Besides the Budget: Council’s May 20 Meeting

City council establishes economic development task force, makes board and commission appointments, sets fees, gives utility rates initial OK

Ann Arbor city council meeting Part 2: Non-budget items (May 20, 2013): Although the approval of the FY 2014 budget took up the majority of its meeting time, the council still completed a lot of other business. Budget deliberations are reported separately in Part 1 of the May 20, 2013 meeting report. Part 2 focuses on non-budget items.

From left: Community services area administrator Sumedh Bahl and city administrator Steve Powers

From left: Community services area administrator Sumedh Bahl and city administrator Steve Powers. At the council’s May 20 meeting, Bahl was called on to explain the circumstances under which a homelessness outreach ministry was apparently charged a facility rental fee. (Photos by the writer.)

On the surface it seemed like a controversial new development at 413 E. Huron – approved by the council at its May 13 session – might be reconsidered with a different outcome. But the item added to the agenda at the start of the May 20 meeting was simply motivated by a need to rectify a technical detail – to correct a reference to the most recent set of project plans. The council dispatched the item with scant discussion.

Fees were a highlight of the meeting in several ways, beginning with public commentary. Several residents spoke against the city charging a parks & recreation rental fee to a local church, for its homelessness outreach ministry in Liberty Plaza. Mayor John Hieftje gave an assurance that it was his intent for the Pizza in the Park event to continue without being assessed a fee by the city.

On the council’s agenda were three sets of fees for different service areas of the city, including those for parks and recreation. The council approved fee increases for facility rental at Gallup Park and Cobblestone Farm, as well as various public services area fees, and fire inspection and permitting fees. The fire permit fees prompted moderate discussion among councilmembers, pushed by Mike Anglin (Ward 5) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3). Kunselman’s colleagues agreed to his call for a substantial reduction in fire permit fees for bonfires – based on the idea that lower fees would result in higher compliance.

Fees were also on the agenda in the form of utility rate increases, which the council gave initial approval. Because the utility rates are part of the city’s ordinances, they need an initial approval followed by a public hearing and then a second and final vote. In terms of revenue generated to the city, the proposed rate increases are expected to generate 3.55% ($739,244) more for drinking water, 4.25% ($955,531) more for the sanitary sewer, and 4% ($233,811) more for stormwater.

In other business, an economic development task force, put forward by Sally Petersen (Ward 2) over the last several weeks, was formally established by the council. Appointed to the task force for the city were Petersen, Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) and city administrator Steve Powers. The two other entities that are being asked to participate are Ann Arbor SPARK and the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. They can appoint up to three members each.

Appointments to standing boards and commissions approved by the council at its May 20 meeting included Stephanie Buttrey to the greenbelt advisory commission (GAC), Susan Baskett to the board of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority (AATA), Paras Parekh to the city planning commission, and Jennifer Geer to the park advisory commission. Nominated to serve on GAC was Jennifer Fike.

A proposed ordinance on video privacy was again postponed by the council, this time until June 17. But the council did take action to approve a contract for roof repair at the Veterans Memorial Park ice arena.

Public commentary included a focus on how the city allocates its share of Act 51 money, which comes from the state to fund road maintenance. The city designates a portion of those funds for non-motorized facilities. In years past, that portion was 5%, but was reduced to 2.5% as a result of the economic downturn. Non-motorized transportation advocates are now calling for restoration to the 5% level.

413 E. Huron: Technical Reconsideration

At the start of the meeting, the controversial site plan for 413 E. Huron was placed on the agenda for reconsideration and a re-vote because of a technical detail in the resolution previously approved by the council on May 13, 2013. The resolution approved by the council at that meeting – on a 6-5 vote – did not specify the correct date on the set of plans that the developer had submitted. [.pdf of May 20, 2013 staff memo explaining the issue]

Sally Petersen (Ward 2) and assistant city attorney Kevin McDonald.

Sally Petersen (Ward 2) and assistant city attorney Kevin McDonald. McDonald handles land use and planning issues, like 413 E. Huron site plan review.

The parliamentary procedure the council used was to move for reconsideration. Only a member of the prevailing side – one of the six who voted in favor – can move for reconsideration. Moving for reconsideration of a vote at the next regular meeting following the initial vote does not require more than a six-vote majority. The vote on reconsideration was handled when the item was added to the agenda.

When the council reached the item on the agenda, it was introduced by Christopher Taylor (Ward 3). The next step was to amend the resolution the council had passed, in order to refer to the set of plans that contained the most recent changes to the site plan. Those changes included a slight reduction in the number of units at the top of the building.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) said it would be a mistake not to allow the most recent plan to be the one that is actually built. So she would support the amendment. The vote on amending the resolution was 10-1, with dissent from Mike Anglin (Ward 5).

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) said he’d vote against the plan as he had before.

Outcome: The council vote on the 413 E. Huron site plan as reconsidered at the May 20, 2013 meeting was also 6-5, along the same lines as the vote taken by the council at its May 13 session. Voting against it were: Mike Anglin (Ward 5), Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1), Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Jane Lumm (Ward 2), and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3). Voting for it were: Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5), mayor John Hieftje, Sally Petersen (Ward 2), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), and Margie Teall (Ward 4).

Pizza in the Park

Several speakers addressed the topic during public commentary reserved time on the topic of a fee that was apparently charged to the Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor as part of its Friday evening homelessness ministry, which the church conducts at Liberty Plaza. The plaza at the southwest corner of Division and Liberty is part of the city’s parks & recreation system.

Dory Boston told the council she had been homeless. But she’d been introduced to “Pizza in the Park” at Liberty Plaza – and that’s what got her through. Stopping that program would do the community an injustice, she said. Ann Arbor should stand tall for what it’s done. She told the council not to be afraid of the homeless. If she had the money, she’d pay for people to be able to come together and converse. She asked the council to waive the fee that’s being imposed.

Lily Au told the council to heed the biblical passage in Isaiah Chapter 58 that calls for feeding the hungry. She indicated that the homelessness outreach in Liberty Plaza had worked out well. But in April, she said, the group had been told it needed to relocate its food distribution effort, and the Ann Arbor Community Center had agreed to serve as a location, but only for a short period – two weeks.

Caleb Poirer explained that the organization that’s been providing the pizza is apparently being assessed a $137 fee, based on the city’s park and recreation fee schedule for shelter use. Poirer argued that the fee is being misapplied – as there is no overhead shelter in Liberty Plaza. To apply the fee to an organization that’s delivering humanitarian aid is “painful and unfortunate,” he told the council.

Glen Lieding told the council he’s been a resident of Ann Arbor for 42 years. He called it a progressive, accepting and caring community. He was disturbed, however, by what he perceived to be some recent trends. It should be the right of a nonprofit to distribute humanitarian aid – food and clothing – in a public place without being charged an onerous fee. He noted that the $137 fee each week would add up to over $7,000 per year – which would buy a lot of pizza. He said the weekly distribution had been going on long enough to be considered an Ann Arbor tradition.

Charlene Tabacchi told the council that she’d worked hard all her life and had managed to put herself through school. So she hadn’t expected she’d ever be homeless. It can happen to anybody, she said. Many members of the community join together to make the Liberty Plaza event happen. She felt that they should have access to the public park and public facilities. So she asked that the fees be waived.

Steve Schiring told the council that the Pizza in the Park event provides a good opportunity for the community to get to know one another. It brings people together from all walks of life, he said. It’s not necessarily comfortable for everyone. But overcoming an awkward situation can make you stronger, he said. He asked that the council waive the fees.

Mayor John Hieftje asked Sumedh Bahl, community services area administrator, to provide background on the situation. Bahl told Hieftje he needed to find out more information. He described how the organization had used to park on a neighboring property and then “something transpired there.” From there the group moved to the Ann Arbor Community Center. After that the group had wanted to move to West Park, Bahl said.

Hieftje said he didn’t remember the city imposing a fee and ventured that the situation had arisen from a delivery vehicle being parked on private property. Hieftje asked Bahl to look into it, and indicated an assurance that he wanted to see the event continue without being assessed a fee. That drew a round of applause.

Outcome: This was not a voting item.

Fee Adjustments

In three separate items, the council was asked to consider fee adjustments for fire services, public services, and parks and recreation. For fire services fees, notable changes included the fact that inspections of fire alarm systems and suppression systems will now be done by the building department. Fees for individual items were in most cases identical to previous inspection fees. For parks and recreation, fees for Cobblestone Park and the Gallup Park meeting room were proposed to increase.

Generating considerable discussion was the fire department fee schedule. Mike Anglin (Ward 5) led things off by describing a controversy in a neighborhood about someone doing an open burn. In a residential neighborhood, he said, it can be disturbing. He questioned the value of open burns, pointing out there are people with asthmatic conditions and people who are bothered by smoke. He described a near-altercation among neighbors. It bothered him that it was allowed at all.

Anglin questioned whether it was an environmental improvement to do an open burn, if the air would be polluted. Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5), who represents the city council on the environmental commission, pointed out that the commission is regularly reminded by Christopher Graham about the value of fire as a management tool for native prairie systems and how turf grass over compacted clay has almost as much runoff as pavement. Warpehoski identified two issues: Are adequate protections in place for those who are bothered by smoke? Are the fees accessible to those who want to use fire in a responsible way to manage natural features?

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) said that the fees were way too high to encourage burning as a natural features management tool. There’s not reason to charge residents $180 a year to do a regular burn, he felt. Setting the fees that high, he said, did not encourage compliance. He called the fees punitive.

Kunselman proposed reducing the amount of the fee for an open burn permit – prescription burns and bonfires. He proposed reducing the fees from $180 and $150 to $50.

Considerable back and forth ensued about the definitions of a bonfire, a cooking fire, and a recreational fire.

Outcome: In separate votes, the council unanimously approved the fee modification for fires, as well as for the other service areas.

Utility Rate Increases

The council was asked to give initial consideration to increases in water, sewer and stormwater rates.

In terms of revenue generated to the city, the rate increases are expected to generate 3.55% ($739,244) more for drinking water , 4.25% ($955,531) more for the sanitary sewer , and 4% ($233,811) more for stormwater. [.pdf of complete utility rate changes as proposed]

According to the city, the rate increases are needed to maintain debt service coverage and to maintain funding for required capital improvements. The city estimates that the impact on an average customer will be a $20.66 per year increase in total utility charges.

The city’s drinking water charges are based on a “unit” of 100 cubic feet – 748 gallons. Charges for residential customers are divided into tiers, based on usage. For example, the first seven units of water for residential customers have been charged at a rate of $1.31 per unit and are proposed to be increased to $1.35 per unit. Since 2004 the city has used four tiers of rates, based on usage. For this year, however, the amount charged for the top tier – for usage over 45 units – is proposed to be collapsed into the next lower tier. Currently the top tier is charged at $6.78, but is proposed to drop to the third tier rate of $4.88.

Ann Arbor water utility rates

Ann Arbor water utility rates.

Sewer rates are charged as a function of water usage. The commodity rate is proposed to increase from $3.48 to $3.65.

The city’s stormwater rates are based on the amount of impervious area on a parcel and are billed quarterly. For example, the lowest tier – for impervious area less than 2,187 square feet – has been $13.68 per quarter. Under the new rate structure, that increases to $14.20.

Water usage for Ann Arbor city residents is available on the city’s website. [You'll need your account number to access information.]

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) asked about the change in the “> 45 units” rate. She wanted to know why that rate tier is being eliminated. Public services area administrator Craig Hupy explained that the rate tier isn’t being eliminated. Rather, it’s being set at the same rate as the tier below it. The tier is being left in place. If the desired results aren’t achieved, it can be changed back. Lumm said she’d gotten calls from people who were concerned about very high water bills – due to watering their lawns. The fee was especially punitive, she said, if someone had an irrigation system.

Lumm said that nobody like rate increases. But 3-4% increases don’t seem out-of-line, she said. It also means collecting an additional $2 million from residents so she didn’t take it lightly. It meant an average of only an additional $20 a year.

Mayor John Hieftje commended Hupy for staying within the 3-4% range, saying that Ann Arbor compares favorably with other communities.

Outcome: The council unanimously gave initial approval to the increases in utility rates. The increased rates will require a second and final approval from the city council after a public hearing.

Economic Collaborative Task Force

The council was asked to establish a task force that would consist of up to nine members – to reflect on “core values, priorities, and activities regarding economic development and identifying operations that may be duplicative, resources including funding, and opportunities for collaboration …” The task force would draw two or three members from the city of Ann Arbor, the economic development agency Ann Arbor SPARK and the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority.

The resolution, which the city council was asked to consider on May 20, named the city’s three representatives to the task force: city administrator Steve Powers, Sally Petersen (Ward 2) and Marcia Higgins (Ward 4). Higgins and Petersen sponsored the resolution. It had grown out of an idea to establish a task force to review the Ann Arbor DDA in the context of proposed changes to the city ordinance governing the DDA. Those changes, which would clarify existing language in the ordinance that limits the DDA’s tax increment finance capture, have been postponed by the council until Sept. 3.

The idea of the task force is also connected to the identification of economic development as one of the council’s five top priorities.

In more detail, the task force is supposed to do the following:

  • Provide clarity, alignment and specificity on economic development policy and objectives for fiscal year 2014 toward accomplishing city council’s success statement for Economic Development.
  • Provide for strategic alignment of priorities between the Task Force member entities.
  • Highlight cost sharing and maximizing of resource utilization.
  • Identify options for sustaining, modifying, or eliminating operations in a financially-responsible manner through efficiencies and/or partnerships as part of a cohesive economic development plan for the city.

The “success statement” mentioned in the resolution was crafted by the city council at a budget retreat held in late 2012. At that retreat, economic development was identified as one of five priorities. The others where fiscal discipline, public safety, infrastructure and affordable housing. The problem and success statements for economic development were as follows:

What is the problem we are solving? Create tax revenue separate from the University of Michigan, and the need to further increase and diversify private sector employment in the local economy.

What does success look like?

  1. Creating diverse employment opportunities in various fields and industries.
  2. Ann Arbor has an earned reputation as an attractive place to create, relocate, and maintain businesses.
  3. Quality of life is maintained and improved.

The task force considered at the council’s May 20 meeting is supposed to provide a report of findings and recommendations in December 2013.

Economic Collaborative Task Force: Council Deliberations

Petersen noted the link between the task force and the council priority that had been identified. She said that city administrator Steve Powers had then presented the council with work plans associated with each of the five priorities. One of the challenges for economic development was identifying staff who could work through the strategies and action items. So the city council should step up to help ensure that the success statement is achieved, she said.

Petersen called Ann Arbor SPARK and the DDA natural partners for the city on economic development. It’s important for the task force to use all the resource documents, she said, to look for areas of alignment and to identify clear priorities. She was looking forward to collaborating with SPARK and the DDA. She wanted to focus on making sure the city gets the highest and best use of every tax dollar when it comes to economic development.

Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) said he was excited to see the effort and he wished them the best of luck. He encouraged the task force to remember that economic development is a means, not an end unto itself. As they do their work, he asked them to remember that the means of economic development can have a broad range of benefit to the community. He mentioned that Google and Menlo Innovations are valuable, but not everybody benefits from that high-end of economic development. So he encouraged them to think of economic development across income ranges. [Warpehoski's remarks echoed the sentiments he'd expressed at the December 2012 council retreat, when he described his vision of an Ann Arbor that works for everybody.]

Mayor John Hieftje said he hoped that the task force really takes off and does really well. He said the DDA and SPARK are excited to work on it. The way that the state government budget process is set up, he said, if you don’t have some growth in your community, it’s impossible to keep up. Employees need wage increases now and then, and the cost of things goes up, he said. He wished the task force good luck.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) thanked Petersen and Higgins for bringing the proposal forward. She felt it was important to move forward the council’s priorities, mentioning that she’d be bringing forward a similar proposal for a task force on public safety. She had also mentioned the public safety task force during council communications time at the start of the meeting. Public safety was one of the city council’s priorities. Lumm indicated she’d be meeting again with chief of police John Seto before bringing her proposal forward to the council.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) stressed the importance of thinking about economic development in the context of the entire city, not just the downtown. Plymouth Road, Stadium Boulevard and Jackson Road seem to be doing quite well, he said.

Outcome: The council unanimously approved the establishment of the economic development task force.


Appointments to the city’s greenbelt advisory commission (GAC), the board of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority (AATA), the city planning commission and the park advisory commission were before the council for consideration.

Appointments: Greenbelt Advisory Commission

Stephanie Buttrey had been nominated for service on GAC at the council’s May 6 meeting. She’s an engineer and retired Chrysler executive. She’ll serve out the remainder of Liz Rother’s term, through June 30, 2014.

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), who serves as the city council’s representative to GAC, noted that Buttrey had been interested in greenbelt issues for some time. He thought she would bring diligence to the commission.

Outcome: The council unanimously confirmed Buttrey to GAC without further discussion.

Nominated at the May 20 meeting for service on GAC was Jennifer Fike, who is finance director of the Huron River Watershed Council. She would replace Laura Rubin, HRWC’s executive director, whose term on the commission ends in June. Fike attended the April 4, 2013 meeting of the commission to introduce herself and express her interest in serving.

Nominations for GAC are made by the city council, not by the mayor. The procedure followed by the council is to place on the agenda a resolution making the appointment at one council meeting, but postpone it until the following meeting. For mayoral nominations, the names are placed before the council at a meeting as a communications item – on which no council vote is required. The confirmation vote takes place at a subsequent meeting.

Mayor John Hieftje thanked Laura Rubin for her service on GAC. Taylor agreed she’d be missed.

Outcome: The council postponed the confirmation vote on Fike until its next meeting.

Appointments: AATA

The council was asked to confirm Susan Baskett as Jesse Bernstein’s replacement on the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board. She currently serves as a trustee on the board of the Ann Arbor Public Schools, an elected position. She’s worked with a committee to replace some school bus routes with AATA service.

A week earlier – on May 13, 2013 – Eric Mahler’s appointment to the AATA board was approved on a relatively narrow 7-4 vote. Mahler’s term on the planning commission currently ends this summer and he won’t continue in that position after his appointment on the AATA board.

Outcome: Susan Baskett’s appointment to the AATA board was confirmed as part of a single vote confirming all the appointments that evening.

Appointments: Planning Commission

As Eric Mahler’s replacement on the planning commission, the council was asked to consider Paras Parekh.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) and Paras Parekh, whose appointment to the planning commission was confirmed at end of the meeting.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) and Paras Parekh, whose appointment to the planning commission was confirmed at the end of the May 20 meeting.

Parekh is currently director of marketing and membership for the University of Michigan alumni association. His undergrad degree in economics is from UM. He has worked in marketing for a bit more than a decade, and spent two years as a legislative aide in the U.S. House of Representatives working for Congresswoman Lynn Rivers.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1), who is the city council’s representative to the planning commission, told her colleagues that Parekh had attended the start of the council meeting and introduced himself around. [Confirmation of appointments come at the end of the meeting, which in this case approached 2 a.m.] She’d met him the previous day and talked to him about his philosophy that he’d bring to the planning commission, and about why he’s passionate about Ann Arbor.

Outcome: Paras Parekh’s appointment to the planning commission was approved as part of a single vote confirming all the appointments.

Appointments: PAC

The council was asked to consider confirmation of Jennifer Geer as Tim Doyle’s replacement on the park advisory commission. Doyle’s term ended in May, and he did not seek reappointment.

Outcome: The council unanimously approved Geer’s appointment as part of a single vote confirming all the appointments.

Appointments: Process

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) took the occasion of council communications at the conclusion of the meeting to describe how the appointments process is supposed to work. This came in the context of questions that had been raised at the previous week’s meeting on May 13. [Some of the nominations that had been placed before the council at that meeting were not included on the confirmation list for May 20. Those not on the list included all of the downtown citizens advisory council nominees, as well as Donna Tope for the housing board of appeals and the zoning board of appeals.]

Higgins indicated that councilmembers who sit on boards and commissions that have openings coming up should be using their council communications time to apprise other councilmembers of that.

The applications come in through the clerk’s office and then go to the mayor, Higgins said. The mayor then places the names before the council as nominations, and everyone has two weeks to look at those nominations, she said. If councilmembers have concerns about those nominations or if there is someone else they’d prefer, then that should be communicated to the mayor, Higgins said. And the mayor will then decide which names he would put forward. She felt that the mayor listens to everyone about what they’d like to do.

The council then has the final decision on appointments, she said. She highlighted the environmental commission and the greenbelt advisory commission as the only two for which the council as a body provides the nomination.

Hieftje said his office would also be working with the clerk’s office to find a better way to provide information about what openings are available.

Video Privacy Ordinance

The council had previously postponed a proposed video privacy ordinance at its April 15 meeting – due to the length of that meeting – and again on May 6. [.pdf of ordinance as presented to the council on April 15, 2013]

The new ordinance would apply only to a limited range of cameras – those used by the city of Ann Arbor “to monitor human activity without the physical presence of an operator, including cameras on remotely operated aerial vehicles.” The ordinance would not apply to a range of city of Ann Arbor cameras, for example: cameras used to improve traffic design, security cameras operating in jails, prisons, water treatment facilities, public housing facilities, or the Ann Arbor Airport and other governmental facilities.

The proposed ordinance would allow for public surveillance cameras to be installed for 15 days or less at the discretion of the city administrator if the purpose is to address a specific criminal problem.

A period of longer than 15 days would require two-thirds of nearby residents to give written permission. Regardless of the period of the installation, onsite notice of the camera’s presence would be required. If a private residence is in the public surveillance camera’s range, then the residents of that property would have to give written permission for the installation.

A public surveillance camera could not be used for live-monitoring, except in emergencies, and audio recording would not be permitted. Access to the recorded images would be limited to “employees of the police department and attorneys involved in criminal proceedings.” After 90 days, surveillance recordings would be deleted unless they are part of an ongoing investigation. A report on the effectiveness of a camera would be published on a public website after its removal.

The council had been alerted to the forthcoming ordinance proposal over five months ago, when Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) told his colleagues at their Dec. 20, 2012 meeting that he and wardmate Mike Anglin would be bringing a proposal forward.

At that Dec. 20 meeting, Warpehoski said that the Ann Arbor police department doesn’t currently use that technique, but there’d been some concerns in other communities.

By way of additional background, the ordinance has been long in the works but has been delayed. Former Ward 1 councilmember Sandi Smith had announced at a council meeting over a year ago, on Aug. 4, 2011, that she’d be bringing a video surveillance ordinance for consideration at the council’s Sept. 6, 2011 meeting. And a year before that she’d indicated the city’s human rights commission would be working on the issue.

Warpehoski said he’d received numerous communications about the text of the ordinance from city staff and other stakeholders. He was still working with the city attorney’s office to finalize the language. So he wanted to postpone the first reading of the ordinance.

Outcome: Without further discussion, the council agreed to postpone the initial consideration of the video privacy ordinance until June 17, 2013.

Veterans Ice Arena Roof Contract

The council considered a $535,000 contract with Pranam Global Tech Inc. to replace the roof at Veterans Memorial Park Ice Arena. The project includes a 10% construction contingency of $53,500, bringing the total project budget to $588,500. The city’s park advisory commission had recommended the contract at its April 16, 2013 meeting.

Pranam, based in Livonia, was the lowest of five responsible bids received by the city. Other bidders were A.Z. Shmina Inc. ($612,000), Cedroni Associates Inc. ($738,000), Construction Solutions Inc. ($738,800) and Phoenix Contractors ($747,754).

According to a staff memo, the roof is nearly 40 years old and has several leaks. A coating was applied 12 years ago but is no longer effective. The purlins and beams have rusted due to moisture condensation, and many need to be replaced. The project will be funded from the FY 2013 park maintenance and capital improvements millage proceeds.

During the brief council deliberations, Mike Anglin (Ward 5) asked community services area administrator Sumedh Bahl describe the project. Bahl described putting the “roof on top of the roof.” It was more cost effective that way, he said.

Anglin, who serves as an ex officio member of the park advisory commission, said it was interesting that it provided better insulation. And he commended the staff for finding a company that could do the work in that way.

Outcome: The council unanimously approved the contract to replace the Veterans Memorial Park ice arena roof.

Fire Station Backup Generator

The council was asked to consider appropriating $101,200 for an emergency backup generator for Fire Station #6 – the one located in south Ann Arbor on Briarwood Circle. Of that amount, the general fund would be tapped for $38,485 to cover what was not available in the FY 2013 budget for the fire department. The generator is a 3-phase natural-gas-fired unit. Key functions supported by the generator during an outage include dispatch and radio communications, bay doors, and lighting.

Council discussion was led off by Jane Lumm (Ward 2), who focused on the need for generators at other stations. She noted that the department has needs for all the fire stations – based on answers to questions she’d asked of staff before the meeting. She wanted to see the need for better backup generators at other fire stations.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) called it good news that the city was investing in its fire stations, which meant that the city was no longer thinking of closing some of them. But he wanted to know what the plans were for replacing generators at the other stations. Fire chief Chuck Hubbard fielded the question. He told Kunselman that an RFP (request for proposals) had not yet been developed for the other stations, which currently use manual generators that need to be cranked up, and run on gas. In past years, the department had been approved to replace the generator at Fire Station #1, but he described the “previous administration” as having “dropped the ball” on that. It’s less costly now to do Station #6 – because Station #1 has some asbestos issues, Hubbard said.

Outcome: The council unanimously approved the expenditure for the Fire Station #6 generator replacement.

Public Art Administrator Contract

The council was asked to consider an extension of the contract for public art administrator Aaron Seagraves through July 31, 2013, which increases the total compensation in the contract by $5,410 for a total of $30,400.

During council deliberations, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) asked public services area administrator Craig Hupy to explain the background to the request. She wanted to know why the council was being asked to amend the FY 2013 budget instead of the FY 2014 budget. Hupy explained that the $5,410 is the estimated cost to extend the contract until the city has a clearer picture about what the city’s public art program is going to look like. [The council is scheduled to consider a final vote on changes to the public art ordinance at its June 3, 2013 meeting.]

Outcome: The council unanimously approved the extension to Seagraves’ 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. Here are some highlights.

Comm/Comm: Act 51

Larry Deck spoke on behalf of the Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition (WBWC). He called for the city to increase its allocation of Act 51 transportation funds for non-motorized transportation from 2.5% to 5%. [Act 51 money comes from weight and gas taxes, and is distributed to municipalities by the state. The city currently allocates 2.5% of those state funds to non-motorized transportation.] It was previously at the 5% level, but was reduced a few years ago, he noted.

Deck said that the council had received some emailed communication from WBWC in connection with a petition the group had circulated in the last few days. His understanding had been that the reduction had been made in order to save up funds to repair the East Stadium bridges. So now that they were built, he felt the previous level of funding for non-motorized facilities could be restored. He cited a statistic for the proportion of Ann Arbor residents who walk or bicycle to work – 20%. That could argue for increasing Act 51 funding for non-motorized facilities to 20%, he said. So he felt at least 5% would be reasonable.

Public services area administrator Craig Hupy was asked later in the meeting to explain the reduction from 5% to 2.5% in Act 51 funding for alternative transportation. That happened in the FY 2010 budget – but not to save up money to replace the East Stadium bridges, Hupy explained. It was due to the overall economic downturn, he explained, saying transportation funding is less than what it needs to be. Act 51 money was not growing – and in fact it was decreasing, he said. The money was not adequate to fund snow plowing and surface maintenance for the entire street network. That did not mean the city was not continuing its effort to expand the non-motorized network, Hupy added, pointing out that the city continues to include consideration of non-motorized infrastructure in all of its street projects. He gave as an example the inclusion of pedestrian islands as part of the reconstruction of Stadium Boulevard and the installation of rapid flashing beacons.

Hupy noted the resolution that originally called for the 5% level indicated that the alternative transportation fund should be charged for things like the hand-shoveling of crosswalks, which the city does not currently do. He reiterated that all transportation needs are being underfunded by Act 51.

Erica Briggs addressed the council at the final opportunity for public comment at the end of the meeting on behalf of the Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition. She told councilmembers that she hadn’t necessarily expected they would take action that evening on the Act 51 allocation to non-motorized facilities – but she wanted to make sure it was on their radar.

Comm/Comm: Budget – Housing, Human Services

Reported in Part 1 of the May 20, 2013 meeting report were council deliberations on the FY 2014 budget. Not included in that report were two turns of public commentary related to the budget.

Odile Hugonot-Haber supported the budget amendment that Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1) were proposing to make to the DDA’s budget – to transfer money from the DDA’s TIF fund to the DDA’s housing fund. She noted that a lot of new housing units are being built in the city targeting the student market. She called for the kind of diversity that would come from building housing for lower income people.

Dan Rubenstein introduced himself as the development director of a local nonprofit, the Family Learning Institute. He made general comments about human services funding in the budget. He thanked the council for their work. Human services funding affects more than just specific agencies that receive funding from the city, he said. FLI receives funding through the coordinated funding approach. Although FLI’s funding comes from Washtenaw County, under the coordinated funding model, a cut by one funder has a ripple effect. If there’s less in the joint funding, there’s less to go around, he said. Rubenstein stressed that all human services agencies and all local governments are in this together.

Comm/Comm: “People First” Language

Sally Petersen (Ward 2) weighed in for the use the appropriate vernacular and “people first” language in connection with people with disabilities. She serves on the city’s commission on disability issues, which might consider passing a resolution to help educate the public.

Part of the context of her remarks was the council’s discussion at its May 13, 2013 session that featured councilmembers and the mayor struggling to use preferred phrases like “people with disabilities” instead of “the less-abled.” It’s not always easy to know what phrases to use in which contexts, Petersen allowed. She herself struggles with it, she said. Her older sister was diagnosed with mental retardation, she said. Mental retardation is still her sister’s diagnosis today, Petersen explained, but “we all know that we don’t refer to people as being ‘retarded.’” Petersen knows she has to change her language to refer to “someone diagnosed with,” instead of “someone who is,” she explained.

Comm/Comm: Traffic Safety

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) highlighted the work of Ward 5 residents on safety issues in connection with South Seventh Street.

Mayor John Hieftje noted that the city will be stepping up enforcement in the vicinity of specific crosswalks in the coming weeks.

Comm/Comm: Slick Floors

Thomas Partridge called for fair budgeting, planning and housing policies. He called for reform of all policies to ensure they are anti-discriminatory. Fairness and balance should be attached to all policies – everything the city of Ann Arbor does. He asked mayor John Hieftje to improve his management skills, by asking that janitorial activities coinciding with the council meeting be eliminated. It’s “dirty politics” to have the floors polished so slick that people fall, Partridge said. It’s not fair and it’s not right, he said. He’s fallen several times, he said. He compared it to being on an ice rink. He called for the resignation of Hieftje and Gov. Rick Snyder.

Partridge also addressed the council at the conclusion of the meeting during public commentary time. He again complained about the slick floors, which were “negligently waxed.”

Comm/Comm: Misc.

Mark Koroi said he hoped that the downtown area citizens advisory council minutes would be reviewed, because they did not include the minimum information as required by Michigan’s Open Meetings Act.

He also stated that it was not accurate to say that Lansing didn’t have campus police, because Lansing Community College had campus police. [The remark came in the context of the council's budget discussion, during which mayor John Hieftje had said that in counting police in Lansing, it was East Lansing – not Lansing – that had campus police.]

Koroi also described a harassment lawsuit that had been filed and settled in connection with a former judge of the 15th District Court.

Koroi also suggested a replacement for retiring assistant city attorney Bob West – Mike Woodyard. [Woodyard ran unsuccessfully in 2012 for 22nd Circuit Court judge against incumbent Tim Connors.] Woodyard is well respected, he said, contrasting Woodyard with West, who was arrested for operating a vehicle while impaired.

Koroi also raised the specter of a lawsuit filed by residents in connection with the 413 E. Huron project. It’s being “set up right now and organized,” Koroi stated. It involves trying to get the circuit court to issue a temporary restraining order, he said.

Present: Jane Lumm, Mike Anglin, Margie Teall, Sabra Briere, Sumi Kailasapathy, Sally Petersen, Stephen Kunselman, Marcia Higgins, John Hieftje, Christopher Taylor, Chuck Warpehoski.

Next council meeting: Monday, June 3, 2013 at 7 p.m. in the second-floor council chambers at city hall, 301 E. Huron. [Check Chronicle event listings to confirm date]

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One Comment

  1. By Mark Koroi
    May 28, 2013 at 1:39 am | permalink

    The Downtown Area Citizens Advisory Council (DACAC) did not have the confirmation list voted on by City Council as had been scheduled.

    This means that the next scheduled meeting of DACAC which I have been advised by Ray Detter was for May 30th may not be held since that body is not duly constituted.

    As of this date, I have only been able to ascertain that Detter is the only former DACAC member to have filed a new application. I am not aware of anyone else who has applied for the 15-seat council – which has no duly-constituted members at this juncture.

    Based upon my three consecutive appearances at City Council on May 6th, 13th, and 20th about the dysfunctional nature that this body has operated, I believe this has prompted the comments of the Mayor and Marcia Higgins above regarding the appointments process.

    DACAC is mandated under state law(Public Act 197 of 1975), although the city can pass a resolution to opt out of having this body if they so choose. Being that no resolution has passed in that regard, the DACAC must operate to issue recommendations to the DDA and City Council.

    I am pleased that City Council has revisited and reconsidered te appointments process to ostensibly give downtown-area citizens an opportunity in a meaningful way to apply for vacancies and make the general appointments proceedure as a whole a fairer public process.

    I hope that more citizens will step forward to apply for these vacancies.