Council Absences Delay Some Business

Medical marijuana put off; affordable housing, golf fees OK'd

Ann Arbor city council meeting (Feb. 22, 2011): In a meeting that wrapped up in less than two hours, the council handled several agenda items, including: an affordable housing site plan from Avalon Housing at 1500 Pauline; authorization of increased golf fees; reappointment of the golf task force; an appointment to the environmental commission; and the purchase of new police cars.

Sandi Smith Dennis Hayes Ann Arbor Medical Marijuana

Before the Feb. 22 council meeting, Sandi Smith (Ward 1) chatted with Dennis Hayes about the medical marijuana licensing ordinance. The council delayed taking action on the ordinance. (Photos by the writer.)

However the council chose to delay some of its business due to the absences of four members – Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5), Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) and Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2). By way of explanation for the four absences, mayor John Hieftje offered the fact that it’s vacation week for the Ann Arbor Public Schools.

The delayed business included a set of proposed licensing rules for medical marijuana businesses. The council heard from advocates of medical marijuana during public commentary at the start of the meeting, but when they reached the item on their agenda, the seven councilmembers who attended the meeting decided to postpone their vote on the issue without deliberating on or amending the licensing proposal. It marks the fifth time the council has decided not to take an initial vote on the licensing, dating back to Dec. 6, 2010. The council must take two votes on any new ordinance.

Also delayed were two easements – one for pedestrian access and one for public utilities – from Glacier Hills Inc., a retirement community. Under the city charter, eight votes are required for approval of such easements. Rather than have the easements fail on a 7-0 vote, the council chose instead to postpone action.

During his communications, city administrator Roger Fraser gave the council a broad-strokes overview of potential impacts that Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposed state budget could have on the city of Ann Arbor. In a roughly $80 million general fund city budget, the $2.4 million projected shortfall – on which current reduction targets are based – could increase by $0.5 million (to $2.9 million) or by $1.7 million (to $4.1 million), depending on how state revenue sharing and state fire protection grants are handled in the state budget. The state’s fiscal year begins on Oct. 1, but the city of Ann Arbor must finalize its own budget in May, for a fiscal year starting July 1.

During public commentary, the council heard a suggestion that Ann Arbor follow the example of Ypsilanti and add parking lots to its snow-clearing ordinance. And during its communications time, the council scrutinized the city’s snow removal performance in connection with a recent storm. Snow began falling the previous Sunday afternoon, accumulating to at least six inches – and more, in many areas – by early Monday morning, when the snow stopped. Highlights from city administrator Roger Fraser’s report on the snow removal effort included the fact that two of the city’s 14 large plowing vehicles were down for maintenance and the fact that forecasted amounts of snow were much lower than what actually fell.

During public commentary, the city also heard from Douglas Smith regarding a Freedom of Information Act appeal that involved redaction of police reports. Over the last several months, Smith has addressed the University of Michigan regents and the Washtenaw County board of commissioners on a range of specific cases that all relate to the general issue of civilian oversight of police power.

Medical Marijuana Licensing

Before the council again was consideration of a set of licensing requirements for medical marijuana businesses. The council has now delayed its initial vote on the licensing requirements at five meetings, dating back to Dec. 6, 2010. The most recent postponement is until March 7, 2011, the council’s next meeting.

The vote that was again postponed is the first of two votes the council must take on any new ordinance it enacts. At its meetings over the last few months, the council has heard extensive public commentary on medical marijuana, but that commentary does not constitute a formal public hearing, which will be held at the same meeting when the council votes on final approval of the licensing, provided it eventually gives initial approval to the licensing system.

At its Oct. 18, 2010 meeting, the council gave its initial approval to a set of zoning regulations for medical marijuana businesses, but it has not yet given its final approval to those regulations. The council’s strategy is to bring licensing and zoning forward at the same time for a final vote.

The context for development of zoning regulations was set at the council’s Aug. 5, 2010 meeting, when councilmembers voted to impose a moratorium on the use of property in the city for medical marijuana dispensaries or cultivation facilities, and directed the city’s planning commission to develop zoning regulations for medical marijuana businesses. Subsequently, the city attorney’s office also began working on a licensing system.

At its Jan. 3, 2011 meeting, the council heavily amended the licensing proposal. At its Jan. 18 meeting, the council was poised to undertake further amendments to the licensing proposal, including many that concerned limiting the amount of information that is required to be divulged by those associated with license applications. However, the council did not amend the proposal further at that meeting. The council undertook additional amendments to the licensing proposal at its Feb. 7, 2011 meeting.

The moratorium on additional properties in the city to be used as medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivation facilities was extended by the council at its Jan. 18 meeting to go through March 31, 2011.

Medical Marijuana: Public Commentary

Dennis Hayes, who has addressed the council on the topic of medical marijuana at several previous meetings, told councilmembers that every time he comes back to speak to them, he finds they have more and more in common. He said that as they worked through the ordinance, they are discovering that they have common interests – a common concern for patients. He told the council he’d be sharing with them a possible solution to confidentiality problems associated with labels. He asked the council to consider greater flexibility in the number of licenses granted, so they would not be assigned a false sense of economic value. He also called for protections for property owners who lease to medical marijuana businesses.

Chuck Ream – who addressed the council over a year ago on the subject of medical marijuana, and who has spoken during public commentary several times since then – thanked the council for the progress that’s been made so far on the issue. He said the current draft language on lists of suppliers is problematic: “A cultivation facility or dispensary shall keep records of the persons from whom they received marijuana in any form, and shall make the records available to the City for review upon request.” The objective, Ream said, is that the marijuana dispensed in Michigan come from the Michigan program and to make the origin of the product traceable. While those are good goals, he said, the chance of patients’ and caregivers’ names winding up on permanent lists needs to be minimized.

One approach, Ream said, would be to require that product dispensed at a dispensary come from members of the dispensary. A dispensary should be able to demonstrate compliance with that requirement, he said. Any records, however, should only be maintained for 30 days. He also called for an appeals procedure, and for the possibility of selling a businesses with an accompanying license.

Medical Marijuana: Council Deliberations

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) opened deliberations by noted that with only seven members present, and a requirement that the council have six votes to pass anything, she suggested that the ordinance be postponed until the council’s next meeting, on March 7.

Outcome: Councilmembers voted unanimously to postpone the medical marijuana licensing ordinance until its next meeting on March 7, 2011.

Glacier Hills Easements

On the council’s agenda were two easements for the Glacier Hills retirement and nursing facility. One involves pedestrian access and the other is for public utilities. By city charter, the council needs an 8-vote majority to approve the easements. With only seven members present, the council decided to postpone their vote.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to delay voting on the Glacier Hills easements.

Golf Task Force, Golf Fees

The council’s agenda included two golf-related items: (1) an increase in certain fees for the two city courses, Huron Hills and Leslie Park; and (2) the reappointment of the golf courses advisory task force.

Golf: Public Comment

Addressing the city council in support of the fee increase was Paul Bancel. He suggested bringing the decision back for review at the mid-year point. He told the council that he’d served on the city’s golf courses advisory task for the first two years of its existence. He thanked the council for adopting a 5-year plan for addressing the golf course finances, and observed that the golf courses yield more net cash than any other activity in the city’s parks and recreation program. He referenced the Jan. 31, 2011 memo written by community services area administrator Sumedh Bahl, which put the fixed overhead at Huron Hills at $269,000 per year. Against that, Bancel said, the council should consider the $350,000 of cash per year that the course brings in. Golf is the best use of the land at Huron Hills, Bancel said.

Bancel went on to suggest that the golf courses advisory task force should be a commission – that would ensure that it would have minutes, a formal chair, and include public comment. He forecast that in three years, the courses would have no debt. He suggested keeping the courses simple and profitable.

Golf: Task Force

On the council’s agenda was the renewal of the mandate of the city’s golf courses advisory task force, first appointed in 2008. Its members are: Stephen Rapundalo (city council); Julie Grand (park advisory commission); Bill Newcomb and Ed Walsh (citizens with demonstrated golf operations expertise); Thomas Allen (Ann Arbor citizen with group golf play experience); Barbara Jo Smith (Ann Arbor golf courses patron); and John Stetz (citizen and member of a neighborhood association adjoining a golf course). The task force is chaired by Rapundalo.

The council’s deliberations consisted of Mike Anglin (Ward 5) expressing his support for the work of the task force and thanking them for their work so far.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to reappoint the city’s golf courses advisory task force.

Golf: Fees

The council also considered a proposal to authorize a fee increase at the city’s golf courses.

Power golf cart rentals for 9 holes at Leslie Park and Huron Hills will increase from $7 to $8; for 18 holes, the rental fee would increase from $13 to $14. City staff estimate the increases would generate $25,000 in additional revenue per season. Weekend fees for 9 and 18 holes at Leslie Park golf course will increase by $2 and $1, respectively, and the twilight fee would increase to $16, up from $15. These increases would generate an estimated additional $12,500 in revenue per season. In addition, the council approved raising the senior citizen qualification age to 59 for the 2011 season. That’s part of a consultant’s proposal to incrementally increase the qualification age from 55 to 62 by adding one year to the minimum age annually.

The actions came to the council in advance of the regular budget, so that the rates can be in place for the opening of the courses in the spring. The new rates had previously been recommended for approval by the city’s park advisory commission at its Feb. 15 meeting.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the increased golf fees.

Avalon Housing’s 1500 Pauline Project

Before the council was the approval of the site plan for an Avalon Housing project at 1500 Pauline Blvd. that would construct 32 dwelling units and 39 surface parking spaces. The plan includes demolition of four existing apartment buildings – known as the Parkhurst Apartment complex – containing 48 units. The new construction would include six new buildings totaling 53,185 square feet. Five of the buildings would include one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments and three-bedroom townhomes. The sixth building would be a community center with a playground.

Detail of the play area that's a part of the 1500 Pauline site plan.

Estimated cost of the project is $8 million. That cost includes an upfront developer’s fee of 15% – typical for nonprofit projects like this – as well as costs associated with relocating current residents and paying for their housing at an alternative site for up to five years, as mandated by federal law under the Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act.

Avalon expects to fund the project through a combination of sources, including Low Income Housing Tax Credits, HOME program subsidy (HUD funds allocated through the Michigan State Housing Development Authority and the Washtenaw Urban County), the Federal Home Loan Bank, and private loan funds.

The proposal complies with the site’s R4B zoning. The city’s planning commission approved the site plan at its Jan. 20, 2011 meeting on a 7-0 vote.

1500 Pauline: Public Hearing

Addressing the council during the public hearing on 1500 Pauline was Lily Au. Au also has spoken about the project at a public hearing on the annual plan of the Urban County, at the Urban County’s Jan. 25 meeting – the council did not have an action item on its agenda for the Urban County plan. She criticized as too high the overhead costs for nonprofit agencies as well as the costs associated with building affordable housing. She called for removing nonprofits from between funding sources and the target homeless population.

Au criticized the 1500 Pauline project for reducing the number of units from 47 to 32. She said that the $8 million project would result in a 10-15% developer’s fee. “We need to say no,” she said.

Speaking basically in support of the project was Levi Murphy, a current resident at Parkhurst. He said he’d attended all the meetings and that he supported the demolition of the buildings – they weren’t structurally sound, he said. He did, however, object to the decrease in the number of 1-bedroom units from 21 to 6.

Associate director of Avalon Housing, Michael Appel, reviewed for the council how Avalon had become involved in the property in early 2009, when they’d merged with Washtenaw Affordable Housing Corp. (WAHC) – 1500 Pauline had been a WAHC property, he said. It was clear that the property was suffering from deferred maintenance and high vacancy rates, he said. After representatives from the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) had walked through the property, he said that MSHDA decided they were not willing to invest in the existing buildings. That conclusion was confirmed, Appel said, by Avalon’s own architects and engineers.

Responding to complaints about the reduction in density, Appel explained that the 32 units is the maximum allowed by current zoning. The proposal had been supported by the city’s Housing and Human Services Advisory Board, he said. To address the smaller number of 1-bedroom units, Avalon will try to make available other 1-bedroom units that it manages in the city.

Wendy Carty-Saxon, Avalon Housing’s director of housing development, described the new site plan as better than the current one, because it opens it to the surrounding neighborhood instead of turning it away physically from the community, as the current one does. The site and the units themselves would be completely accessible, she said. Some of the units would be townhomes and would integrate green design. Of the 32 units, 16 would be supported by project-based vouchers and 16 would be targeted for the 30% annual median income (AMI) level. The timeline includes demolition by the end of this year, she said, with new construction completed by the end of 2012.

Carole McCabe, Avalon Housing’s executive director, told the council that the whole process of merging with WHAC had been difficult and had taken longer than expected. For the 1500 Pauline property, they’d taken two years to look at every other option. She thanked the city’s planning staff for their help and invited councilmembers to go on a tour of Avalon properties in the city.

1500 Pauline: Council Deliberations

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) said he was aware of the current site’s problematic design and the condition of the property from his work as a volunteer with Meals on Wheels, delivering meals to people who live there. With respect to the site’s relative location in the city, Anglin said it is ideally situated, in close proximity to a variety of amenities on West Stadium Boulevard.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) asked for some clarification of the developer’s fee. He also wanted to know how long the units would remain affordable. Appel told Kunselman that the developer’s fee of 15% would be paid whether the property was rehabbed or new construction were built – it’s part of the rule set they work with. About the term of affordability, Appel said the tax credits they hope to use to fund the project would entail at least a 15-year affordability period, and the agreements with MSHDA require a 45-year period of affordability.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the 1500 Pauline site plan.

Hutton Appointed to Environmental Commission

Before the council was the confirmation of Susan Hutton’s nomination, made at the previous council meeting, to fill the vacancy on the city’s environmental commission (EC) left by Steve Bean – who chose not to continue his service on the EC. Bean had served on the EC since it was created in 2000.

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5), who serves as one of two council representatives to the commission – the other is Margie Teall (Ward 4) – had announced at the council’s previous meeting that he was nominating Hutton to fill Bean’s spot. Hutton is development director at Leslie Science and Nature Center. At that meeting, Hohnke had also announced that there would be another vacancy soon on the EC and that the council was actively soliciting applicants. [Anya Dale's term on the EC ended on Feb. 20, 2011.]

Whereas most nominations to boards and commissions are made by the mayor, then confirmed by the city council, nominations for positions on the EC are made by the city council.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve Hutton’s appointment to the city’s environmental commission.

Police Cars

The council was being asked to approve the purchase of five police cars – Crown Victoria Police Interceptors – for $20,730 each, a total of $103,650. The purchase was made from the low bidder, Signature Ford in Owosso, Mich. The city of Ann Arbor selected from among the bids made under the cooperative bidding programs of the State of Michigan, Macomb County and Oakland County in an effort to leverage higher volume into lower cost. In this case, the lowest bid came through Macomb County’s program.

The city’s fleet services does not generally use the age of a vehicle as an absolute metric to determine replacement. Instead, each vehicle is evaluated based on the vehicle’s age, miles/hours of use, type of service, reliability, maintenance and repair cost, and general condition. Hours of use is considered an important metric, because much of the mileage a city vehicle sees is city driving, which causes more wear and tear on vehicles.

However, the vehicles being replaced with the purchase of the five patrol cars are not evaluated with the same process as other vehicles in the city’s fleet. Police union contracts require that vehicles used by their members not exceed 80,000 miles or 6 years, whichever comes first. The five vehicles to be replaced will exceed the contractual criteria in the next year.

At the council’s meeting, mayor John Hieftje invited city administrator Roger Fraser to comment by observing that he thought the city was getting a really good price on the vehicles. Fraser noted that the price of the vehicles does not include all the various piece of police equipment –  to outfit the new cars, the department would be recycling much of the old equipment from the vehicles to be replaced. Fraser said that these were likely the last Crown Victorias the city would be purchasing – Ford is ending production. The city might decide not to buy all five Crown Victorias, and instead purchase a new model that Chevrolet is making available in late summer or early fall, Fraser said.

Margie Teall (Ward 4) wanted to know if the Chevy model would have mileage as good or better than the Crown Victorias – she was told the Chevy would have better mileage.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to authorize purchase of five new police cars.

Communications and Comment

There are multiple slots on every agenda for city councilmembers and the city administrator to give updates or make announcements about important issues that are coming before the city council. And every meeting typically includes public commentary on subjects not necessarily on the agenda.

Comm/Comm: State Budget – Shared Revenue, Fire Grants

City administrator Roger Fraser gave the council an update on how the city might be affected by Gov. Rick Snyder’s recently proposed state budget. The main impact, he said would come from state revenue sharing.

He reminded the council of the history of state revenue sharing. Four decades ago, the state legislature had relieved local units of government of the authority to levy any taxes except for property taxes and income taxes. But they’d recognized that this hampered local governments’ ability to generate revenue. So to balance that out, they’d introduced a constitutional provision to ensure that the state shared a portion of the state sales tax revenue with local governments. This is the so-called “constitutional” part of state shared revenue.

Shortly after that, Fraser said, the state realized that they were collecting more money through the sales tax than was needed to run the state, so they enacted an additional statute that provided a mechanism to give back additional money to local units. This is the so-called “statutory” part of state shared revenue. The statutory portion of state shared revenue is discretionary, year to year, but the constitutional part depends purely on the amount of total sales taxes collected.

Fraser said that last year, the city of Ann Arbor received roughly $1.9 million in statutory state shared revenue. Its constitutional portion was roughly $7.3 million. [The city website's budget page includes a chart of the history of state shared revenue payments to Ann Arbor. The roughly $9.2 million in state shared revenue made up about 11.5% of the city's general fund budget last year.] Snyder’s budget proposal, said Fraser, reduces the statutory portion by 1/3 – replacing the roughly $300 million statutory portion allocated last year with a $200 million pool that would be distributed to local units on a competitive basis – depending on how innovative and collaborative local units have been.

Fraser said he felt that Ann Arbor is “ahead of the curve” with respect to how well the city would compete for those funds. But the city’s CFO, Tom Crawford, is now assuming a 1/3 cut, or around $600,000 less than the city had previously forecasted for the statutory state shared revenue. [Up until Snyder's announcement of his proposed budget, the city had assumed stable levels of state shared revenue.] Against that cut, Fraser said, the constitutional portion looks like it will be about 4% greater than last year – because of greater sales tax revenue statewide – which for Ann Arbor translates to an additional $300,000.

Less conspicuous than other proposed cuts by Snyder, Fraser said, was a proposal to eliminate reduce the program by which the state funds fire protection for public institutions. [Because public institutions – like the University of Michigan, for example – do not pay property taxes, yet still require fire protections from the local units where they're located, the state makes grants to those local units to cover those costs. The amount of the grant is an ongoing point of controversy for local Ann Arbor officials, because they contend that the grant does not cover the true cost of fire protection for the university.] For Ann Arbor, eliminating reducing the fire protection grant would mean a loss of an additional $165,000 per year. [Clarification: The governor's proposal is to reduce the fire protection grant program by 15%, not eliminate it, and when applied to the roughly $1.1 million received by the city annually under the program, gives Fraser's figure.]

Putting the two kinds of state revenue sharing together and adding in the fire protection grant, Fraser concluded that the net loss for Ann Arbor’s budget would be between $500,000 and $1.7 million – or 0.6% to 2.2% of the city’s general fund budget.

Comm/Comm: Snow Removal – Public Comment, Council Discussion

Jonathan Shaheen spoke to the council about snow removal, specifically in parking lots. He noted that the city has an ordinance requiring that property owners clear snow from sidewalks adjoining their property. The Ann Arbor city ordinance reads in relevant part:

All snow and ice which has accumulated prior to 6:00 a.m. on a public sidewalk adjacent to property not zoned residentially shall be removed by the owner or occupant by noon.

Shaheen noted that there is no similar rule for parking lots. He related to the council how he lives near the University of Michigan campus and pays $75 per month for a spot in a parking lot. He said the lot had been plowed three or four times this winter, but it has snowed more frequently than that. He described how his car had become stuck on Sunday evening trying to make his way to his parking spot. The city of Ypsilanti, he said, has an ordinance that applies to parking lots. In relevant part, the city of Ypsilanti’s ordinance reads:

The owner or manager of any parking lot shall remove all snow from the parking lot within 24 hours from the first accumulation of such snow.

Shaheen suggested that the city of Ann Arbor adopt a similar ordinance. Shaheen described how it’s possible to call the management company to complain, but when it comes to student housing, the tendency is for them to pass the buck. Sometimes you can get results by threatening to pro-rate rent or by calling student legal services, but that should not be the way that this kind of thing is handled, he said. He said that he and his wife, who works in Detroit, could live somewhere else, but they prefer to live in Ann Arbor. The situation with snow in parking lots, however, is a real disincentive to live in Ann Arbor, he concluded.

During communications time, Mike Anglin (Ward 5) took the occasion to acknowledge that they’d heard many complaints about the quality of the snow removal in the city. By way of background, the quality of snow removal in the city is a common topic for newspaper columnists as well as city councilmembers. At the December 2009 budget retreat, Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) broached the subject with public services area administrator Sue McCormick. The Chronicle reported the exchange this way:

Rapundalo, citing his northern Ontario roots, described snow removal in Ann Arbor as “abysmal.” McCormick countered with her own bio, growing up in the Upper Peninsula, and explained that small pickup trucks were not used to plow snow on city streets, because they would be subjected to mechanical stress they’re not designed for. She suggested that in approaching field operations staff, who manage snow removal, a useful approach for Rapundalo would be to query: “Why do I observe this?”

At Tuesday’s council meeting, Anglin noted that more snow had fallen than was forecast. Yet he’d had a guest at his bed and breakfast who’d driven in from Rochester, New York and was surprised at the poor progress of snow removal by Monday morning. The city needs to do a better job, Anglin said. He also criticized the way that city plow trucks block driveways with huge amounts of snow. He said he’d gone out and helped one resident shovel their driveway clear. He concluded that the city needed to respond better to these type of events. [Resident complaints also have included snow that gets plowed onto already cleared sidewalks.]

City administrator Roger Fraser responded to the issue by saying that he’d asked city staff to prepare a more detailed report on snow removal activity during and after the storm. He acknowledged that everybody scrutinizes the city’s snow removal performance – it’s visible to everyone. He assured the council that the city is doing the best it can with the equipment it has. The city has 14 large plowing vehicles, he said, but two of them were down for repairs. The city has additional vehicles equipped with plows, he explained, but they are used for cleanup after the heavier plow vehicles have gone through. The lighter vehicles cannot push the same volume and weight of snow as the heavier vehicles – something that was particularly relevant for the recent storm, because the snow was unusually wet and heavy.

Fraser went on to describe how pre-treatment of the streets with salt/sand mix had begun at 10 a.m. on Sunday. The city’s preparations had been based on predictions of 1-2 inches of snow followed by freezing rain, he said. In the early afternoon, the forecast changed. The snow didn’t stop until 5:22 a.m. on Monday morning. The city had completed two passes of plowing of the main streets by Monday morning, he said. When the plow trucks began heading into the residential neighborhoods, they discovered within the first five hours of plowing that the ridge left by the plows was going to trap vehicles on the street. So they extended the city’s goal of completing residential plowing within 24 hours of the snow stopping. By 5 p.m. Tuesday, he said, the plowing was complete, with the exception of the city’s cul-de-sacs.

Fraser said in the course of the plowing, city crews had helped more than 100 cars that were stuck. He characterized the city’s approach to preparations for snow in the context of the likelihood of such storms, which he put at less than 3%. Given that less than 3% of snowstorms are like the one the city just experienced, Fraser said, the city does not plan for these events – because they are rare. [By "plan for," Fraser appeared to mean budgeting and making capital investments in plowing equipment.] There are certain places around town that are trouble spots that have been recognized since the 1970s, said Fraser – Glen and Huron, for example. Fraser also noted that a water main break had hampered efforts during the recent storm.

Given that cars parked on the street hampered snow removal efforts, Sandi Smith (Ward 1) asked about declaring a snow emergency – what were the protocols? By way of background, the city’s code provides for a way to restrict parking on the street as follows:

Prohibited parking for snow removal.

(a) Whenever the City Administrator finds, on the basis of snow, sleet, freezing rain, or on the basis of a weather forecast, that weather conditions make it necessary to restrict parking to allow removal of existing or forecasted snow, the Administrator may declare a snow emergency and put in effect an odd/even parking prohibition on some or all city streets by providing notice of the prohibition in the manner prescribed by this section.

(b) When an odd/even parking prohibition is in effect, no person shall park a vehicle or permit a vehicle owned by him or her to remain parked on the following described portions of any street; provided, however, that the parking prohibition of this subsection does not apply during the hours of 8:00 p.m. to 12:00 midnight, so that vehicles can be positioned to comply with the next day’s prohibition.

(i) On days having uneven dates, vehicles are prohibited from parking on the side of the street having even street addresses.

(ii) On days having even dates, vehicles are prohibited from parking on the side of the street having uneven street addresses.

Mayor John Hieftje, in subsequent comments, responded to Smith by saying that based on past experience, declaring a snow emergency would entail ticketing hundreds of vehicles, which doesn’t go over well, because many residents don’t have other options for places to park.

By way of background, on at least one occasion, the city council wound up waiving or reducing fines for tickets handed out during a snow emergency, due to complaints from the community. Related to the snow emergency declared on Dec. 25-26, 2002, the council voted on Jan. 6, 2003 to waive or reduce fines for tickets issued. Margie Teall (Ward 4) did not participate in the 2003 vote – apparently someone in her household had received a ticket.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Fraser observed that television and radio stations he listened to had been advising people not to go out unless they had to. Fraser responded to a suggestion from Anglin that the city engage private contractors on an as-needed basis when there’s a major storm. Fraser suggested that private contractors were typically already engaged – they were at capacity. It would be hard to get a guarantee from a private contractor for service, he cautioned.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) said she understood the limits of the equipment and the personnel. But she asked why the city of Ann Arbor snow plowing update page was not updated more frequently. Fraser responded by saying that it is a recurring problem of adequate staffing to update that page. A partial response to that issue, he reminded the council, was their authorization of funds last year for a pilot system to track snow plow vehicles with GPS units and sensors, which would provide a dynamic map of plowing activity.

Fraser said that the sensors for indicating whether a plow blade was flipped to its engaged position and for monitoring the salt/sand spreaders had not yet arrived from the supplier – but that GPS units were currently being installed on some snow plowing trucks.

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) reminded everyone that the people who were out driving the plowing vehicles had worked really hard – they deserved a lot of credit, he said.

Anglin asked about cross training of staff so that more people could use the equipment. Fraser indicated that in 2004-05, the city had done an assessment of its vehicle fleet. They had equipped all vehicles capable of plowing snow with a blade and provided training for the operators of those vehicles for plowing snow. At the time, that had resulted in a doubling of the number of vehicles that are able to plow, Fraser said. The city has kept the same strategy.

The basic message Fraser delivered to councilmembers was that the city staff was maximizing their use of resources based on the policy direction the council had set historically. That policy is essentially that the city will not pursue acquisition of snow removal equipment that might well be more effective than the current fleet, but that could also wind up never rolling out of the garage for an entire winter. The council could choose to revisit that policy, he said.

Comm/Comm: City Hall “Water Event”

City administrator Roger Fraser reported on a “water event” in city hall, which is getting some renovations in connection with the adjoining new municipal center. He described how the heat had been shut off in the east end of a property storage room, on the side closest to Huron Street. The lack of heat had resulted in a water valve freezing, which was attached to a 4-inch pipe. Much of the water simply drained across the garage floor to a proper drain. But there was also a 6-inch open pipe in the floor that led to the basement, where it was also open on the other end. That had led to water flowing into the basement below. It was the “worst of serendipity,” said Fraser. He did not repeat the quip he’d made towards the conclusion of the council’s last budget work session, comparing the city hall renovations to the movie “The Money Pit.”

As far as damage from the water, Fraser said that some flooring had been laid with glue that had not yet set, so that would need to be replaced. There are a number of new walls that have been constructed, which appear to be okay, he said. The delay would put them about a month behind. The contractor’s insurance will pay for the additional costs, he said.

Comm/Comm: Civilian Oversight of Police Power

Douglas Smith addressed the council on the topic of two cases involving alleged sexual assault by University of Michigan athletes. By way of background, in the last several months, Smith has addressed the UM regents and the Washtenaw County board of commissioners about a range of specific cases. Before the council meeting, Smith explained to The Chronicle that the common theme tying these cases together is the importance of civilian oversight of police power.

Smith told the council that he was appealing the denial of a Freedom of Information Act request he’d made concerning allegations of sexual assault against two University of Michigan athletes: Brendan Gibbons, a football player, and Jordan Dumars, a basketball player. Smith noted that the police reports produced in response to the FOIA request were heavily redacted. All names of suspects and witnesses were redacted, he said, which made it difficult to assess which witness was saying something about what suspect. Extensive redaction also obscured the elements of the alleged crimes.

Redacted police report

One page of a redacted police report provided to Douglas Smith in response to a request made under the Freedom of Information Act.

Smith continued by saying that he was interested in how the university and the prosecutor handled the investigations. Smith said the report showed that Dumars was asked how he learned he was under investigation, and Dumars explained that a university official had told him. Smith said that if the university official had informed Dumars based on communication between police departments, then a revelation to the suspect that he was being investigated may well have been improper.

Smith added that in the Gibbons case, the victim was pressured not to press charges – a university department of public safety report includes a description of a different football player saying, “if she does [press charges], I am going to rape her, because he didn’t.”

The name of the football player who made the threat is redacted from the report, Smith said. He wondered why the city attorney’s office would protect the identity of someone who would threaten to rape someone. Smith said that an unredacted version of the Gibbons report was released to about a year ago, which Smith contended shows that the city attorney’s redactions are “arbitrary and capricious.”

Present: Mike Anglin, Margie Teall, Sabra Briere, Sandi Smith, Tony Derezinski, Stephen Kunselman, John Hieftje.

Absent: Stephen Rapundalo, Christopher Taylor, Carsten Hohnke, Marcia Higgins.

Next council meeting: Monday, March 7, 2011 at 7 p.m. in the Washtenaw County administration building, 220 N. Main St. [confirm date]