Ann Arbor Council Mulls Ballot Questions

The Ann Arbor city council has until its second meeting in August to put various questions before voters on the Nov. 6, 2012 ballot. At its July 2 meeting, the council heard from Jane Lumm (Ward 2) that she and Mike Anglin (Ward 5) are working to bring a ballot question to Ann Arbor voters that would further tweak a city charter provision about the sale of parkland.

The charter provision had been approved in November 2008 by a 81%-19% margin (42,969 to 9,944). The tweak would involve adding actions like “lease,” “license,” or “re-designate” to the set of actions on city parkland that would require a voter referendum.

The 2008 ballot question had asked voters if they wanted to add a clause to the city charter that would prevent the sale of city parkland without a voter referendum. Michigan’s Home Rule City Act already lists among a city’s prohibited powers: “… to sell a park, cemetery, or any part of a park or cemetery, except where the park is not required under an official master plan of the city …” But that year some residents were concerned that the city was looking to sell Huron Hills golf course – and they saw the exception in the state statute as a possible loophole. The council voted to place the question before voters that year over dissent from councilmember Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) and former councilmember Leigh Greden.

That year, the council had consciously settled on wording that included just selling, as opposed to leasing. In an Oct. 31, 2008 Ann Arbor News article, mayor John Hieftje was quoted as follows: “From time to time, we’ve thought about how nice it might be to have a restaurant near the river. I think it’s something people would really enjoy … That would be impossible if the ballot measure was expanded to include leasing.”

What prompts the current desire to contemplate adding “leasing” and other arrangements to the mix is concern that a portion of Fuller Park could eventually be used for a new rail station. Amtrak currently operates a station on Depot Street near the Broadway bridges. [See coverage of the council's June 4, 2012 meeting, when it accepted a $2.8 million federal grant to complete a planning study to confirm the Fuller Road site as the locally preferred alternative location for a new rail station.]

One draft of the ballot question that Lumm and Anglin are crafting reads: “Shall the voters of the City of Ann Arbor amend the city charter to require that the city shall not sell, lease, license, recategorize or repurpose, without the approval, by a majority vote of the electors of the city voting on the question at a regular or special election, any city park, or land in the city acquired for a park, cemetery, or any part thereof?” Lumm indicated that she’d bring the resolution to the council for a vote at its July 16 meeting.

While council support for placing a parkland lease question on the November 2012 ballot is uncertain, it’s likely that the council will follow the park advisory commission’s recommendation to place a renewal of the parks maintenance and capital improvements millage on the ballot. Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), who is one of two council ex officio members of PAC, indicated that consideration of that millage question would take place at the July 16 meeting.

Other possible ballot questions that have received some consideration by councilmembers include a charter amendment that would make city elections non-partisan.

And during deliberations on May 7, 2012 about a piece of public art to be commissioned for the city’s new justice center, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) mentioned the possibility of establishing a millage just for public art. That would require placing a question on the ballot.

Locally, any city of Ann Arbor ballot questions might be joined by one that is likely to be put forward by the Ann Arbor District Library to support a downtown building project. A countywide transportation millage is less likely to be  placed on the November ballot, given the delays in approval of all the necessary documents.

This brief was filed from the Ann Arbor city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link]