City Council Votes Down Park Amendment

A resolution that would have placed a question on the Nov. 6, 2012 ballot – asking Ann Arbor voters if they would like to amend the city charter’s clause on parkland protections – was voted down by the city council at its Aug. 9 meeting. The question had been postponed from its July 16, 2012 meeting.

The resolution received four votes of support – from Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), Mike Anglin (Ward 5), Jane Lumm (Ward 2) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3). Sabra Briere (Ward 1), who had co-sponsored the original resolution, did not vote for it. So the vote on the 11-member body was 4-7.

The version of the charter amendment considered by the council on July 16 was [added language in italics]: “The city shall not sell, lease, or contract for any non-park or non-recreational long-term use, 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 park, cemetery, or any part thereof. For purposes of this subsection long-term shall be defined as a period greater than 5 years.”

Part of the argument for the postponement by the council at that July 16 meeting was a desire by some councilmembers to receive input from the city’s park advisory commission (PAC) on the proposed charter amendment, before taking a vote. And on Aug. 8, 2012 PAC met to deliberate on the resolution, but ultimately voted unanimously not to support placing the charter amendment before voters.

Concerns cited by PAC members in declining to recommend their support of the resolution included the idea that the language of the proposed amendment introduced a “gray area,” and possible unintended consequences. They also had questions about who the arbiter would be for the meaning of “non-park” and “non-recreational.” Some commissioners also had concerns about the public process that had been used thus far to evaluate the proposed charter amendment.

At the council’s Aug. 9 meeting, an alternate version was also discussed, which was put forward by one of the three sponsors of the original resolution, Sabra Briere (Ward 1). Briere’s version departs from the syntactic pattern of the existing charter section, which separates the verb “sell” from its direct object “park” with a 23-word clause. The other two co-sponsors were Lumm and Anglin.

Briere’s proposed amendment took the approach of enumerating the actions that trigger a popular referendum: “The city shall not, without the approval by a majority vote of the electors of the city voting on the question at a regular or special election, do any or all of the following with any city park or land in the city acquired for a park or cemetery or with any part thereof: (1) sell any such land; (2) lease, license or contract for any non-park or non-recreational use any such land for a period longer than 5 years; (3) contract for the operation of any such land for non-park or non-recreational use for a period longer than 5 years; (4) contract for the construction of any building on any such land, except as is customarily incidental to the principal use and enjoyment of such land.”

Briere’s amendment failed with support from only one other councilmember – Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3).

Councilmembers voting against the main resolution cited the same concerns that had been mentioned at the PAC meeting, as well as the function of a representative democracy and a desire not to tie the hands of future councils. Kunselman, who voted for the resolution, called the charter amendment a way to guard against representative democracy “gone awry” that would “protect our parks from ourselves.”

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