The Ann Arbor Chronicle is hosting a forum for Ward 5 Ann Arbor City Council candidates on Thursday evening that will allow voters to see how candidates might do the public’s work in public, if elected.
The Oct. 21 event will present candidates with a set of scenarios on local issues. They’ll be challenged to work together to accomplish specific tasks related to those scenarios. On other occasions there have been, and will be, plenty of opportunities to hear the candidates’ talking points and opinions on specific issues. What makes our forum different is our goal of giving voters a sense of how these individuals work with others to solve problems and work through challenges. The program, moderated by Chronicle editor Dave Askins, runs from 7-8:30 p.m. at Wines Elementary School, 1701 Newport Road. The event is free and open to the public.
Three candidates are running for the Ward 5 seat: Independent Newcombe Clark, Republican John Floyd and Democrat incumbent Carsten Hohnke. The impetus for the event stemmed from Floyd and Clark, and all three candidates were given early opportunity to offer input into the forum’s planning. Flexibility of time and dates, location and moderator were offered. Hohnke chose not to involve himself in the planning of the event, and is not participating.
The exact description of the tasks won’t be revealed until the night of the forum, but candidates have been provided with the following topic areas and scenarios.
1. City Services: The recently established Main Street Business Improvement Zone entails voluntary extra taxation by property owners to self-fund enhanced services – primarily sidewalk cleaning, and snow clearing. Concerning such zones, The Chronicle has reported Ed Shaffran’s thoughts this way: “Shaffran went on to speculate that this could be a precursor of ‘a la carte government’ as revenues to municipalities dwindled. He suggested that the concept of a BIZ could be extended to residential neighborhoods as well. The strategy for providing services, he said, could evolve to be a system where a minimum baseline level would be provided by government, with BIZ-like affiliations electing to augment (or not) that baseline level.”
2. Development of Downtown Surface Parking Lots: Currently the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority and the city of Ann Arbor are in the middle of discussions about the future of these surface parking lots and the role the DDA should have in developing them. Newcombe Clark, a DDA board member, has suggested that the city should consider selling some of the lots to the DDA.
3. Funding of Public Art: The city currently has a formula for funding public art through capital improvement projects – 1% of the cost of such projects is earmarked for public art, capped at $250,000 per project. Newcombe Clark has called for “more not less” public art, even while acknowledging there are problems with the program. John Floyd has characterized art as nice, but suggested the economic times require different priorities.
4. Transportation: Back when he was chair of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board, David Nacht appeared before the city council and gave the council an update on AATA’s current programs and future plans.
5. Economic Development: There are myriad different organizations and people that could, broadly construed, be involved in the “economic development” of Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County.
6. Management Oversight: The city council is charged with evaluating the performance of two key posts in the city administration – the city administrator and the city attorney.
7. Washtenaw Avenue Corridor Study: The idea has been floated to establish a tax increment financing (TIF) district for the Washtenaw Avenue corridor to spur development there. It would include cooperation from the city of Ann Arbor, Pittsfield Township, Ypsilanti Township and the city of Ypsilanti.
8. Board and Commission Appointments: For most board and commission appointments, it is the mayor who makes nominations, with confirmation by the city council. It is rare that councilmembers deliberate on nominations or vote against them, with one notable recent exception being Sabra’s Briere vote cast against Anya Dale’s appointment to the board of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority.
9. Burden of City Council Work: Based on documents from the early 2000s, city council compensation was increased to its current levels based partly on estimates that councilmembers spent 30 to 60 hours each week working on council-related matters and that service on the city council has become a full-time job.
10. Quality of Life: Imagine that a department at the University of Michigan is trying to recruit an academic superstar, Professor X, to come to UM on a senior appointment – that is, a tenured job is being offered.
Additional Chronicle coverage of the Ward 5 race: “Ann Arbor council candidates meet with downtown merchants” and “Ann Arbor City Council Elections: Ward 5“