Ann Arbor Shifts Transit Gear to Neutral

Also: Council opposes deportations, denial of benefits

Ann Arbor city council meeting (Jan. 23, 2012): At its meeting last week, the council again delayed action on a four-party agreement that would establish a framework for a transition of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority to a countywide governance incorporated under Michigan’s Act 196 of 1986.

In this action shot from city council chambers, a paper copy of an amendment to the text of the four-party transit agreement is handed from city clerk Jackie Beaudry to Jane Lumm (Ward 3).

In this action shot from city council chambers, a paper copy of an amendment to the text of the four-party transit agreement is handed from city clerk Jackie Beaudry to councilmember Jane Lumm (Ward 2). In the background are Ward 1 councilmembers Sandi Smith (left) and Sabra Briere. (Photos by the writer.)

The council postponed action until its Feb. 6 meeting, but not before undertaking several amendments to the text of the agreement. The council had previously postponed action at its Jan. 9 meeting and had set a public hearing for Jan. 23. Thirty-nine people appeared before the council to speak during the hearing, and some of those people also reprised their remarks during public comment at the conclusion of the meeting. Fourteen of the speakers were either current or former elected or appointed public officials, or former candidates for public office.

The four-party agreement would be between the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, the city of Ann Arbor, the city of Ypsilanti and Washtenaw County.

A delay was warranted from the perspective of some councilmembers, who wanted to hear the recommendation of a financial advisory group. The group has been meeting since the fall of 2011 and was scheduled to hold a final meeting on Jan. 27, four days after the council’s vote to postpone. However, later in the week the financial advisory group also chose to postpone its Jan. 27 meeting, in the wake of a 17-bill package of state legislation introduced on Jan. 26 – part of which would establish a regional transit authority for Washtenaw, Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties and a possible funding mechanism for that authority. It’s not clear if the financial advisory group will meet before the council’s next meeting on Feb. 6.

The council could undertake further amendments to the text of the four-party agreement at its Feb. 6 meeting. In fact, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) indicated he’d bring forward an amendment to change the composition of the planned new transit authority board, to give Ann Arbor more than the currently proposed seven out of 15 seats, so that Ann Arbor would have a majority.

In other business, the council passed two resolutions as symbolic statements of position. One was to express opposition to Michigan’s Public Act 297, which was signed into law on Dec. 22, 2011. The act prohibits public employers from providing employee medical and fringe benefits to those who are not married to an employee, a dependent of the employee, or eligible to inherit from the employee under the laws of intestate succession.

The law impacts the city of Ann Arbor’s policy of extending benefits to “other qualified adults” – which can include a same-sex domestic partner. The resolution gained unanimous support on the Ann Arbor city council. As Jane Lumm (Ward 2) expressed her concerns about the council’s purview on such a resolution, but ultimately expressed her support for it, Sandi Smith (Ward 1), who is openly gay, was prompted to say, “I love this city!”

The second resolution expressing a position was passed over the dissent of Lumm and Marcia Higgins (Ward 4). It encouraged the federal government to exercise prosecutorial discretion in pursuing the deportation of undocumented immigrants who have not committed serious crimes and who have ties to the community.

The council also approved a contract with the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority to supply policing services for the downtown Ann Arbor Blake Transit Center. And the council authorized a $10 million contract for engineering services in connection with the facilities renovation project at the city’s wastewater treatment center.

The meeting was bookended by mentions of the word “dragon” – in separate contexts. 

4-Party Transit Deal

The council considered a four-party agreement that would establish a framework for a transition of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority to a countywide governance incorporated under Michigan’s Act 196 of 1986.

Michael Ford Rich Sheridan Jerry Lax Jesse Bernstein

Front to back: Ann Arbor Transportation Authority CEO Michael Ford, Menlo Innovations president Rich Sheridan, legal counsel for the AATA Jerry Lax, and AATA board chair Jesse Bernstein.

The council ultimately postponed action until its Feb. 6 meeting. The council had previously postponed action at its Jan. 9 meeting and had set a public hearing for Jan. 23.

The four-party agreement is between the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, the city of Ann Arbor, the city of Ypsilanti and Washtenaw County. The transition to a countywide governance and funding base is intended to (1) ensure stability of funding for transit connections outside of the city of Ann Arbor, which until now has depended on purchase-of-service agreements; (2) provide a higher level of transit service inside the city of Ann Arbor; and (3) expand the area where transit service is provided.

In the four party-agreement, the role of the two cities – Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti – would be to pledge their current transit millages to the new authority, contingent on identifying a countywide funding source. The two cities currently levy millages that are designated for public transit and are passed through to the AATA. For Ann Arbor, that’s currently just over 2 mills. For Ypsilanti, which uses the proceeds of the tax – approved in November 2010 – to fund its purchase-of-service agreement with the AATA, the levy is just under 1 mill. [One mill is $1 for each $1,000 of a property's taxable value.]

As part of the four-party agreement, Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor would agree that AATA’s existing assets would be assumed by the new Act 196 transit authority, and they’d also agree to assign their existing millages to the new Act 196 authority. But the asset transfer and the millage assignment would be contingent on identifying a countywide funding source for the new Act 196 authority.

4-Party Agreement: Context – Funding Report, State Legislation

At the Jan. 23 meeting, some councilmembers expressed an interest in postponing any action on the four-party agreement so that their decision could be informed by the recommendation of a financial advisory group that has been meeting since the fall of 2011 and was scheduled to hold a final meeting on Jan. 27, four days after the council’s vote to postpone.

However, the financial advisory group also chose to postpone its Jan. 27 meeting, in the wake of a 17-bill package of state legislation introduced on Jan. 26 – part of which would establish a regional transit authority for Washtenaw, Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties and a possible funding mechanism for that authority. It’s not clear if the financial advisory group will meet before the council’s next meeting on Feb. 6.

4-Party Agreement: Context – Ypsilanti

In an email sent to The Chronicle following the Jan. 23 meeting, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) expressed frustration that the Ann Arbor city council had not been apprised of a wrinkle in the Ypsilanti charter transit millage. The provision could appear to create the possibility that the Ypsilanti city council would not levy the transit millage – in the event that some countywide funding is approved by voters. By way of background, Ypsilanti voters passed the millage on Nov. 2, 2010 by a 3-to-1 margin. The ballot language read as follows [emphasis original]:

“This amendment authorizes, in any year a millage is NOT otherwise levied for countywide or regional public transit, or when needed to supplement a countywide or regional millage approved by City Council, a tax of 0.9789 mills solely for public transit purposes. Approval increases the tax levy by 0.9789 mills as new additional millage in excess of the legal limitation, restoring the authorized Charter millage to 20 mills, since reduced by the Headlee amendment.

The apparent intent of the language in the four-party agreement is to establish that Ypsilanti only gets a board seat if it levies that existing city millage and pays it to the new transit authority (TA). From the four-party agreement: “In exchange for the City of Ypsilanti mayor’s nomination with council confirmation, of one director of New TA’s board, … the City of Ypsilanti agrees to pay its charter transportation millage at the 2012 millage rate or as adjusted by State Statute to the New TA.”

In a phone interview with The Chronicle, Ypsilanti mayor Paul Schreiber said his understanding is that Ypsilanti had the flexibility not to levy the full amount of the millage or not to assign it to the new authority – but that the result of such a decision would be to lose its membership and board seat in the new Act 196 authority.

The composition of the board of the new transit authority, as well as the existing board of the AATA, is one of the points of discussion.

4-Party Agreement: Context – Board Seats

At the Jan. 23 council meeting, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) gave his colleagues a heads up that he’d be bringing a resolution to the next meeting to alter the four-party agreement so that Ann Arbor would have a majority on the board of the new Act 196 authority. As currently formulated in the agreement, Ann Arbor would have seven out of 15 seats. Based strictly on population, Ann Arbor would have five seats – roughly one-third of the county’s population lives in the city.

But the transfer of capital assets to the new authority and the ongoing provision of Ann Arbor’s local millage to the authority led to a board composition that provides seven seats to Ann Arbor. Some, including Kunselman, see that as insufficient in light of Ann Arbor’s expected financial contribution – that’s the rationale behind his expected amendment altering the board composition.

Another idea put forward by Kunselman at the council’s Jan. 23 meeting would fill the existing opening on the AATA board with a township elected official. [Rich Robben recently resigned from the AATA board. His last board meeting was Jan. 19, 2012.] The idea had come from conversations that Kunselman had with representatives of townships and the Washtenaw County board of commissioners. Kunselman mentioned Ypsilanti Township supervisor Brenda Stumbo specifically.

Mayor John Hieftje said he could look into that – a city councilmember couldn’t serve on the board, he said, but he wasn’t sure about an elected official of a township. Hieftje said he was going through the applications for the open slot on the AATA board, and was hoping to have a nomination to bring to the council by its next meeting, on Feb. 6.

Responding to a Facebook link to The Chronicle’s reporting on the postponement of the financial advisory group’s Jan. 27 meeting, Kunselman left a comment that prompted an exchange with Roger Kerson, a member of the AATA board. That exchange included Kunselman’s view that the current AATA board should have representation from the city of Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township.

Stephen Kunselman Maybe there is a better way; let’s analyze all the options before going off the deep end and dissolving our City Transit Authority!
[Friday, Jan. 27] at 1:04 p.m.

Roger Kerson Steve, the authority would *not* be dissolved, but enlarged to provide better service to more people.
[Friday, Jan. 27] at 5:09 p.m.

Stephen Kunselman Roger, Act 55 allows expansion of the existing City Transit Authority, so what’s the problem?
[Friday, Jan. 27] at 5:27 p.m.

Roger Kerson If you favor expansion with a different structure, I’m all ears – tho as you know a great deal of planning, with public input, took place in developing the current proposal. If you’re not in favor of expanding transit, I’m interested in what other ideas you may have to reduce individual vehicle trips and associated environmental, congestion and parking concerns. If you’re against “dissolution” of the AATA, I’m not sure who you’re addressing, as no one has proposed this.
[Saturday, Jan. 28] at 3:41 p.m.

Stephen Kunselman Yes, I favor allowing City of Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township having representation on the AATA Board since they pay for service – will you support their inclusion? Any community in Washtenaw Co. can request inclusion now under Act 55. And yes, the AATA is proposed to be dissolved, it’s in the 4 party agreement under debate – transfer all assets of AATA to the county authority. [Editor's note: Link added to relevant section of Act 55.]
[Sunday, Jan. 29]

Roger Kerson I’ve said my piece for now, but I’ll stick to this point: Transferring an asset to a different governance structure is not “dissolution.”
[Sunday, Jan. 29]

Stephen Kunselman Sure thing; thanks for chatting.
[Sunday, Jan. 29]

The composition of the current AATA board was controversial for the Ann Arbor city council in December last year, when some councilmembers, including Kunselman, objected to the nomination by Hieftje of a city employee, Eli Cooper, to the AATA board. Cooper is the city of Ann Arbor’s transportation program manager.

4-Party Agreement: Mayoral Politics

During his communications time, Hieftje, addressed what he described as an impression some people had that the four-party agreement is the “mayor’s proposal.” Hieftje was keen to establish that it was not his proposal. He said that he could not claim credit for it. The work was done by the AATA board and staff, he said.

Hieftje praised the work of the AATA, saying that he didn’t want the AATA board to think he was taking credit for their hard work. He stressed it’s been AATA’s proposal from the beginning.

[The impression that the four-party agreement is the "mayor's proposal" has been fostered, for example, by a post made by LuAnne Bullington on the newsgroup of the Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition entitled: "The Gov's regional transit service vs. the Mayor's regional transit services for Washtenaw County." A possible analysis for the attempt to characterize the AATA's proposed transition in governance structure as the "mayor's proposal": It's perceived by some as sufficiently unpopular that they believe it's an opportunity to damage Hieftje politically if he can be tied to it. He's expected to run for re-election again this year, although he's not made a formal announcement.]

4-Party Agreement: Summary of Amendments – Set One

Before postponing a vote on the agreement, the council undertook several amendments, which they handled separately. Councilmembers took turns reading them aloud. For the initial set of amendments, the council’s action tracked with the changes indicated in a document that had been available before the meeting. [.pdf of document with tracked changes]

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) described the intent of many of the changes as an attempt to get a “refined document” that could be talked about. The point was to achieve “narrative clarity.”

The first amendment added the phrase to the end of the “Acknowledged Facts” section: “… only when all the contingencies of the Agreement are met.”

The next amendment undertaken by the council added an explicit requirement that the city councils of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti would need to vote to adopt the articles of incorporation that Washtenaw County would file to formally incorporate the new Act 196 transit authority. [.pdf of draft articles of incorporation] A brief conversation among Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Taylor on the legal meaning of the word “shall” did not lead anyone to ask for a change in wording. Taylor summarized the effect of the amendment as being: If the council votes down the articles of incorporation, then it’s “game over.”

A further amendment highlighted at the beginning of some relevant paragraphs the condition that must be met in order for the substance of the paragraph to apply, and expresses it in terms of time, not abstract logic: “After all of the Section 8 contingencies to Closing are satisfied, …”

Completely struck was a section that contemplated the possibility that “funding sources are elected to fund the NEW TA [transit authority] which do not require voter approval.”

Also inserted as an amendment, which Jane Lumm (Ward 2) said she was putting forward because assistant city attorney Mary Fales had felt it was a good idea: “Nothing in this section has the effect of waiving the defense of governmental immunity available to an indemnifying party under applicable law as to 3rd parties.”

Sabra Briere Stephen Kunselman

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

Inserted in two places was an amendment (one for each of the cities in the agreement) to place on the new Act 196 transit authority a requirement to the effect that the new authority must provide to Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti “at a minimum, the continued level of services provided by its predecessor-in-interest, AATA, …” That amendment prompted a question from Kunselman, about the ability to bind the new Act 196 authority to something, if the new authority is not a party to the agreement. Kunselman had actually raised the issue earlier, in the discussion of a different amendment, but wasn’t able to pursue it – because Briere raised the point of order that Kunselman’s question didn’t bear on the amendment they were considering at that time.

But later, with the issue clearly in order, assistant city attorney Mary Fales explained that the intent of the language was to require that any agreement the AATA entered into with the new Act 196 authority would need to provide the minimum continued level of service.

Another revision accommodated the possibility that some municipalities might choose to opt out of an Act 196 authority if one were to be incorporated – by swapping in “authority-wide” for the phrase “county-wide.”

The last in the first set of relatively uncontroversial amendments was to address a wording mistake pointed out by Michael Benson, during the public hearing. The final boilerplate language in the general provisions stated [emphasis added]: “… and may be amended only in writing signed by both parties …” Given the nature of the agreement, involving four-parties, the word “both” was replaced with “all.”

Outcome: The council approved the first set of amendments unanimously on separate votes.

4-Party Agreement: Summary of Amendments – Who Else Is In?

An additional amendment put forth by Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) addressed the scenario that Ann Arbor could be the only municipality that participates in the Act 196 authority. It provides for the automatic termination of the four-party agreement if Ann Arbor is the only member:

Automatic Termination.
This Agreement will terminate automatically if (i) Closing does not occur before December 31, 2015, or if (ii) after incorporation of the Authority and the expiration of the statutory withdrawal period from the public authority, the City of Ann Arbor is the only participating political subdivision in Washtenaw County in the New TA [transit authority]. It is recognized by all the parties that if either of these conditions occur the stated objectives of Act 196 and this Agreement will not have been met and the Agreement shall be null and void.

Kunselman explained that he wanted to make sure that Ann Arbor is not the only member of the new transit authority.

Washtenaw County Map with Local Units Shown

Washtenaw County map with 26 local units of government labeled. (Image links to higher resolution file)

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) noted that the council had heard during the public hearing that 22 out of 26 units of government in Washtenaw County are participating in the process. She indicated that she was less worried that all the other units besides Ann Arbor would opt out of the Act 196 authority. But on the “off chance” that Kunselman is correct, she indicated she’d support Kunselman’s amendment.

By way of additional background, the figure of 22 out of 26 units that are participating in the process came from AATA board chair Jesse Bernstein during that evening’s public hearing. He described those units as “participating in the transit master planning process.”

The 20 townships of Washtenaw County are: Lyndon, Dexter, Webster, Northfield, Salem, Superior, Ann Arbor, Scio, Lima, Sylvan, Sharon, Freedom, Lodi, Pittsfield, Ypsilanti, Machester, Bridgewater, Saline, York and Augusta.

The six cities and villages include: city of Chelsea, village of Dexter, city of Ann Arbor, city of Ypsilanti, city of Saline and village of Manchester. The city of Milan is located only partly in Washtenaw County.

Washtenaw countywide transit board membership

Possible composition of board membership for a Washtenaw countywide transit authority. (Links to larger image.)

A brief discussion then ensued about the Act 7 agreements some of those units will use to participate in the Act 196 authority. Act 7 of 1967 sets forth the standards under which agreements between different units of government can be made.

Of the 15 seats proposed for the new Act 196 board, nine require no agreement between local units, because they correspond to local government units that would be districts unto themselves – the city of Ann Arbor (7 seats), city of Ypsilanti (1 seat) and Pittsfield Township (1 seat). The remaining six seats correspond to five geographic districts that will require some kind of agreement among the units in those districts.

About the countywide government units in those districts, AATA board chair Jesse Bernstein stated at the council’s Jan. 23 meeting that “Most of them have signed Act 7 agreements to create districts to represent their interests and group them [preliminarily] to form an Act 196 authority.”

In the listing out below of the geographic coverage of those five districts, non-participating government units in are indicated in italics. In cases where dates are given, The Chronicle has been able confirm independently or via the AATA that a vote was taken on that date involving an Act 7 agreement – linked dates go to meeting minutes, when available. Act 7 agreements will eventually need to be filed with the county clerk.

  • Northeast: Superior Township (June 20, 2011); Ann Arbor Township (May 16, 2011); Northfield Township (July 12, 2011); Salem Township (June 14, 2011 – the motion died for lack of a second)
  • Southeast: Ypsilanti Township (July 19, 2011); Augusta Township (Oct. 11, 2011)
  • South Middle: Lodi Township (Sept. 6, 2011); city of Saline (Sept. 12, 2011); York Township (Sept. 14, 2011); city of Milan (Oct. 17, 2011); Saline Township
  • North Middle: Webster Township (Aug. 16, 2011); village of Dexter (Aug. 8, 2011); Scio Township (Aug. 9, 2011)
  • West: city of Chelsea (Aug. 23, 2011 ); Dexter Township (Sept. 20, 2011); Lima Township (Oct. 10, 2011); Sharon Township (mentioned Sept. 1, 2011 but no hearing held due to time constraints); Freedom Township (Sept. 13, 2011 ); Manchester Township (mentioned but not voted on April 12, 2011); village of Manchester (Sept. 19, 2011); Lyndon Township; Bridgewater Township; Sylvan Township

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) asked for clarification about who is participating. Salem, Sylvan, Bridgewater and Saline townships have decided not to participate in the process, said AATA CEO Michael Ford. He said the door has been left open, but they’ve chosen not to participate at this time.

Outcome: The council unanimously approved Kunselman’s amendment that terminates the agreement if Ann Arbor were to be the only member of the Act 196 authority. [clean .pdf of the four-party agreement as amended by the Ann Arbor city council on Jan. 23, 2012]

4-Party Agreement: Summary of Amendments – Bonding Authority?

The amendment generating the most discussion was put forward by Jane Lumm (Ward 2) – it was not approved by the council. The section on full faith and credit already makes clear that neither city has to pledge its full faith and credit for projects undertaken by the new transit authority [emphasis added]:

The parties further agree that the Cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti shall not be required to, and do not by virtue of execution of this Agreement, pledge their respective full faith and credit for any project assumed by the NEW TA at Closing or undertaken by the New TA thereafter when operational.

Lumm noted that while Ann Arbor would not be required to pledge its full faith and credit, she wanted to amend the agreement to add an extra requirement that if the city did choose to do that, then it would require a popular vote, not simply a city council approval.

Jane Lumm Christopher Taylor

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3). At far left is Tony Derezinski (Ward 2).

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) wondered if the city attorney’s office had had a chance to look at the amendment. Assistant city attorney Mary Fales indicated that Lumm had raised the question earlier, but that the language was new – it was being heard on the floor. Derezinski asked Fales what she thought. Fales told Derezinski that the council has the authority to put a ballot question on any issue presented to the council.

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) asked if the council had taken any actions recently to pledge the city’s full faith and credit without voter approval. Yes, answered Fales. Hohnke asked Lumm why there should be a requirement of voter approval in this case, when it was not generally a requirement. Lumm told Hohnke she thinks this is a significant decision – she just thinks the council alone shouldn’t have that authority. Voters have the ability to weigh in on different steps, and she felt the issue of full faith and credit needed to be “tightened.”

Hohnke came back to his question of why Lumm wanted to draw a distinction between projects associated with the new Act 196 authority and other projects. He noted that the council regularly pledges the city’s full faith and credit without voter approval. Lumm replied that this decision is “a huge deal.” Mayor John Hieftje noted the city council had just recently given notice of its intent to issue $140 million in bonds for the facilities renovation project at the city’s wastewater treatment center. Lumm said she didn’t see the downside of letting people have the chance to weigh in.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) noted that the difficulty with seeking voter approval on bonds is one of timing – the decision has to be made months in advance, and nothing can happen unless and until voter approval occurs. She noted that there was not actually a bond being proposed, but said that the council might run into the issue of whether a project undertaken by the new authority project will be delayed adversely.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) gave his colleagues a concrete hypothetical example to contemplate: Suppose the new transit authority proposed light rail down Washtenaw Avenue, and when it hits city borders, it requires permission to construct on Ann Arbor city roads and wants to go for a bond. Kunselman wondered what the council’s role would be, if the new transit authority is constructing a light rail line on city of Ann Arbor property.

Fales explained that the new Act 196 authority would need to pull all permits, licenses and easements. If the new transit authority were seeking funding outside of its existing budget – through a grant from the city, or through partnering on a bond – that would come to the city council for a vote. Sandi Smith (Ward 1) got clarification that what Lumm’s amendment would do is require a popular referendum every time there’s a request for infrastructure improvement that the new transit authority wanted to undertake by bonding through the city.

Margie Teall (Ward 4) noted that every time something is put on the ballot, there’s a cost. Kunselman indicated some agreement with Smith’s point about the frequency of the popular votes, and offered to put in a minimum threshold – say $50 million. Lumm was amendable to changing her amendment to include a minimum threshold.

There was brief contemplation of delaying a vote on the amendment until the recommendation on funding came back from the financial advisory group – to figure out what the minimum threshold should be. But Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) seemed to speak for most of his colleagues when he said he would not support the amendment – with or without a limit, now or later. He said he trusted the judgement of future councils.

Outcome: The council voted against Jane Lumm’s amendment that would have required a popular referendum before the city could pledge its full faith and credit to back a project undertaken by the new Act 196 authority. It got support from Lumm (Ward 2) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3).

4-Party Agreement: Public Hearing – Who Spoke?

The Chronicle counted 39 people who addressed the council during the public hearing held on the four-party agreement. Of those, 14 were connected to public office in some fashion – current or former appointed or elected officials (or candidates). Five spoke on behalf of some organization other than a public body. Five people were affiliated at least indirectly with the AATA in some way. Eight of the speakers had donated to Jane Lumm’s 2011 city council campaign.

Thematically, their remarks could be separated into some basic categories, with several speakers touching on multiple themes: support for public transportation within the city of Ann Arbor; equity and the cost burden; concerns about control of the new authority; opportunities for collaboration; and general uncertainty about the details.

4-Party Agreement: Public Hearing – Good Service in Ann Arbor

What many speakers had in common was an expression of support for public transportation and better service in Ann Arbor – but that did not necessarily translate to support for the four-party agreement.

Chuck Warpehoski, of the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice, spoke roughly midway through the hearing, and remarked on the fact that people for and against the four-party agreement seemed to share a broad understanding that Ann Arbor needs a better bus system. He felt that the four-party agreement could lead to that by bringing together the key parties around a service plan and the possibility of stable funding. He called it one step forward, but said it’s not the final piece. Joel Batterman told the council he wouldn’t be speaking in favor of the agreement if he had any doubt that it was the best way to improve service.

Former city planning commissioner James D’Amour said that AATA’s services need to be expanded – in Ann Arbor and also Ypsilanti, adding that we’re all for a better AATA. Clark Charnetski, a member of AATA’s local advisory council, described the changes in transportation needs over time, with the emergence of Domino’s Farms, St. Joseph Mercy Hospital, Washtenaw Community College and Briarwood Mall. He said the system would look very different if it were planned today – he was tired of waiting for something better.

Julie Steiner, executive director of the Washtenaw Housing Alliance, said she was speaking for people who aren’t often heard – severe low income people who are struggling to find a job. She said there are a lot of details to work out, but “our community can’t wait” for better transportation. There are people who can’t get to jobs that are being created as the economy improves. Cheryl Webber, a member of the AATA’s local advisory council, said the incremental expansion of AATA’s services that has taken place over time has allowed her lifestyle to expand. She told the council that she’s a disabled person and feels that a lot of people are in favor of the kind of expansion AATA is looking at. Kathleen Russell told the council she represents 130 people with Parkinson’s disease and she would ask those people to support the agreement.

Larry Deck told the council he supports expansion to a countywide system. His understanding of the resolution is to keep the process going forward. He trusted the council to make right decisions at the checkpoints along the way.

Several speakers addressed their concern that attempts to expand might result in a diminishment of services to Ann Arbor.

Vince Caruso described the extensive use that his family makes of the AATA buses and described himself as a supporter of public transportation. His concern was that the future arrangement be reversible so that Ann Arbor could revert back to the current situation. Glenn Thompson said the question is not about opposing transportation, it’s about preserving the transportation Ann Arbor already has. Odile Hugenot Haber noted that at the AATA board’s last meeting, a representative of the Michigan Transportation Association had praised the AATA as being a model system. But she said the system could still be improved.

Rita Mitchell led off her remarks with a question for the council: Did anyone ride the bus to this meeting? [No councilmembers raised their hands.] She ventured that maybe it was because they couldn’t get a ride back home when the meeting concluded – AATA’s service ends before the typical council meeting ends. She said that AATA should have improved service before expanding the service countywide. Former planning commissioner Ethel Potts described the current service offered by the AATA as good, but not complete. Tim Hull introduced himself as a supporter of public transportation, but ticked through a number of concerns about the four-party agreement.

4-Party Agreement: Public Hearing – Money/Equity

Alexis Blizman, policy director for the Ecology Center, expressed strong support for public transit and support for the four-party agreement. The Ecology Center had participated in the process through the leadership committee meetings and the AATA board. [AATA board member Charles Griffith is employed by the Ecology Center.] Blizman said we’d reached a point where more funding is required in order to improve service.

Tim Mortimer ventured that the people who are focused on benefits are Republican, but those who are concerned about costs seemed to be Democrats.

Alan Haber said that other parts of the county need to put money on the table. The data is not there for the financing, he said. He advised the council to restrain themselves from saying “Forward ever, backwards never.” Lawrence Baird described one of the parties as having major financial problems – Ypsilanti. Ypsilanti’s local millage isn’t covering the cost of Ypsilanti’s purchase-of-service agreement, he noted.

Ypsilanti mayor Paul Schreiber said the 3-to-1 margin that Ypsilanti voters gave a transit millage in 2010 was significant. With respect to the suggestion that maybe Ypsilanti won’t pay, he said that the 3-to-1 margin speaks volume. He described the purchase-of-service agreement (POSA) system – an annual agreement to provide bus services – as a chain that can be broken from year to year. The plan being considered would stabilize funding for the service.

Karen Sidney said that part of the state operating assistance the AATA receives would disappear if the AATA changed to a different governance structure. She also ventured that what’s driving the process is development, pointing out that infrastructure improvements within a half mile of a transit station qualify under the state’s brownfield authority act.

Kathy Boris described herself as a non-motorist supporter of countywide service. The list of more services is appealing, she said – it’s impressive and ambitious. But she described the financial plan as “murky.” She wondered if Ann Arbor might be buying into something it wants but can’t actually afford.

John Satarino described the cost of implementing the system over the course of 30 years – over $600 million. That’s a large amount to think about, he said. But is that in today’s dollars or the projected equivalent 30 years from now? He said he does not support giving Ann Arbor’s aid to the townships – living in townships is cheaper, and there’s a reason for that.

Peter Eckstein also noted the program cost over the course of 30 years. He asked how it would be paid for. If there would be a millage, he wanted to know if it would be for 1 mill or less, and for how long. He called some of the benefits “dubious.” For example, with respect to the planned transit service to Detroit Metro airport, he said he’s not interested in paying for his rich friends’ vacations or out-of-state students.

Eckstein also contended that AATA has a reputation of having a high-cost system. He alluded to an analysis done by retired economics professor Richard Porter that had found AATA’s cost of providing service is above the average of comparable cities. Ted Annis has a number of good ideas, Eckstein said. [By way of background, Annis is a former member of the AATA board, who was often at odds with his board colleagues over the appropriate goal for a key metric – dollar cost per service hour. Annis contended an achievable goal for that statistic would be around $85. AATA has budgeted around $112 per service hour for its current fiscal year.]

Vivienne Armentrout wondered what would happen if several of the local units of government opted out of the Act 196 authority. She said there should be a minimal-participation clause. She wondered if the new Act 196 authority would be viable at the funding levels that would result without participation of most of the units. She said it would be good to wait for the results of the financial advisory group’s recommendation. She expressed concern about the equity of the financial burden between residents of Ann Arbor and residents of the townships. Township residents have chosen to live where taxes are low, she said.

Glenn Thompson noted that current assets of the AATA are worth $50 million – more than the new police/courts building. He called it the largest valued contract the city has ever entered. He wondered what would happen if the assets have been used as collateral and the newly incorporated authority goes bankrupt. He felt there aren’t sufficient safeguards that would allow Ann Arbor to withdraw from the arrangement to recover its assets.

4-Party Agreement: Public Hearing – Control

John Floyd noted that there’s no necessary connection between expanded countywide service and the system of governance offered by Act 196. He said that if outlying districts feel AATA’s service is not of value, they don’t need to purchase it. Act 196 is just a change in legal form – and that form takes away from city residents because it results in a board that is less accountable to city residents than the current AATA board. The effect of the change, said Floyd, is to remove accountability, not to expand service.

Carolyn Grawi spoke on behalf of the Center for Independent living. She said she has concerns, but also has faith in what is going on. She encouraged the council not to vote down the proposal, because that would close the door – the door needs to be left open. The AATA has been very open in its process, she said, and now the governing bodies of the government units need to do the same. Citizens need to have a say in the voting process, she said, and she’s not convinced that the amendments to the four-party agreement do that.

4-Party Agreement: Public Hearing – In this Together, Economic Development

Washtenaw County commissioner Rolland Sizemore said we’re all in the same boat. “We can’t be in silos,” he said. He said the four-party agreement needs to move forward, calling it “one of the pieces of the puzzle.” He told the council to decide what it wants to do and the county board would then look at the articles of incorporation.

Jesse Bernstein introduced himself as a resident of Ward 2 for 40 years and chair of the AATA board. Responding to the suggestion that there could be widespread non-participation across the county in the Act 196 authority, he noted that 22 of the 26 local units of government in Washtenaw County have been participating in the transit master planning process, and most of them have signed Act 7 agreements. We need collaboration, he said. At any point, any member of the four-party agreement can end participation, and if that happens the AATA will continue as a Act 55 authority.

Bill Lavery introduced himself as a resident of York Township – he represents the south central district on the unincorporated Act 196 (U196) board that’s been meeting since the fall of 2011. He said he’d circled through his community and reported people are supportive of the planning process. He’s happy they’re participating in a shared vision. Transportation needs are growing, he said, noting increased numbers of residences for the elderly, and senior centers. People in Lodi Township have noted that bus service has been reduced in the school district, he said.

Ann Arbor Public Schools trustee Simone Lightfoot appeared before the council, saying she fully understands the challenge of navigating the politics of the situation. She asked the council to consider the rich opportunity to work with AAPS. She noted that the district is facing a $15 million budget challenge. That will affect the district’s ability to transport its students. She said she’d met with AATA’s CEO Michael Ford and is impressed with the work AATA is doing. She said she looked forward to the effort moving forward, so that AAPS can work with AATA.

State Rep. Jeff Irwin spoke in support of public transportation. He said he’d been a part of the public meetings to develop the transit master plan. He described it as a long and complicated process. The planned Act 196 authority will meet three main goals, he said: (1) fill holes in existing service; (2) increase connectivity to other places in the region; and (3) cement Ann Arbor as the economic center of the region. “No city is a island,” he said. The transportation system is an economic engine that will be good for us and good for property values, he concluded.

In support of collaboration and cooperation, Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board member Keith Orr offered the historical vignette of the founding communities that eventually came together to form Milwaukee. They were such fierce rivals that it nearly resulted in armed conflict. Streets were planned on opposites sides of the river to be misaligned for any bridges that might be built. To this day, the bridges are askew, Orr said. Eventually they realized that the friction between communities was discouraging settlement. The four-party agreement is the kind of regional leadership we should embrace, he said.

Rich Sheridan introduced himself as president of Menlo Innovations. He described how the company had tripled in size several times, which had led the company to move to different spots in downtown Ann Arbor. It now occupies the entire downstairs space at Tally Hall [now called Liberty Square]. He described Menlo Innovations as a high-tech firm that employs younger and older high-tech workers

Menlo has participated in the go!pass program since its inception, he said. He told councilmembers that they’ve likely seen him on the side of the bus – he participated in a publicity campaign that included head shots of local leaders displayed on the sides of buses and at bus shelters. As someone who gets around the country quite a bit to recruit talent, Sheridan said the kind of place people are attracted to are places with strong transit systems. When he visited Portland recently, he’d asked how it was that the transit system there had been approved. He’d been told there was a big fight – they weren’t sure anyone would ride it. He encouraged the council use their leadership to move the community forward.

Judy Wenzel described herself as a 32-year resident of Braeburn Circle. Among other issues, she gave an example of what happened when the county and the city were involved with a project. When a new traffic light was installed, she said, the county paid nothing, but the city paid half and her co-op paid half.

Thomas Partridge told the council that when he’d run for the 18th District senate seat, he’d done so on a platform to unite the region through transportation.

Putting transportation in the context of other areas of collaboration where the balance is difficult to achieve was Jim Mogensen. He alluded to the dispute between Washtenaw County and townships over the cost of providing sheriff deputy road patrols. Responding to mayor John Hieftje’s remark that countywide transportation planning had begun at least 10 years ago, Mogensen said it’d actually started 40 years ago. In 1969 Act 55 had been amended to allow provision of transit service as far away from a city as 10 miles. He said Ann Arbor already has a regional system that includes Ypsilanti, Superior Township, Ann Arbor Township and Pittsfield Township, which was established through an agreement among those parties to participate. He described the four-party agreement as opening up a “Pandora’s box.” He cautioned: “Let’s not go backwards.”

4-Party Agreement: Public Hearing – Uncertainty

Dorothy Nordness expressed dissatisfaction with the detail provided in answers to questions that the AATA had released in a document on Jan. 17. Those questions included some about the financing and the level of the University of Michigan’s participation.

Michael Benson, Ward 2 resident and president of the University of Michigan graduate study body, said the current four-party agreement still needs work. He encouraged the council to hold off approving it until after the budget is done [in May]. The financial piece still needs more work, he said.

LuAnne Bullington described the uncertainty of a situation in which countywide planning in Washtenaw is going on at the same time as new state-level legislation was planned to be introduced for a regional transit authority. [By way of background, the legislation has been in the works for several months, and was mentioned in Gov. Rick Snyder's state of the state address. The legislation was introduced four days after the council's Jan. 23 meeting.]

4-Party Agreement: Outcome

The rationale for postponement was for some councilmembers based on the desire to hear the recommendation of the financial advisory group, which had been scheduled to meet at the end of the week. Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) made clear that he was willing to postpone, but did not think it was necessary to have the recommendation of the financial group before voting.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to postpone action on the four-party agreement until its Feb. 6 meeting.

Resolution on Immigration

The Ann Arbor city council considered a resolution opposing federal policies that detain people and that result in deportation of immigrants who have not committed a “serious criminal offense” and who have long-standing ties to the community. The council’s resolution supports the use of prosecutorial discretion in such cases. The resolution also calls for timely legalization of undocumented immigrants who have not committed a serious criminal offense.

Immigration Signs

Several people held signs in support of the resolution on immigration.

The council previously passed a resolution, on July 6, 2010, opposing an Arizona law that requires local law enforcement officials to investigate a person’s immigration status, when there is a reasonable suspicion that the person is in the U.S. unlawfully.

And the council formulated a policy in 2003 that directs its police officers 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.”

The council’s resolution passed at its Jan. 23, 2012 meeting comes after they’d heard a plea at their Dec. 5, 2011 meeting from 14-year Ann Arbor resident Lourdes Salazar Bautista, who faced deportation in late December. She was subsequently given a one-year reprieve. The council’s resolution did not address Bautista’s situation specifically.

Immigration: Public Comment

Out of 10 reserved spots for public commentary at the start of the meeting, eight people signed up to address the resolution on immigration.

Linda Kurtz spoke to her direct personal experience living across the street from Bautista. Bautista has lived across the street from her for several years, and turned a rundown house into a nice one, Kurtz said. Bautista pays her bills on time – she’s the kind of neighbor everyone wants. Her presence on the street adds to value to the other houses, Kurtz said. Of the nine houses on the block, two have been foreclosed in the last year. The neighborhood doesn’t need another empty house on the street. Bautista and her children have become a part of the community they live in, Kurtz said.

Martha Valdez introduced herself as a graduate student at the University of Michigan who came to study community organizing and social work. She’d moved to Ann Arbor because she appreciated the sense of community here. She’d become aware of the injustices that occur in the immigrant community, and wanted to join those who are challenging those inequalities and working together to make a difference. She’s planning to find a job here so that she can remain in Ann Arbor after graduating in April. She wants to help make sure that others who come from immigrant families like she does can feel safe and respected in Ann Arbor. She called it critical to pass the resolution like the one the council was considering.

Diana Sierra introduced herself as a doctoral student at the University of Michigan. She told the council that she’d immigrated to the U.S. when she was five years old. Up until December 2011, when she obtained a permanent residency permit, she’d been living as an undocumented immigrant. Having lived that way for most of her life, she said, she understood that fear is a part of daily life for an undocumented immigrant.

Sierra described the tactics used against undocumented immigrants as harassment, “stalking” them outside grocery stores, schools and their homes. She noted that fear of deportation keeps people from reporting domestic violence, or abuses of landlords like the refusal to turn on heat or water.

Bob Snyder thanked Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Sandi Smith (Ward 1) and Mike Anglin (Ward 5) for bringing forward the resolution. He decried the use of the term “illegal immigrant” because it fails to differentiate between those who are here in the U.S. without the proper papers and those who’ve committed serious crimes. Snyder characterized as a “racist slur” the reference to Latin American guests in the U.S. as “illegal.” He lamented the fact that they are “fair game” in the hunting season of local, state and national elections.

Kevin Young spoke on behalf of the Washtenaw Community Action Team. He said the resolution would constitute a firm statement on behalf of justice and human dignity. He felt the resolution would expand the discussion on immigration beyond its current narrow focus, by countering rhetoric blaming immigrants. It would instead shift attention to the root causes of human migration – namely, a staggering level of global inequality.

Leslie Stambaugh spoke on behalf of the Ann Arbor human rights commission. She described solutions to the issue of immigration as a series of “patchy fixes” that sacrifice fairness. She said there are 15 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. She described how unmarked SUVs follow targeted persons to their homes, workplaces, churches and schoolyards, and noted that ICE [immigration & customs enforcement] agents can demand documents and detain people. She noted that the federal policy calls for low prioritization of those who haven’t committed a serious criminal offense, but the actual practice of ICE agents doesn’t live up to that, she said.

Carlos Zavala spoke on behalf of the Washtenaw Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights, saying that he wanted to acknowledge the positive impacts of immigrants on the community, such as providing manpower for labor-intensive occupations.

He cited the three principles of Catholic social teachings on migration: (1) People have the right to migrate to sustain their lives and the lives of their families; (2) A country has the right to regulate its borders and to control immigration; and (3) A country must regulate its borders with justice and mercy.

Joseph Summers introduced himself as the pastor of a local Episcopal church for 25 years. He said that public policies are a reflection of core values. He characterized the actions of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents as that of “goons,” likening them to the imperial stormtroopers from Star Wars. He said that as a Christian, his faith speaks clearly to him. He cited some verses of biblical scripture from Leviticus 19:34: “You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

Immigration: Council Deliberations

Sabra Briere (Ward 1), who had co-sponsored the resolution, told her colleagues that there’d been “further language perfections,” made to the resolution. In the final two “resolved” clauses, reference to an immigrant’s ties to the U.S. was swapped out in favor of ties “to our community.”

Briere said she was confident other councilmembers recalled public comment at their December 2011 council meeting about an Ann Arbor resident who was at risk of deportation. That brought home to councilmembers an issue they’d perhaps heard about on the news, but had no experience of their own. Ann Arbor is not on the border, but residents are still at risk – not because they’ve committed crimes.

Briere said the U.S. should have a system where undocumented immigrants who have ties to a community can take steps to become citizens. People who are low risk are not supposed to be prioritized for deportation, based on statements from president Barack Obama. But such individuals wind up being prioritized – because they are easy to catch, because they’re law abiding. She encouraged her colleagues support the resolution.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) described how a few months ago a group had approached some councilmembers and a few of them had stepped forward, thinking that a resolution like this would be “in the soul of Ann Arbor.” The issue is being worked on, Anglin said, and the discussion needs to be nudged along. This resolution would do that, he said.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) called it “a beautifully written resolution.” She characterized it as sending a message and providing feedback to the federal government. For her, however, it is a situation where the council is being asked to address a national policy. She questioned whether a local resolution was appropriate. The other resolution on the agenda that night – expressing opposition to Michigan’s Public Act 247 – had a clear and direct connection to Ann Arbor, she said. For her, the resolution on immigration is one that doesn’t have a connection to Ann Arbor that is as direct or as clear. Given all that the council has to do, she said she’d resist the tendency to address something outside the council’s scope and control.

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) responded to Lumm by saying the resolution was specifically written to address issues connected to Ann Arbor, but she appreciated Lumm’s concern about it being outside the council’s purview. The resolution is designed to give potential relief to citizens in Ann Arbor, Smith said. She agreed with Anglin, who said the resolution speaks to the soul of Ann Arbor. She allowed that the council has pressing matters it has to consider – among them the four-party transit agreement and the budget. But she said that the council stays and does its work. The resolution may prolong the council’s time at the table, but it does’t mean the council is unable to attend to its other work.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) said she appreciated Smith’s comments, but wouldn’t support the resolution. That’s been her consistent position for her entire time on the city council, she said. [Higgins attended the July 6, 2010 meeting when the council passed a resolution opposing Arizona's law requiring local law enforcement officials to investigate a person’s immigration status, when there is a reasonable suspicion that the person is in the U.S. unlawfully. However, she was not at the table when the vote was taken. Then-councilmember Stephen Rapundalo, whom Lumm replaced on the council, voted against the July 6, 2010 resolution. Rapundalo, Lumm and Higgins are all former Republicans.]

Higgins allowed that the resolution raised awareness, but contained nothing actionable. She said people should instead pick up the phone or email and contact legislators. While some people think a city council resolution carries more weight, Higgins said she felt that one voice combined with many other voices gives the position more weight. She encouraged people to raise their voices individually to make the message “a very strong shout.”

Mayor John Hieftje said what the council is objecting to is people getting jerked out of their homes, saying that the resolution does apply to this community and our neighbors.

Outcome: The council voted to approve the resolution opposing deportation, with dissent from  Jane Lumm (Ward 2) and Marcia Higgins (Ward 4).

Resolution on Public Act 297

The council considered a resolution opposing Michigan’s Public Act 297, which was signed into law on Dec. 22, 2011. The act prohibits public employers from providing employee medical and fringe benefits to those who are not married to an employee, a dependent of the employee, or eligible to inherit from the employee under the laws of intestate succession. [.pdf of PA 297]

It’s not legal in Michigan for same-sex couples to marry. PA 297 thus effectively eliminates the possibility of providing benefits to same-sex domestic partners.

Ann Arbor provides employee benefits to “other qualified adults,” a definition that includes same-sex domestic partners. [.pdf of Ann Arbor employee retirement system definition of other qualified adult] Nine current or retired city of Ann Arbor employees are impacted by PA 297.

Before the bill was signed, the council – at its Sept. 19, 2011 meeting – passed a resolution calling on Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder not to sign the bill into law.

Sandi Smith

Sandi Smith (Ward 1): "I love this city!"

On Jan. 5, 2012, the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit in U.S. district court against Snyder on behalf of four couples. Four of the eight plaintiffs are residents of Ann Arbor. The public employer for the two Ann Arbor couples is the Ann Arbor Public Schools. [.pdf of complaint against Rick Snyder] The resolution directs the Ann Arbor city attorney to assist the ACLU in the lawsuit in whatever way is useful, including filing an amicus brief.

The resolution considered by the Ann Arbor city council on Jan. 23 also cites Ann Arbor’s history of commitment to non-discrimination and protections for those of all sexual orientations. [.pdf of Ann Arbor's non-discrimination ordinance]

During the council’s deliberations Jane Lumm (Ward 1) expressed her interest in not seeing the ACLU and the city of Ann Arbor by themselves trying to take on the state of Michigan. She asked city attorney Stephen Postema if other municipalities had indicated they’d be willing to help – he was not aware of any.

Responding to Lumm’s concern, Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) said he would be proud to have Ann Arbor stand alone. He characterized PA 297 as a “state shame.” Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) said it was appropriate to see a cause like this in a city like Ann Arbor. Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) said she’d support the resolution wholeheartedly. Margie Teall (Ward 4) thanked Smith for bringing it forward.

Lumm, given the concern she’d expressed about Ann Arbor going it alone, was keen to stress that she opposes PA 297, saying it puts Michigan at a competitive disadvantage. And as Lumm went on, Sandi Smith (Ward 1) declared: “I love this city!”

Outcome: The council unanimously passed the resolution opposing PA 297.

AATA Policing Contract

The Ann Arbor city council considered a renewal to the agreement under which it supplies policing services to the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority – at the transit agency’s downtown Ann Arbor Blake Transit Center.

The agreement entails the provision of a dedicated officer for the location. The previous agreement had expired on Oct. 31, 2011. Cost of the services to the AATA is $75,000, with a $5,000 increase per year after Oct. 31, 2012. The point of the increases is to get the contract value back to the fully-burdened cost, which is $112,000.

During deliberations, Jane Lumm (Ward 2) said she appreciated getting an answer to her question about the fully-burdened cost of providing a police officer dedicated to the Blake Transit Center – $112,000, as compared to $75,000 for the value of the contract. She said that she understood it to be the result of negotiation.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) asked why the city wouldn’t charge the full cost. Deputy chief of police John Seto came to the podium and told Higgins he didn’t know the full history of the initial agreement. The most recent round of negotiations resulted in an agreement to attempt to get the contract back to the level of the fully-burdened cost through a $5,000 increase each year. He’d revisit the possibility of increasing it to $10,000 annually, or even more aggressively. Higgins indicated interest to city administrator Steve Powers in discussing other similar contracts in the context of setting the fiscal year 2013 budget. [The council approves the budget for the next fiscal year in May – the fiscal year starts on July 1. So the council will approve the FY 2013 budget in May 2012.]

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the AATA policing contract.

Wastewater Project Contract

At its Jan. 23, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council considered a $10,802,423 contract with Malcolm Pirnie Inc. for engineering services related to the facilities renovation project (FRP) at the city’s wastewater treatment plant.

The city’s wastewater treatment facility includes an East Plant and West Plant. The West Plant has been taken offline due to its dilapidated condition and is planned to be demolished and replaced. The project also includes a number of improvements throughout the facility, including a new electrical distribution system, new emergency power generators, utilities relocation, and replacement of stormwater collection system equipment.

The total project cost is well over $100 million and is expected to be financed in part with low-interest loans through Michigan’s state revolving fund program, which is administered by the Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality. [For additional background on the project, see The Ann Arbor Observer's "The Flow Never Stops" from April 2009.]

Outcome: The council voted without deliberation to approve the contract.

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: Downtown City-Owned Surface Lots

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) gave an update on progress with the “Discovering Midtown” project – a process for exploring alternate uses of downtown city-owned surface parking lots. The process is being led by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority based on direction given by the Ann Arbor city council at the council’s April 4, 2011 meeting. The effort will now be known as “Connecting William Street,” reported Smith, to avoid confusion with a character district in the city’s zoning ordinance that is called Midtown. There will be surveys conducted in February, she said. She noted that out of a recent $3 million federal sustainability grant that was recently awarded, a small piece will be used by the DDA to have a facilitator do public outreach, which begins in March. [The grant application included the DDA's planning effort.]

Comm/Comm: City-Owned Parcel – 415 W. Washington

Mayor John Hieftje reminded the council that a group had been formed to look at the city-owned 415 W. Washington lot. [The council passed a resolution giving direction for the effort at its Feb. 1, 2010 meeting, nearly two years ago. The resolution calls for the arts and greenway communities to lead fundraising and development of a vision for the parcel’s use. The site, across from the YMCA, is currently providing revenue to the city as a surface parking lot. It was previously the city’s maintenance yard.] Hieftje said the group continues to meet – the biggest challenge remains the building. He said a report on the status of the project would be given at the end of February.

Comm/Comm: Medical Marijuana

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) gave her colleagues a head’s up that the next meeting of the medical medical marijuana licensing board would be Jan. 31. The board has been meeting at least once a month since October 2011, she said. [Briere serves as the city council's representative to the board, which was established last year in connection with the city's medical marijuana ordinance.] So, the recommendation that the board is supposed to submit to the council by Jan. 31 would likely be in the council’s hands by early February, she said. [Recent Chronicle coverage: "ZBA Grants 1 of 2 Medical Marijuana Appeals" and "Medical Marijuana: Local Board Eyes 2012"]

Comm/Comm: Budget, Public Safety

During public commentary, Karen Sidney noted that the city council needs to approve next year’s budget [FY 2013] by the end of May. [The city's fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30, so FY 2013 begins on July 1, 2012. By city charter, the city administrator must submit a budget in April, and the city council must adopt it with any amendments by May each year.] That’s not a lot of time, she said, to solve the big budget problems the city is facing. She contended the city does not have adequate numbers of police officers and firefighters to keep residents safe. She said that two-person crews are not the answer, when it takes four firefighters to enter a burning building [two to enter and two to remain outside.]

In the last five years, Sidney counted a loss of 64 police officers and 12 firefighters. She called on councilmembers to start now, if they expected to figure out what to cut, in order to restore those positions. She said there’d been a historical pattern of spending time on time-consuming issues that can wait – the four-party countywide transit agreement is an example of that, she said, suggesting it could wait until after May. She hoped the proposed budget would be posted in a timely fashion and that the council would discuss any changes in the city council chambers, instead of at “meetings behind closed doors.”

During his communications, mayor John Hieftje said that in May 2011 he’d said that council’s challenge is to make sure that further cuts to the police force don’t happen – his preference would be to add officers. The hiring to replace retiring officers is going well, Hieftje said. The city had received 450 applications for 9-10 spots. He said the city had finished the year with a record reduction in crime for 2011.

Comm/Comm: Dragons, Council Rules, Warming

During the communications slot at the start of the council’s agenda, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) wished everyone a happy Year of the Dragon, noting that it was the first night of the Chinese New Year [a festival that runs 15 days].

Stephen Kunselman Alan Haber

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Alan Haber. In the background behind Haber is city of Ann Arbor transportation program manager Eli Cooper.

Later in the evening, during public commentary at the conclusion of the meeting, Thomas Partridge alluded to Jane Lumm (Ward 2), saying it was “entirely disappointing” that she appeared to be taking a “dragon lady attitude” on the council. Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) objected during Partridge’s remarks to the fact that Partridge was calling names.

Alan Haber followed Partridge to the podium, saying that he’d been listed as an alternate to speak during the reserved time at the start of the meeting, behind other speakers – Karen Sidney and Thomas Partridge. [The council makes 10 reserved slots available at the start of the meeting, giving priority to those who wish to address agenda items.]

Haber complained that while he always appreciated Partridge’s astute comments on social justice, and Sidney’s comments were always worth hearing, the two had not addressed topics on the agenda in their remarks at the start of the meeting. In contrast, he’d wanted to speak to an item on the agenda, but was nonetheless assigned alternate status.

The issue of that particular council rule has been a topic of previous complaint. At the council’s Sept. 19, 2011 meeting, Michael Benson asked the council to enforce that rule.

The reason for apparent lack of enforcement of that provision of the council’s rules can be found in the specific language of the rule. It gives priority to speakers who wish to address agenda items, but only for people reserving a time between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. on the day of a council meeting. After 1 p.m. it’s strictly first-come, first-served.

On the morning of the regular meeting of the City Council the City Clerk shall sign up persons interested in speaking during the time designated as Public Commentary Reserved Time as follows:
a. Between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. all ten speaking times will be available to persons wishing to address council on agenda items.
b. After 1 p.m. on that same day speakers wishing to address council on any matter will be signed up strictly on a first come first serve basis for any remaining times. Two alternates may also be designated.

The substantive issue Haber had wished to address was the idea of establishing a warming center. He’d intended to link that issue to the minutes of Ann Arbor’s human rights commission, which were attached to the council’s agenda, but which he contended he could not find. The reason he wished to link the warming center to the human rights commission, Haber said, is that the first human right is warmth – the right to come in out of the cold and to sit in the cave by the fire.

Comm/Comm: Leasing, Student Relations

Michael Benson addressed the council at the conclusion of the meeting, partly on behalf of the graduate student body at the University of Michigan, for which he serves as president.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2), Jack Eaton and Michael Benson

Jane Lumm (Ward 2), Jack Eaton and Michael Benson.

He noted some dissatisfaction on the part of some people with the leasing situation. He was alluding to a provision in Ann Arbor’s leasing ordinance, approved by the city council in 2008, which is supposed to prevent landlords from renting or showing an apartment to another renter until 70 days of the current lease period has passed.

In that context, Benson reiterated a suggestion he made a year ago during public commentary – to reconvene the student relations committee and expand its membership. [Council representatives to the committee are Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3).]

Comm/Comm: General Praise

During public commentary at the conclusion of the meeting, John Litle called the council meeting and its public hearing on the four-party transit agreement a “shining example of democracy in action,” saying it had restored his faith in democracy.

Also at the conclusion of the meeting, Michael Benson thanked the council for their work, saying that after watching them transact business – while he didn’t always agree with all or any of them – he believed they had everyone’s best interests at heart. He said it’s important to remember that while we might disagree, attacking individuals is not the best way to move an agenda forward.

Comm/Comm: Vehicle Idling

During her public commentary turn on the immigration resolution, Linda Kurtz added her thoughts on an ordinance that might come before the Ann Arbor city council to regulate unnecessary vehicle idling. Kurtz said she was shocked at the number of vehicles she’s seen idling – it’s wasteful and unnecessary, she said. An educational effort should be undertaken, she said, and the enactment of an ordinance plays a part in that education. Education should start with city workers, she said. [In connection with the site preparation work for the City Place project on South Fifth Avenue, nearby residents reported city vehicles idling through the better part of a day.]

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, Feb. 6, 2012 at 7 p.m. in the second-floor council chambers at city hall, 301 E. Huron. [confirm date]

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  1. January 30, 2012 at 10:25 pm | permalink

    Every time I read about the “four party talks” I wonder if we’re discussing North Korea. (That’s not a criticism, just an amusing observation)

  2. January 31, 2012 at 9:23 am | permalink

    I don’t understand why the AATA would be enhanced by appointing a township official. It already does not adequately represent the citizenry of Ann Arbor, who are supposed to be served by this body.

    The Mayor apparently forgets that David Nacht, whom he appointed, was an elected township trustee during part of his long tenure on the AATA board, including as chair (I believe that his role as chair came at a time when he was a Scio Township trustee.)

  3. January 31, 2012 at 9:31 am | permalink

    With regard to Jesse Bernstein’s statement that “most” local units of government have signed Act 7 agreements, that is not accurate. As I described in my recent blog post [link], 3 of 5 interlocal agreements had not been signed as of Friday, January 27. None of the agreements have been filed with the Secretary of State, as the Act requires.

  4. By Stewart Nelson
    February 1, 2012 at 1:03 pm | permalink

    Someone need to get all parties to the agreement into a room and lock the doors and not leave until the agreement is hammered out. That is how Grand Rapids and Kent County did it. We need county wide transit and now is the time to do it.

    Just my two cents.


  5. By Steve Bean
    February 1, 2012 at 1:51 pm | permalink

    @4: “We need county wide transit and now is the time to do it.”

    Two cents isn’t worth much, Stew. (-: How about expanding on why you think we need it? For example, who is “we”, and what is “it”? Is the “it” you have in mind the same as what’s being proposed?

  6. By Ken
    February 2, 2012 at 11:22 am | permalink

    Just curious as to why the City of Ypsilanti looses their seat on the “New Board” if they fail to make the Transit Millage that was voted in a permanent Millage, yet Pittsfield Township that only pays into the POSA for itself will keep their seat.

    Vivienne sorry to put you on the spot again; but any insight on this?

  7. February 2, 2012 at 1:20 pm | permalink

    The seats are based partly on population and partly on funding. Ypsilanti City doesn’t have the population to support 1 whole seat without their funding contribution. Pittsfield Township is populous.

  8. February 3, 2012 at 7:49 pm | permalink

    It would be dumb for the transit financial group to have postponed its January 27 meeting because of a bunch of bills just introduced into the legislature. A large majority of all bills introduced die. Why should this package survive?

  9. February 3, 2012 at 9:14 pm | permalink

    David, the package has a strong push from both the governor and influential legislators (including from our area) backing it. According to Dusty Fancher (reported by the Chronicle [link]), the bills will be passed by March or not until much later, probably after the November election.

    As also reported by the Chronicle [link] AATA is now suggesting a postponement of council deliberations until March 5. Even later would seem more responsible, especially given the rapid passage of events in the state capitol.

    We might also know a little more by then about events at the Federal level. Transit agencies are shocked and concerned about a move by the House Transportation Committee to take transit funding out of the “gas tax” (SAFETEA-LU) and place it into the General Fund, subject to political dealing and outright cancellation at any time. [link]

    SAFETEA-LU is where Federal Formula funding is authorized. About 42% of AATA’s operating funds come from this federal source.

  10. February 4, 2012 at 10:18 am | permalink

    Vivienne, the behavior of this legislature is not something that any local group should rely on. If the financing group is waiting on something from Lansing, they might as well wait for Godot.