AATA Bids Farewell to Bernstein

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board member Jesse Bernstein attended his final regular meeting of the board on April 18, 2013. The following month, on May 16, his board colleagues approved a resolution acknowledging his five-year term of service, which began on June 16, 2008. Bernstein was not able to attend the meeting.

The resolution of appreciation approved by the board highlighted Bernstein’s turn as chair of the board, chair of the performance monitoring and external relations committee, and the executive search committee that resulted in the hire of CEO Michael Ford. The resolution also called out his role in the development of the AATA’s transit master plan and his service as chair of the unincorporated Act 196 authority board, which was part of an effort that culminated in the incorporation of that authority as The Washtenaw Ride, in the summer of 2012.

The Washtenaw Ride was an effort that ultimately found almost no traction, as municipalities across the county exercised their right under Act 196 to opt out of the authority after it was incorporated. The city of Ann Arbor, which had been expected to lead the countywide effort, opted out at the Nov. 8, 2012 meeting of the city council. Since that time, a more limited geographic focus on the “urban core” communities has resulted in a formal request from the city of Ypsilanti to join the AATA.

Susan Baskett has been nominated by mayor John Hieftje as Bernstein’s replacement on the AATA board. Baskett currently serves on the board of the Ann Arbor Public Schools, an elected position. The city council will be asked to confirm Baskett’s appointment at its May 20 meeting. It’s possible that her appointment could be subjected to debate by the council. On May 13, the council approved Eric Mahler as David Nacht’s replacement on the AATA board on a 7-4 vote. Compared to typical votes on appointments, which are often unanimous, Mahler’s appointment was confirmed by a relatively narrow margin.

The reasons given by dissenters for voting against Mahler included the idea that it’s important to widen the pool of members across all city boards. Mahler is finishing his second three-year term on the city planning commission – but will not continue in that role. Dissenters also alluded to an alternate candidate they felt could represent the disability community better than Mahler.

The alternate candidate, LuAnne Bullington, has also been a vocal critic of the AATA’s efforts to develop regional rail connections. The council’s debate, however, seemed focused more on issues of board candidates’ status as minorities or members of the disability community. Mahler and Baskett are both African American. Bullington is visually impaired.

Mahler was not able to attend his first scheduled meeting on May 16 due to illness, according to AATA staff.

This brief was filed from the downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library at 343 S. Fifth, where the AATA board holds its meetings. A more detailed report will follow: [link]