Charles Griffith to Lead AATA Board

Charles Griffith has been elected by his colleagues to lead the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board for the coming year. The vote for board chair was uncontested, as it typically is, and was taken at the board’s Sept. 27, 2012 meeting. Jesse Bernstein has served as board chair for the last two years and will continue to serve on the board, but said at the meeting he wanted to see the chairship rotated.

Griffith is climate & energy program director for the Ecology Center. He has already served for six years on the board, and his current appointment lasts another four years. He was re-appointed to the board on May 2, 2011 to another five-year term after first being appointed on Sept. 19, 2006. Members of the current seven-member AATA board will likely become members of the new Washtenaw Ride countywide authority’s 15-member board – which is not yet incorporated.

But the AATA board has called a special meeting for Oct. 2, 2012 to make a formal request of Washtenaw County to file the articles of incorporation for the new authority – under Act 196 of 1986. The incorporation of the new authority has statutory as well as contractual implications.

On the statutory side – because the incorporation by Washtenaw County of a new transit authority will include by default all the jurisdictions in Washtenaw County – the filing of the articles opens a 30-day window for jurisdictions to opt out of the arrangement. That can be accomplished through a vote of a jurisdiction’s governing body.

The contractual side would already be reflected in the filing of the articles. That is, the request made by AATA to Washtenaw County to file the articles of incorporation would be handled under a four-party agreement – which was ratified earlier this year by the AATA, Washtenaw County, the city of Ann Arbor, and the city of Ypsilanti. That same contractual agreement would then govern the transition from the current AATA to The Washtenaw Ride. The transition would potentially not take place at all, unless a voter-approved funding source for the expanded services were identified by the end of 2014.

The AATA has indicated that a possible scenario is to ask voters in Washtenaw County to fund the new transit authority with a property tax of 0.584 mills – in an election that could come as early as May 2013. For a house worth $200,000, with a state-equalized value of $100,000, an 0.584 mill transit tax would cost that property owner about $58 per year. For an Ann Arbor resident with a $200,000 house, adding the 0.584 mill tax to the existing city transit tax of roughly 2 mills works out to a transportation tax burden of about $258 a year. Under the four-party agreement, the city of Ypsilanti’s transit tax would also be a part of The Washtenaw Ride’s funding.

The idea of putting a transit millage question before voters as early as May 2013 was not met with a universally positive reaction at a Sept. 25 meeting of Ann Arbor’s district advisory committee (DAC), which helps advise the as-yet-unincorporated authority. Tom Heywood, director of the State Street Area Association, feared that a millage would not pass if voted on that soon – because he thought there would not be adequate lead time to mount an effective millage campaign.

At the Sept. 25 meeting, DAC committee member Terri Blackmore, who’s executive director of the Washtenaw Area Transportation Study, was more sanguine than Heywood about the May 2013 timing. Also more positively inclined toward that timeframe was current AATA board chair Jesse Bernstein, whom Griffith is replacing as chair.

Bernstein has served the past two years as the board’s chair. His appointment to the board goes through May 1, 2013.

Other officers elected at the AATA board’s Sept. 27 meeting included David Nacht (treasurer) and Anya Dale (secretary). Determining membership on the planning and development committee and the performance monitoring and external relations committee was put off for the time being.

This brief was filed from the downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library, where the AATA board holds its meetings. A more detailed report will follow: [link]