2011 Election: Ward 4 City Council

Voters to choose Nov. 8 between Higgins and Scheie

On Oct. 5, 2011 the local League of Women Voters (LWV) hosted candidate forums for Ann Arbor city council candidates in all four of the city’s five wards that have contested races.

Eric Scheie Ward 4 Ann Arbor

Republican candidate for Ward 4 city council Eric Scheie, before the League of Women Voters forum on Oct. 5. On Scheie's website, he gives the pronunciation of his name, which is pronounced "Shay." During small talk among LWV members before the start of the meeting, they drew upon a character familiar from American history to help remind themselves of the pronunciation: "It's 'Shay' as in Shay's Rebellion." (Photo by the writer.)

This report focuses on the forum for candidates in Ward 4, where Republican Eric Scheie is challenging Democratic incumbent Marcia Higgins. A replay of the forum is available via Community Television Network’s video on demand service. [Ward 4 CTN coverage]

Higgins did not attend the forum, sending her regrets in a written statement, which was read aloud: “I’m confirming that I will not be in attendance tomorrow evening due to a family commitment on Oct. 5. I appreciate the league’s focus on debating the issues and time spent on bringing debate to the public. Thank you for the invitation to participate.” The LWV indicated that holding the forum without Higgins would be consistent with its “empty chair” policy.

Higgins began her city council career as a Republican, first winning election to the council in 1999. She changed parties to become a Democrat in 2005. Many observers believe it’s not possible to be elected to the council as a Republican in Ann Arbor’s current political climate.

At the LWV forum, Scheie explicitly addressed the issue of party membership, saying that he was running as a Republican precisely because of the lack of opposition politics in Ann Arbor – “Republican” has become a dirty word in Ann Arbor, he said.

The council is an 11-member body, with two representatives from each ward, plus the mayor. All members of the council, including the mayor, serve two-year terms. In a given year, one of the two council seats for each ward is up for election. In even-numbered years, the position of mayor is also up for election.

This year, the general election falls on Nov. 8. Readers who are unsure where to vote can type their address into the My Property page of the city of Ann Arbor’s website to get that information. A map of city ward boundaries is also online.

Scheie responded to LWV questions on the street/sidewalk repair millage, the proposed Fuller Road Station, high-rise buildings, human services and public art.

Opening statement

Scheie had a minute to give an opening statement.

Scheie said he’d lived in Ann Arbor for three years. The reason he’s running is that the biggest problem he thinks the city faces is a lack of opposition. Overwhelmingly, he said, city council measures are unanimously or nearly unanimously approved. He wants to see diversity in government, he said. He described himself as a reluctant candidate.

The reason he’s running as a Republican is that he’s discovered that in Ann Arbor, “Republican” is a dirty word. He said that going door-to-door, he’s had people practically chase him off their porch. One woman looked him in the eye and told him she didn’t think Republicans should be running for office in Ann Arbor. So that’s why he’s running, he said. He also noted that there are a number of issues in Ward 4 that are of particular concern – the East Stadium Boulevard bridges, potholes, sump pumps and Georgetown Mall.

Street Repair Millage

Question: Proposal 1 on the Nov. 8 ballot requests up to 2.0 mills for street and bridge reconstruction. Proposal 2 allows an additional 0.125 mills for sidewalk repair outside the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority TIF district. Please explain the mechanics of the two proposals’ interdependent passage. Tell voters in your ward how you plan to vote.

Street Repair Millage: Background

At its Aug. 4, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council approved language for the Nov. 8 ballot that would renew the street and bridge reconstruction millage, at a rate of 2.0 mills. It was last approved by voters in November 2006 for five years beginning in 2007 and ending in 2011. A tax rate of 1 mill is equivalent to $1 for every $1,000 of a property’s taxable value.

As a separate proposal on the ballot, voters will be asked if they support an additional 0.125 mill to pay for sidewalk repair. Up to now, sidewalk repair has been the responsibility of property owners.

The ballot language for the street repair millage will read:

Shall the Charter be amended to authorize a tax up to 2 mills for street and bridge reconstruction for 2012 through 2016 to replace the previously authorized tax up to 2 mills for street reconstruction for 2007 through 2011, which will raise in the first year of levy the estimated revenue of $9,091,000?

The ballot language for the sidewalk portion of the millage will read:

Shall the Charter be amended to authorize a tax increase of up to 0.125 mills for 2012 through 2016 in addition to the street and bridge resurfacing and reconstruction millage of 2 mills for 2012 through 2016, which 0.125 mills will raise in the first year of levy the estimated additional revenue of $563,000, to provide a total of up to 2.125 mills for sidewalk trip hazard repair in addition to street and bridge reconstruction and resurfacing? This Charter amendment shall not take effect unless the proposed Charter amendment to authorize the levy of a tax in 2012 through 2016 of up to 2 mills for the purpose of providing funds for the reconstruction and resurfacing of streets and bridges (Proposal 1) is approved.

The sidewalk repair portion of the millage would be levied only if the street repair millage were also approved by voters. But the levy of the street repair millage is not dependent on the authorization of the sidewalk repair millage.

If both millage proposals were to be approved by voters, the money would be collected under a single, combined millage – but accounting for reconstruction activity would be done separately for streets and sidewalks.

The separation of the question into two proposals can be explained in part by a summary of responses to the city’s online survey on the topic of slightly increasing the street repair millage to include sidewalk repairs. Sidewalk repairs have up to now been the responsibility of property owners. The survey reflects overwhelming sentiment from the 576 survey respondents (filtered for self-reported city residents) that it should be the city’s responsibility to repair the sidewalks.

The survey reflects some resistance to the idea that an increase in taxes is warranted, however. From the free-responses: “Stop wasting taxpayer money on parking structures, new city buildings, and public art. You are spending money like drunken sailors while we’re in the worst recession since the Great Depression.” Balanced against that are responses like this: “I strongly endorse the idea of the city taking responsibility for maintaining the sidewalks and am certainly willing to pay for it in the form of a millage in the amount cited in this survey.” [.pdf of survey response summary]

An amendment to the resolution approved by the council on Aug. 4 directs the city attorney to prepare a change to the city’s sidewalk ordinance relative to the obligation of property owners to maintain sidewalks adjacent to their property.

Street Repair Millage: Scheie

Scheie said he planned to vote no on both the street and sidewalk repair proposals. The city was not using the funds it had, he said. The city spends money on art – $750,000 for art in front of city hall, which was a project awarded to a German artist. He said he loved art and local artists, but the prioritization should be done differently.

As far as sidewalk repair, his understanding was that the city would do the repairs, and then the citizens paid the city for the repair. [Editor's note: That's one scenario that could unfold under the city's sidewalk repair program that it has run for the last five years. The city first inspects and marks problematic slabs, and notifies property owners. If property owners do not arrange to have the work done themselves, one option is to allow to the city to do the work – the owners would then be billed for it.] Scheie said people had complained to him that they had paid money and the repairs had not been done. He did not think at this point that the city could be trusted with the money it would collect under the millage.


Question: The Fuller Road Station will require parkland for the purpose of providing a parking structure, which will be used primarily by the University of Michigan. For this the city will pay 22% of the initial cost. Down the road, how will the parking revenue be split? Who will pay the maintenance? Who will provide safety measures and protection? How do you personally feel about the project? What is the long-term vision for this station and the probable timeline?

Transportation: Fuller Road Background

The introduction of the Fuller Road Station concept to the public can be traced at least as far back as January 2009, when the city’s transportation program manager, Eli Cooper, presented a concept drawing at a meeting of neighbors at Northside Grill. At the time, the city was trying to encourage the University of Michigan to reconsider its plans to build parking structures on Wall Street.

The city’s strategy was to get the university to consider building its planned parking structures on the city-owned parking lot, just south of Fuller Road, near the intersection with East Medical Center Drive. It would allow the university to participate in the city’s hoped-for transit station at that location. The university has leased that parking lot from the city since 1993.

The transit station is envisioned as directly serving east-west commuter rail passengers. A day-trip demonstration service that was to launch in October 2010 never materialized. But an announcement earlier this year, that some federal support for high-speed rail track improvements would be forthcoming, has shored up hopes by many people in the community that the east-west rail connection could become a reality. That hope has been further strengthened by the recent acquisition of the track between Dearborn and Kalamazoo from Norfolk Southern by the Michigan Dept. of Transportation.

The council has already approved some expenditures directly related to the Fuller Road Station project. It voted unanimously on Aug. 17, 2009 to approve $213,984 of city funds for an environmental study and site assessment. Of that amount, $104,742 was appropriated from the economic development fund.

On Nov. 5, 2009, on separate votes, the council approved additional money for the environmental study and site assessment and to authorize a memorandum of understanding with the University of Michigan.

Controversy on the project includes the status of the land where the proposed Fuller Road Station would be located. It’s designated as parkland, but formally zoned as public land (PL). In the summer of 2010, the possible uses for land zoned as PL were altered by the council, on recommendation from the city planning commission, explicitly to include transportation facilities. Any long-term use agreement with the university is seen by many as tantamount to a sale of parkland. A sale should, per the city charter, be put to a voter referendum.

Recent developments have included an indication from mayor John Hieftje that a work session would be scheduled to update the council. When the city council subsequently added a July 11, 2011 work session to its calendar, it left the expectation that the topic of that session would be Fuller Road Station. However, that session did not include the proposed transit station on its agenda.

letter from Hieftje sent to constituents in late July 2011 reviewed much of the information that was previously known, but appeared to introduce the possibility that the University of Michigan would provide construction costs for the city’s share of the parking structure up front, with the city’s portion of 22% to be repaid later.

Transportation: Scheie

Scheie said his understanding is that there’s a plan to put the Amtrak station on city parkland. He felt that should be put before voters. He noted that the city said it’s not bound by the city charter in this instance. For that kind of dramatic change in the use of parkland, he said, it should should be put before voters.

It’s also his understanding, said Scheie, that the rail traffic the station is supposed to serve is not yet there. It’s connected up to Detroit, he said, and what they’d be doing is putting in a station and hoping that trains eventually begin to run. That seemed foolish and short-sighted, he said. It’s also undemocratic, he added – people should have a right to vote on it.

High-Rise Buildings

Question: What is the current acceptable standard for building height in the central city? Do you know if the student enrollment has substantially increased or is there simply an appetite for luxury apartment living? Please speak to the occupancy rate in university dormitories, older housing and new units coming on the market. Do you think the numbers are working to fill the buildings?

High-Rise Buildings: Background

By way of background, the D-1 zoning for core downtown allows for buildings as tall as 180 feet. That was enacted as part of the city’s A2D2 (Ann Arbor Discovering Downtown) rezoning initiative. A2D2 was given final approval by the city council in November 2009. [See Chronicle coverage: "Downtown Planning Process Forges Ahead." For a timeline of the process, see also "Ann Arbor Hotel First to Get Design Review?"]

High-Rise Buildings: Scheie

Scheie said he did not think the numbers worked. He’d read there’s a substantial vacancy rate. And in spite of that, new high-rise buildings were being approved – for example, The Varsity Ann Arbor, which would stand 13 stories tall. He thought that was short-sighted. He described Ann Arbor as a small-scaled city of older homes.

Scheie did not think you could tear down older buildings and putting up a high-rise and expect that you can fill up the new building. He did not think that was going to happen – given the existing vacancy rate. Why would you want a high-rise? He wondered why developers would do that. What he’d read, he said, is that developers are in partnership with the city and there are tax advantages.

Human Services

Question: The proposed Washtenaw County budget includes major cuts in human services. The Delonis Center homeless shelter will suffer from this. Is the city prepared and able to make up the shortfall? If not, it would seem to exacerbate the problem of homelessness in the city, particularly downtown.

Human Services: Background

For background on the recently-proposed budget for Washtenaw County, see “Proposed County Budget Brings Cuts.”

The city’s support for human services is allocated in coordination with other entities: the United Way of Washtenaw County, Washtenaw County and the Washtenaw Urban County. For background on the coordinated funding approach, back when it was still in the planning stages: “Coordinated Funding for Nonprofits Planned.”

Human Services: Scheie

Scheie said nobody wants a problem with homelessness. Right where he lives, there are homeless people trying to squat, Scheie said. He’s called the police, but they say they’re understaffed. He said he’s very compassionate about that, but at the same time many of the homeless people in Ann Arbor are not from Ann Arbor. He said he would not want to see anyone denied services, particularly if it’s an Ann Arborite. Spending money on people who may come from other parts of the state needs to be looked at – with compassion, but also with an eye towards priorities, he concluded.

Public Art

Question: The city council is reconsidering the previously approved Percent for Art program, which sets aside 1% of each capital improvement project to be used for public art in the city. The process appears to be slow in producing art. Should it be reconsidered? Do you have suggestions for improvement?

Public Art: Background

At the city council’s Aug. 4, 2011 meeting, councilmembers voted to place ballot language before voters for a street repair and sidewalk repair millage. Before the meeting, some councilmembers had indicated they were prepared to modify the ballot language to make explicit that millage funds would not be subject to the public art ordinance. The ordinance, which establishes the Percent for Art program, stipulates that 1% of all capital improvement projects must be set aside to be spent on public art.

Mayor John Hieftje effectively preempted that conversation by nominating Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) as a replacement for Jeff Meyers on the public art commission and assuring the council that the question of public art could be taken up at the council’s Sept. 19, 2011 meeting.

However, at the Sept. 19 meeting a proposed revision to the public art ordinance, brought forward by Sabra Briere (Ward 1), was postponed until after a working session to be held on Nov. 14, after the election on Nov. 8.

The proposed revision would change the Percent for Art program by explicitly excluding sidewalk and street repair from projects that could be tapped to fund public art.

Some councilmembers had previously understood the public art ordinance already to exclude replacement of sidewalk slabs from its definition of capital improvement projects. But based on additional information from the city attorney’s office, the proposed ordinance revision was meant to spell that out explicitly.

On two previous occasions in the last two years (Dec. 21, 2009 and May 31, 2011), the council has considered but rejected a change to the public art ordinance that would have lowered the public art earmark from 1% to 0.5%. The city’s Percent for Art program was authorized by the council on Nov. 5, 2007. It is overseen by the city’s public art commission, with members nominated by the mayor and confirmed by the council.

The most recent regular Chronicle coverage of the city’s public art commission is “Art Commission Preps for Dreiseitl Dedication.”

Public Art: Scheie

Scheie said he loves art and he’s a patron of the arts. He’s learning how to weld, to create metal sculpture. He does like art, he said. However, he doesn’t particularly like the orange trees in West Park [which were the first project completed through the Percent for Art program].

Scheie’s problem with the public art ordinance is that it might possibly be illegal. It concerns public money, he said, that is supposed to go to other purposes like roads and bridges. People who are voting for millages for those purposes are not voting to pay for art. People should have the right to weigh in on that.

Basic services should come ahead of art, Scheie said. He is not against art, but the city’s approach is just not an appropriate way to fund it. Scheie rejected the defense of the public art program that the city is bound by the law to designate 1% of capital improvement projects to art – the city council passed that law and could rescind it, he said.

Closing statement

Scheie had two minutes to give a closing statement.

Scheie said he hadn’t had a chance to talk about the issues relevant to his ward. That included the East Stadium bridges project, which he described as dragging on forever. He said it’s more than a bridge project – the city is reconstructing a whole neighborhood. He described how some of the streets will be partly closed – people who live on Golden Avenue are very upset, he said, because of the closure of White Street. Scheie said that everybody is talking about potholes – it’s almost comical. Ann Arbor has the third worst roads in the state, he said.

There’s also a sump pump problem, Scheie said. He’d talked to several ward residents who said they’d never had a problem with basement flooding until the city forced them to get a sump pump. He described it as intrusive, busy-body government that people don’t like. [For background on the sanitary sewer disconnection program, see "DDA Preps Downtown Ann Arbor Process"]

People are also worried about the site that is the former location of the Georgetown Mall – he’s afraid it’s going to be another Broadway Village. Crime is increasing, Scheie contended, and police has been cut 35%. The city should focus on basic services, stop extravagant spending and end one-party rule.

We need opposition politics in this town, Scheie said. Republicans would never be the majority, he said, no matter what. Maybe the solution is not Republicans, maybe it’s independents like Jane Lumm, he said. But the city desperately needs some opposition.

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  1. By Alan Goldsmith
    October 15, 2011 at 3:10 pm | permalink

    Perhaps Ms. Higgins, the invisible woman when it comes to debates, was home working on her campaign website which isn’t even running. Her sense of entitlement for this 4th Ward seat, that she doesn’t even have to address any issues because she won the August primary, is sickening.

  2. By Alan Goldsmith
    October 15, 2011 at 3:15 pm | permalink

    Kudos to the Chronicle for the coverage of this and the other debates. Your coverage continues to be important, especially when AnnArbor.com has other priorities.

  3. By Mark Koroi
    October 16, 2011 at 8:17 pm | permalink

    Marcia Higgins not appearing for a debate could be a campaign strategy. Maybe if citizens heard her positions, they would be less likely to vote for her.

    She has no legal duty to show up and she walloped Hatim Elhady in 2009 by about 25% percentage points in the November election, which was more impressive that her narrow 2005 win over Jim Hood, Jr. Mybe she figures she’s a shoo-in again this year as in 2009.

    Still, showing up for a debate is the preferred practice of any incumbent or challenger. Her non-appearance does not impress me favorably.

  4. By Mark Koroi
    October 16, 2011 at 8:18 pm | permalink

    Does Eric Scehie have a campaign website?

  5. By Mary Morgan
    October 16, 2011 at 8:23 pm | permalink

    Re. Eric Scheie’s campaign website: There’s a link in the article. It’s http://ericscheie.com/

  6. October 16, 2011 at 9:29 pm | permalink

    I was introduced to the website about a week ago, and found some of the posts startling, including the one bashing moms on bicycles and the one comparing Ann Arbor voters to the women in Lysistrata (not directly, but by implication).

  7. October 16, 2011 at 10:12 pm | permalink

    Vivienne, I’d characterize this post [link] as sounding like an anti-bicycle point of view. As the parent of a kid who rides his bike to school on one of the newly created “complete streets” with bicycle lanes that didn’t used to be there, I’d have to say that I don’t agree with this point of view.

  8. By Alan Goldsmith
    October 17, 2011 at 6:57 am | permalink

    Ed, we know this about Mr. Scheie’s views because:

    1. He has a live website.
    2. He shows up for debates.

    Higgins is disrespecting the electoral process by doing not doing either.

  9. October 17, 2011 at 10:15 am | permalink

    #8, et al: Okay, here’s where everybody’s gonna want to throw *stuff* at me for being an anonymous hypocrite.

    But . . .

    • Ann Arbor Dot Com has a stated policy against their own posting of anonymous comments from political officeholders and candidates. They claim to monitor, and enforce that policy, probably by identifying IP addresses.

    • This is my own opinion, I have not the resources to prove it, but I suspect that Mr. Scheie is a regular, longtime, and ongoing contributor to the Monkey House of commentary at Ann Arbor Dot Com. I base this conclusion on writings from his website that look suspiciously similar to daily rants on the Dot Com, and one writer in particular, though I don’t recall the given name—it may be one of many. One similarity I find especially grinding is the use of the word “Liberal” as a perforative, of which Ronald Reagan was a master. Other similarities would be best left to an English professor—use of language, a turn of a phrase, a written accent as it were. Then there is the involvement of Mr. Goldsmith; protecting one of your fellow monkeys Alan?

    Let us hope the Dot Com sees this and has the guts to investigate. I may be wrong, and offer up a batch of Mea Culpas in advance, just in case, but I smell a rat . . . or a monkey

    I will defend myself by simply saying that I’m playing by the rules, and I’m not running for anything. Oh, and by the way, Dave Askins for Mayor in 2012.

  10. By Alan Goldsmith
    October 17, 2011 at 12:00 pm | permalink

    #9. Monkey? Lol. Anonymously attacking anonymous comments? What a hoot! And I think you give me way too much credit. Mr. Scheie’s webblog was probably meant to be sarcastic and humorous, but many progressives lack a sense of humor. And, while it pains me to say this, I’d rather burn in hell and listen to the Mayor give a two hour speech on trees and backyard chickens than vote for a Tea Bagger lunatic like Mr. Scheie. But he did show up for the debate, AND he has a campaign website to babble on with his silliness. Higgins doesn’t repect the process enough to even show up for the campaign. Are you ok with that? Or ARE you Ms. Higgins? Lol.

  11. By Rod Johnson
    October 17, 2011 at 12:41 pm | permalink

    I have to agree with Alan about Higgins and her perfunctory, entitled approach to campaigning. It’s a shame our system can’t find better opponents than people like Scheie.

  12. October 17, 2011 at 1:14 pm | permalink

    Alan, I am guilty, guilty, guilty. Of all charges. Laughing all over the place, as I admitted it before the fact.

    I do apologize for leaving the impression that your politics are the same as his. I realize they are very different, in fact I do agree with your positions most of the time. So, as Dear Abby used to say, “Beat me with a wet noodle.” The truth remains that you, and as I suspect, Mr. Scheie’s alter ego, are closely connected with the zoo over at the Dot Com; but that is the only connection I suggest, and none other.

    So far as my feelings about Mr. Scheie and Ms. Higgins, I have a great disdain for all of the carpetbaggers on the council (Rapundalo, anyone?) and I hope they all just go away.

  13. October 17, 2011 at 2:24 pm | permalink

    Re #9: so when someone uses a “perforative”, is that a particularly pointed and hurtful remark?

    I just erased several different perforative comments I wanted to make about aacom’s commenters who (deleted). Thankfully the Chronicle hosts a superior batch who practice Generosity.

  14. By Rod Johnson
    October 17, 2011 at 2:41 pm | permalink

    It is strange that in this supposedly Democratic town, we have a race between a Republican running as a Democrat and a Republican running as an independent, and another between a Republican running as a Democrat and a Republican. I guess that’s a point in favor of Mr. Scheie–at least he’s up front about being a Republican.

  15. October 17, 2011 at 10:48 pm | permalink

    re #13, Vivienne: Thanks for the heads up about the typo; for the longest time I couldn’t figure out what you meant, but of course I intended to type “pejorative.” Between antihistamines, analgesics, 5 point type in the comments preview window, a major software update (to everything) a couple of days ago, dislexia, stubbornness, and stupidity, a crummy spell checker and a host of other excuses, I somehow managed to get it wrong. [Note that Apple's spell-checker doesn't know “dislexia.”] “cosmonıcan” notwithstanding, I’m not really the sort to try to coin words.

    Naturally I have one solution — ɹǝpɐǝɹɟooɹd ǝɥʇ ǝɹıɟ. Unfortunately, he’s the only one who knows what shoe-box I keep the upside/down type fonts in, so it’ll be kind of rough going for a while. I’m going to have to dust off my old copy of “The Mac is not a typewriter,” and my old “Webster’s,” and try to bone up as well as I can.

    Since there is no such word as “perforative,” I certainly hope there is no one out there who has actually assigned some kind of weird, rudderless meaning to what I wrote.