten Hohnke pointed to the history of the development of the term sheet as reflective of the city’s position. He did not, he said, have anything in his “back pocket.”

Hewitt forged ahead with the discussion of the payment mechanism, saying that he was in favor of looking at gross revenue and determining some percentage of that. Smith suggested that it might be truer to the theory of “paying rent” if the formula involved a dollar figure per parking space. That would build in a specific ramification for the removal of spaces from the system’s inventory. [The removal of spaces from the system by the city without appropriate accommodation in the parking agreement has been a point of friction with the DDA.]

Pollay returned to her previous point, this time a bit more forcefully: “Where is the benefit to downtown?” she asked. She said she’d heard the calculation, but not the mutually beneficial part.

Collins observed that the two committees were trying to figure out the cost of a parking authority. It would be easier, he said, if the parking authority were not a part of the DDA.

Hewitt said he wanted a structure where the city council is a partner in the system. What he saw, he said, was continuing pressure from the city to get more and more money out of the parking system. That had been the case, Hewitt said, ever since he’d been on the DDA board.

Collins suggested that part of the pressure for more money could be addressed with the contract they were re-negotiating. He suggested that neither the city nor the DDA had been serious about the agreement as a contract.

[This was apparently a reference to the city's failure to adhere to certain terms of the contract, like the DDA's authority to manage "the" parking system in the city, which seems counter to the city's decision to install its own parking meters outside the DDA district. On the DDA's side, it decided not to cite the contract to challenge formally that city decision, in light of the difficult economic times. At a July committee meeting, Hohnke had attributed the city's actions to "institutional amnesia."]

The pressure from the city for more revenue, said Collins, was attributable to the down economy. Hewitt did not completely agree with Collins, saying there had been a lot of pressure from the city five years earlier as well. Collins identified the key issue as trying to understand the value of the parking system.

Picking up on Hewitt’s comments about five years ago, Smith said that five years ago, the city’s financial situation had been presented as dire, due to the “building located diagonally across from us” – an allusion to the police-courts facility, which is nearing the end of its construction and is visible from the DDA board room window, on the other side of Fifth Avenue, one block north. Now the dire situation, she said, is due to the general fund.

Collins said that no organization of any description ever felt like it had enough money.

Christopher Taylor sought to move the discussion back on the track of the payment by noting that the committees agreed on the broad principle of holding the city harmless and of charging the DDA with as much responsibility as possible for parking enforcement. He asked if the next step would be to come up with a formula.

Pollay returned again to her question: How does it benefit the downtown? The goal of the term sheet, she said, had been to establish a mutually beneficial arrangement. However, she said that from the city, with respect to parking enforcement, they’d heard “no, no, no, no” during the committee discussions. She concluded by saying she is still trying to understand how the calculation benefits the downtown.

Hohnke allowed that if parking enforcement is taken off the table, the committees need to talk about what else they might do and to look for “other opportunities for synergy.”

Sue McCormick cautioned that her understanding of the parking enforcement proposal had not been that it was to be “all or nothing.” There is nothing that prohibits the city from going back to look at the “flavor” of how parking is enforced. Even if it’s left out of the discussion of the parking agreement, she said, there are policy decisions about how parking is enforced that can be examined.

Collins stated that what is mutually beneficial is an important issue. He suggested that the city might be responding to the DDA by suggesting there is another way to implement the desired DDA parking enforcement policies other than having the DDA manage enforcement. Perhaps it would turn out that the DDA has input on how existing service is executed.

DDA Does Development

Hewitt drew a parallel between Collins’ concluding sentiments about the DDA having input on an existing mechanism by transitioning to the fourth key point on the term sheet – the DDA having an active role in the development of city-owned surface parking lots downtown.

Collins noted that he knew there is one DDA board member who’d be happy to see parking enforcement taken off the table and to use the purchase of land, which the DDA would then develop, as a mechanism for the DDA to make payments to the city. Collins was alluding to Newcombe Clark. From previous Chronicle coverage “Possible Topic: Should the DDA Develop City-Owned Land“:

The DDA could have said, “Here’s $2 million and we’ll buy two lots,” or one lot – like the Palio’s lot at William and Main, suggested Clark. [The parcel currently serves as a surface parking lot.] Even though the DDA had elected not to do that, and instead decided to renegotiate the parking agreement, Clark said he thought that land purchase was still worth exploring.

Hewitt acknowledged that a land-purchase type approach is another way it could be done, then quipped that the city could simply give the DDA the Kline’s lot, which the DDA had bought in the first place.

DDA Development: Pollay’s Outline

As part of the timeline for the two committees’ summer work plan, Pollay is to deliver a plan for what it would mean for the DDA to take an active role in the development of city-owned surface parking lots. She’s due to present that at the committees’ Sept. 13 meeting. On Monday, she handed around a one-sheet double-sided sketch of an outline for what she was working on.

The outline includes a chunk devoted to visioning with multiple and various parties and the public to develop a comprehensive strategy for downtown. The idea is not to start from scratch, but rather to build on work that the community has done for the last five years.

She cautioned against the idea of “master planning by RFP” for a particular site. When there’s a comprehensive strategy in place – as opposed to the “piecemeal” approach that has been taken previously – then it makes sense to begin talking about a request for proposals (RFP) for some specific site that’s been prioritized, she said.

The process for an RFP for the first site includes drafting of the RFP by the DDA, with revision by a professional consultant who would oversee distribution of the RFP to potentially interested parties. An advisory committee to review the responses to the RFP would be selected by the DDA, with members appointed based on strategic strengths – like project financing experience. The advisory committee would move the project through a process of reviewing the responses, interviewing the proposers, and making a recommendation to the DDA. On approval by the DDA board, the recommendation would be forwarded to the Ann Arbor city council. The city council would either approve the project or give some other direction. If the outcome were approval, the DDA, with the aid of a consultant, would do the negotiations with the developer on a specific agreement and forward the plan to the city council for approval.

The idea, said Pollay, was to put the DDA at the “edge of the sword” so that her organization would “take the heat” from the community.

Taylor said he agreed with the “march towards expertise” that Pollay had outlined for the advisory committee membership. However, he cautioned that this kind of expertise should be added to, rather than replace, the kind of participation that has been typical for such committees.

Next Meeting: Sept. 13

As the meeting concluded, Carsten Hohnke wanted to get an idea of what the agenda for the Sept. 13 meeting would be like. At least three points will be covered:

  • How are Michigan Vehicle Code infractions handled in other communties?
  • What are meter revenues like for the newly-installed city meters outside the DDA district?
  • What does “active role” for the DDA mean in development of downtown city-owned surface parking lots?


  1. August 25, 2010 at 6:17 am | permalink

    Ashley Mews was a premier example of DDA-led and driven downtown development. It would be helpful to see an updated summary of how this has benefited the downtown. I’ve heard that some of the more expensive units never sold. What have been, for example, the tax revenue gained, the businesses fostered, the number of people actively living downtown, and what other benefits have we gained from this project, which did enjoy a number of subsidies?

    The comment about “taking the heat” for downtown development is disturbing. It sounds as though the intent is to remove accountability from the City Council, to protect it from political (i.e., electoral) pressure. This is not democratic.

  2. By lorie
    August 25, 2010 at 8:51 am | permalink

    Sure looks to me as if City Council is trying to get out of the hard part of its job…yeah yeah, make the DDA do it.

  3. August 25, 2010 at 10:02 am | permalink

    If the goal is to generate revenue by enforcement, the battle is lost. Parking as a revenue generator is a bad idea. One of three things inevitably happen… compliance (resulting in the loss of income), increased parking fees to cover the costs of enforcement, etc. (resulting in the loss of traffic), or expectation of fines by visitors (resulting in decreased traffic).

    If the goal of DDA is to increase business traffic and commerce downtown, the best idea is either free parking, or a modified free parking such as free 2 hour parking with then an option of using paid garages for long term parking needs.

    If DDA simply desires to obtain revenue from parking, why don’t they just tear down some businesses near UM and offer competitive traffic for campus? Or tear down structures near the stadium and offer paid parking for games? I think DDA and the city needs to focus on attracting people to Ann Arbor, attracting businesses to Ann Arbor, and working at all costs to keep both business and patronage strong.

  4. August 25, 2010 at 10:02 am | permalink


    I get the impression from your comments here, and from many in the past, that you have deep concerns about the DDA developing the lots. As you can read the post from above, we’re hitting more ‘no’s than ‘yes’s and more ‘you can’t do that’ than ‘good idea, do it.’ You seem to be continuing this trend every time these lots are brought up.

    I ask of you, as an informed leader of this community, and one seeking a position on the Library board, which will be effected by the choices made for a few of these lots.. What exactly is it you ARE in favor of? We’ve got a reasonable picture of what it is you’re against, or at lease “disturbed” by, but what are YOUR ideas for a positive way forward?

    As Dave has continually pointed out in these summaries, we’re coming up with all of the ideas on finding a legal and appropriate way to funnel money to the general fund and still fulfill our mission as a DDA board. Not getting much in the way of alternative ideas coming back our way.

  5. By Brad Mikus
    August 25, 2010 at 10:03 am | permalink

    Bad idea and poorly performed.

    Bad idea: 1) It’s inefficient to have two enforcement teams.

    2)If DDA takes the heat on development, what’s the public recourse with an unelected, semi-autonomous government agency?

    I feel like “Dennis” from the Holy Grail. “Listen — strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.” King – “Be Quiet!” Dennis – “Well you can’t expect to wield supreme executive power just ’cause some watery tart threw a sword at you!” Development should be controlled by the city, not the DDA.

    Poorly performed: No Hohnke or Teall at meetings; Taylor present in name only; Pollay writes the memos and sets the agenda parameters.

    The city should just take the money. It’s like if my dad asked me for cash when I was a kid. I couldn’t negotiate since he didn’t really ask. He had authority over me and could take the money…just like the city vis-a-vis the DDA.

  6. By suswhit
    August 25, 2010 at 10:11 am | permalink

    Brad’s best post ever.

  7. August 25, 2010 at 10:25 am | permalink


    The city is in a bit of a legal and debt servicing bind if they just ‘take the money’. However, to be quite frank, it would be my preference. The problem with having a lot of money is people keep asking for it.

    As for the lots, we just went thru an exhaustive public zoning process to rezone the downtown. If the lots were sold to us we would be beholden to that zoning as well as the normal planning, HDC, and council review and approval process. Furthermore, we also can afford to pay more for the lots than a private developer would be able to. Yes it’s self-serving to our mission. But it’s our mission. We want and need to develop those lots ourselves if the private sector or city can’t/won’t. DDA’s in most cities do this all of the time. The “D”s in DDA are ‘Downtown Development, it’s what we’re set up to do and what we do well.

    If Dad figured out a legal and financial way to ‘take our money’, it doesn’t change the fact that we still have a job to do, which by charter, and by law, is not collect taxes from properties within our boundary and give it to the general fund and, by practice, and existing contracts (with Dad), tax parking users without reinvestment of that revenue in perpetuation and improvement of the parking system.

  8. By Dave Askins
    August 25, 2010 at 10:34 am | permalink

    “The comment about “taking the heat” for downtown development is disturbing. It sounds as though the intent is to remove accountability from the City Council, to protect it from political (i.e., electoral) pressure. This is not democratic.”

    Suppose a new candidate for city council announces their intention to run for office and to serve exactly one term [two years] because they believe that this is exactly how much time someone should serve on the city council … for whatever reason. And let’s suppose that the assurance is credible. That is to say, our best information is that this candidate, if elected, would serve exactly two years and no longer.

    By the reasoning in [1] there would be no electoral pressure on that councilmember, thus less accountability, thus it would not be “democratic.” So by the reasoning in [1], if you support a candidate who refuses to serve more than one term, then you’re not supporting democracy. And following the line of reasoning to its bitter conclusion: you won’t support anyone except a “career politician” who wants to serve as long as citizens will elect them.

    I don’t agree with the reasoning in [1]. We have a representative democracy not just because it’s more efficient than having a referendum amongst all the average bears on every single issue [yes, we'll accept that easement], but because we want someone who we think is actually more capable than the average bear to make various judgments on our behalf, or at least someone we trust to give it their best shot. And that’s exactly what appointed officials, like members of the DDA board, do as well. I don’t think accountability is just some mechanism [an election]. Rather, it’s whatever exists in the head of a public official in the form of a general sense of “doing the best thing for citizens and the community” which might very well be counter to an interest in getting re-elected. From the article, here’s a quote:

    Whatever the mechanism of arriving at the price, he said, it had to be in the spirit of doing the right thing for the citizens. That’s what mutually beneficial means, he concluded. … By doing that, he said, the DDA board was “getting hammered” on all sides: by merchants who think the DDA is trying to “screw their customers;” by the city which needs funds; by themselves due to internal political conflicts within the board. It feels like the DDA is trying to do a good thing for the city, but they’re not getting the “attaboys” for trying, he said. Instead, the reaction from the community was “You guys are all nuts!” Either the DDA was nuts, he said, because the DDA had a contract – why didn’t they just insist that it be adhered to? Or the merchants think the DDA is nuts, he said, because they say they don’t “need this stuff anyway.” In this city, “no” is the easiest thing to say, Collins said, and the DDA is trying to say “yes.”

    When it’s an “appointed” [Russ Collins] who’s hammering away at the theme of the best interests of the citizens, as opposed to any one of the “electeds” saying those things, that suggests to me that there’s at least as much accountability in the heads of our appointed officials as there is among our elected officials — and perhaps even more.

  9. By Brad Mikus
    August 25, 2010 at 11:02 am | permalink

    Thanks suswhit for being awesome, & thanks newcolmbe for being true to your mission. Good article and comment dave.

    @dave: I can’t speak for Vivienne, but I’ll defend her position. I think the ability to recall a politician is the difference. If one is upset with the DDA, one can ask a representative to do something; if one is upset with a council member, one can organize a recall. Consequently, a council member is a giant step closer to accountability, and your fear of career politicians is unwarranted in this context.

    @ Newcombe: selling valuable real estate and ceding control of its use isn’t the same as “taking the money”. Here’s a positive suggestion that you requested. Axe the DDA. It was one of Frazer’s budget solutions. To stretch the analogy, Dad says give me some rent money or I’ll throw you on the street. The beauty is the simplicity and effectiveness. As a businessman, I’m sure you’d approve.

  10. August 25, 2010 at 11:25 am | permalink

    @Newcombe, Yes, I have a fairly consistent position but this is not the place for a long discourse on it. I really must catch up with my blog.

    @Dave, Frankly, I have difficulty in following your logic. You set up a “straw man” scenario and then use a Jesuitical argument based on it. I certainly agree that most appointed officials are working to achieve what they consider the best interest of the city. I believe that most appointed officials are conscientious and dedicated. However, they may not share the viewpoint of many other citizens and their actions are not accountable to the citizenry in the way that elected officials’ are. Important decisions like the transfer of city-owned land and the issuance of city debt belong with the City Council.

  11. By Dave Askins
    August 25, 2010 at 1:03 pm | permalink

    Vivienne wrote: “Important decisions like the transfer of city-owned land and the issuance of city debt belong with the City Council.”

    Can you cite anything in the article or in any comment in the thread that suggests that anyone has said anything remotely along the lines that anyone but the city council would make decisions on the sale of land and the issuance of debt? Pollay’s outline sketch doesn’t even include a step for the sale of any land to the DDA — this is an idea that Newcombe Clark has floated in other contexts, but he’s not even on the mutually beneficial committee.

    Land sale. I think what a lot of people are worried about is the fact that the DDA could become a landowner — if the city council exercises its powers to authorize the sale of land to the DDA. Because after that point, citizens and council will have very little control. Why? Because the DDA, like any owner of real property, could make a site plan proposal (in collaboration with a private developer) and submit it to the city, and the city would legally have to consider it (now in a “reasonable time” given that the zoning code has been changed from the fixed deadlines that used to exist). And if the site plan met the zoning code, then the city council would have relatively little discretion to reject it. So on this “worst case” scenario, the city sells land to the DDA and the DDA develops it to conform with zoning. Why is this not a good thing? [Let's hold in abeyance the meta-discussion about whether the DDA should exist and be able to capture the increment on the increased taxable value.]

    Rather than reach for whatever hyperbole is within arm’s reach — “this is undemocratic” — I think it’s more constructive to ask how the sale of land to the DDA might fit into the general outline that Pollay has begun to sketch out, and what “safeguards for democracy” one might want to put in place.

    For example, I don’t think that the sale of the land should be Step 1. If I’m an average city council member, and the DDA says, “We’d like to buy that lot there for $2 million,” then my first question is, “Um, whatcha gonnna do with it?” If the answer is, “Oh, we’re gonna develop it, see, cuz development is our middle name,” then I’d say, “Dude, you gotta do better than that.” So clearly some kind of “pitch” has to come from the DDA to the city that makes some kind of a case — and a lot of that case could be built through the continuation of the kind of comprehensive master planning exercise that’s already in Pollay’s outline.

    Citizens could certainly weigh in about whether they think the “pitch” is persuasive and convincing enough for the city to sell the land. I can imagine people standing up and saying, “This is crazy to be thinking about developing the Palio lot, because of X, Y, and Z, and the only reason you guys are voting to sell the land is because you want the $2 million.” And maybe the council says, no, it’s not because of the money, it’s actually because your X, Y, and Z don’t make any sense, or they say, Hmm, now that you mention it, X, Y, and Z are valid points, so no sale.

    Imagining now a scenario where there’s a case presented by the DDA to the city council for the city to sell some land. There’s a public process, hearing before the council, the council does its accountable thing … but wait. The Open Meetings Act specifically provides for the ability of a public body to meet in closed session to discuss land acquisition. Maybe the DDA and the city council would just conduct their discussions on land sales in closed session?

    Here it’s worth reflecting on the fact that the OMA doesn’t prescribe that land acquisition discussions must take place in closed session. It simply allows a public body to conduct land acquisition discussions in closed session, if it decides that’s in the citizens’ best interest. So what I’d look for from the DDA and the city council is some kind of resolution that ensures that any and all discussions of land acquisition involving them as parties will necessarily take place in open session, explicitly rejecting the use of the OMA land acquisition exception.

  12. August 25, 2010 at 1:34 pm | permalink

    No problem with ‘open meeting’ on land sale discussion. Especially if it shows trust and good faith that we’re not out to do anything we’re not saying we’re already out to do.

    In fact, I’ll one up. I would demand the process be public…but I also would demand that there would be a process…right now there’s nothing.

    As for a plan for the lots and specific numbers and benefits…All my interns and I do is dream up plans and run numbers, hoping for the day we’re asked to present and bring in those smarter than myself to vet and advise.

  13. August 25, 2010 at 1:36 pm | permalink

    Wow, Dave, I hadn’t realized that you were writing a column.

    First, I was referring not only to the exact text in your article but to past articles (including elsewhere) and comments by DDA members. The overall summary statement has been that the DDA would have the full responsibility and authority for development of city-owned downtown (parking) lots, or at least more than it does now. This has been implied at some times and is an underlying note at others, including this one. I’ve been observing the DDA, often closely, for five years and I know that the intercession of politics in DDA plans has often been frustrating, perhaps best represented by the death of the 3-site plan. This issue is not a new thought, but part of a continued conversation.

    Second, I’m not seeing a link to the “one sheet double-sided sketch” that you referred to.

    Third, the elephant in the room is the Library Lot and the heavy involvement of the DDA in planning for a potential conference center long before such plans became public.

    Fourth, there are a number of us who believe that city land belongs to all of us and should be disposed of only after a public process. An informal group called “Public Land – Public Process” ([link]) has put together a statement of principles along these lines. This is becoming a subject of intense focus at a number of levels: how to dispose of city assets and who decides about that disposition. The long-term lease of Fuller Park for a UM parking garage, the possible lease or privatization of parts of Huron Hills, and the Library Lot are examples. This overall question bears strongly on these DDA – Council discussions.

    Fourth, I share your obvious admiration for the staff of the DDA, including its director. It is one of the most effective units of government in our local scene. Both the DDA Board and staff are important players and have an assured place at the table in deciding the future direction of Ann Arbor. But its mission and vision is not one I always agree with, and I believe that I am not alone. I am not willing to see a loss of the political requirements currently imposed on their plans for downtown development. That *is* democracy, no hyperbole required.

  14. By Brad Mikus
    August 25, 2010 at 2:29 pm | permalink

    What, nothing for me?? I’m on a roll…

    Responding to Newcombe’s comment that “The problem with having a lot of money is people keep asking for it.” According to last financials I saw, the DDA will cut coupons for a few years until the boat’s paid off.

    To Dave: I like your comments, but it scares me when you write “…a lot of that case could be built through the continuation of the kind of comprehensive master planning exercise that’s already in Pollay’s outline.” Maybe I misunderstood, but I’m frightened because the Planning Commission should write the master plan, not the DDA; although, perhaps Pollay’s master plan for the master plan is quite creative.

  15. August 25, 2010 at 2:33 pm | permalink

    Brad, your comments are always of great value – just a given, so why remark on it?

  16. By Debbie Miles
    August 25, 2010 at 2:42 pm | permalink

    I see in the article the expenses, but not the gross revenue. Also, is the DDA an arm of the city? Are the DDA members actually city employees? What is the “P/L” bottom line for this organization? I understand that Republic is a subcontractor with the DDA…but what would change on the bottom line if all of this was handled by the city directly? Can the City not negotiate with a sub like Republic in good faith? What is the breakdown for the DDA admin fees? Salaries? Advertising? Liability Insurance? What? I would like details please.

  17. By Dave Askins
    August 26, 2010 at 8:54 am | permalink

    Re: [16]

    1. Is the DDA an arm of the city?

    From previous Chronicle coverage here’s a DDA board member’s view: “City-DDA Parking Talks Gain Tempo

    Hewitt weighed in on the contractual aspect of the agreement by saying that if the view of the city was that the DDA was merely an arm of the city, as opposed to an entity that could enter into contracts with the city, then the committees were wasting their time.

    Relevant passages from the state enabling legislation, the DOWNTOWN DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY Act 197 of 1975:

    125.1652 Authority; establishment; restriction; public body corporate; powers generally.…(2) An authority shall be a public body corporate which may sue and be sued in any court of this state. An authority possesses all the powers necessary to carry out the purpose of its incorporation. The enumeration of a power in this act shall not be construed as a limitation upon the general powers of an authority.


    125.1657 Powers of board; creation, operation, or funding of retail business incubator …(h) Acquire by purchase or otherwise, on terms and conditions and in a manner the authority considers proper or own, convey, or otherwise dispose of, or lease as lessor or lessee, land and other property, real or personal, or rights or interests in property, which the authority determines is reasonably necessary to achieve the purposes of this act, and to grant or acquire licenses, easements, and options with respect to that property.

    2. Are DDA staff employees of the city?

    DDA staff can and do obtain city of Ann Arbor ID badges. Their compensation tracks with city employees — they’ve enjoyed the same wage freeze as other city workers, and have increased their own contributions to health care. They were invited to the spring budget meeting for all city employees. Their paychecks are issued by the city of Ann Arbor.

    Susan Pollay as been asked this question at an open public meeting. From the Chronicle’s report of the May 3, 2010 council meeting:

    [Stephen] 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!”

    3. Why can’t the city just directly contract with Republic Parking — otherwise put, why can’t the “parking authority” be handled completely under the auspices of the city of Ann Arbor?

    Short answer: The city could handle parking itself. While historically, the city does not have a great record of maintaining the parking infrastructure, this history dates back to the early 1990s. One could contemplate the possibility that with different city management now in place, the city could simply integrate the management of parking back into the city, with something like a Parking Advisory Commission to set policy.

    This idea has been lurking in the background of the two committee’s discussions. From the Chronicle’s report of the first open meeting of the two mutually beneficial committees:

    Parking Consolidation: Consolidate, But Separate From the DDA?

    Collins then tentatively raised the issue of a general strategic direction – he indicated he was almost hesitant to say it, because it probably wouldn’t come true. The notion of consolidating “the parking world” and then possibly moving that to a separate kind of authority “isn’t a crazy notion” from the DDA’s standpoint, he ventured. He allowed that this was probably a minority opinion on the DDA board at this point.

    Smith offered the counterpoint that parking in itself was not the end – it’s a tool in the development toolbox. “Nobody comes downtown to park,” Smith noted, “they come downtown for other reasons.” Parking is something that can be leveraged and made part of a development strategy – she pointed to the fourth item on the term sheet.

    Collins said that for the foreseeable future, unifying management and enforcement within the DDA made sense. He reiterated, though, that as a strategic direction – in terms of aligning Ann Arbor with the way that other cities do things – it was worth bearing in mind that it could be separate. Other cities, he said, had parking authorities that handle these kind of things – it would be a good thought experiment. Other cities had already solved these problems of what’s in and what’s out and who enforces what, he noted.

    There’s a collective bargaining issue that might also have to be addressed. Part of the rationale for eliminating union jobs that used to be assigned to meter collection was something along the lines of “the city isn’t even in the parking business any more.” So if the city were to contract with Republic Parking directly, I think there’d need to be some discussions with AFSCME.

    4. More specifics on budgets for DDA, please.

    Here’s a link to a breakdown by parking structure showing income and expenses, which was circulated at the most recent mutually beneficial committee meeting: Parking Structures Income/Expense

    Here’s the DDA’s budget, downloaded from the DDA website: DDA FY2010-2011 Budget Summary

  18. August 26, 2010 at 2:07 pm | permalink

    Just a short comment. I have found the DDA to be much more transparent than the City. All you have to do is ask Susan Pollay any question and you will get an answer. That is unlike the City where it usually takes a FOIA request to find out what they are really doing.


  19. August 26, 2010 at 3:47 pm | permalink


    I’ve found the complete oposite including being ignored by Susan Pollay… but this was well documented in “A2DDA Blocks Asterisk Parking Data.” [link] My personal experience with the DDA is that they will block access to information based on assumptions (without fact) and furthermore waste money to provide services already available at no cost.

    But, that’s just my experience. Oh wait… haven’t others had issues with gaining data from DDA on bus routes, etc? And the DDA says they are not required to comply with FOIA requests…

    Hardly transparent in my opinion.

  20. August 26, 2010 at 11:42 pm | permalink


    What data do you request?

  21. August 27, 2010 at 9:22 am | permalink

    Specifically I had been blocked (as well as others) from viewing the parking data published on their website. We did a FOIA request at which point they advised that they were not subject to FOIA.

    We didn’t continue to fight it and I went public pressure route instead.

    Incidentally, it was blocked when many were tracking usage, such as myself, Rob Godspeed, and others. Our data indicated that there was not a parking shortage. Rob Godspeed did an excellent analysis showing the availability of the 5,800 spots the DDA “provides.” At the time of the blocking, the DDA was actively pushing the underground garage.

    Bottom line: After encouraging people to use the data, teh DDA actively blocked several, specific people from accessing public data.

  22. August 28, 2010 at 12:29 pm | permalink


    What you mentioned was before my time but I’ve been clear on my desire to open source our data. It is true, it is my understanding that the parking data is not subject to FOIA as it’s Republic Parking’s data. Sure, we could ask them to provide it to us so we can better understand the system we’re paying them to run. We do this regularly, and I for one love playing around with it. But I’m weird like that.

    So what’s the problem in handing it over? Well, data is data, and undeniable by its very nature insomuch as it’s a measure and/or observation of events one chooses to measure and observe. It rarely tells the whole story of what is going on.

    For example this past spring, we (classmates and I) ran a regression analysis to “find the formula” for revenue efficiency for street parking spots. We used 7 dependent variables and over 35k POS (point of sales) for the e-meters for one month (April, I believe).

    What did we learn? Well, we learned that none of our laptops could handle the data set (it crashed them all so we had to run it on a commercial server) and we learned that we really can’t learn much from only 7 dependent variables (at least not the ones we used) and only 1 month of data (at least not the one we chose). Our residuals were horrible and we really only “unlocked” 18% of the “formula”.

    Sooo…the point. I Get it Fred, data is fun and fun to play with and manipulate. But depended on how you manipulate it you can get it to “prove” anything. Again, before my time, but the controversy of the deck was boiling over into lawsuit territory with both sides using data to “prove” their case. There is a big difference between ‘advocacy’ and ‘inquiry’. I prefer the latter, because it, in theory, should be free of the subjective eye of the viewer. Conversely, ‘advocacy’ can be used for good and for evil, with merit and virtue solely in the eye of the manipulator, and the manipulated.

    You want some of our data to help the DDA do it’s job better? Great! We could use the help. Write up a proposal and bring it Partnership Committee. Judgments in forums such as these may vary, but the DDA does more good than evil.
    Or at least we try to…

  23. August 28, 2010 at 5:22 pm | permalink


    1. The data was posted on your website and blocked by your organization.

    2. No intention of partnering with the DDA. Too much of a bad taste in my mouth. I offered free assistance, published source code, and was blocked and told I had a motive of profit. (If that was the case, I’m not sure how it’s a bad thing… but that’s neither here nor there)

    3. Data is not fun or manipulative. Data is data. Public data is owned by the public. Ann Arbor Parking information in garages owned by the public can in no way be owned by anyone other than the public. Until we can agree that this is public data, we cannot move forward.

    4. Data is not subjective. Conclusions can be subjective and data can be the one thing that disproves incorrect conclusions. The flip side to not having the data is to trust the source. Has the DDA and/or Republic Parking earned that trust? Should they ever be completely trusted at face value? It’s public resources. The public’s information.

    5. In regards to:

    “You want some of our data to help the DDA do it’s job better?”

    That’s the problem, isn’t it. My belief is that it’s public data, public property, and not yours. I want the DDA to embrace the principle of public data and chant “Raw Data Now.” Statements like “our data” indicates it’s yours and not mine– “Us vs. them” where us is DDA and them is the public, tax paying citizens of this community.

  24. By Rod Johnson
    August 28, 2010 at 8:53 pm | permalink

    I can’t help thinking that reading Fred’s link above would help Mr. Clark understand the problem better. This isn’t about complex analyses, it’s about merely making existing (and published) data more easily accessible. This was one of the DDA’s more paranoiac episodes.

  25. August 30, 2010 at 6:30 am | permalink

    It’s of course unfortunate when communication between any governmental body breaks down with its citizens. Especially to the point where “a bad taste” is left in one’s mouth and especially if that impacts the ability or desire for future collaboration with that body.
    The DDA, and it’s revenue, it’s budget, and it’s data, is and should be publicly accessible and accountable in line with our mission. With that however comes an implied level of mutual responsibility, respect, and trust. It takes effort and humility on everyone’s part to move beyond those times in the past when these basics covenants have been strained and/or broken. It is my understanding that the data referenced in link referenced has since been provided. Correct me if I’m wrong.

    We extend again the branch.

    Here is a link to the current data and reports we have online:

    If something is missing that you would like to see posted there, please let us know.

  26. By Steve Bean
    August 30, 2010 at 10:28 am | permalink

    I think that the (off-street parking availability) data that Fred was referring to are available through a link on this page: [link].

    What the DDA still doesn’t appear very interested in is the availability of those spaces over time. While there’s value in paying attention to revenues and number of hourly patrons, the untapped opportunity for management is in the unused spaces. (Similarly, AATA could track empty seats in addition to ridership.)