Art Lobby Averts Temporary Funding Cut

Also: greenbelt expanded; police dispatch contract OK'd

Ann Arbor city council meeting (Dec. 5, 2011): In a meeting that pushed well past midnight, the Ann Arbor city council backed off making a temporary reduction to the city’s public art funding.

Marsha Chamberlin Christopher Taylor

Marsha Chamberlin and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) before the start of the Ann Arbor city council's Dec. 5 meeting. Chamberlin is chair of the Ann Arbor public art commission. (Photos by the writer.)

At its Nov. 21 meeting, the council had given initial approval to ordinance revisions that included temporarily reducing the required 1% allocation to public art from all city capital improvement projects, dropping the amount to 0.5% for the period from 2012 to 2015. Neither that provision, nor one that would have required allocated funds to be spent on public art within a specific period of time, survived a final vote. What did survive was a prohibition against using general fund dollars for public art projects, as well as an exclusion of sidewalk repair from the definition of projects triggering the public art requirement.

Councilmembers who had previously argued for the temporary reduction, but changed their positions after intense lobbying by the arts community – both privately and at the lengthy public hearing – included Sandi Smith (Ward 1), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) and mayor John Hieftje. All face possible re-election campaigns in 2012. Questions about the legal foundation of Ann Arbor’s public art program, which taps utility fees and dedicated millage funds to pay for public art, were raised again at the meeting by Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3).

In other significant business, the council gave final approval to an expansion of the area around Ann Arbor that is eligible for protection using funds from the voter-approved greenbelt millage.

The council also approved its side of a deal to contract out Ann Arbor police dispatching services to the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office – at an annual cost of $759,089. The city expects eventually to save $500,000 a year with the move, which will entail laying off all of the city’s current dispatchers, not all of whom would be able to obtain employment within the expanded sheriff’s office dispatch operation.

The council also formally tabled a proposed ordinance that would have provided residents with the ability to forbid the delivery of newspapers to their property – by posting a notice on their front doors. The city’s code already prohibits depositing newspapers onto sidewalks.

A sidewalk along Dexter Avenue, east of Maple Road, was the subject of a special tax authorized by the council to be applied to property owners there. The city will use the funds to construct a continuous sidewalk along that stretch, and make curb and gutter improvements.

The council took care of several housekeeping issues, including approving its set of rules for the coming year and making its committee appointments. Those included the appointment of Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) as the council representative to the board of the local development finance authority – replacing Stephen Rapundalo, who was defeated by Jane Lumm (Ward 2) in the Nov. 8 election. But Rapundalo was appointed as a citizen representative to the board and will thus continue to serve on that body. Council committee appointments were only slightly shuffled, because Lumm was assigned to a number of spots Rapundalo had previously filled.

At the end of the meeting, Hieftje announced a nomination to replace Sue McCormick on the board of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority – Eli Cooper. Cooper has previously served on the AATA board and is the city’s transportation program manager.

Highlights during public commentary included advocacy for a 24/7 warming shelter to be staffed by volunteers from the community, and support for 14-year Ann Arbor resident Lourdes Salazar Bautista, who faces deportation later this month.

Public Art Program

The council considered final approval of a revision to its public art ordinance that would temporarily reduce the amount allocated from all capital project budgets to public art from 1% to 0.5%. The city has a law – enacted in 2007 – that requires 1% of all capital project budgets to include 1% for public art, with a limit of $250,000 per project. At its Nov. 21 meeting, the council had given initial approval to the reduction, as well as other ordinance amendments.

The initially approved reduction applied for just the next three years, from fiscal year 2012 to 2015. That three-year timeframe was also a key part of a sunsetting amendment to the public art ordinance. The sunsetting amendment would have required that future funds reserved for public art under the ordinance be encumbered within three years. Money that was unspent or unencumbered after three years would have been required to return to its fund of origin. The language of the amendment would have made it possible for the council to extend the deadline for successive periods, each extension for no more than six months.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3)

Councilmembers Sabra Briere (Ward 1) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3).

The sunsetting clause had been proposed in response to criticism about the pace at which public art has been acquired. More than $500,000 has accumulated for public art over the last five years just from projects funded with the street repair tax – money that has yet to be spent on the acquisition of public art. Critics of the program also point to legal issues connected with the use of dedicated millage funds or fee-based utility funds for public art.

Two other amendments – that did receive final approval by the council on Monday – included a definition of capital improvement projects that excludes sidewalk repair from the ordinance requirement. Voters on Nov. 8 approved a new 0.125 mill tax that is supposed to allow the city to take over responsibility for the repair of sidewalks. Previously, sidewalk repair was paid for by adjacent property owners.

The amendments before the council for final consideration also excluded the public art ordinance from applying to any capital projects funded out of the general fund. Such projects are rare. [Additional Chronicle coverage: "Council Preview: Public Art Ordinance"]

Public Art Program: Public Hearing

As with all changes to city ordinances, a public hearing was held before the council took its second vote on the public art ordinance amendments. Most but not all spoke against the idea of reducing the 1% funding. The public hearing included many of the same personalities who have previously addressed the council on the topic. Here are some highlights.

Thomas Partridge, noted that his deceased mother was an artist, so it was only reluctantly that he was asking that the ordinance be amended to cut funding. The program had been so fully funded that it had enticed the mayor and council to a lapse in judgement that had led them to purchase a $750,000 object [the Dreiseitl fountain] that looks like it came out of a junkyard, he said.

Brenda Oelbaum told the council that her mother is on life support in Toronto and she’d traveled back to Ann Arbor because she felt that public art is on life support. She contended that the talk of Ann Arbor in a financial crisis is exaggerated, citing as evidence the fact that she’d gone to dinner on Thursday and waited for an hour in a place that wasn’t cheap. Where’s the recession? she asked. Ypsilanti and Detroit are suffering, but Ann Arbor, she claimed, is not suffering.

Cheryl Elliot, president and CEO of the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation, spoke in support of the public art program, calling art the “gift that keeps on giving.”

Alan Haber encouraged the council to maintain the full amount of funding. He suggested bringing art from Ann Arbor’s sister cities around the world and displaying it in an art exchange.

Paul Hickman introduced himself as the owner of the home furnishing company Urban Ashes. He told the council he felt that something was being critically missed in the conversation. He asked how many people in the room had had a mentor – several people raised their hands. He said that his bridge from school to work was working with a professor doing public art in 1999-2000, which was funded through Arizona’s Percent for Art program. That bridge connected him to the trades and techniques of public art and took him into a career, he said. It’s allowed him to be able to do what he really loves to do, he said.

If councilmembers had not heard of Urban Ashes, Hickman told them, they would eventually hear about it. Six years ago he and his 5-year-old son had started working with disadvantaged kids in Brighton. The benefit of public art goes beyond the visual impact on the community, he said. Art is a profession, and it’s taught him an incredible way to give back to the community.

Shoshana Hurand, one of the organizers of FestiFools, expressed her support for the public art program, saying it makes economic sense.

Margaret Parker and Marsha Chamberlin, who both serve on the public art commission, spoke in support of maintaining the funding the same way it had been previously mandated. Parker said that cutting the percentage from 1% to 0.5% brings no new revenue to the city. She insisted that the amounts the council was discussing were “pennies.” Parker said the reason that so little art had been created up to now was that not enough money had been allocated for administering the program.

Chamberlin told the council that Ann Arbor is not a sleepy college town. She acknowledged that public art is well funded, judging by the amount that had been generated to date. The volunteer commission had started the ball rolling, she said. It sets a bad example to reduce the funding, she said. Having a three-year deadline for encumbering funds with the council extension is understandable, she said, but not a reduction from 1% to 0.5%.

Odile Hugenot Haber lamented the fact that funding for art is now pitted against social services.

Alexandra Hoffman introduced herself as a University of Michigan PhD student. She’s working with the group trying to establish a warming center. She told the council her group is not against public art folks, but invited the council to come help at the warming center.

Nancy Kaplan told the council she appreciated the effort they’d made to amend the ordinance. She said she also appreciated the hard work of the public art commission. She allowed that everyone appreciates public art, but said that the debate is not about art itself, but rather the method of funding. She called for a fresh start, with a public vote on public art. She told the council they should put a vote for art on the November 2012 ballot. That would provide a clarity for the funding source, she said, clarity on the amount so that it could be counted on, clarity on the duration of the program and clarity on the design – the design of a piece of art could be untied from the purpose of a particular funding source.

Kaplan said that currently the art fund is flush, and the temporary funding reduction would give the commission a chance to “catch up.” Kaplan told the council that it’s the funding mechanism that is tying the community in knots.

Public Art Program: Council Deliberations

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) led off deliberations by saying that after the council’s last meeting, she had a chance to look at the amendments to which the council had given their initial approval and to think over the implications of the changes for funding and policy. She said she was terrifically impressed with the passion expressed by the public in support of art. For her part, she said what they’re really talking about is the funding mechanism – not particular activities like FestiFools or the art fairs. The council is talking about funding mechanisms and priorities, she said. When the council established the ordinance, it had not clarified what it meant by “capital improvement” and didn’t look 3-4 years into the future to see what kind of funds would accumulate.

If the revision passed, it would allow the public art commission to take a breather and look at how it’s going to implement policies it has established – without amassing as much funding as the program has in the past three years. As proposed, the funding would automatically revert from 0.5% back to 1%, she said. The ordinance also doesn’t affect the fund balance that’s already there – it addresses only funding alloted for public art after July 1, 2012. She characterized it as a very narrow ordinance.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) reflected on the lively discussion at the previous council meeting, saying that it had added to the discourse on the issue. She agreed with Briere’s emphasis on the funding source. In response to those who questioned where funding for new projects could come from if the funding were reduced, Lumm suggested partnerships with the private sector.

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) and Jane Lumm (Ward 2) before the start of the meeting.

Councilmembers Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) and Jane Lumm (Ward 2) before the start of the Dec. 5 meeting.

Lumm said she’d support the temporary reduction to 0.5%. Lumm responded to the rhetorical tactic from Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) and Margie Teall (Ward 4) at the last council meeting, when they’d said you can’t claim to support public art at the same time you reduce funding. She agreed with the remarks of Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) from the previous meeting, who’d noted that the council had also said it supported public safety at the same time the council reduced funding for it. Lumm said that’s a black-and-white view of things that is not appropriate. Taxpayers expect adjustments, she said. It comes down to tradeoffs and difficult choices, and she called on the council to get away from emotional demagoguery. A vote to temporarily reduce funding of public art doesn’t mean someone is anti-public art, she said. Lumm said she’d see things differently if the earmark for public art were based on a vote of residents.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) said it’s important to provide an amount that’s sufficient for the program  to be successful.

Objecting to Lumm’s allusion to public safety, Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) felt that conversations about public safety don’t have a place in this context. Bringing up public safety clouds the issue and misleads listeners, he contended. It’s capital money that is set aside – it can’t be used for public safety operations. He said he strived to find with this, as with other issues, some measure of balance. When the council had first considered the issue, he said, he was conflicted about reducing the funding temporarily to 0.5%.

The metaphor Taylor had introduced at the last meeting was one of pruning a plant. Taylor said it’s a useful metaphor, but he’d begun to doubt it’s applicability. What benefit would accrue to the program? he asked. He had yet to hear of a capital project that couldn’t be put forward, due to the public art program. He felt the program would benefit from an increased focus on staffing and administration, but had come to doubt that the temporary reduction would be useful.

Because Taylor did not feel the reduction would be useful, he said he would be proposing two amendments – to eliminate the temporary reduction in funding, and to eliminate the requirement that the money either be encumbered within three years, or else returned to its fund of origin.

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) agreed with Taylor and said that Taylor’s remarks had encapsulated a lot of his own thinking. It would be a step backward, said Derezinski, who also serves on the public art commission. What kind of signal would it send? He said he was in favor of keeping the funding level at 1%. He suggested that an administrative solution needed to be found.

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) said she’d twice supported the reduction of funding for the public art program. [At the council's Dec. 21, 2009 meeting and at the council's May 31, 2011 session, she'd voted for a reduction in funding.] Smith said she felt she’d been pretty consistent with the way she carries votes forward. The more she reflected on why she felt the way she did about the art program, the more she thought it might be because of a lack of more obvious progress.

The more Smith read about how to turn a place around and the reasons why people are drawn to a place, the more she wondered if reducing the funding was the right move. An epiphany came to her, she said, when crunching through the numbers and seeing the funding levels for the next three years for 1%, 0.5% and 0.25%. The difference between them, she said, is about “a buck and a quarter” per resident.

In talking about proposing an amendment, Smith said, Taylor had beaten her to the punch.

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) said he supported the amendment, because maintaining funding at 1% is the right thing to do. He weighed in against executing a strategy to do everything at absolute minimum cost. He noted that Lumm had pointed out that having a conversation about the amount of funding shouldn’t be taken as support for art or not – up to a point. He said if someone were to suggest supporting 1/1000th of a percent, then that would not count as support for the art. Hohnke said he wanted Ann Arbor to be among the cohort of communities that leads.

Margie Teall (Ward 4) said she appreciated what had been said. As far as freeing up funds by reducing the percentage, she said, she didn’t know what the funds would be freed up for. It isn’t about art appreciation, she said. Ann Arbor has wonderful art fairs and people claim Ann Arbor is an artistic Mecca, but the city doesn’t really support art at all, she claimed. The Percent for Art ordinance is the mechanism to support public art, she said.

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) and Marcia Higgins (Ward 4)

Councilmembers Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) and Marcia Higgins (Ward 4).

People had described some great ideas about what the city could do with the arts funding, Teall said, but the city wouldn’t achieve any of the great ideas if the funding were cut.

With Smith and Taylor dropping their support, Briere appeared to understand that she’d likely lose the vote. She noted that her colleagues would remember that she didn’t propose the temporary drop in funding to 0.5%, but that she’d brought forward the resolution at the request of other councilmembers. [Her original proposal had been to leave the funding level at 1% but to exclude projects funded with the street repair millage.]

Briere indicated she appreciated the desire to return to 1%. The reason she could not support it, she said, is because the council had been engaged in “this dance” for three years. The council talked about it, but then backed away.

There’s absolutely no denying that art is important, Briere said. She reflected on the fact that it’s possible for the council to have a three-hour discussion that has little impact on individual budgets. Briere alluded to the council’s 45-minute debate in May 2009 on a $7,000 item for Project Grow funding. Using Smith’s analogy, that’s 6 cents per resident, she said. The council had recently approved a $25,000 appropriation for the Delonis Center warming center – that’s 22 cents a person, she said.

Over the next three years, the reduction from 1% to 0.5% takes funding from around $900,000 per year to almost $450,000, Briere said. She said she was hard-pressed to believe it would cripple a program that currently has around $1.5 million to spend. And if it were to cripple that program, we’d know it, she said, because the council would hear about it. She stressed that it’s a temporary three-year cutback. She did not think the temporary reduction would prevent someone from settling in Ann Arbor or expanding their business here. People come to places where there are jobs and housing, with well-maintained streets, she said – to places that take pride not just in art, but also in infrastructure.

This is the third time the issue has come back to the council, Briere said, and she felt that fact represents a real dissatisfaction with something about the program. She again stressed that she’d brought it forward at the request of other members on the council. If the council does not act, she said, councilmembers would face the same situation again in a year.

Lumm noted that the difference between the roughly $900,000 that 1% would generate and the $450,000 that 0.5% would generate was significant. The issue has to do with funding priorities, she said.

Taylor had voted for the reduction from 1% to 0.5% at the council’s first reading, in the same way he’d voted for the reduction at the first reading in 2009. He allowed that Briere raised a good point about the persistence of the council’s conversation. It’s one about which he was torn. The past two weeks had been illuminating for clarifying his thoughts.

Teall noted that permanent public art is costly, if it’s constructed as a life-long legacy to stand the test of time. The program doesn’t have an administrator, she said, and it’s a young program. [The city's current public art administrator, Aaron Seagraves, started the job in May. It's a part-time position.] To “cut it off at its knees” is a mistake, Teall said. Reducing it would be a rollback at a time when the city is trying to institute things that don’t come to fruition in a short time.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) expressed some frustration, saying that as she listened to the debate, people always want to tie it to being for or against public art. The discussion is really about how to fund it. Higgins said that Marsha Chamberlin, chair of the public art commission, brought up a great point during public commentary when she’d said that the program has a lot of money right now, but nothing guarantees it in future years. If we want this place to be a Mecca for art, Higgins said, then let’s figure out how to fund it. The council was dancing around the question.

Higgins talked about the need for the art commission to know how much money it would have and for how long. She wondered if $400,000 for the next 30 years, funded by a millage, would be one way to go. She noted that people say they don’t want general fund dollars to go towards public art, but she wondered how administrative support is paid for.

Higgins said she’d like to see the resolution tabled for four to five months so that the council could have a serious conversation about it. On the issue of the general fund, she wondered if some money for art shouldn’t come from the general fund. If it’s a priority for the community, she asked, why not?

Hohnke allowed that the dollar amount generated is significant over the next three years, whether the percentage is 1% or 0.5%. The elegance of the program, based on a percentage, is that it’s a reflection of the investments made in the built environment. The program provides resources relative to the investment in the built environment, he said.

Mayor John Hieftje said people had made many good points. One of the points is that there are strings attached to the way public art money is spent, and he supported loosening the strings to the extent it’s legally possible. If there is any general fund money in the public art fund, he said, it’s not enough to make it an issue of public safety. The question is whether to fund art.

Hieftje noted that Ann Arbor’s water and sewer rates are some of the lowest in the state. He assured people that they’d see some aggressive spending of street millage funds next year – the city had been holding them back as a contingency to help pay for the Stadium bridges replacement project. Hieftje revealed that he was a sponsor of the resolution to reduce the funding from 1% to 0.5% at one point. But in looking at public art as economic development and reflecting on that, he found that 1%, up to the $250,000 limit per project, is okay. He found himself in favor of the amendment to keep funding at 1%.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) complained that the legality of the transfer from the street fund to art had never been explained in a written opinion from the city attorney. Alluding to Hieftje’s mention of “strings,” he said if the council is going to talk about strings, the strings should be written down.

Describing a millage pitched by Tuscola County to its voters, Kunselman said Tuscola County assured voters that there could be no transfer of special millage funds to another account. That’s what Tuscola County says, so what do we say, Kunselman wondered. He suggested the new city administrator ask for a written opinion from the city attorney. Then there could be certainty, he said.

Kunselman liked the idea of an art millage. Not acting meant punting it down the road to a future council in a way that could end up in a lawsuit, he said. Ann Arbor is the only city in Michigan that has a Percent for Art ordinance, Kunselman said, and the city doesn’t even have it written down why it’s legal.

Outcome on amendment restoring the 1% level of funding: The council voted to eliminate the original amendment, thus restoring the funding level to 1%. Dissenting were Lumm, Kunselman and Briere.

Taylor then went on to propose eliminating another amendment, already given initial approval, that money be returned to its fund of origin if not encumbered within three years. He said he’d initially thought it was a reasonable way to incentivize spending money with deliberate haste. He felt there were complications with the provision, despite the fail-safe that allowed the city council to extend the three-year deadline for funds in six-month increments.

Teall thanked Taylor for bringing forward the amendment. She feared the original proposal would have the effect of rushing the public art commission into spending money.

Briere noted that any time you talk about deadlines, there’s a valid concern it would result in hasty, ill-considered decisions. Responding to the issue of money in some funds accruing slowly, she noted that money is pooled and could be put together with other funds. Briere noted that the idea of placing a temporal deadline had come from public services area administrator Sue McCormick, who oversees the public art program. Briere said that placing a finite deadline on the accrual of funds would help focus attention. The idea is not to rush to judgment, she said. It’s to focus attention. It allows the city to keep better track of things.

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) and AAPAC member Margaret Parker

Councilmember Sandi Smith (Ward 1) and Margaret Parker, a member of the public art commission.

Higgins said she wouldn’t support Taylor’s amendment, pointing out that she’d heard Marsha Chamberlin say at the podium that the three-year period is reasonable. Higgins also noted that it’s not just one six-month period of extension – it’s an indefinite number of six-month extensions that are available. It’s an easy check and balance.

Smith noted that one of the things that affects her thinking about the public art ordinance is that there’s at this point very little public art to see. The original change that the council approved may help push projects along, so she was not in favor of reversing it. It’s important to have some sense of urgency, she said.

Derezinski said he’d proposed and voted for the amendment that allowed the council to grant an extension because it made the overall proposition less bad. He said it related to the issue of process and how the public art commission operates. If the commission had the right staff, he felt, it would be possible to address the issue through the procedures of the commission. Writing a requirement into the ordinance is using “too large a club,” he said.

Lumm said that the three-year provision did not amount to a hardship. She called it simply a very good discipline and said she wouldn’t support Taylor’s amendment.

Outcome on amendment removing requirement that funds be encumbered within three years: The amendment passed on a 6-5 vote, with approval from Derezinski, Taylor, Teall, Hohnke, Anglin and Hieftje.

Public services area administrator Sue McCormick was asked how the administration for public art would be charged. She described it as analogous to the way that engineering projects are charged to the project management group at the city.

In her concluding remarks, Briere noted that other communities with Percent for Art programs restrict the money in some way. When the Ann Arbor city council had originally passed its ordinance, it had not restricted the money. That made it problematic to manage. She hoped her colleagues would allow some restrictions going forward by passing the resolution as amended. [The surviving changes included the prohibition on using money from the general fund and the definition of capital improvement projects to exclude sidewalk repair.]

Lumm expressed frustration, commenting: “This thing is really watered down!” [Briere subsequently told The Chronicle that she'd gotten out of it what she'd wanted – an agreement to restrict the funds in some way.] Lumm said she’d started paying attention to it when Higgins had proposed a budget amendment in May of that year. Now, Lumm said, she wasn’t sure what to do.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the two changes to the public art ordinance.

City-County Consolidated Dispatch

On the agenda was a resolution for a $759,089 annual contract with the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office to handle police dispatch operations for the city of Ann Arbor. The five-year agreement is anticipated to start in March of 2012.

According to the staff memo accompanying the council’s resolution, the city of Ann Arbor expects to realize at least $500,000 in savings annually compared to continuing to employ its own dispatchers. The cost savings arise from the fact that not all of the city’s current dispatchers would be hired on by the sheriff’s office – the total number of dispatchers in the consolidated operation would be reduced by six FTEs, compared to the two separate operations.

Dispatch Room, separate county, city operations

In the separate but co-located dispatch operation currently in place, at any given time, one Law Enforcement Information Network support officer is used for each operation – one for the Ann Arbor police department and one for the Washtenaw County sheriff's office.

In more detail, the city’s dispatch operation is currently authorized for 19 dispatching positions, and the county has 17 positions. The combined operation is proposed to employ 30 full-time dispatchers. It also calls for 10 part-time dispatchers.

A significant reduction in the FTE number (5.25 positions) is achieved in the consolidated operation by using just one LEIN (Law Enforcement Information Network) officer, instead of using one LEIN officer for each dispatch operation (for a total of two) at any given time.

The way these efficiencies were gained was laid out at the council’s Dec. 5 meeting, as they had been at a work session in September, by Kerry Laycock, a management consultant hired to help with the consolidation. [Laycock has been tapped for assistance on many of the city's reorganizational moves over the last several years, including most recently the Ann Arbor housing commission.]

Of the 19 budgeted city positions, one dispatcher retired this fall, leaving current staffing at 18. Two dispatchers are currently on approved leave. As a result of the consolidation, 4-5 Ann Arbor dispatchers who currently have full-time positions would not have a full-time job under the consolidated operation.

In addition to the cost savings that accrue from employing fewer people overall, it emerged during council deliberations that the difference in compensation between city and county dispatchers averages around $9,000 per year – Ann Arbor city dispatchers earn more. That can translate into around a 20% pay cut for Ann Arbor city dispatchers, who earned $44,000-$56,000 in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2010.

The contract with the county for dispatch services is offset by a $12,520 facility use fee paid by the county to the city. The Washtenaw County sheriff’s office is already co-located with Ann Arbor police dispatch, in a facility above the city’s Fire Station #1 on South Fifth Avenue just across the street from the municipal center. The sheriff’s office also currently handles dispatching services for Northfield Township, Michigan State Police, Huron-Clinton Metropolitan Authority and the city of Ypsilanti. [Additional Chronicle coverage: "Ann Arbor, Washtenaw: Joint 911 Dispatch?"]

According to the staff memo accompanying the council’s resolution, the consolidation of dispatch operations would help qualify the city for the state of Michigan’s Economic Vitality Incentive Plan. The MEVIP has replaced statutory state-shared revenue as the means that the state legislature uses to distribute to local governmental units their portion of the state’s sales tax. The distribution of a portion of the state sales tax to local units is based on the fact that in Michigan, local units have limited ability to generate revenue through taxes.

Consolidated Dispatch: Public Commentary

Anne Daws-Lazar told the council she was a life-long Ann Arbor resident and that she’d worked 24 years as a dispatcher and would be retiring in February 2012. She characterized the proposed move not as a merger but as a “takeover.” She questioned the ability to take more calls with fewer people. She noted that currently the two operations are co-located. Before co-location, she said, Ann Arbor dispatchers answered more than 48,000 911 calls. After co-location, she said (adding the county sheriff’s operation) Ann Arbor dispatchers answered 85,000 calls. That’s because Ann Arbor dispatchers are answering Washtenaw County calls. [In the dispatching operation, there are two distinct functions performed by separate people – a call-taking function and a dispatching function.] So the Ann Arbor dispatching staff is already assisting with the Washtenaw County workload, Daws-Lazar concluded.

Ann Arbor dispatchers have more experience than county dispatchers, she said. Of the current 16 Ann Arbor dispatchers, nine have over 10 years of experience, and nobody has less than six years of experience. On the county side, she said, six out of 14 have less than four years experience. She accounted for the reduced experience on the county’s side by pointing to the conditions they work under and their treatment by their administration. She said she felt that very few people will be transitioned – Ann Arbor dispatchers will have to apply for a job. She felt very few Ann Arbor dispatchers will actually do that, because they’ve seen firsthand the conditions that the county dispatchers work under, which in turn will lead to a less-experienced dispatching staff.

Among the conditions the county dispatchers work under, Daws-Lazar pointed to a difference in their contracts – Ann Arbor dispatchers aren’t allowed to work 16 hours, unless it’s an extreme emergency. But county dispatchers work 16-hour days regularly, she contended. And they do that often two to three days in a row. That comes at a price, she said, including officer safety.

Danyelle Tucker introduced herself as a current employee at the dispatch center. In June of this year, she contended, all 18 dispatchers had been sent letters saying they would be laid off due to a lack of funding. She alluded to an alternative proposal, that would create revenue for the city instead of costing the city $759,000 per year, including the loss of PSAP (public safety answering point) funds totaling over $600,000 per year.

She contended that during a May 11, 2011 meeting of a the county-city collaboration task force, attended by assistant city attorney Nancy Niemela, city of Ann Arbor CFO Tom Crawford, and deputy police chief Greg Bazick, they discussed the best avenue for getting around a full city council vote. As members of the city council, she said, they should question why secrecy would be needed, if it were the best plan for the city. Why would Bazick raise the possibility of the consolidation process to be stopped by an injunction? she asked. She said there was a reason why the police department administration did not want the council to see the alternative proposal.

Tucker also expressed concern for citizens of Ann Arbor who are accustomed to a certain level of service from a dispatch center. Under the proposal, she said, citizens would be relying on Washtenaw County to maintain a full-staffed dispatch center. According to meeting notes obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request, full staffing would require 33 full-time employees, Tucker said. Currently the Washtenaw County dispatch operation has 14. To date, through 2011, the current level of staffing by the county has led to 5,000 hours of overtime, forcing current staff to work double shifts multiple days of the week, she said.

Consolidated Dispatch: Management Review

Ann Arbor chief of police Barnett Jones was invited to the podium by Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) to give an overview.

Jane Lumm (Ward 3) and chief of police Barnett Jones

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) and chief of police Barnett Jones.

Jones reviewed his time as chief in Ann Arbor, which began six years ago. After four months on the job, he said, he’d been told he’d need to reduce staff. Since then, it’s been six years of reducing staff. In the course of those reductions, he said, he didn’t touch dispatch. It’s one of the core areas – patrol, investigation and dispatch. He reminded the council that he had presented the buyout option to the council to induce early retirements in 2009, which they’d approved. That had resulted in 26 people taking early retirement, two of whom were dispatchers. Those positions were then replaced, he said.

For this round of reductions, he said, he’d tried to come up with a way to keep his people employed. He first called the sheriff to explore the possibility that Ann Arbor could take over the sheriff’s dispatch, to perhaps generate revenue through the dispatch operation. Jones alluded to statutory mandates that prevent the sheriff from doing that. So they had looked at it the other way – with the sheriff taking over Ann Arbor’s dispatching operation. Later during council deliberations, sheriff Jerry Clayton said the proposal was cost-neutral from the county’s perspective.

Jones told councilmembers they’d seen some of the notes – alluding to the information that had been described during public commentary. When you brainstorm, he said, you throw every idea you can think of on the wall. The point is to try to save jobs, he said. Of the current Ann Arbor dispatchers, 13 or 14 of them would be employed under the consolidation, he said. His reality is that he faces a $1.2 million deficit. To meet that target without consolidation, he’d need to eliminate some dispatchers and officers, he said.

[Later during deliberations, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) invited a dispatcher to comment from the podium, who noted that on either scenario, with or without consolidation, she'll be losing her job.]

Jones presented the consolidation as good public policy because it helps keep patrol officers on the street.

Clayton also contended that the dispatch consolidation is good public policy. His office was there to assist the city, he said. He compared Ann Arbor’s situation with that faced by Ypsilanti previously. Ypsilanti was faced with the choice of laying off a police officer or firefighter. In that instance, Ypsilanti dispatchers applied for jobs to the county and they were brought in to the county dispatching organization, Clayton said. The approach in Ann Arbor would be similar, he said. He confirmed that if a decision is made to consolidate, those who are laid off from Ann Arbor dispatch would not be guaranteed a job.

He described how there would be a transition period of around six months while separate dispatching would continue as the dispatchers are cross-trained – county dispatchers for the city of Ann Arbor and Ann Arbor dispatchers for Washtenaw County.

Responding to comments made during public commentary about the quality of service, Clayton allowed that right now the sheriff’s office doesn’t have enough staff. Even under those conditions, he said, county dispatchers deliver excellent service.

Consolidated Dispatch: Budget Context

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) noted the $1.2 million projected shortfall for the police department for the FY 2013 budget year, and compared that to the projected $500,000 annual savings from the consolidated dispatch operation. That still leaves $600,000-$700,000 to make up. She wanted to know how Jones proposed to cover the remaining shortfall. Chief of police Barnett Jones indicated that he did not have a proposal, except to hope the council found another way.

The context of the budget to which Jones alluded during his remarks has changed as the result of a new contract signed by the police officers union (AAPOA) in September of this year. The city’s position is that the layoff of four officers would not have been necessary, if the police union had made concessions on their contributions to health and pensions benefits before June 30.

During deliberations, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) noted that the $1.2 million projected shortfall in the public safety services area had been based on the analysis of a previous city administrator [Roger Fraser]. Kunselman said he was interested in getting a budget analysis from Steve Powers, the new city administrator.

Another change in the context for the $1.2 million projected shortfall is on the revenue side. From the city’s CFO Tom Crawford, Kunselman elicited Crawford’s expectation that property tax revenues next year could show an increase compared with this year.

At multiple points during the evening, including deliberations on the consolidated dispatch, mayor John Hieftje talked about a plan to preserve police officer staffing levels – it currently appears that nine officers will retire around the beginning of the year. The city is looking to rehire the officers just recently laid off. For the remaining five positions, there are around 400 applications for those jobs. The savings from the new AAPOA contract and the anticipated savings from the consolidated dispatch, Hieftje said, get the city where it needs to be to preserve current staffing levels.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) drew out the fact that there would be transitional costs associated with the consolidation of somewhere between $300,000-$500,000 in the first year.

Consolidated Dispatch: Adequacy of Service

At one point, Hieftje asked Jones to confirm that dispatching services would be adequate under the consolidation. Jones provided that confirmation. He said he’d gotten a lot of grey hair over this decision. Part of his comfort, he said, was based on the continuing liaison that would exist between the police department and the consolidated dispatch.

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) asked for a review of some of the metrics that would be used to determine if performance was being maintained. Jones gave the basic industry standard that 90% of calls should be answered in less than 10 seconds. The consultant Kerry Laycock also indicated that one component of performance can be monitored by calling back citizens who make calls to 911 to get a measure of their satisfaction. A final component is to get feedback from officers who are dispatched. That part is still under development.

Smith wanted to know what happens if the metrics show the consolidation is failing. Jones indicated that the whole process of gradual consolidation would need to be undone in reverse. That’s why this has to work going forward, he said.

Higgins confirmed with sheriff Clayton that the city could get performance metrics as often as it liked – the city is the customer, Clayton said.

Consolidated Dispatch: Human Resources

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) got clarification that 13-14 Ann Arbor dispatchers would be able to apply for jobs under the consolidated dispatch operation. He got confirmation that their pay would be less than they currently make. From the audience someone called out the question: “How much less?” Although Hieftje admonished attendees not to interrupt the meeting that way, the figure was tracked down in response to the question: On average, county dispatchers make $9,000 less than city of Ann Arbor dispatchers.

Hieftje allowed that it’s not a slight but rather a significant difference. Higgins noted that dispatchers are not the city’s highest paid employees. [Dispatchers earned $44,000-$56,000 for FY 2010].

Higgins also wanted to know what the difference in benefits is between the county and the city. Laycock said that human resources staff had described them as comparable. Sheriff Clayton said that among county workers, the dispatchers had very good benefits. Higgins was assured she’d be provided with a benefits comparison.

Consolidated Dispatch: Council Deliberations – Bid to Postpone

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) made a bid to postpone the vote, based on uncertainties associated with the changing budget picture. Asked by Kunselman, city administrator Steve Powers said that with respect to timing, the contract did not need to be approved that night.

Kunselman invited one of the dispatchers in the audience to comment from the rank-and-file staff perspective, given that the council had just heard at length from the management side. [It's not common that the council invites an audience member to address the body outside of time set aside for public commentary, but the council's rules explicitly provide for that possibility.]

Mayor John Hieftje’s response to Kunselman’s gambit was first to note that the council had already heard from dispatchers during public commentary, but he quickly adopted the position that he had no objection to hearing more.

The dispatcher who approached the podium reviewed how the current operation is already co-located and that the call-taking function [which is a different task from dispatching] is already merged. She suggested that the two operations should truly be merged instead of the sheriff’s department taking over the Ann Arbor dispatching. The dispatchers themselves, she said, were out of the loop. She said they’d been told they’d all be laid off – that had shaken up people’s lives.

She told the council that dispatchers are extremely frustrated. Although there are dispatchers who have worked over 20 years, she hadn’t worked that long, so she noted that she’d lose her job regardless of the consolidation. She invited councilmembers to take the time to see the dispatch center. She told them they couldn’t make an educated vote without seeing it for themselves.

Kunselman’s motion to postpone nearly died for lack of a seconding motion, but that eventually came from Mike Anglin (Ward 5).

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) asked city administrator Steve Powers if during a delay on the vote, Powers could think of a reason that would change his mind. Powers said he doesn’t approve an agenda item for the council’s consideration unless he supports it. He said it’s unfortunate that there’s disruption for dispatchers and a difference in compensation. For reasons that had already been enumerated, Powers said he supported the consolidation. Responding to the invitation the council had heard to visit the city’s dispatch center, he encouraged them to visit other dispatch centers where consolidated dispatch was already being done – fire, police, and EMS. Consolidated dispatching is being done all over, and it makes sense for the city at this time, he concluded.

Hieftje, noting the length of time that the proposal had been in the works, said he wouldn’t support postponement.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) said she was confident that Powers and Jones will ensure that response times are maintained. She pointed out that the sheriff’s office has experience doing shared dispatch. She also pointed to the fact that the consolidation of dispatch operations would help qualify the city for the state of Michigan’s Economic Vitality Incentive Plan. The MEVIP has replaced statutory state-shared revenue as the means that the state legislature uses to distribute to local governmental units their portion of the state’s sales tax.

Lumm and Sabra Briere (Ward 1) wondered if postponing the vote would affect the city’s opportunity to qualify for the MEVIP. City CFO Tom Crawford indicated that the city’s application needed to include items that the city had already accomplished and things that are planned. It would be described to the state as “planned” in any case, he said, even if the vote were taken that night.

Crawford also indicated it’s not clear what the state will do next year. He said it’s become clear that there was an impression that communities are not doing much in the way collaboration. Crawford said the state is learning that Ann Arbor as well as many other communities have a long history of collaborations. Crawford gave towing as another possible example of collaboration with the county.

Outcome on postponement: Only Kunselman voted for postponement, and the motion failed.

Consolidated Dispatch: Council Deliberations – Finale

There were no substantive deliberations after the vote on postponement.

Outcome: Kunselman joined his colleagues in the unanimous vote for dispatch consolidation. The consolidation will also require approval by the Washtenaw County board of commissioners.

Greenbelt Expanded Boundaries

Before the council for its consideration was final approval to a change in the boundaries for the city’s greenbelt program – an open space preservation effort funded by a 30-year 0.5 mill tax approved by voters in 2003.


The council approved the addition of the southwest and northeast corners to the greenbelt-eligible area. (Image links to higher resolution file.)

The area in and around Ann Arbor eligible for land preservation under the greenbelt program is defined in Chapter 42 of the Ann Arbor city code. The council has expanded the boundaries once before, in 2007. The current proposal is essentially to square-off the area by adding a mile to the southwest in Lodi Township, and one mile to the northeast in Salem Township. [.jpg of map by The Chronicle showing original boundaries, the 2007 expansion and the proposed expansion]

Another amendment to Chapter 42 was also considered by the council. It would allow a parcel of land adjacent to the greenbelt boundary to be eligible for protection, if it is also adjacent to a parcel under the same ownership within the greenbelt boundary. The greenbelt advisory commission had voted to recommend the ordinance changes at its Sept. 14, 2011 meeting. The council gave the changes initial approval at its Nov. 21, 2011 meeting.

Since the start of the greenbelt program, roughly $18 million has been invested by the city of Ann Arbor in protecting open space. That has been matched by roughly $19 million from other sources, including the federal Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program, surrounding townships, Washtenaw County and landowner donations. That funding has protected roughly 3,200 acres in 27 separate transactions.

Thomas Partridge spoke during the public hearing on these changes, calling for priority to be given to affordable housing.

Greenbelt Expanded Boundaries: Council Deliberations

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5), who serves as the city council representative to the greenbelt advisory commission, led off discussion with the introduction to some essentially administrative amendments to the wording. He stressed that the boundary change alters the total area of the greenbelt-eligible properties by 6%. He characterized the change as “normalizing” the boundary changes that were already approved in 2007. At that time, the area now to be included was not added, because of the limited willingness of townships in those areas to participate in the greenbelt program – Salem and Lodi townships. However, those townships are now interested in participating.

Pie chart of greenbelt expenditures

A breakdown of percentage contribution of different entities to the 26 greenbelt land transactions that have been completed to date. Of the 26, 12 did not include any township contributions. Two of the 12 transactions did not have any other governmental source, but had landowner donations. (Image links to higher resolution file. Chart by The Chronicle)

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) drew out the fact that there are two components to the amendment of the boundaries. Only one of them makes sense, she said – the one regarding properties that are adjacent to the boundary.

Lumm said she did not support the other component, which is the expansion of the area. She said that conceptually the arguments were similar to those the council had discussed during the debate about public art. It’s not about all or nothing, she said – it’s about making adjustments. She stressed the difference between the voter-approved millage and the Percent for Art program.

She asked: Is there any point at which the council believes the boundary goes too far? At what point, she asked, would asking voters about repurposing the millage revenues be considered? Annual revenues from the millage proceeds exceed by $1 million the bond payments. [The strategy was to take out a bond using future millage proceeds to pay for it, so that there would quickly be cash on hand to take advantage of land deals as the opportunities arose, instead of waiting to accumulate the cash through the millage.]

Lumm noted that this is the second proposed expansion of the greenbelt-eligible area. The original compact with voters, Lumm said, was to spend 1/3 of the millage proceeds inside the city and 2/3 outside. The goal had also been to achieve matching contributions for acquisitions that would make the city’s contribution 1/3 of the cost. But to date, she said, 27% of the investment has been on parkland inside Ann Arbor, and on average Ann Arbor has contributed 49% of the cost – higher than the 1/3 target.

In the meantime, Lumm said, Ann Arbor’s own city parks are starved for funds. She thanked Hohnke for bringing forward a smaller proposed expansion than what some people might have wanted. She said the council owes it to taxpayers to monitor the spending. At what point, she asked, are we spending money because it’s there? Until there’s clarity about that, she said, she wouldn’t support the boundary expansion.

From left: Dan Ezekiel, chair of the city's greenbelt advisory commission, and Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5).

Hohnke said that Lumm raised some good points. He said he appreciated her desire to maximize fiscal resources. He contended that the “slight” boundary expansion does that, by providing for additional opportunities that would serve the original purpose of the millage. It would also give the city the opportunity to leverage additional funds, to invest in open space of high quality, and it’s a way to help tax dollars go further.

Mayor John Hieftje also said good points had been raised. He suggested that this would be the final and last expansion of the boundaries. The corners of the area represent unique opportunities and a chance to find new partners. Hieftje cited the language on one of the main pieces of literature from 2003 millage campaign, which had referred to “other sources” of funding. That was one of the things that has changed, he said – the state of Michigan previously had a program and that’s the difference in the city’s ability to achieve the 1/3 goal.

Hieftje noted that the amount of funding from outside sources is actually more than equal to the city’s contribution. Hieftje stated that Ann Arbor had been very fortunate in that 90% of federal farmland protection money that’s awarded throughout the state of Michigan comes to the Ann Arbor area.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) agreed that the proposed changes are minor, but looking at the map, the boundaries completely avoid Ypsilanti Township. She wondered if there could ever come a time when people look at that irregular boundary and consider expanding.

Hohnke indicated that he did not think there was really high quality land there that would be worth considering and that’s not likely to change, he ventured, because it’s an already-built environment. From the audience, greenbelt advisory commission chair Dan Ezekiel and Ginny Trocchio, a Conservation Fund staff member who helps administer the program, nodded their agreement with Hohnke’s assessment of the missing southeast corner of the greenbelt-eligible area.

Outcome: The council voted to approve the expansion of the greenbelt-eligible area, as well as the adjacent property provision, over dissent from Lumm.

“No Newspaper” Law

On the agenda was a resolution revising the city’s littering and handbill ordinance that is meant to give residents the ability to regulate the kinds of newspapers that are deposited onto their property. The ordinance was aimed in part at publications that are delivered free in the community. The ordinance would make it a misdemeanor to deposit a newspaper on someone’s property, if a notice forbidding delivery of that specific newspaper is posted on the front door. The misdemeanor is punishable by a combination of a fine up to $500 and 90 days in jail. [.pdf of marked up version of ordinance]

The ordinance would also create liability not just for the person who might deposit commercial handbills or newspapers onto someone’s property, but also for the corporate entities who “cause” that activity to take place.

First Amendment issues raised by the city’s attempt to restrict unwanted delivery include the possibility that the proposed ordinance has created a content-based distinction between newspapers and commercial handbills. [.pdf of City of Fresno v. Press Communications, Inc. (1994)] However, the U.S. Supreme Court has established a right of residents to regulate the degree to which they must contend with printed matter delivered to their property. [.pdf of Rowan v. U.S. Post Office Dept. (1970)] And in a more recent New York Supreme Court case, the court ruled that “neither a publisher nor a distributor has any constitutional right to continue to throw a newspaper onto the property of an unwilling recipient after having been notified not to do so.” [.pdf of Kenneth Tillman v. Distribution Systems of America]

The initial consideration of the ordinance had been postponed already at the council’s previous meeting, and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), who sponsored the measure, indicated that another delay would be requested. His remarks suggested that some publishers had responded in such a way as to alleviate some of the concern that had prompted the perception that an ordinance was required.

Some back and forth ensued about tabling compared to postponing to a specific date. The council settled on tabling. Sabra Briere (Ward 1) cautioned that according to the council’s rules, if a resolution is not taken back up off the table for consideration in six months, the measure is considered demised.

Responding to Briere’s concern, Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5), who co-sponsored the ordinance, indicated that the ordinance was expected to be taken up again sometime in January 2012.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to table the revision to the ordinance on handbills and littering.

New Investment Policy

Before the council for its consideration was the authorization of a new investment policy. The item had been on the council’s agenda at its Nov. 21 meeting, but was postponed at the request of Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), who wanted to have the council’s budget committee review the policy first.

Highlights of the policy changes include the extension on maturity timelines for several different instruments: U.S. Treasury Obligations (from seven to 15 years); Federal Agency Securities (from seven to 10 years); Federal Instrumentality Securities (from seven to 10 years), Certificates of Deposit (from three to five years), and Obligations of the State of Michigan (three to 10 years).

Balanced against those extensions were some changes to portfolio restrictions that prevent the city from having too many longer-term maturity instruments: no more than 25% of the portfolio may be invested in securities with maturities greater than seven years, and no more than 12.5% of the portfolio may be invested in securities with maturities more than 11 years.

During the scant deliberations, Jane Lumm (Ward 2) thanked staff for providing answers to her questions about the policy changes. She supported the policy changes because they would allow the city to be less reactive.

Outcome: The council unanimously approved the change in the investment policy.

Dexter Avenue Sidewalk Special Assessment

The council was asked to consider a special assessment on property owners along Dexter Avenue east of Maple Road for a total of $11,651, to pay for sidewalks. The one-time payments by the individual property owners are due June 1, 2012. Required payments range from $30.57 to more than $3,000. The project has a total cost of $92,955 – $74,364 of that amount will be paid with federal money. For the north side of Dexter Avenue, the project includes construction of a new sidewalk for a portion of the stretch, as well as a new curb and gutter for the street across from Veteran’s Memorial Park. For the south side of the street, the project includes a new curb along Veteran’s Memorial Park.

The council started the multi-step process for levying the special assessment at its Sept. 19, 2011 meeting.

Because of the special assessments, the Dexter Avenue sidewalk improvements do not require a portion of the project budget to be allocated for public art. From the city’s public art ordinance: “A capital improvement project funded by special assessments or improvement charges is not subject to the requirements of subsection (1) of this section.”

During the required public hearing, Thomas Partridge asked that the resolution be postponed so that it could be re-examined.

During the brief council deliberations, Mike Anglin (Ward 5) said that when special assessments are imposed, those whose property is subject to the assessment are typically resistant. [For example, for the special assessment that funded part of the non-motorized pathway along Washtenaw Avenue, which was held in September 2010, several property owners spoke at the public hearing, expressing their opposition.] He allowed that the relatively small amounts involved may have affected the lack of resistance. [Many property owners were assessed as little as $30.57.]

Outcome: The council unanimously approved the special assessment.

Council Housekeeping

The council handled several housekeeping items, as it does every year shortly after the new edition of the city council is elected. That includes appointment of council subcommittee membership as well as council representatives to other organizations. It also includes the adoption of council rules.

Council Housekeeping: Committees

Some assignments are for subcommittees of the council, while others are for city council appointments to other public bodies.

Compared to last year, the most significant change to the council’s committee structure was the separation of the joint administration & labor committee into a council administration committee and a council labor committee. On the labor side, Jane Lumm (Ward 2) was slotted in for Stephen Rapundalo, whom she defeated in the Nov. 8 election. Shuffling among other councilmembers, who all returned to this edition of the council, included the replacement of Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) on the labor committee by Sandi Smith (Ward 1).

The council administration committee retains the same membership as the former administration and labor committee, except for Rapundalo, who was replaced by Christopher Taylor (Ward 3). Taylor also took over Rapundalo’s council appointment to the local development finance authority (LDFA) board. [Google spreadsheet contrasting 2011 with 2012 city council appointments]

Changes to committee assignments were on the whole relatively minimal. That was due in part to the fact that Lumm was given four of Rapundalo’s previous committee appointments, including labor budget, liquor control, and the housing & human services advisory board. Lumm was also assigned to represent the city council on the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority’s (DDA) partnerships committee, relieving Margie Teall (Ward 4) of that duty.

Teall will also no longer represent the council on the Washtenaw Metro Alliance – Sabra Briere (Ward 1) will pick up that responsibility. Of the veteran councilmembers, Teall’s committee assignments reduced the most, as she’ll also no longer serve on the city environmental commission – a spot also picked up by Briere. At the meeting, Teall indicated that she’d taken herself off the environmental commission, saying she would miss it, but would keep in touch. She said she was delighted that Briere would fill that spot. Teall expressed appreciation for everything that environmental coordinator Matt Naud and commissioners have done through the years. She said she felt that her departure would also open up the communication so more people know what’s going on.

Teall – along with Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) – will also no longer need to serve on the committee established by the council to negotiate a new contract with the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority under which the DDA operates the city’s public parking system. At the Dec. 5 meeting, the council formally dissolved the committee, the parking contract having been signed in May.

Council Housekeeping: Rules

Also before the council was the adoption of its rules, which included essentially one change. Included in council minutes currently are all emails received by councilmembers on their government accounts. The revision to the rules stipulates that only those emails related to the subject matter of the meeting will be included in the meeting minutes.

Council Housekeeping: LDFA

The council was asked to consider three appointments to the board of the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti SmartZone local development finance authority (LDFA): former councilmember Stephen Rapundalo, current councilmember Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), and Eric Jacobson.

Of the positions on the 9-member LDFA board, the city of Ann Arbor appoints six and the city of Ypsilanti appoints three. One of the six Ann Arbor spots is for a member of the Ann Arbor city council, which had been held by Rapundalo, until he was defeated in the Nov. 8 general election by Jane Lumm (Ward 2). Taylor is thus replacing Rapundalo as the city council representative. Rapundalo’s appointment is to fill an existing additional vacancy on the board.

Jacobson was also appointed to the LDFA to fill a vacancy on the board.

The local development finance authority is funded through a tax increment finance (TIF) mechanism for the same geographic district as the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti downtown development authorities. The LDFA currently receives no revenue from the Ypsilanti portion of its district. The taxes on which the increment is captured are local school taxes. The impact of the LDFA tax capture is spread across school districts statewide, due to the way that local school taxes are pooled by the state of Michigan and redistributed to local districts.

Based on data available through A2OpenBook, in fiscal year 2011, the LDFA generated $1.475 million in tax capture. The LDFA contracts with Ann Arbor SPARK to operate a business accelerator.

Council Housekeeping: AATA Board

Also at the Dec. 5 meeting, the council handled an appointment unrelated in its timing to the new edition of the council. Mayor John Hieftje nominated the city’s transportation program manager, Eli Cooper, to serve on the board of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. On confirmation by the city council, Cooper would fill the vacancy on the AATA board left by Sue McCormick.

McCormick is leaving her post at the city of Ann Arbor as public services area administrator to take a job as head of the Detroit water and sewerage department. McCormick’s last day on the job is Dec. 16. City administrator Steve Powers announced at the Dec. 5 meeting that the city’s head of systems planning, Craig Hupy, will fill in for McCormick on an interim basis. Powers reported that Hupy had no interest in the permanent position.

Cooper’s city position as transportation program manager falls under the city’s systems planning unit. The council previously appointed Cooper to serve on the AATA board on June 20, 2005. He served through June 2008, and was replaced on the board by current board chair Jesse Bernstein.

There is not a spot reserved for a city of Ann Arbor employee on the AATA board. When Cooper previously served on the AATA board, along with McCormick, their service prompted an op-ed in The Ann Arbor News criticizing the appointment of city employees to citizen boards. [.pdf of "Let's Stick With Autonomous Appointees for Citizen Boards"]

Outcome on all city council housekeeping items, including appointments: The council voted unanimously to approve its rules, calendar, and all committee appointments, many of which were made with separate resolutions.

Communications and Comment

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

Comm/Comm: Warming Center

Several people signed up for public commentary reserved time at the start of the meeting, to address the council on the topic of establishing a 24/7 warming center. People who sign up in advance for one of the reserved spots are given priority if they’re addressing an agenda item. Those who signed up to speak about the warming center cited the minutes of the Oct. 19 Ann Arbor housing commission meeting (attached to the agenda as a communication item from the city clerk) as the agenda item they wanted to speak about. The main business of that meeting was the hiring of the new executive director, but speakers did not address the subject matter of the housing commission meeting in any obvious way.

The tactic could be explained in part by the experience of University of Michigan student Orian Zakai at the previous council meeting, who had been unable to claim one of the 10 reserved public commentary slots, partly because several people who wanted to advocate for public art funding, which was an agenda item, had signed up for a reserved spot and had priority over her. Zakai had stayed until the end of that meeting, when unlimited unreserved public commentary is allowed, in order to deliver her remarks.

Again at the Dec. 5 meeting, Zakai addressed the council on the topic of establishing a warming center that would operate 24 hours a day. She ticked through the proposed policies of such a center and asked the council for assistance in finding a space to locate it.

Arthur Endsley introduced himself as a research scientist living and working in Ann Arbor. He told the council he’d toured the Delonis Center, as well as a homeless encampment, Camp Take Notice, and the breakfasts sponsored by St. Andrews.

It should be obvious, he said, that winter is upon us. He thanked the council for the $25,000 they’d appropriated to keep the warming center at the Delonis Center open this year. He wondered what will happen next year. He described those who needed a warming center here in Ann Arbor as global economic refugees living in our own community. He contended that the Delonis Center had a 80% recidivism rate. [According to Ellen Schulmeister, executive director of the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County, which operates the Delonis Center, the 80% figure refers to the percentage of people who move from the Delonis Center to sustainable housing and who are still housed after one year.] Permanent solutions are needed, Endsley said. Responding to proposed cuts of the public art program, he said, some had contended that if we cut art, we are cutting down our own image. Endsley wondered what it says about our image if some of our residents are freezing to death in the streets.

Lily Au asked the council to support the effort to establish a warming center.

Alan Haber addressed the council in support of the warming center, in the guise of addressing the revision to the handbill and litter ordinance that was on the agenda. He had a leaflet, that supported establishing a warming center, among other things. He read it and asked the council if the leaflet was legal under the handbill ordinance. A leaflet like that, he said, should be able to go anywhere.

Three people also stayed until the end of the meeting, well past midnight, in order to address the council.

Judy Bonnell-Wenzel spoke in favor of support for a warming center.

David Coleman told the council he’d been living in the city about five months as a musician and artist. He told them he spoke from the standpoint of someone who is homeless, who has nowhere to go. The homeless are not all addicts or alcoholics, he said. He read aloud a hand-written statement.

warming shelter a place to go

From David Coleman's statement he read aloud to the council towards the conclusion of the Dec. 5 meeting. The warming center is intended to be "a place to go that's inviting, safe and warm, a place that rescues, rehabilitates, enlightens, edifies and empowers ..."

University of Michigan student Alexandra Hoffman addressed the perception that perhaps a 24/7 warming center did not need to be opened or that it was too large a project to accomplish. She encouraged the council to think positively. The group had thus far been frustrated with real estate issues – they haven’t found a location for the center. But as for staffing, volunteers are ready. She suggested the vacant Georgetown Mall and former Borders store on East Liberty as possible locations. She told the council she’s from Toronto, and their youth shelter is right on the main street of town – it’s something to be proud of, not something to be swept under the rug, she said.

During his communications time, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) took up the suggestion of 415 W. Washington as a possible location for a warming center, noting that it’s a publicly owned facility. He ventured that perhaps the council needed to direct the creative use of the property.

During her communications, Sandi Smith (Ward 1) noted that the city spends significantly more than 1% of its money on housing and human services. She also noted the emergency allocation the council had made to the Delonis Center to keep its warming center open. She rejected the idea that there’s a choice to be made between funding art and funding human services.

Responding to Kunselman’s call for the exploration of 415 W. Washington as a possible location for a warming center, mayor John Hieftje made clear he didn’t think that was a realistic possibility. He reported that he, Margie Teall (Ward 4) and Mike Anglin (Ward 5) had been working with the Arts Alliance and the Allen Creek Greenway Conservancy to turn 415 W. Washington into a community art center and greenway park. The real problem they can’t get around is the condition of the building, he said. It’s filled with asbestos and jagged pieces of metal. It would take more than $1 million to make the building usable, he said. The Arts Alliance would likely withdraw from the project.

Comm/Comm: Deportation

Lourdes Salazar Bautista appeared before the council to appeal for their support in her fight to stay in the U.S. She faces deportation on Dec. 27. Laura Sanders of the Washtenaw Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights (WICIR) also spoke in support of Bautista. Sanders noted that Bautista had been in the U.S. for 14 years, she works and pays taxes and has never committed a crime. Sanders attributed Bautista’s imminent deportation on Dec. 27 to Ann Arbor’s proximity to Canada, and the need for federal immigration official to meet deportation quotas. In the next few weeks, she said, the council would be asked to sign a letter of support.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) responded to the commentary during his communications by saying that it’s not possible to do very much with local legislation. But he noted that the council could give its input. He said that by executive order, Bautista could avoid deportation.

By way of background, Ann Arbor’s local policy on federal immigration policy is expressed in a 2003 city council resolution, which among other things calls on the AAPD to “limit local enforcement actions with respect to immigration matters to penal violations of federal immigration law (as opposed to administrative violations) except in cases where the Chief of Police determines there is a legitimate public safety concern.”

Comm/Comm: Budget Retreat

City administrator Steve Powers suggested that the council hold its budget retreat for 2014-15 in June 2012. Mayor John Hieftje said he did not think it’s necessary to have a retreat in December.

Comm/Comm: Crosswalks

Kathy Griswold told the council she had a masters degree in public policy and an MBA from the University of Michigan and had served 15 years on the transportation safety committee. Still, she said, she’s not qualified to make traffic laws – she’s not a professional engineer. She criticized the council’s revision to the crosswalk ordinance in 2010, which the council is now revising further, as giving pedestrians a false sense of security.

Griswold told the council that transportation engineering is not always intuitive. She described a pamphlet available in the city hall lobby as a creative marketing tool, but contended that in fact, “pedestrians don’t rule.” She’d spoken to a driver education instructor, who had told her the ordinance is a major problem. She pointed councilmembers to a 30-minute program she’d recorded for CTN as well as to the website she’d created:

Comm/Comm: Thomas Partridge

Thomas Partridge called for expanded access to affordable housing, transportation and education and made complaints about illegal discrimination.

Comm/Comm: Sewage

Kermit Schlansker called for the use of sewage in the creation of energy.

Present: Jane Lumm, Mike Anglin, Margie Teall, Sabra Briere, Sandi Smith, Tony Derezinski, Stephen Kunselman, Marcia Higgins, John Hieftje, Christopher Taylor, Carsten Hohnke.

Next council meeting: Monday, Dec. 19, 2011 at 7 p.m. in the second floor council chambers of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. [confirm date]

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  1. December 11, 2011 at 6:08 pm | permalink

    I don’t know if it’s symptomatic, but I called 911 a few weeks back and was met with a surly attitude I haven’t encountered since living in Detroit. They finally dispatched my call, but did all they could to make me go away. I don’t call there on a whim, they were just being nasty from the get-go.

  2. By Richard Cronn
    December 12, 2011 at 10:23 am | permalink

    Instead of buying big expensive art, we should be nurturing our local artists and arts community. This is where our public (and publicly supported) art will come from.

    Start small, build an infrastructure to support local artists and arts organizations, such as 415 W Washington.

    Allow the effort to grow and find its mission organically. Don’t proclaim from on high, particularly from a politically connected committee, what Public Art is and what it means to Ann Arbor.

    The City has a particularly ham handed way of handling these things and it shows in public opinion of the AAPAC and the art is has chosen.

  3. December 12, 2011 at 11:21 am | permalink

    Much of the support for the idea of publicly funded art comes from the notion that it is somehow an economic development asset. There is something pretty weird about this when you start to think about it. But how well is implementation in our local case achieving its objectives?

    Grand Rapids’ ArtPrize program is one example of a more successful community art program (privately funded), but this report [link] also highlights an attempt for Alpena to become “ARTown”. The report gives a good flavor of how “placemaking” development advocates see art as an economic tool.

    I wish that rather than just mouthing platitudes, the supporters of this program would find some concrete examples of actually comparable programs and come up with some “metrics” (our word of the day) to evaluate likely success.

    And thanks to Councilmember Briere for her patient attempts to make this program more rational.

  4. By Rod Johnson
    December 12, 2011 at 12:29 pm | permalink

    I agree with Richard. My understanding is that the Percent for Art ordinance prohibits that kind of expenditure, however. If so, it should be amended–investing in a thriving art culture in Ann Arbor is more likely to result in the kind of “art city” reputation than buying some civic sculpture and slapping a few murals up will. There’s a place for those things, but they only make sense in the context of a town that truly supports art. Otherwise they’re just window dressing.

  5. December 14, 2011 at 12:16 am | permalink

    Vivienne, obviously there will never be a direct line that can be drawn between public art and direct proof that owning and displaying it helps to make a city more economically viable. But there are many respected publications and annual lists/reports that rank Ann Arbor consistently high in terms of livability– and most of these publications include our arts and cultural offerings as part of its supporting evidence. In fact the AACVB recently commissioned a report which stated that more tourists visit Ann Arbor annually for its arts and cultural offerings than for all of its sporting events combined. Public art also helps to make the invisible visible. We may have great art offerings, and art producing and presenting venues here in Ann Arbor, but a visitor wouldn’t necessarily be able to know that judging by our relative lack of public art on display. Public art serves as a cultural beacon that attracts audiences while reflecting positively on its owners.

    More important, public art is for everyone, where private art is usually only reserved for those who can afford it. Metrics or no metrics.

  6. December 14, 2011 at 7:15 am | permalink

    Mark, I completely agree that Ann Arbor’s cultural offerings, including the visual arts, are part of the appeal of our community and add to its richness. It’s one of the reasons I like to live here. Your own program, FestiFools, is one I would celebrate.

    I was addressing the very narrow case of where public (i.e. taxes and fees) money is being used in an attempt to create a marketing tool, which seems to be a reasoning behind such programs. I question its effectiveness as well as its legality and fairness.

    And we have plenty of public art that is privately donated. I hope that continues.

    Has anyone picked up the irony in what happened in West Park, where some of the money used to redo the park’s stormwater management system was used to purchase metal tree forms (art), while the actual stormwater management system failed and caused flooding in nearby residential areas? Something skewed there.

  7. December 14, 2011 at 3:53 pm | permalink

    I don’t think the main reason for supporting public art (with public funds) is primarily because of its direct economic impact or marketing appeal. I just think that argument seems to come up as a response for those people who demand to see metrics over any kind of innate faith that public art is just plain good for a community—and therefore, as a public good, public art should be supported in kind.

    How a broken storm water system can be blamed on the addition of a new sculpture–a sculpture that amounts to just 1% of the overall capital budget–is beyond me. Do you really think they had to skimp on the other 99% of what this project cost, just because 1% was set aside to attempt to bring some aesthetic beauty to the overall project?

    By the way, thank you Vivienne for your verbal support of FestiFools. This is an example of an annual public art “performance” that hangs by a thread each year as we wonder if we’re going to be able to raise enough money to put the event on again. Believe me, the amount of toil we spend figuring out how to raise money for FestiFools (and now FoolMoon) would be better spent on what we artists do best: Creating the artwork. Unfortunately, creating a funding mechanism always tries to take precedent over creating a spectacular public art event. However, with more public support (since the public seems to appreciate “free” events like FestiFools) this wouldn’t have to always be the case, I hope. But either way, we’ll be asked to provide metrics each and every time we go looking for funds, so if you could tell me how best to put a measuring stick on something like FestiFools, I’d be the first to get on my knees and thank you.

  8. December 14, 2011 at 5:20 pm | permalink

    Mark, I’ll send a contribution. Should I look on the website for information? I haven’t seen anything about a fund drive yet. It is certainly worth supporting as a community event. (I don’t know whether you know that I also praised both events on my blog – they are a fine example of what public art events should be.)

    I’m not the one promoting art as an economic development tool. I was attempting to point out the fallacy of that argument. Actually, my argument was a bit tongue in cheek, since I consider any effort to measure the effect of such marketing ploys fallacious. We see a lot of impact (of various programs) being alleged without any substantive proof. When you are describing human behavior, there are so many variables that it would take a pretty solid experimental design to isolate one.

    No, I’m not implying a causality link between the metal trees and the flooding in West Park. I was merely, as I said, pointing out the irony.

  9. December 14, 2011 at 6:27 pm | permalink

    I guess it did kind of sound like I was making a pitch for contributions. I’m not sure this is the correct forum for solicitations, however, suffice to say, we try to make sure that FestiFools fundraising efforts do not interfere with our “product”, so that when you attend one of our events, or come to a FoolMoon Luminary workshop to make your own luminous sculpture, you should not have to pay to participate. Some of those free offerings may have to change in the future, but for as long as we can, we’d rather work at getting a small, but reliable funding stream from those who can afford it, and ultimately make a case for getting some sort of ongoing (small) city funding on an annual basis and encouraging the U-M to hopefully replace funding they have reduced from our program. Additionally, of course we are always indebted to the kindness and generosity of friends and strangers alike. To learn more please go to our donation page: [link]

    btw there is plenty of evidence that art can be used as an economic development tool as well, I’m just not sure it’s the main reason for adopting a public art program. Since the 1960′s many cities in this country, beginning with Philadelphia, have done so.