Ann Arbor city council meeting (June 20, 2011): Two ordinances regulating medical marijuana businesses were finally approved by the council on Monday night, following more than a year of discussion in some form.
The first local law stipulates where medical marijuana businesses can be located in the city – it’s an addition to Ann Arbor’s zoning code. The second law establishes a licensing board for medical marijuana dispensaries and sets up an application process for the award of a maximum of 20 licenses to dispensaries in the first year of the program.
On Monday evening, the council undertook amendments to the licensing ordinance that were few compared to massive changes that have taken place at several council meetings dating back to January 2011. On Monday, the labeling requirements for marijuana packaging were changed so that dollar amounts are no longer required.
The council teetered on the edge of postponing the legislation, when city attorney Stephen Postema encouraged councilmembers to delay voting until the Michigan Court of Appeals issued an opinion on a case (Michigan v. McQueen) for which oral arguments were heard on June 7. Despite the support for postponement from mayor John Hieftje, an initial vote to postpone achieved only two other votes. A second vote achieved a total of five votes, leaving the postponement one vote short of the six-vote majority it required.
As some councilmembers observed that the council had invested a disproportionate amount of time on the medical marijuana legislation, Hieftje contended that it had not prevented the council from handling its other work.
On Monday, that other work included a collective bargaining agreement with its police service specialists union, which was an item added just that evening to the agenda. The council also heard public commentary critical of the recent budget approved on May 31 by the council, which includes the layoff of some firefighters and police officers. The meeting was preceded by a demonstration by the city’s public safety employees, at Fifth and Huron streets just outside city hall
The council also approved two contracts in connection with the East Stadium Bridges replacement project and three purchase orders related to tree care. And the council gave final approval to sewer and water rate increases and a revision to its landscaping ordinance.
The council revised its debt/fund balance policy, and revised its budget to reflect the blending of its economic development fund back into the general fund. Also related to economic development, councilmembers approved the annual $75,000 funding for Ann Arbor SPARK and set a public hearing for a tax abatement for Picometrix.
The council established an affordable housing lien policy and gave initial approval to technical revisions to the city’s pension ordinance. They confirmed appointments to the new design review board, but postponed a vote on setting the design review fee. The council added a work session for July 11, which is likely to include an update on the planned Fuller Road Station.
The council also heard a presentation on a skatepark planned for Veterans Memorial Park.
At Monday’s meeting, the council considered two city ordinances that ensconce medical marijuana businesses with local regulations.
One ordinance concerned zoning – legislation that stipulates where medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivation facilities can set up business. The second ordinance concerned licensing – a law that describes how licenses will be awarded to dispensaries, and how a licensing board will be set up to evaluate applications.
Key features of the zoning ordinance include the requirement that medical marijuana dispensaries must be located in districts zoned as D (downtown), C (commercial), or M (manufacturing), or in PUD (planned unit development) districts where retail is permitted in the supplemental regulations. Medical marijuana cultivation facilities are only allowed in areas zoned as C (commercial), M (manufacturing), RE (research), or ORL (office/research/limited industrial). Medical marijuana businesses are prohibited in a 1000-foot buffer zone around schools.
Key features of the licensing ordinance include a limit of 20 total licenses for dispensaries in the first year – cultivation facilities are not licensed under the ordinance. The license applications will be processed by a five-member medical marijuana licensing board consisting of one member of the city council, one physician, and three other Ann Arbor residents. The license application requires proof of legal possession of the premises for which the license is sought. Licensed dispensaries are required to maintain records on patients for 30 days after marijuana is dispensed, and on cultivation sources for 60 days.
The council’s work on the medical marijuana legislation dates at least as far back as June 7, 2010, when councilmembers convened a closed session on the topic to discuss a city attorney’s memo dated May 28, 2010. The council convened another closed session on July 19, 2010, purportedly to discuss the same May 28, 2010 memo. The council did not publicly discuss the topic until Aug. 5, 2010, when it enacted a moratorium on the use of property in the city for medical marijuana businesses.
Dispensaries that were operating before the moratorium was enacted – and that were allowed under the moratorium to continue to operate – will have a 60-day window within which they can apply for a license after the ordinance takes effect, which is 60 days from publication. Other dispensaries cannot apply until 75 days after the ordinance becomes effective.
Medical Marijuana: Public Commentary
Every council meeting agenda includes 10 3-minute slots at the start of the meeting for which people can sign up to speak. On Monday, some of them addressed the topic of medical marijuana. This public commentary does not count as the public hearing for any issue. Public hearings do not require signing up in advance and are not limited to a specific number of speakers.
Dennis Hayes reiterated a point he’d made at the council’s previous meeting – data from Michigan’s Dept. of Community Health show that over half of registered medical marijuana patients are on Medicaid, Social Security or some other form of support. Ann Arbor should be proud of leading the way to helping them get the medicine they need for relief, he said. About the process of enacting the legislation, he said at the very least, it has been a long slog. He thanked councilmembers Sabra Briere and Sandi Smith, both of Ward 1, for their efforts.
Hayes said that Ann Arbor’s ordinance would be an example for the rest of the state of Michigan. However, he said that the requirement for the dollar amount on labeling needs to be removed. He called the record-keeping that’s been agreed upon appropriate and helpful, but added that he hoped to come back with further suggestions. He allowed that there would be litigation for some time to come, but said it’s now time to move forward.
Chuck Ream noted that if the city could tax medical marijuana, they could hire more police officers. He told the council it’s time to finish the legislation, but it’s important to finish it right. He said he’d previously asked that no monkey wrench from the legal department be thrown into the process, and said the suggestion to delay passage that evening was such a monkey wrench. He allowed that, yes, there would be a ruling that would be handed down, and there’d be another one after that and another one after that. At their last meeting, he told the councilmembers, all the major decisions were done. But he described the zoning ordinance as “still in bad shape.” The zoning ordinance should be made parallel with the licensing ordinance, he said.
A citation for the charter of the city of Ann Arbor should be included, Ream said, saying that it’s not just the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act that enables the local legislation, it’s also the city charter. He said the council should toss out the part about the defenses, exceptions and and immunities. To the phrase “valid registration card,” he asked the council to add “or its equivalent.” He also asked the council to take the dollar amount off the label – that just provides evidence to bust people, he said.
Rhory Gould said he was speaking as a representative of Arborside Health and Wellness. He thanked mayor John Hieftje and the council for developing an ordinance that would serve and protect all. He also thanked all his colleagues – including his attorney, Matt Abel – for diligence in helping to get the ordinance to pass in the right manner. He said he’d previously complained about the length of the moratorium. The current legislation is something that can be used as an example, for other communities in the state, he said. Others will look to Ann Arbor as leaders on how to do things the right way. He stated that he would like one of the available licenses to be awarded to Arborside. He stated that he would “give it his all” to give professional service to everyone. He thanked the council for effort to put the ordinance in place.
Medical Marijuana: Public Hearing
A formal public hearing related to the licensing ordinance. The public hearing on the zoning ordinance had been held previously.
Mayor John Hieftje told the audience before the public hearing started that he thought the medical marijuana ordinances would be postponed. His said his “best guess” would be that the legislation would be postponed. If it were postponed, the public hearing would be continued until it was voted on, but those who spoke that evening would not be able to speak at the continued hearing.
Chuck Ream stated that it was disconcerting to hear that the measure might be postponed. No one knew it was being postponed, he said. He returned to similar comments he’d make during public commentary at the very start of the meeting. He asked the council to include a reference to the Ann Arbor city charter in the legislative intent section. He said that the language in the ordinance that stated the ordinance did not provide for defense against prosecution is “pretty poor language,” when 74% of Ann Arbor residents voted in 2004 to give dispensaries every power that they have. The dollar amount requirement on packaging needs to be removed, he said – that sets up evidence for people to get busted. He hoped that there would be no more foolishness, shenanigans or chicanery.
Charmie Gholson told the council she had not been there for a while, because she’d been ill. Even if someone doesn’t need help to get to the microphone, she said, that doesn’t mean that they’re not struggling with chronic and lethal illness.
She pointed to the renewed federal interest in distribution facilities that the council had expressed at its recent meetings. She said, “We’re in a national battle.” She’s been working on this issue for the last five years, she said. In June, she continued, two reports had been released – one from the Global Commission on Drug Policy and one from Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. The conclusion of those reports was that the drug war has failed with devastating consequences. It’s a U.S. attorney’s job to say, “It’s still working,” she said. She told the council that the reality is, if you start talking to victims of the drug war, you would think that the war is a failure.
Medical Marijuana: Recent Developments – Michigan v. McQueen
City attorney Stephen Postema told the council about a case that’s now before the Michigan Court of Appeals.
By way of background, the case that’s being heard on an appeal by the prosecutor – Michigan v. McQueen (Compassionate Apothecary) – was noted in The Chronicle’s coverage of the council’s Jan. 3, 2011 meeting, when the council deliberated on the licensing legislation. The case was initially heard by chief judge of the Isabella County trial court, Paul Chamberlain, who was asked to consider a request from the Isabella County prosecutor to find that Compassionate Apothecary constituted a public nuisance. In his order filed Dec. 16, 2010, Judge Chamberlain found that “Defendants only operate their business during designated business hours, and as decided above, perform their medical marihuana related conduct pursuant to the MMMA. Therefore, their business does not constitute a nuisance per se.”
In finding that Compassionate Apothecary operated in accordance with the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act, Chamberlain laid out how the Compassionate Apothecary business model, in his view, conformed with the MMMA:
This court is charged with determining whether the patient-to-patient transfers in this case are considered medical use of marihuana, as permitted by the MMMA. Further, the record reveals that only registered qualified patients or registered primary caregivers make such transfers as members of defendants’ business. Members place their marihuana in defendants’ lockers, and the members transfer or deliver the marihuana pursuant to the MMMA. Even when a registered primary caregiver transfers medical marihuana to another member, such caregiver does so under the authorization of the patient to whom he or she is registered. The Legislature did not prohibit such transfers, and such registered primary caregiver conceivably serves as a person who assists a registered qualified patient with using or administering marihuana. MCL 333.26424(i). Therefore, the ultimate issue before this court is whether the presumption listed in MCL 333.26424(d) applies and pertains to the patient-to-patient medical use of marihuana in this case. This court finds that it does.
Postema told the council that a request for an expedited appeal had been made, which had resulted in the hearing of oral arguments two weeks ago [June 7, 2011]. What is significant about the case being heard by the Court of Appeals, said Postema, is that the opinion would be binding if it were published, and it would be the first time that guidance had been provided. He said that based conversations with people who saw the oral arguments, the unanimous opinion of observers was that the ruling would come down quickly, and when it did come down, the business model used in that case would not be found legal. Postema said the sense he got from attorneys who represented dispensaries was they weren’t optimistic. They were predicting a reversal in favor of the prosecutor. He said it’s something the council should consider.
Sabra Briere (Ward 1) asked Postema to explain exactly what the issue was in the Isabella County case. Postema said that the municipality had tried to close down the business, because it was based on patient-to-patient transfer of marijuana, and explained that this is how a number of dispensaries in Ann Arbor operate. Briere followed up by asking Postema to confirm that for both the licensing and the zoning, what the council has proposed is: Everything must be done in accord with MMMA, and that means in accord with any court’s interpretation of it. Postema confirmed that is the case.
Briere asked if the court were to rule that dispensaries can’t exist, what effect would there be on the city’s ordinances? Postema said definitions in the ordinances may need to be altered. He also said that the licensing board set up by the ordinance might need to be given some guidance.
Medical Marijuana Licensing: Deliberations on Postponement
Sabra Briere (Ward 1) said they don’t know a date certain when the Court of Appeals ruling might come down, so the choices on postponement would be to postpone indefinitely or postpone every two weeks. Postema said he felt that in a month, he thought the ruling would come down. At that point, Briere said, she wanted to talk about a few amendments that she wanted to propose, then let the council consider the issue of postponement.
Before considering amendments, mayor John Hieftje wanted more information from Postema. He asked if the pending court ruling could outlaw dispensaries. In responding, Postema contended that if the court struck down the trial court’s ruling, it would end most dispensaries as they exist across the state.
Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) said there was clearly some benefit in moving forward – the council has been “at this a while.” He wondered what the harm is if the council moves forward and a ruling comes down inconsistent with the city’s ordinance. The language would have to be amended, said Hohnke, either as an existing ordinance or as a pending ordinance – the task would be the same. Postema attempted to respond to Hohnke’s point by saying that the issue for everyone is getting guidance on the state law. It would be useful, however the ruling came down – it’s what everyone has been waiting for, Postema said. The importance that the court was attaching to the ruling was evident from the effort that had been made to expedite consideration of the appeal.
Sandi Smith (Ward 1) said that the council had been working in good faith with voters’ desire, saying the council had hammered it out, and is now ready to cross the finish line. What she was hearing in the city attorney’s remarks is that it’s a matter of how business is done at a dispensary, which is up to them to do. It’s not the council’s job to anticipate when and how the court would rule, and she felt that dispensaries will make their own decisions about their business model.
Hieftje said he didn’t know why the council wouldn’t take the additional time, if it might be able to make a more informed decision. Right now, he contended, if you want access to medical marijuana you can get it – the moratorium could be extended by one month, which would allow existing dispensaries to continue to operate.
Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) posed a more specific version of Briere’s question to the city attorney. Taylor noted that the pending court decision involves the manner in which marijuana is distributed: Does the pending Ann Arbor ordinance “engage” how dispensaries transfer their marijuana? Postema responded by contending that the court ruling could affect Ann Arbor’s ordinance, depending on how the ruling comes out. A dispensary has to get marijuana from somewhere, he said – a dispensary may get it from “overages” from caregivers, or it might be transferred between patients. Postema went on to say that many dispensaries in Ann Arbor use patient-to-patient transfer in their business model.
Taylor pressed Postema to speak to the issue of whether Ann Arbor’s ordinance engages that question: Does it engage how they get the marijuana? Postema allowed that right now it’s an open question. But he maintained that if the council felt that patient-to-patient transfer is not allowed under the law, then the council would not adopt this kind of ordinance. He went on to say that the attorney general for the state of Michigan, Bill Schuette, had said he felt that patient-to-patient transfer is not allowed, so Postema felt having the court ruling in place would be useful before proceeding.
[Ann Arbor's licensing ordinance defines dispensaries as follows: "'Medical marijuana dispensary' means a building or part of a building where one or more primary caregivers operate with the intent to transfer marijuana between primary caregivers and/or qualifying patients, other than a medical marijuana home occupation or a dwelling unit in which the transfer of marijuana occurs between a primary caregiver and qualifying patient who resides in the dwelling unit as permitted under subsection (7)."]
Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) said he agreed with the mayor. He had never understood the rationale of proceeding with this ordinance, when it would be altered by legislation and court decisions. The time invested by the council on the issue of medical marijuana legislation was so disproportionate compared to other priorities. Rapundalo indicated he’d voted for the measure at the polls, but did not see why the council couldn’t wait it out. This is just ridiculous, he said, to keep going forward. So at that point he moved for a postponement, with a second in support of that motion coming from Marcia Higgins (Ward 4).
Briere went back to the question that Taylor had asked Postema – if anything in the ordinance, as written, deals with business practice – because that’s the issue at hand based on his description of the court case. She noted that the proposed licensing board is supposed to set the criteria for licensing and those criteria could reflect any possible court ruling. Postema allowed that was true. But he said that the practice of patient-to-patient transfer is very prevalent, so a ruling could result in the ordinance needing to clarify that. A court ruling could also give guidance to the board, said Postema.
Briere said at the most she was intending to introduce a few amendments, so requested that the council discuss the amendments, and then discuss whether to postpone. So she said she would not support a postponement “at this moment.”
Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) said he was confused about postponing based on a potential court ruling. He asked what the difference was between a potential for a court ruling on marijuana compared to a recent ruling on the living wage ordinance? Postema said a recent decision on the living wage ordinance was an unpublished opinion, so has no precedential effect. He expected that the opinion in the Michigan v. McQueen case would be published, and thus be used as a precedent.
Taylor said he agreed with Rapundalo that medical marijuana is an important issue, but not the council’s top issue. For Taylor it was a “near call,” but he was in favor of “gutting it out tonight.” And if the council needed to change the ordinance, the council could run that through the ordinary process.
Hohnke agreed with Briere’s desire to consider the amendments first, so he asked if Rapundalo would consider withdrawing the motion to postpone and then reintroduce it. Rapundalo, sitting to Hohnke’s right, shook his head no. Faced then with commenting on the issue of postponement, Hohnke said that while he appreciated the helpful input from the city attorney, he was not convinced of the benefit of postponement, so he would not support it.
Outcome on postponement: The motion to postpone failed 3-7, with Higgins, Rapundalo and Hieftje voting for it.
Medical Marijuana Licensing: Deliberations – Amendments
The council then proceeded to the amendments offered by Briere, which included the following additions [in italics] and deletions [in strikethrough], most notably the elimination of dollar amounts from the labeling requirements:
(a)“Registry identification card” means a document issued by the department that identifies a person as a registered qualifying patient or registered primary care giver
(e) The date delivery, weight, and type of marijuana and dollar amount or other consideration being exchanged in the transaction;
(h) The name of an authorized representative of the medical marijuana dispensary whom a registered qualifying patient can contact with any questions regarding the product and the address, e-mail address, and telephone number of the medical marijuana dispensary of an authorized representative of the medical marijuana dispensary whom a registered qualifying partent can contact with any questions regarding the product.
Outcome on amendments: The council approved all the amendments without significant comment.
Medical Marijuana Licensing: Deliberations (Again) on Postponement
With the main motion to approve the licensing again before the council, mayor John Hieftje said he wouldn’t vote against it, but also said it would be “silly” to pass it. With his frustration apparent, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) asked if he would like another motion to postpone, and the mayor said he would appreciate one. Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2), however, indicated that he himself wasn’t interested in pursuing a postponement further. So it was Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) who moved for a postponement, with support from Margie Teall (Ward 4), who seconded the motion.
There was some clarification about the timing of the postponement – it would have been to the council’s second meeting in July. Without further discussion, the council voted and split 5-5, so the motion failed.
Outcome: The postponement failed, because it did not get the required six-vote majority. Voting for the postponement were: Rapundalo, Kunselman, Teall, Higgins, Hieftje. Voting against the postponement were: Taylor, Hohnke, Anglin, Smith and Briere. Derezinski was absent.
Medical Marijuana Licensing: Deliberations on Main Motion
Mayor John Hieftje continued the deliberations on the main motion, expressing his frustration that the postponement had not been achieved. “If this comes back to us and we have to spend any more time on it, I think we’ve done ourselves and the whole city a disservice. We’ve spent a great deal of time on this – a great deal of time.”
Sandi Smith (Ward 1) told the mayor she could respect his concern, but told him, “The work is done. And we’ve gone through this over and over again.” She said that any future revisions could be informed by the licensing board.
Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) said it should be no surprise that he would not be supporting the ordinance – he’d hoped there would at least have been a postponement. He said the medical marijuana issues had gotten out ahead of the regulatory environment. He agreed with the remarks of a speaker who had addressed the council at a previous meeting, who had said the council was trying to shove the genie back in the bottle. He didn’t think it was going to work. He said he appreciated the time and effort that Briere and Smith had put into it. But he said the effort – particularly on the part of the city attorney’s office – has been out of proportion with other priorities.
Rapundalo said he thought the current language is still insufficient in terms of regulatory parameters that are needed. Particularly in terms of neighborhoods and health, safety and welfare, he was concerned. He alluded to an example in his own extended neighborhood without specifying the nature of that example.
Dispensaries are not allowed by the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act, and Rapundalo said that allowing them in the ordinance caused him concern. He was also concerned about the city’s exposure and conflict with respect to federal laws. “We’re setting ourselves up for lots of protracted uncertainty and chaos,” he said. The council don’t know what the future will hold in terms of legislation and court decisions, so it’s ridiculous to go ahead with this local ordinance, he said.
The medical issue has become very different from what it was originally envisioned, Rapundalo continued. Many people supported the state ballot measure, but didn’t anticipate dispensaries. He also alluded to a growing illicit trade in obtaining referrals from physicians to get registry cards, which he found quite troubling. Until the state can provide more clarity, he said, there should be no sanctioning beyond what is unambiguously allowed under state law. He said the city should extend the moratorium and take the time to figure out how to put the genie in the bottle.
Sabra Briere (Ward 1) responded to Rapundalo’s remarks by saying there was not a word she would disagree with. Through the entire process it had been eye-opening. She said that many were quite happy not to address medical marijuana with a city ordinance, but the council had two ordinances in front of it. One tells where medical marijuana can be grown and under what circumstances – they’d been told it’s a necessary zoning ordinance. The other sets up a licensing board.
Some communities have been sued because they prohibited dispensaries, Briere said. The council had worked hard to craft something that protects city. There’s a built-in delay. There is a 60-day delay before documents can be filled out by any dispensary. There is another delay before any licenses can be issued, she said. If something happens between now and the time licenses can be issued, then she was happy to pull everything back or part of it back and revise it. The truth is that it’s taken more time than anyone anticipated, and she would like to move on and address other issues.
Hieftje made the point that although the council had spent hours and hours on the issue, it had not kept the council from getting its other work done. He said he was afraid it would soon be back in the council’s lap again. Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) said he appreciated Rapundalo’s comments, noting that it was a difficult path to navigate between state and federal law. But he said the council had to the best of its ability crafted ordinances to address the ambiguities in the law and he felt that the council had a mandate to do that.
Outcomes: The council voted 8-2 in favor of the medical marijuana licensing ordinance. Dissenting were Rapundalo and Higgins. Derezinski was absent. The vote on the zoning ordinance came out the same way and was taken without significant discussion.
Medical Marijuana: Coda
Towards the end of the meeting, the council came back to the issue of the moratorium by recognizing that the moratorium currently in place extends only through the end of June. The licensing ordinance does not take effect until 60 days after legal publication, which was expected to be Thursday, June 23. After that, existing dispensaries have a 60 window within which they can apply. Others must wait until 75 days after the ordinance takes effect.
Outcome: The council voted to extend the moratorium by 120 days from June 30, 2011.
Collective Bargaining: Police Service Specialist
Added to the agenda on Monday night at the request of Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) was a new collective bargaining agreement with its police service specialist union for a contract that goes retroactively from July 1, 2009 through June 30, 2013.
Key features of the contract are no wage increases and participation in the city’s health plan, which requires a contribution by employees to the cost of that plan. There are five members of the police service specialist union. They provide support services to police officers.
Collective Bargaining: Public Commentary
Anne Daws spoke on behalf of Citizens for a Safe Ann Arbor – representatives of the police and fire departments – to urge the mayor and council to reconsider and amend the budget approved at the end of May. [Though the city uses a two-year planning cycle, it adopts budgets just one year at a time. The budget adopted by the council last month for FY 2012, which begins July 1, 2011, is the first year of a two-year cycle.] Current staffing levels for police and fire mean that they are unable to provide the level of service that the community deserves, she said.
Daws said it is unsafe both for emergency responders and for residents to reduce further the number of police officers, 911 dispatchers and firefighters. For emergency responders who live in Ann Arbor, they’re in a unique position, because they work in the city so they understand what’s going on in the community, and they pay taxes so they understand the tax burden, she said. When they go home at night, they rely on emergency responders to keep them safe.
In 2002 there were 196 police officers, Daws continued. Now there are 122 – the administration would eventually like to reduce that to 109. For this year, four police officers have been given pink slips, she said, in addition to two dispatchers and one police service specialist. Officers are now being sent to priority calls – domestic violence, suicidal subjects and fights – without a backup. They’re told a backup will be sent when one can be found. For non-priority calls, like non-injury traffic crashes, the wait can be 30-90 minutes, she said.
For the fire department, Daws continued, in 2002 there were 113 firefighters, and now there are 81. The administration wants to reduce that to 76, she said. The department is using rotating closures of stations – last week, Fire Station 3 was closed. There’s talk of Washtenaw County taking over dispatch operations, she said. That would mean that when citizens of Ann Arbor call 911, she said, their call would go in line with all the people calling from Washtenaw County, including West Willow and Ypsilanti Township.
[During time for communications from the interim city adminstrator, Tom Crawford said earlier this month there had been a press release about possibly transitioning dispatch to the county. Separate from that was the layoff of two dispatchers, Crawford said. Given the closeness in timing, he wanted to point out the distinction.]
Daws concluded by saying that they were honored and proud to serve the community, but at the same time worried to see staffing levels drop to all-time lows.
Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2), responding a few minutes later to the comments by Daws, said he’s mentioned on numerous occasions that the layoffs could be mitigated in the police and fire departments, if the bargaining units adopted the same health care plan that non-union and some other unions have taken on. It’s within the control of public safety unions, he said, to avert layoffs.
Mayor John Hieftje added that no one is asking the public safety unions to take on diminished health care, just to pay for a portion of it.
Collective Bargaining: Council Deliberations
Introducing the new contract for council approval, Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) – chair of the council’s labor committee – said he was glad to bring it forward from the labor committee. The key elements of the contract had been arrived at a number of months ago, he said, before the legislative developments at the state level, which may lead to a requirement that municipalities pay no more than 80% of employee health care costs.
Rapundalo ticked through some highlights of the contract: a retroactive term from 2009 through June 30, 2013; no wage increase; increases in pension contribution by employees in the latter years; and adoption of the city’s health care plan, which includes a contribution from the employees. He expressed the hope that the contract would be a model for the remaining unions, who have not ratified an agreement.
Asked by Sandi Smith (Ward 1), interim city administrator Tom Crawford said the union included five police service specialists who perform a variety of specialized services to support officers. Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) asked how much money and how many jobs were saved through the contract. Crawford said he did not have those figures handy. When the city does negotiations, it has savings targets, but uses different ways to achieve those savings.
Kunselman said for a four-year agreement, where there is no wage increase, and they pay more for health care, he hoped an estimate could be provided based on just that. Crawford told Kunselman that with respect to evaluating savings, the city has not been paying wage increases. He told Kunselman he could provide an estimate.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to agree to the contract with the police service specialists. This leaves the contract with the much larger police officers union still unsettled – it expired on June 30, 2009.
Infrastructure: East Stadium Bridges, Barton Dam
Before the council were two contracts related to the East Stadium Boulevard bridges replacement project. The first was a $3,587,456 contract with Parsons Brinckerhoff Michigan Inc. for project management and construction engineering services for the replacement. According to a staff memo, the contract would be paid for out of money from a variety of sources: street repair millage; the water supply fund; sanitary sewer fund; storm water funds; the alternative transportation fund; and the major street fund.
The second was a $609,815 contract with Northwest Consultants Inc. for construction engineering and design engineering services. The staff memo identifies funding sources as the water fund, the sewer fund, the stormwater fund and the street repair millage.
Sabra Briere (Ward 1) noted that she expected the money for the two contracts on the East Stadium bridges project to come from a mix of local street funds and federal funds. Homayoon Pirooz, head of the city’s project management department, indicated that the contract for design and construction engineering is all local money.
Approval for construction of the project would come before the council in September, and that portion would be mostly federal and state funds, Pirooz explained. At the end of the day, he said, the city would be able to capture all the state and federal grants that had been assigned to the bridge replacement project. Briere asked for confirmation that the federal TIGER II grant funds had all been secured. Pirooz said that the TIGER II money had been finalized and the money had been secured. [TIGER is an acronym for the federal program Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery.]
Mike Anglin (Ward 5) asked that the public be made aware of which federal funds had been secured. Pirooz told Anglin that $13.9 million had been awarded through the TIGER II federal program and a total of around another $3 million had been awarded by the state of Michigan.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the two contracts associated with the East Stadium bridges replacement project.
Another construction project on the agenda was a contract with Gerace Construction Co. for $812,500 worth of concrete repairs to Barton Dam. The funding was drawn from the water supply fund, but also required a $366,250 appropriation from the general fund reserve.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously without comment to approve the contract for concrete repairs to Barton Dam.
The council was asked to approve purchase orders with three different companies: Asplundh Tree Expert Co. ($90,000), Advanced Tree Care Services ($40,000) and Owen Tree Service ($30,000) for tree removal, stump removal and tree trimming services. The item resulted in a fairly extended interaction between councilmembers and Craig Hupy, the head of the city’s systems planning unit.
Sabra Briere (Ward 1) wanted to know when the contracts went into effect. Hupy said that the resolution had been drafted in April of this year, with the intention of taking it to the council for its first meeting in May – now it’s the second meeting in June. The city’s fiscal year ends June 30. Obviously, he said, there would be little or no expenditures in FY 2011. Briere confirmed that by authorizing the resolution, the council was not expecting work to be completed in the next nine days.
Briere then brought up the possibility that in the city’s approach to urban forestry, too much emphasis was placed on tree removal, and not enough on maintenance of healthy trees. Hupy responded by saying that tree removal is always a concern. Before a tree is removed, the city has two professionals do an assessment before a decision is made about a removal – removals aren’t taken lightly, Hupy said. It’s clear that with current funding levels, the city doesn’t have a maintenance plan for trimming trees. That’s a desirable long-term goal. He said he hoped that will eventually be a recommendation that comes from the urban forestry management plan.
Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) returned to the question of when the expenditures would take place – it’s a $160,000 expenditure that will be approved for each of the next three years, including the current fiscal year, which has only nine days left. After some back and forth, the result was that the council voted to amend out the reference to the current fiscal year.
Hohnke asked if there is anything about the approval of the expenditure that locks in a particular approach to tree care. No, answered Hupy.
Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) said the staff report noted a couple of staff retirements. He asked Hupy what the status is of the city’s forestry department in terms of trucks and people. What are they capable of doing? Hupy told Kunselman that throughout field operations, the city is stretched thin. For example, in water and sewer, he would normally go to a four 10-hour-a-day work week to gain efficiencies. The city can’t do that this summer because there are not enough employees to get coverage. Similarly, forestry is down and park operations is down due to retirements. The city has a number of vacancies posted, but is not being terribly successful in attracting candidates, he reported.
Kunselman wondered how the city council was approving expenditures for the contracts for FY 2013, when it has not yet approved that year’s budget. Interim city administrator Tom Crawford explained that a standard city purchase order contains language to the effect that qualifies the amount, to the extent that funding has been approved by the city.
Outcome: The council unanimously approved the amended resolution.
Water, Sewer, Stormwater Rates
Before the council was final approval for increases in water, sewer and stormwater rates.
In terms of revenue generated to the city, the rate increases are expected to generate 3.36% more for drinking water ($664,993), 4% more for the sanitary sewer ($829,481), and 3.35% more for stormwater ($176,915). [.pdf of complete utility rate changes as proposed]
According to the city, the rate increases are needed to maintain debt service coverage and to maintain funding for required capital improvements.
The city’s drinking water charges are based on a “unit” of 100 cubic feet – 748 gallons. Charges for residential customers are divided into tiers, based on usage. For example, the first seven units of water for residential customers have been charged at a rate of $1.23 per unit. The new residential rate for the first seven units is $1.27.
The city’s stormwater rates are based on the amount of impervious area on a parcel and are billed quarterly. For example, the lowest tier – for impervious area less than 2,187 square feet – has been $12.84 per quarter. Under the new rate structure, that increases to $13.24.
Water usage for Ann Arbor city residents is available online under the My Property tab. [You'll need your account number to access information.]
Water, Sewer, Stormwater Rates: Public Hearing
Vince Caruso introduced himself as a coordinating member of the Allen’s Creek Watershed Group. He told the council that he would support the use of porous pavement – it can handle two inches of rain an hour, has less heat-island effect, and is 70% quieter when vehicles travel across it. He noted that the city has paved Sylvan Avenue with porous pavement. There’s now a proposal to use state revolving funds for four projects, and to use stormwater funds to pay for those projects. He said he does not support paying for the complete road construction cost from stormwater funds – but he would support the incremental cost between using standard pavement compared to porous pavement.
Caruso criticized the fact that there were no funds for watershed studies, but the city wanted to spend stormwater fees on roadwork. He cautioned that the city’s public services area administrator, Sue McCormick, should know something about the issue of using restricted utility funds on purposes for which they are not designated, alluding to a court case, the Bolt decision. The Bolt decision had involved the city of Lansing, where McCormick worked earlier in her career. Some would say it’s appropriate to spend the stormwater money on porous pavement road construction, because it’s a great improvement in stormwater management, Caruso said. But the roads would be built anyway, he said. A watershed study for the Allen’s Creek is needed, he concluded.
Thomas Partridge said he had concerns about raising the water, sewer and stormwater rates given the “flat rate schedule,” without attention to the value of a home or a homeowner’s income. That makes it an anti-democratic tax that harms the most vulnerable members of our society, he said. Partridge called on the council to amend the ordinance to ameliorate the most harmful aspects of flat rate taxing. He also took a shot at the medical marijuana legislation by suggesting that the city charge higher rates and fees to those residents who seek “to turn this great city into one big pot facility.”
Water, Sewer, Stormwater Rates: Council Deliberations
Mayor John Hieftje noted that during the council’s initial deliberations on the rate increases, the question had been raised about whether comparative data supplied by the city staff were relevant to the city of Ann Arbor’s situation. Stephen Kunsleman (Ward 3) had pointed out that most of the communities cited in the rest of southeast Michigan were served by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD).
Hieftje said that other comparative data had been supplied in the meantime, and that it would inform the council’s judgment. Councilmembers did not discuss the additional data, nor was it publicly available at the time of the meeting. [.pdf of rate comparison to Lansing and Grand Rapids] [.pdf of 2009 rate comparison across various communities]
Outcome: The council unanimously approved the new water, sewer and stormwater rates.
Water Laboratory Managment
Connected to the city’s water-related infrastructure was an item that established a $110,026 contract with PerkinElmer Health Sciences for a water laboratory information management system. During council deliberations, Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) asked for some clarification, which established that the city’s laboratory is staffed by five people and provides sampling services to the water treatment plant and the wastewater treatment plant, as well as stormwater and special projects. The city provides sampling assistance to the Huron River Watershed Council, and is also running tests for the Pioneer High School stormwater detention project to determine the efficiency of that project, as well as the city’s compost site. In addition, the city provides sampling services to Ann Arbor Township, Scio Township and Barton Hills.
Outcome: The council unanimously approved the contract with PerkinElmer Health Sciences for the water lab information management system.
Before the council was final approval to a revision in its landscaping ordinance. The changes are intended to: (1) improve the appearance of vehicular use areas; (2) revise buffer requirements between conflicting land uses; (3) reduce negative impacts of stormwater runoff; (4) improve pedestrian movement within a development site; and (5) preserve existing significant vegetation.
Those benefits are meant to be achieved through several text amendments to the ordinance, which include: adding definitions for “bioretention” and “native or prairie plantings”; allowing the width of landscape buffers to vary; modifying requirements for interior landscape islands; prohibiting use of invasive species for required landscaping; and increasing fines for violation.
The city’s planning commission had given the ordinance change a unanimous recommendation at its March 1, 2011 meeting. The city council gave its initial approval to the landscaping ordinance change at its June 6 meeting. All city ordinances require a first and a second reading in front of the city council, after a public hearing, before final enactment.
During council deliberations, Sandi Smith (Ward 1) noted that as a result of a conversation she’d had with some staff in the field operations area, it was her understanding that sometimes after a landscape island is first built, and a contract expires, it takes a while for someone to adopt it. We tend to see a shabbiness, she said, before it’s brought back up to standard. She wondered if this ordinance would change that. She clarified with Jerry Hancock, the city’s stormwater and floodplain program manager, that the landscape islands to which the ordinance referred were generally in strip mall contexts.
The issue Smith had identified was apparently related to the establishment of rain gardens on city property, where there is initially a contract period for maintenance of the garden – after the contract expires, there’s sometimes a lag time before the city takes it over.
Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) said Smith raised a good issue. While the private sector does a good job initially, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of teeth for enforcement following up. Trees get proposed for a development and planted, but a few years later, they’re dead. He wanted to know if the ordinance change provided additional teeth for enforcement.
Hancock said the ordinance was not proposing a change to the enforcement activities – it’s complaint-based and there is no inspection program, Hancock explained. If a site plan is proposed to be revised, there is also enforcement at that point, he said. He said the fines are being increased, which may help improve things if enforcement is required.
Kunselman noted that the increase specified is from not more than $500 per violation to not more than $2,500 per violation. He wanted to know if those violations were written by community standards or by code enforcement officers. Hancock said that typically it would be code enforcement inspectors from planning and development services who write up those type of violations.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the change to its landscaping ordinance.
Fund Balance, Debt Policies
The council was asked to consider adoption of a new fund balance policy to comply with the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) Statement No. 54, and revision of the city’s debt policy to include two new sections – one on defeasance of debt and another on inter-fund loans.
The new GASB standard requires a finer-grained explication of the components of a fund balance. The breakdown of fund balance categories is: (1) non-spendable – not in spendable form or legally/contractually unable to be spent; (2) restricted – constraints on funds placed by creditors or through enabling legislation; (3) committed – specific constraints placed on the use of funds by the city council (for example, funds set aside by council resolution); (4) assigned – constrained by the intent of the city, but not restricted or committed (for example, those funds to which authority for assignment is given to the chief financial officer); and (5) unassigned – a fund balance that does not fit into any other classification. [.pdf of fund balance policy]
The debt policy as it relates to inter-fund loans includes a provision that addresses the ability of the city to make loans to specific funds from the investment pool. [The city invests its fund balances in a pool, not for each fund.] The policy notes that while such inter-fund loads may be prudent in certain situations, they are ultimately backed by the city’s general fund. So such inter-fund loans should only be approved if the credit worthiness is high for the fund to which a loan is made. [.pdf of debt management policy]
During brief council deliberations, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) wanted to know if the council had policies on debt and fund balance prior to this one. The city’s interim city administrator and chief financial officer Tom Crawford explained to Kunselman that these policies have existed previously – they are listed in the budget book every year.
Kunselman asked if debt and fund balance policies are required of other units, like the Ann Arbor Housing Commission and the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. Crawford said that developing such policies is the responsibility of those units. Crawford said he did recall suggesting the DDA adopt a fund balance policy around the time when the underground parking garage was being discussed. Kunselman asked if such a policy would require some amount to be set aside for bond reserve – he noted that the DDA does not have a bond reserve. Crawford explained that it’s the city that issues the bonds, when the DDA bonds for projects, so it’s the city that meets the requirements for any bond issuance.
Outcome: The council unanimously approved the fund balance and debt policy.
Economic Development Fund, General Fund
Before the council for its approval was the authorization to blend the city’s economic development fund – with its fund balance as of June 30, 2010 standing at $967,161 – into its general fund. The move had been planned as part of the fiscal year 2012 budget that the council adopted at its May 31, 2011 session.
The economic development fund was established on June 18, 2007 by a unanimous vote of the city council by transferring $2.18 million from the general fund to the new economic development fund. It was set up to meet the city’s commitment made to Google to pay for up to 400 parking spaces for its employees, for up to four years for an estimated total cost of approximately $2,029,017. Google’s hiring was not as rapid as it had initially projected, and that left a bit under half of the money untapped.
The Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB) No. 54 has also changed the definition of what funds qualify as special revenue funds – the city’s economic development fund was established as such a fund, but no longer qualifies under the new GASB 54 definition, and thus needs to be blended back into the general fund.
The council’s resolution also amended the current fiscal year 2011 budget in some other ways as well, so that expenditures from funds that exceeded budgeted amounts are appropriately covered. Among those expenditures covered were: the International City/County Management Association fire protection study ($54,000); higher maintenance costs for Superior Dam ($35,000); and higher snow removal costs and cleanup from the recent Plymouth Road mudslide and pavement markings ($500,000).
Sabra Briere (Ward 1) asked how it was that returning the $967,161 balance in the economic development fund to the city’s general fund resulted in an amendment of $1,127,590. She noted that in the memo, $750,000 is attributed to the transfer from the economic development fund. The city’s CFO and interim city manager, Tom Crawford, said that the city was re-characterizing expenditures coming from the economic development fund “as if it was from the general fund.” So the fund balance and the expenses are being transferred to the general fund. The reason for that is due to the GASB rule, which was anticipated to go into effect for FY 2012. In turns out that the GASB rule is in effect for the end of the current fiscal year.
Briere came back to her original question, which was how the total of $1,127,590 was calculated. Crawford explained that it was the total for all the item adjustments. Only $750,000 was due to the economic development fund, he said.
Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) concluded that the effect of the resolution was that the city is adding about $1 million to the general fund reserve. Crawford said it was less than that, but essentially, yes. Mike Anglin (Ward 5) asked for a clarification of non-departmental dollar amounts. Crawford said it was all the economic development fund.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to blend the economic development fund into the general fund.
Consent Agenda: SPARK, Lobbyist Funding
Among the several items on the Ann Arbor city council’s June 20, 2011 meeting consent agenda were two involving significant city contractors: Ann Arbor SPARK for $75,000, and Governmental Consultant Services Inc. (GCSI) for $48,000.
Items on the consent agenda are considered routine, and include contracts for less than $100,000. They’re voted as a group of items. However, councilmembers may separate out items on the consent agenda for separate consideration. Neither the item for SPARK nor for GCSI were considered separately.
The contact with the economic development agency Ann Arbor SPARK is one that has been renewed annually since the Washtenaw Development Council and Ann Arbor SPARK merged in 2006. Previously, Ann Arbor had contracted with the WDC for the business support services for which it now contracts with SPARK. On June 20, 2005, the city council authorized a one-year contract with WDC for $40,000. This year’s $75,000 contract with SPARK describes the organization’s focus as “building our innovation-focused community through continual proactive support of entrepreneurs, regional businesses, university tech transfer offices, and networking organizations.”
Ann Arbor SPARK is also the contractor hired by the city’s local development finance authority (LDFA), to operate a business accelerator for the city’s SmartZone, one of 11 such districts established in the early 2000s by the Michigan Economic Development Corp. (MEDC). The SmartZone is funded by a tax increment finance (TIF) mechanism, which in the current fiscal year captured around $1.4 million in taxes from a TIF district (the union of the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti Downtown Development Authority districts, though revenue is generated only in Ann Arbor’s district.) The specific taxes on which the increment since 2002 is captured are the school operating and state education taxes, which would otherwise be sent to the state and then redistributed back to local school districts.
GCSI’s Kirk Profit, a former member of the state House of Representatives, typically makes an annual presentation to the council with an update on state-level legislative issues relevant to the city’s budget situation. Written updates to councilmembers on legislative activity are sent on a weekly or daily basis.
Christopher Tayor (Ward 3), an attorney with Butzel Long, was excused from voting on a consent agenda item involving a $37,000 purchase order for that firm to provide legal services to the 15th District Court. That was achieved by separating out the item from the rest of the consent agenda.
Outcome: The council unanimously approved the consent agenda, including the items on Ann Arbor SPARK and GCSI.
Picometrix Tax Abatement
The council was asked to approve a resolution setting the date for a public hearing on July 18, 2011 for a tax abatement for Picometrix LLC, located at 2925 Boardwalk in Ann Arbor. Picometrix is a supplier of high-speed optical receivers.
The 5-year abatement would apply to $2,434,882 of personal property that Picometrix is acquiring. From the application for abatement: “Due to the projected increase in production volume, the company will need to purchase assets to maximize production and support added staffing.”
The list of personal property included in the application ranges from garden-variety desks and cubicles to digital oscilloscopes and laser beam profilers. If the abatement were approved, it would reduce the company’s annual tax bill for the new equipment by about $16,500 annually. The new personal property would generate approximately $20,700 in property taxes for each year during the abatement period, according to a city staff memo accompanying the resolution.
The industrial development district in which the Picometrix tax abatement is sought was established in 2006.
At its June 6, 2011 meeting, the council held a public hearing on a proposed tax abatement for another company – Sakti3. No one spoke at that hearing, and the council did not take a vote on the abatement that evening. No council vote is currently scheduled for the Sakti3 abatement.
Outcome: The council voted without comment to set the Picometrix tax abatement hearing for July 18, 2011.
Affordable Housing Lien Policy
Before the council for its approval was a policy under which liens can be subordinated and city loans forgiven, in the interest of perserving affordable housing.
Key elements of the policy: at least one city or county lien will be maintained on the property; liens with federal affordability restrictions will be in the highest lien position possible; liens that do not have federal affordability restrictions will be discharged if needed to facilitate reinvestment of outside funding; the city administrator is authorized to approve lien subordinations and lien discharges.
The city council had discussed a specific case related to the forgiveness of loans and subordination of liens at its May 16, 2011 meeting. The context there was the appropriation of funds for the demolition of houses to prepare for construction of the Near North affordable housing project, located on the east side of North Main Street between Kingsley and Summit.
Outcome: Without comment, the council unanimously approved the affordable housing lien policy.
Pension Benefit Change
On the agenda was an item to approve some purely technical changes to its ordinance on retiree benefits for non-union employees. For example, the phrase “three years” was revised to read “36 consecutive months.”
These were not the changes to the pension ordinance that had been described in a resolution passed at the city council’s June 6 meeting. Under those planned ordinance changes for the future, for new hires after July 1, 2011, the final average contribution (FAC) for the pension system would be based on the last five years of service, instead of the last three. Further, employees would be vested after 10 years instead of five, and all new non-union hires would be provided with an access-only style health care plan, with the opportunity to buy into whatever plan active employees enjoy.
The council will need to give a second and final approval of the technical changes to the ordinance change, after a public hearing, at a future meeting.
At its June 6 meeting, the council had passed a resolution directing the preparation of the ordinance change for non-union employees, and expressing an aspiration to eventually extend the same policy to union workers. At that meeting, chief financial officer Tom Crawford stressed that the potential savings to the city would not be realized immediately, but rather five to seven years in the future.
Also at the June 6 meeting, mayor John Hieftje attempted to head off potential criticism that such a policy should have been enacted sooner, by pointing out that the city had reduced the size of its work force over the last several years and had made few new hires in recent years.
In response to a request from The Chronicle, the city provided data on new hires made by the city since July 1, 2006. Of those 121 new hires, 49 are non-union positions; they would have translated into savings had the policy been enacted five years ago.
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to give initial approval to the technical changes in the city’s pension ordinance.
Design Review Board
Before the council for approval was a fee for its new design review process, which is now part of the city’s code. Projects in Ann Arbor’s downtown area, zoned D-1 and D-2, are now subject to a mandatory process of design review, but compliance with the board’s recommendations is voluntary. The proposed application fee was to have been set at $1,000 – to cover estimated mailing costs of $500 and about five hours of city staff time.
A postponement of the vote was moved by Sandi Smith (Ward 1).
Outcome: The council voted unanimously to postpone the vote on the fee until July 5.
Also at its June 20 meeting, the council confirmed the nominations for the initial membership of the design review board: Tamara Burns, Paul Fontaine, Chester B. Hill, Mary Jukari, Bill Kinley, Richard Mitchell, and Geoffrey M. Perkins.
That board met to review its first project two days later, on June 22, 2011, at 3 p.m. The project reviewed was The Varsity at Ann Arbor, a residential project planned for 425 E. Washington St., next to the 411 Lofts building. The site is currently an office building which formerly housed the Prescription Shop. The Varsity is planned to be a 13-story apartment building with 173 units that would house 418 people. It would include 77 parking spaces. [.pdf of The Varsity at Ann Arbor project presentation]
Outcome: The council unanimously confirmed the appointments of the design review board.
Scheduling of Work Session: Fuller Road?
The council was asked to vote on a revision to its calendar for the year to include a work session scheduled for July 11. While the staff memo accompanying the resolution indicates only that the additional session is due to “numerous activities developing in the city,” a likely topic to be addressed at the July 11 session is the city’s proposed Fuller Road Station.
Fuller Road Station would be located on what is now a city-owned surface parking lot south of Fuller Road, east of East Medical Center Drive. The parcel is included as parkland in the city’s park planning documents – some residents oppose the project because it’s on land designated as parkland. The initial phase of the project is being planned by the city and the University of Michigan as a large parking structure with bus bays and a bike station, with plans eventually to build a train station on the same site.
At the council’s June 6 meeting, the Fuller Road Station had received extensive public commentary, despite the lack of any item on the agenda related directly to the project.
Partly in response to that commentary and to remarks from Mike Anglin (Ward 5), at that meeting Sabra Briere (Ward 1) pushed for a city council working session on the project. From The Chronicle’s report of that meeting: “Sabra Briere (Ward 1) anticipated mayor John Hieftje’s reaction to Anglin’s comments [Hieftje has pushed hard for the project] by telling the mayor that she knew he had a lot of thoughts about Fuller Road Station. But she thought the council should have a working session, so that councilmembers can become more knowledgable about the issue. Hieftje indicated that he would look into adding something to the calendar.”
The city’s park advisory commission received an update on Fuller Road Station at its May 17, 2011 meeting.
Outcome: The city council voted unanimously to add a work session to its calendar.
Environmental Commission Appointment
Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) had placed Jamie Woolard’s name before the council at the council’s previous meeting to serve a three-year term. Woolard brought valuable experience in environmental law, Hohnke said. He encouraged the council to support the appointment.
[Unlike appointments for most other boards and commissions, which are nominated by the mayor, the nomination for spots on the city's environmental commission originate with the city council.]
Outcome: The council unanimously approved Woolard’s appointment.
Communications and Comment
Every city council agenda contains multiple slots for city councilmembers and the city administrator to make 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. The agenda also sometimes includes items of interest on which there is no council comment.
Comm/Comm: Planning Commission Nomination
At Carlberg’s final city planning commission meeting – a June 14 working session – no word had been received by staff or commissioners about the identity of Carlberg’s replacement.
The nomination will need to be confirmed at the council’s next meeting.
Comm/Comm: Student Relations Committee Proposal
Michael Benson introduced himself as a resident of Ward 2 and an electrical engineering PhD student at the University of Michigan. He was speaking as the president of the graduate student body. He began by telling the council about a recent encounter some university students in Iowa had with the state’s Senate education appropriations committee. Senator Shawn Hamerlinck told them: “I do not like it when students actually come here and lobby me for funds. That’s just my opinion. I want to wish you guys the best. I want you to go home and graduate. But this political theater, leave the circus to us, okay?” The quotation, read aloud, provoked smiles from councilmembers.
Then Benson reminded councilmembers that in 2005, the council had created a student relations committee – the council appoints and approves its members. The other members, however, are appointed by the Michigan Student Assembly. The student relations committee has not met for a long while, partly due to the fact that the MSA has not appointed members.
Benson proposed amending the method of appointment and expanding the membership of the committee to include some some high school students, some undergraduates, some graduate students and some students in professional schools. He suggested that the mayor appoint all the members, working with partners in the educational community, with the council giving confirmation of those nominations. The committee should meet monthly, he said, and should strive to find solutions to problems affecting the city and student community.
By way of additional background, back in 2005, when the council again contemplated a possible couch ordinance, the issue was seen as a topic appropriate to be addressed by the then newly-formed council-student relations committee. From a Nov. 12, 2005 Ann Arbor News article, “Fire Official Pushes for Couch Ban,” by Tom Gantert:
“The new student relations committee needs to talk about this,” said [councilmember Leigh] Greden, who will serve on that committee. “I want them to look at the issue and talk about ways to solve the problem. We are going to have a dialogue about it.”
Benson, who served on the council-student relations committee in 2008 and 2009 – while he was Michigan Student Assembly’s general counsel – wrote in a fall 2010 email to The Chronicle that the council-student relations committee had not met since Greden’s loss in the Democratic primary election of August 2009. In that email, Benson put responsibility for meeting on both the MSA and the city council:
This lack of meeting is a shared responsibility between the the Michigan Student Assembly and the Council … MSA did not appoint any representatives to the committee in the 2009-2010 academic year and the two Council members did not attempt to hold a meeting nor to ask that the MSA appoint its members. To my knowledge, the current MSA administration has not appointed either a City Council Liaison or the student membership of the student relations committee. As a comparison, when I was serving as MSA’s student general counsel, we appointed the student members of the committee in the spring, directly after taking office at the end of the Winter 2008 term.
The city council’s current representatives on the student relations committee are Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3).
Benson had also reminded the council in an April 5, 2010 turn at public commentary that the student relations committee had not met in over a year at that point.
At the start of city council meetings, a slot called “introductions” is used by the council to invite guests to give short presentations or to hand out proclamations. At Monday’s meeting, Scott Rosencrans – former chair of the city’s park advisory commission, who is now working as a board member of the Friends of the Ann Arbor Skatepark – gave the council an update on that group’s efforts. He began by thanking the council for their support in collaborating on a government grant application.
By way of background, the council decided at its March 21, 2011 meeting to re-prioritize two grant applications the city was making to the Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources and Environment (MDNRE). The result of that re-prioritization was that a grant for the proposed skatepark at Veterans Memorial Park was ranked higher than the other grant – for improvements to the Gallup livery and park. For both grants, the city applied to MDNRE’s Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund.
The city’s park advisory commission recommended approval of the applications at its March 2011 meeting. [Chronicle coverage: "PAC Supports Grants for Skatepark, Gallup"] The argument for changing the rank order of the prioritization was based on the opportunity to leverage $400,000 of matching funds from Washtenaw County Parks & Recreation, which will expire unless the skatepark’s construction is under contract by Jan. 1, 2012.
At the council’s June 20 meeting, Rosencrans alerted the council to Go Skateboarding Day at Wheeler Park. [It took place the following day, June 21, from 4-8 p.m.] He also told the council about merchandise sales that support the skatepark: T-shirts, coffee mugs and skateboard decks, which are available from a range of local merchants: Acme Mercantile, Launch Board Shop, Play It Again Sports, Vault of Midnight, Roos Roast and Produce Station.
Rosencrans gave a presentation emphasizing that skateboarding is a safe sport. He described in detail the work the Friends of the Ann Arbor Skatepark had done collaborating with the city’s commission on disability issues to ensure that the skatepark facility planned for Ann Arbor would be accessible to everyone.
After the presentation from Rosencrans, Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) – in whose ward the proposed park location sits – thanked Rosencrans. Hohnke said he continued to be impressed by how professionally the Friends of the Ann Arbor Skatepark have moved the project forward. He asked Rosencrans what kind of helmets or pads might be required. Rosencrans told him that based on past experience serving on the park advisory committee, those kind of rules are produced by a rules committee working with city staff and the commission. He said if he were on such a committee, he’d recommend that helmets, wrist pads, elbow pads, and knee pads be required.
Comm/Comm: Housing, Not Skating
During public commentary at the start of the meeting, Thomas Partridge introduced himself as an advocate for the disadvantaged and called on the public to get behind the movement to give due priority to matters most paramount to those who are disabled. A priority item should not be the “risky sport” of skateboarding, he contended. Priority should instead be given to planning and constructing affordable housing, providing a countywide public transportation system and extending affordable educational services to all members of the public.
Partridge called on the council to bring about a truly equitable health care system. Partridge said we need to support the effort to recall Gov. Rick Snyder and to expand it to include the lieutenant governor, the attorney general and other elected officials.
Comm/Comm: West Park Renaming?
Steven Thorp, a former city planning commissioner, began by saying it had been good to see mayor John Hieftje and councilmembers Mike Anglin and Sabra Briere at West Park for the Father’s Day get-together. He thanked the city for organizing event. He said that city park planner Amy Kuras and the planning staff deserve many thanks. He noted that the park is around 100 years old – it was once a farm. It’s near Allen Creek, near the place where the first settler cabins were located. The park’s eastern boundary is also the downtown boundary.
Thorp told the council that he and Bob Dascola would like to offer “Central Park West” as the new name for the park. Based on an informal survey of friends and neighbors, there’s support for that idea, he said. The name offers an association with one of the most beautiful and famous urban parks in the world. He noted the park’s “Olmsteadean vistas” and forested places, broad play areas, curvilinear path system. Thorp encouraged the council to give it some thought, so that maybe that name can come about.
Comm/Comm: Library Lot
Alan Haber said he had not visited the council recently, but wanted to remind them that there’s still great enthusiasm for a place in the center of town for meeting, gathering, and for cultural events. When the RFP process for the Library Lot was terminated, he said, residents were promised a robust public process to look at the future of the city-owned lot, but have not heard anything from council or the DDA, he contended. [For recent Chronicle coverage of how the Downtown Development Authority is working to put together that process, see "DDA Preps Downtown Ann Arbor Process" and "Ann Arbor DDA Continues Planning Prep"]
Haber told the council that the public is continuing its own process to develop a vision for a gathering place. He’s been told it’s the most valuable piece of property in town and that the city should get top dollar for it. But it’s so valuable, he said, that it should not be sold at all. There’s plenty of room around downtown for density. A central park would be a complement for that. He said he’s also been told that the need to sell the land is based on $5 million of investments in foundational support for something to be built on the top of the structure. He contended there’d been no authorization to build anything.
[Later during council communications time, Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) questioned the dollar figure for the investments, saying his recollection was that the extra foundation strength was a lower figure. The city's chief financial officer Tom Crawford indicated he did not recall off the top of his head what the figure was. Contacted after the meeting, Susan Pollay, executive director of the DDA, told The Chronicle that a dollar figure isolating the cost of the beefier footings had not been calculated.]
Comm/Comm: Recall Gov. Snyder
Thomas Partridge addressed the council at the conclusion of the meeting as an advocate for all those people who are vulnerable in the trying economy and trying political time. He called on the true Democratic members of the council to support the recall of Gov. Rick Snyder.
Present: Stephen Rapundalo, Mike Anglin, Margie Teall, Sabra Briere, Sandi Smith, Stephen Kunselman, Marcia Higgins, John Hieftje, Christopher Taylor, Carsten Hohnke.
Absent: Tony Derezinski
Next council meeting: Tuesday, July 5, 2011 at 7 p.m. in the council chambers at 301 E. Huron. [confirm date]
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