June 17, 2013 Ann Arbor Council: Final

15th District Court highlighted in several items; agenda also includes digital billboard regulation, fireworks ordinance, council rules

The council’s June 17, 2013 meeting could include final action on two ordinance revisions. One local law relates to the regulation of digital signs and billboards. The other law regulates the time of day when fireworks are allowed to be set off. While the fireworks regulation is probably seen as somewhat uncontroversial, the council might be inclined to postpone the final vote on digital signs and billboards – as it has done previously.

Door to Ann Arbor city council chambers

Door to the Ann Arbor city council chamber.

In addition to possible final votes on those two ordinance changes, several items related to the 15th District Court appear on the council’s agenda. The court handles all civil claims up to $25,000, including small claims, landlord-tenant disputes, land contract disputes, and civil infractions, as well as preliminary exams for felony cases. Salaries for judges are reimbursed by the state, but the court is funded by the city through its regular budgeting process, with other costs borne by the city or by grants.

The council will be asked to approve an adjustment to the city’s current fiscal year’s budget (FY 2013) to bring it in line with actual expenditures. The general fund total budget adjustment is to increase it by $567,000. And of that, a significant part is attributable to the 15th District Court – including $112,000 in salary increases based on an interest in retaining employees, $203,000 due to a “catch up” payment to the law firm that provides indigent representation, and a back-bill for security from Washtenaw County for two fiscal years for $110,000.

Also on the council’s agenda is the authorization of a contract revision for the current year with the law firm that provides indigent representation. The “catch up” payment stems from the firm’s practice of delaying billing until a defendant’s legal costs are thought to be complete – instead of billing along the way. Because that approach doesn’t give a clear picture of the actual current cost of indigent representation, a new contract with the firm for next year (FY 2014) will be based on a flat fee. That $240,000 annual flat-fee contract is with Nassif and Reiser, P.L.L.C. (f/k/a Funkhouser and Nassif, P.L.L.C.), d/b/a Model Cities Legal Services (“MCLS”). Nader Nassif is a board member of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority.

The council will also be asked to approve a $160,000 contract with the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office for weapons screening at the Justice Center, the building next to city hall that houses the 15th District Court. The estimated annual cost is based on $25.25 per hour per court security officer.

On the consent agenda – a group of items that are considered routine and voted on as a group – are two other items related to the 15th District Court. One is approval of $30,000 for a Sobriety Court grant program contract with the Washtenaw Community Health Organization (WCHO) to provide mental health treatment to 15th District Court defendants. The second is approval of $65,000 for a Sobriety Court grant program contract with the nonprofit Dawn Farm to provide in-patient and out-patient drug abuse counseling to 15th District Court defendants.

The Dawn Farm item includes a provision that could cause it to be pulled out of the consent agenda for separate consideration. That possibly controversial provision is a waiver of the city’s living wage ordinance for Dawn Farm to provide its counseling services. According to the staff memo accompanying the resolution, Dawn Farm employs 70 people, including 15 employees who are paid less than $12.52 per hour with health care coverage, and 18 people who are compensated at rates less than $13.96 per hour without health care coverage. Those are the rates specified in the city’s living wage ordinance. Last fall the council engaged in a vigorous discussion of a living wage ordinance waiver for Community Action Network (CAN), which ultimately resulted in the granting of a waiver at the council’s Nov. 8, 2012 meeting.

Other agenda highlights include revisions to contracts for six unions in the police department, which include a 2% wage increase starting July 1, 2013 and another 1% starting Jan. 1, 2014.

At the June 17 meeting, the council may also vote to adopt revisions to its own internal rules. Among other changes, the revised rules would reduce speaking times for the public from three to two minutes per turn.

Some other agenda items relate to site plans and brownfield plans.

Details of the meeting agenda are available on the city’s Legistar system. Readers can also follow the live meeting proceedings on Channel 16, streamed online by Community Television Network.

The Chronicle will be filing live updates from city council chambers during the meeting, published in this article “below the fold.” The meeting is scheduled to start at 7 p.m.

6:39 p.m. Pre-meeting activity. The scheduled meeting start is 7 p.m. Most evenings the actual starting time is between 7:10 p.m. and 7:15 p.m. A couple dozen people are already here who are affiliated with Camp Take Notice, to speak about Pizza in the Park.

6:52 p.m. Sally Petersen (Ward 2) was the first councilmember to arrive. Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public art administrator, is also here, setting up for the presentation of the Golden Paintbrush awards. Public art commission members John Kotarski and Bob Miller have now arrived. Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), mayor John Hieftje, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Mike Anglin (Ward 5) are also now here.

7:02 p.m. Former councilmember and now 15th District Court judge Christopher Easthope is here. He has sat down with Nader Nassif, who’s a partner in a law firm that provides indigent representation for the court. Several agenda items tonight are related to the 15th District Court, all involving money. Margie Teall (Ward 4) and Higgins are talking with Easthope.

7:07 p.m. Pledge of allegiance, moment of silence, the roll call of council, approval of the agenda. All councilmembers are present and correct. Note the agenda change made before the meeting started: The item proposing changes to the council rules has been moved out of the council communications slot to the council business section of the agenda. So the intent is for it to get a vote tonight, not just be a point of communication – although a vote to postpone is still a possibility.

7:09 p.m. Proclamations – Golden Paintbrush Awards. This is the 14th annual presentation of these awards, which are given out by the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission to people and organizations who contribute to public art works that “add interest to our cityscape, beautify the community and create a sense of place.”

One of this year’s awards is going to John Carver, who commissioned “Spirit of Ann Arbor” for the Carver-Gunn Building on Liberty Street. It’s 16 feet tall made from cut powder-coated aluminum – a work created by Detroit artist Charles McGee. The other award this year goes to Vic Strecher and Jeri Rosenberg, who are being recognized for their support of organizations that have organized events like Festifools and FoolMoon. Public art commission chair Bob Miller is giving the introduction of the awards.

7:15 p.m. Public commentary. This portion of the meeting offers 10 three-minute slots that can be reserved in advance. Preference is given to speakers who want to address the council on an agenda item. [Public commentary general time, with no sign-up required in advance, is offered at the end of the meeting.]

A pending rule change to be considered at tonight’s meeting would limit speaking time to two minutes. Another pending rule change would address “frequent flyers,” by only allowing people to reserve time at the start of the meeting, if they did not speak during reserved time at the previous council meeting. Chronicle coverage of the possible rule changes can be found here: “Council Mulls Speaking Rule Changes.”

Eight of the 10 slots tonight are reserved for people to address the issue of Pizza in the Park. They’re speaking about a petition they delivered to the city, a copy of which is attached to the electronic agenda. Pizza in the Park is a homelessness ministry of the Vineyard Church that includes distribution of food and other aid at Liberty Plaza at Liberty and Division streets in downtown Ann Arbor. A few months ago, the parking of a vehicle in a private driveway and the subsequent application of a shelter rental fee by the city led to protests raised during public commentary at the council’s May 20, 2013 meeting. Assurance was given at that meeting that the Pizza in the Park event could continue. That was affirmed when speakers again addressed the issue at the council’s June 3, 2013 meeting.

Speakers on those occasions, many who are affiliated with Camp Take Notice, a self-governed homeless community, asked for a written assurance of the city’s commitment. A proposal is currently on the city’s park advisory commission’s June 18, 2013 agenda to consider waiving all fees associated with Liberty Plaza. That would need city council approval. Those signed up to speak tonight on this issue are: Peggy Lynch, Mark Douglas, David Williams, Jose Galofre, Michael Ramirez, Christine Kern, Sheri Wander, and Gregory Kerrick.

Thomas Partridge is the second speaker, who’ll be calling for the advancement of a civil rights agenda. Bob Galardi, a member of the city’s park advisory commission, will be addressing the council’s agenda item that calls for it to pledge up to $750,000 of general fund money for the 721 N. Main project. The city believes that it will receive grants to cover that amount, but the pledge is necessary in order to secure a different grant, for $300,000 from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Trust Fund.

7:23 p.m. Peggy Lynch is first up. She takes the podium to applause. She describes the unmet and tragic humanitarian need in Ann Arbor. She thanked the council for the suspension of the fee at Liberty Plaza. But she’s hopeful that the gentleman’s agreement can be replaced with something in writing. David Williams echoes the request for a written commitment.

7:25 p.m. Thomas Partridge assures the council that if he were elected mayor or councilmember, he would be giving voice to the concerns of the residents of Camp Take Notice. He calls for the advancement of Dr. Martin Luther King’s civil rights agenda. He recalls the “I have a Dream” speech.

7:31 p.m. The next several speakers will be addressing the council on the topic of Pizza in the Park and humanitarian aid. Jose Galofre is addressing the council through a sign language interpreter. He calls for the passage of an ordinance – put down in writing for the future. Michael Ramirez tells the council he has medical issues that require him to go to the University of Michigan health system. Christine Kern tells the council she lives on the street with her boyfriend. They’ll be sleeping outside tonight. She recites a definition of basic human rights, and asks the council to enact an ordinance that protects the right to distribute humanitarian aid on public land.

7:39 p.m. Bob Galardi is addressing the council on the MDNR grant application in connection with the city-owned property at 721 N. Main. He’s speaking on behalf of the Allen Creek Greenway Conservancy – he’s president of the conservancy’s board. Galardi asks the council for their support of the resolution later on the agenda that commits the city to as much as $750,000 of general fund money for the project. The conservancy, he says, is confident that the grant funding for which the city has applied will materialize. [That would mean that the city wouldn't need to spend that money.]

7:39 p.m. Council communications. This is the first of three slots on the agenda for council communications. It’s a time when councilmembers can report out from boards, commissions and task forces on which they serve. They can also alert their colleagues to proposals they might be bringing forward in the near future.

7:46 p.m. Christopher Taylor alerts the public to the fact that on the following day, June 18, the park advisory commission will be considering a resolution to waive fees for the use of Liberty Plaza. That would come back to the council for a final decision. Jane Lumm gives an update on opportunities for public input on the ReImagine Washtenaw project. Lumm also alerts her colleagues that a resolution on the public safety task force will be on the council’s July 1 agenda.

Mike Anglin calls for a focus on safety as people move around the city during the summer. He calls for the installation of stop signs to slow traffic on streets over which the city has control.

Sabra Briere tells the council she spent six hours today getting trained on “place making.” She learned a lot about certain types of zoning, she said. Ann Arbor is one of 14 major centers in the state. We shouldn’t think about ourselves in isolation, she said. We should think regionally and not try to mimic what others are doing, she said. John Hieftje refers to the book “The Economics of Place,” a publication of the Ann Arbor-based Michigan Municipal League.

7:49 p.m. Public hearings. All the public hearings are grouped together during this section of the meeting. Action on the related items comes later in the meeting.

Tonight, seven public hearings appear on the agenda. Two are for rezoning of annexed property: McMullen property at 3100 Geddes Ave.; and the Max property at 2503 Victoria Ave. One hearing is for a revision to the fireworks ordinance – that would restrict the use of fireworks on July 3-5 to the period between 8 a.m. and midnight on those days. Three developments are the subject of public hearings.

The State Street Center site plan is getting a public hearing after getting the rezoning associated with that site plan approved at the council’s previous meeting. And two public hearings are associated with the 544 Detroit Street “planned project” – the site plan and the brownfield plan.

Finally, the brownfield plan for the Packard Square development – site of the former Georgetown Mall – is getting a public hearing, because of an amendment to a previously approved plan.

7:51 p.m. Thomas Partridge is holding forth on the first rezoning hearing. Hieftje is admonishing him to stay on the topic. Partridge wants an ordinance attached to the rezoning that would require it to be used for affordable housing and give access to affordable transportation.

7:58 p.m. Partridge is now speaking during the public hearing for the fireworks ordinance revision. July 4 should be a celebration of civil rights and human rights, he says. He objects to celebrating the holiday with fireworks. The next speaker is Michael Benson, also addressing the topic of the fireworks ordinance. He asks the council to consider allowing people to apply for a permit to use fireworks on other days. He wonders what the other costs are in addition to the $500 fine.

8:01 p.m. Partridge now rises to speak during the public hearing about the State Street Center site plan.

8:11 p.m. Jeff Crockett rises to speak in favor of the 544 Detroit St. project. He calls it a responsive development. The site plan demonstrates serious consideration of citizen input. He says he knows of no one who opposes this project. He calls for zoning laws that are not driven just by statistics, but rather are value-driven. Partridge also speaks on the 544 Detroit St. project. And with his remarks on the Packard Square brownfield plan, Partridge has now had his say – until the end of the meeting, when there’s another opportunity for public commentary.

8:13 p.m. Todd McWilliams addresses the council. He tells Partridge that he was abusing the public hearings. Partridge tells McWiliams he’s abusing his civil rights and ends with “See you in court.”

8:13 p.m. The council has voted to go into closed session to discuss labor negotiation strategy.

8:38 p.m. The council is emerging from the closed session.

8:43 p.m. Council communications. Briere is explaining that she is not the chair of the ACLU. She was proud to be the chair a decade ago, but she is no longer the chair.

8:43 p.m. Minutes and consent agenda. This is a group of items that are deemed to be routine and are voted on “all in one go.” Contracts for less than $100,000 can be placed on the consent agenda. This meeting’s consent agenda includes:

  • Summer Fun: Street closing for Art Fairs 2013.
  • Courts: $30,000 for Sobriety Court grant program contract with the Washtenaw Community Health Organization (WCHO) to provide mental health treatment to 15th District Court defendants.
  • Courts: $65,000 for Sobriety Court grant program contract with Dawn Farm to provide in-patient and out-patient drug abuse counseling to 15th District Court Defendants.
  • Energy: $59,386 for contract with DTE Energy for LED streetlight conversion and rebate participation.
  • Energy: $49,883 for contract with CDM Smith for wind generator project.
  • Streets: $40,960 for materials testing contract with Professional Service Industries in connection with the W. Madison Street improvement project.
  • Buildings: $31,618 for a contract with E.T. MacKenzie Company to demolish two buildings at 721 N. Main St.
  • Software: $70,000 for a contract with Cogsdale Corporation for annual software maintenance and support.
  • Copier Services: $25,000 per year increase to contract with Hasselbring Clark Service to provide services and support for the city’s Canon multifunction copiers, of which there are 46.
  • Lobbyist: $48,000 contract with Governmental Consultant Services Inc., a Lansing lobbying firm. This is an annual contract.
  • Economic Development: $75,000 contract with Ann Arbor SPARK for business support services.
  • Minutes: Insurance Board minutes are included in the consent agenda.

8:45 p.m. Councilmembers can opt to select out any items for separate consideration. Lumm asks to pull out the wind energy item. Briere wants to pull out the Dawn Farm grant and the demolition contract at 721 N. Main.

8:50 p.m. The Dawn Farm grant is now under discussion. Briere says she’s not satisfied with the answers she’s received to questions she has asked about the living wage ordinance exemption that’s been requested by Dawn Farm. She wants to know if the item can be postponed. Judge Joe Burke, who runs the Sobriety Court, explains that the court’s application for a grant is due this Friday – so postponement would be difficult. Burke says he was the one who’d asked for the living wage ordinance exemption. Jim Balmer, executive director of Dawn Farm, had reported that Dawn Farm can’t comply with the living wage. Burke is explaining the importance of the work that Dawn Farm does in support of the Sobriety Court.

8:52 p.m. Briere says she doesn’t see a process in the application for the living wage exemption that would eventually lead to compliance. Just as working toward sobriety has steps, she says, working toward financial solvency also has steps. Her problem is with the exemption, not the contract. Briere votes against it as the sole vote of dissent. She says she doesn’t need a roll call vote.

8:56 p.m. We’re on to the wind generator project. Lumm reports that the proposal is to place a wind turbine at Pioneer High School. She complains about the lack of community outreach. Sumi Kailasapathy is now addressing the issue. She reports that she’s received a letter from a UM physics professor – Gregory Tarlè. She reads aloud some concerns outlined by him. Power grows as the cube of wind velocity, and turbines should be sited accordingly. The only thing this turbine will teach students is that if you place a windmill where there’s no wind, then it won’t move. She didn’t think that’s worth $1 million. It’s not too late, she said. She allows that it’ll be federal dollars, but that’s still taxpayer money and it’s the council’s duty to be a good steward, she says.

9:02 p.m. Briere asks for staff to come to the podium. Now at the podium are Brian Steglitz and Craig Hupy. Briere asks Steglitz to explain why it’s a good project. He characterizes it as a demonstration program. The city went through a competitive project to obtain the grant, he says. The partnership with Wind Products includes a guarantee that it’ll produce a minimum amount of energy. The project is also part of the city’s goal to generate alternative energy, Steglitz says. The power that the school will purchase from the developer will cost less than conventional power.

Petersen asks for more information about the Ann Arbor Public Schools participation in the project. If AAPS cuts its budget, will it possibly cut support for the turbine? Steglitz says that AAPS will lease the space for the turbine and purchase the power. That’s the extent of AAPS participation. Petersen ventures that AAPS will have a financial upside. Yes, says Steglitz.

9:14 p.m. Craig Hupy, public services area administrator, explains that the item approves funding to look at the environmental impact of the turbine. Lumm again cites the same letter from the UM physics professor that Kailasapathy had mentioned. Higgins asks how the public will be notified about the public engagement process. Steglitz says that the intent would be to broaden the scope beyond the 500 foot requirement. He describes the city’s public engagement “toolbox.” Higgins wants to know when. Steglitz explains it’d be in the next six months. The environmental review is expected to be done by the end of the year, Steglitz says.

Higgins ventures that it’ll be a lively debate about whether a wind turbine should go there. Steglitz describes the city commitment as around $18,000 of staff time. Higgins is willing to let that debate unfold and not get in the way of it. She confirms with Hupy that before any further city commitment is made, the council would have to approve it. Kunselman asks for a refresher on the height of the pole. Steglitz says it’d be about 120 feet with a 60-foot diameter blade. Kunselman says it’s not really a “turbine” but rather a generator. Kunselman’s day job at UM is as energy liaison with Planet Blue. He feels that the generator will actually be generating a decent amount of electricity given its educational, demonstration purpose. Anglin weighs in for the project based on its educational impact. Kailasapathy asks if the estimates for energy production were independently verified.

9:28 p.m. Lumm notes she voted for the acceptance of the federal grant. But she’s learned a lot since that vote was taken. She won’t support it. Briere ventures that public outreach won’t happen unless the city hires a public outreach firm. That process will help determine whether this is an appropriate site, she ventures. Steglitz confirms that’s correct. She wonders what the alternative locations are. Steglitz says there aren’t any. Hupy indicates the city has looked extensively, even as far north as East Lansing – with a maize-and-blue pole, he quips. City administrator Steve Powers assures the council that Hupy is not joking about the idea of trying to find a location in East Lansing.

Petersen wants to know if anyone from AAPS is here to talk about the educational component. Apparently there is not. Kailasapathy says that she doesn’t understand the educational benefit if it were located in East Lansing. Hupy says utility regulations require that the power is consumed on the site where it’s generated. Kailasapathy raises objections about noise. Steglitz explains that the noise issue will be part of the environmental assessment. Kunselman stresses that the UM professor’s letter is talking about wind-farm sized turbines, not the size of the generator that the city is considering. It’s a 60 kW wind generator that will be running about 30% of the time. And part of that time, students will have the opportunity to look at a data center that shows all the data. That’s the educational effort. And the money is Dept. of Energy grant money, not city money. Kunselman concludes that the city should move forward with it.

Hieftje weighs in for the resolution. He says it’s worth exploring the next stage. Hieftje says he wants to follow the lead of the DoE. Lumm responds to Hieftje’s argument. She questions whether the DoE is aware of the power generation estimates. Hieftje ventures that DoE is aware of the educational nature of the project.

Outcome: This item gets a roll call vote. No votes are Petersen, Lumm, Kailasapathy.

9:32 p.m. The council is now on to the 721 N. Main building demolition. Briere pulled it out for separate consideration just to highlight it, not because it was controversial. Anglin asks city floodplain manager Jerry Hancock to the podium. Anglin asks about other grant opportunities from FEMA, which is funding this demolition. Anglin asks for the floodway maps so that councilmembers know which houses are in the floodplain. Hancock explains that the new maps have been in place since last April. Hancock tells Anglin that he sent him the requested information last week.

9:32 p.m. The council has now passed all of the consent agenda items.

9:33 p.m. FY 2013 Budget: Year-end maintenance. This is a year-end budget adjustment to bring it into closer alignment with the actual expenditures. [.pdf of proposed amendments] The general fund total adjustment is to increase it by $567,000. Of that, a significant part is attributable to the 15th District Court – including $112,000 in salary increases based on an interest in retaining employees, $203,000 due to a “catch up” payment to the law firm that provides indigent representation, and a back-bill for security from Washtenaw County for two fiscal years for $110,000.

9:34 p.m. Briere proposes an amendment that eliminates the budget adjustment for the salary increases. She objects that regular processes weren’t followed. She ventures that the chief judge overstepped her bounds. Briere was not satisfied with the mechanism. She calls the wage increases “not properly done.”

9:34 p.m. Here’s a memo from 15th District Court administrator Keith Zeisloft. [.pdf of responses from 15th District Court to councilmember inquiries] Responding to a question about the ability of the city council to control the court’s spending decisions, the memo states:

Although City Council has authority to establish a total annual budget for the Court, and with all respect due to Council, the Court declines to accept that City Council has authority to direct, control, approve or disapprove specific expenditures, including but not limited to compensation of judicial employees. However, legalities aside, the Court has always sought a respectful and cordial relationship with Council and City Administration, and the Court’s budget history demonstrates that the Court has been a prudent and careful custodian of public funds, at times even to the disadvantage of the Court’s own interests.

9:38 p.m. Lumm asks Zeisloft to the podium. Zeisloft defers to the judges who are all here. Judges Christopher Easthope, Elizabeth Hines and Joe Burke are all standing at the podium. Lumm asks about the salary increases – which were implemented in October 2012. Lumm asks for a breakdown of the amount. Zeisloft breaks down the $112,000 adjustment. The annual impact is calculated at $193,000. Lumm asks for that information to be provided in writing.

Judge Hines is now addressing the council. She respects the separation of powers. But the chief judge has the authority to increase salaries, she says. The court has never asked the city for permission to do that in her 22 years on the bench. She points out the money that the court has managed to return to the city in past years when they’ve come in under budget.

9:46 p.m. Hines talks about the challenge of retaining employees. She describes past pay cuts. She describes a gross disparity in pay. She said the court had worked with the city’s HR department, but did not ask permission, she said. The court is not overpaying its employees by any means, she said. She felt the pay raises were only reasonable.

Kailasapathy disagrees with the narrative of the “honorable judges.” She cites the decrease in cases handled by the court. The workload has come down, Kailasapathy says. The cost savings of 3.4% that the court had achieved should be seen in that context, Burke says. Easthope says the court was trying to be in the lead in reducing its costs. The caseload went down, but the number of employees also went down, he said. Hines said that the kind of cases that went down were not the kind that reduce judge and staff time. Hines returned to the challenge of retaining employees as the basis for the salary increases.

Briere says she’s not unsympathetic to the situation. But she felt it should have been considered as part of the standard budgeting process. The money should have been built into the FY 2013 budget, Briere says. She agrees with the need to compensate the court staff. But a standard increase in salary should have been included in the budget.

9:52 p.m. Burke tells the council that when he became a judge, Hines and Easthope had sat him down and talked to him about the employees. He says that in making the salary increases, they had followed the normal procedures that anyone would in determining the amounts of the increases. The one thing that they had not done was ask the city council. Burke said they felt that the salary increases would come in within the court’s FY 2013 budget – but they were wrong.

Kailasapathy is now citing a Michigan Supreme Court administrative order that appears to say that if the court uses a line item budget, there are restrictions on what the court can do.

From Administrative Order No. 1998-5, which applies to district courts, among others.

II. COURT BUDGETING If the local funding unit requests that a proposed court budget be submitted in lineitem detail, the chief judge must comply with the request. If a court budget has been appropriated in line-item detail, without prior approval of the funding unit, a court may not transfer between line-item accounts to: (a) create new personnel positions or to supplement existing wage scales or benefits, except to implement across the board increases that were granted to employees of the funding unit after the adoption of the court’s budget at the same rate, or (b) reclassify an employee to a higher level of an existing category. A chief judge may not enter into a multiple-year commitment concerning any personnel economic issue unless: (1) the funding unit agrees, or (2) the agreement does not exceed the percentage increase or the duration of a multipleyear contract that the funding unit has negotiated for its employees. Courts must notify the funding unit or a local court management council of transfers between lines within 10 business days of the transfer. The requirements shall not be construed to restrict implementation of collective bargaining agreements.

Zeisloft says that the court only submits a budget in a line item form as a courtesy. Tom Crawford, the city’s CFO, explains that the city requires all the units to submit line item budgets, but the city council authorizes the budgets by fund. Kailasapathy comes back to the administrative order.

10:07 p.m. Easthope says the council has the authority to set a lump sum budget for the court. But the council doesn’t have the ability to change line items, he says. Easthope describes the court as a separate branch of government. The Supreme Court administrative office had provided all the comparative data, he said. Hines had not simply said, “You get a raise and you get a raise …” Back-and-forth ensues between Kailasapathy and Zeisloft on how the HR department of the city had been involved in the compensation adjustment amount. No formal report had been requested from HR, Zeisloft says.

Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) asks for clarification of the administrative order on line item budgeting. Warpehoski asks what happens if the council doesn’t approve the adjustment. That is, what happens if Briere’s amendment passes. Crawford indicates that the city would probably get a comment on that in the city’s audit. The money has already been spent, Warpehoski points out. Crawford indicates agreement that it would be difficult to stop the expenditures in the next two weeks, when the fiscal year ends.

Lumm confirms with Crawford that court employee checks are processed through the city. Lumm says that the court’s budget seems to be “optional.” But Lumm ventures that there doesn’t seem to be an option to not make the adjustment. Easthope says the court was actually under the budget by $99,000. Lumm says she wants to follow up later on that. She says that Easthope’s remarks aren’t consistent with the information the council has received.

Kunselman appreciates that Burke had conceded that the court’s math was off. He asked what Burke thought the consequence should be: Should the council just cover the amount? In the short term, Burke says, yes. He says the court doesn’t spend money like drunken sailors. Burke ventures that the council would not want to hear next year that the court has the same issue.

10:18 p.m. Taylor ventures that it’s been a full conversation. It’s a simple question. The court has diligently determined that their line workers’ wages were below market. The council has approved the increases going forward, he says, when it approved the FY 2014 budget. Taylor says he’ll vote against Briere’s amendment. Hieftje confirms with Crawford that the budget resolution basically recognizes reality.

Briere says her intent is not to force the court into a deficit. Staff should not be penalized for the actions of their supervisors. She says she’ll withdraw her amendment. She says the court should have done a better job of communicating. She says she will remember this situation without fondness. Kailasapathy, who seconded the amendment, hesitated for several seconds before agreeing with Briere to withdraw.

10:30 p.m. With that amendment withdrawn, Petersen has moved on to the indigent representation and the security services issue. Zeisloft characterizes it as an unusual circumstance, that should not arise again in the future. Easthope notes that the special docket courts are operated at no cost to the city. Higgins asks why the salary increases were not undertaken during the period when the court was returning money to the city. If the court had the ability to give raises without asking permission from the city, why didn’t the court give the raises at that time – when the court had the money? Higgins complains that she felt blindsided.

Briere ventures that it’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission. She appreciated that the court felt a little bit picked upon. Burke objects to any analysis that would say the court tried to sneak something past the city, saying that’s an integrity issue. City administrator Steve Powers shares his perspective as a former county administrator. He accepted responsibility for not bringing the communication back from the court and not updating the council. Going forward, the consultation with the court would be important so that these issues don’t arise in the future. He stresses the importance of the two branches doing things in consultation, not confrontation.

10:30 p.m. Outcome: The council has voted to approve the FY 2013 budget adjustments over the lone dissent of Kailasapathy.

10:30 p.m. 15th District Court: Weapons screening contract. This is for a $160,000 contract with Washtenaw County sheriff’s office for weapons screening at the Justice Center, which houses the 15th District Court. The estimated annual cost is based on $25.25 per hour per court security officer. The estimated maximum annual cost of $160,000 is $27,000 less than last year. The money comes from the 15th District Court’s budget.

10:32 p.m. Lumm is questioning Zeisloft about the contract and how the estimate was calculated.

Outcome: The council has voted to approve the weapons screening contract.

10:32 p.m. 15th District Court: Indigent representation. Two resolutions are on the agenda related to the law firm that provides indigent representation for 15th District Court defendants. The first is for a flat fee $240,000 contract for representation of indigent defendants – with Nassif and Reiser, P.L.L.C. (f/k/a Funkhouser and Nassif, P.L.L.C.), d/b/a Model Cities Legal Services (“MCLS”). That’s for FY 2014. For the previous year, the council is also being asked to cover $203,000 of fees that accrued due to the delayed billing practice used by MCLS.

10:33 p.m. Taylor says that the contracting party is a client of his. He asks the council to vote to excuse him from voting. They do and he takes a seat on the hard bench.

10:39 p.m. Lumm asks Zeisloft if the court had considered issuing an RFP (request for proposals) for the service. Zeisloft describes the negotiation between the court and the law firm. He says that the court has not considered issuing an RFP, but it would be possible. Model Cities, however, provides the service at a very competitive cost, he says. Easthope explains that Model Cities doesn’t just stand in court – they provide far more than that. There’s a value that’s hard to represent – that doesn’t have to do with just the lowest price. Model Cities has a personal connection to all the social services agencies, Easthope says.

10:39 p.m. Outcome: The council has voted to approve the two resolutions related to Model Cities for legal services.

10:39 p.m. Ordinance: Outdoor advertising – Billboards. The ordinance change would restrict the way that digital technology could be incorporated into any signs. It would also prevent any digital technology retrofitting of existing billboards, and prohibit billboards generally – although the 28 existing billboards citywide would be allowed to continue as non-conforming structures. This has been given initial approval by the council and was up for final action twice before – most recently, on May 6, 2013. Action on May 6 was to postpone a final decision – until tonight. [.pdf file of map showing billboard locations in the city]

10:49 p.m. Taylor is introducing the item. He describes it as enforcing the status quo. There are some changes compared to the first reading. One is an exception for churches and schools. The definition of “changeable” copy has also been revised. Taylor says it’s important that billboards not expand beyond their current status.

Warpehoski says he’s heard close to zero support for expanding billboards to use digital technology – other than from those in the outdoor sign industry. He’d heard no support for digital signs to the point where he felt there was consensus.

Petersen says Ann Arbor wants to be a tech town, and preserving the status quo is too conservative. She cites the possible negative impact on economic development. It promotes blight by not allowing existing billboards to be removed and replaced with new ones. She’s going to oppose this ordinance change. MDOT relies on digital technology to convey messages, she points out. She calls for a more comprehensive look at the ordinance. It’s way too conservative for a town that wants to move forward with technology, she says.

Briere says that she thinks AAPS is unlikely to go ahead with a proposal to contract with Adams Outdoor Advertising on school property. Two of the proposed digital signs were in Ward 1. They didn’t make her happy. She conceded she was perhaps an old fogey.

Lumm thanks staff for all their research and their work. She thinks the proposals are reasonable. She’ll be supporting the ordinance change.

10:53 p.m. Anglin thanks staff for their work. He says it’s clear that the community doesn’t want any more visual intrusion. It’s not an anti-business proposal, but rather a pro-community move, he says.

10:53 p.m. Outcome: The council has voted to give final approval to the billboard ordinance, over dissent from Petersen and Higgins.

10:54 p.m. Ordinance: Rezoning – McMullen and Max properties. Both of these rezoning requests have already received initial approval. The zoning is from TWP (township) zoning to residential in both cases.

10:54 p.m. Outcome: The council has voted to approve the rezoning of these properties, which are being annexed into the city.

10:55 p.m. Ordinance: Fireworks time restrictions. The revision to the fireworks ordinance was given initial approval at the council’s June 3. 2013 meeting. The impact of the ordinance change would be to restrict the use of fireworks on July 3-5 to the period between 8 a.m. and midnight on those days. The ordinance change is made possible by a recent change to state law. Gov. Rick Snyder is expected to sign it into law before July 4.

10:57 p.m. Outcome: The council has voted to give final approval to the fireworks ordinance.

10:59 p.m. The council is now in recess.

11:06 p.m. Ordinance: Video privacy. Now back from recess, the council is taking up a new ordinance that would regulate the way local law enforcement officials can deploy surveillance cameras. In some cases, resident approval would be required. The ordinance has appeared several times previously on the agenda, but has not yet received initial approval. Most recently it was postponed on May 6, 2013. (All ordinances, per the city charter, need an initial approval from the council, followed by a public hearing and a final vote taken at a subsequent meeting.)

11:20 p.m. Chuck Warpehoski is introducing the ordinance. Chief John Seto is out of town. Warpehoski is asking his colleagues to move the change forward to second reading. He characterizes it as a balance between the right to privacy and the interests of law enforcement. He ventures that there’s a lot on the agenda. So he suggests a more in-depth discussion when it comes back for second and final reading.

Petersen asks for clarification of some changes. Briere thanks Warpehoski for his work, but says that this ordinance is not her favorite idea. Lumm says she was hoping it would be postponed. She points to the fact that Seto is not here. She also notes that new revisions had been given to the council only last night. She doesn’t think the council should pass ordinances at the first reading just to get them to the second reading. Lumm won’t support it.

Kunselman appreciated Warpehoski’s work to bring the ordinance forward. But he feels it’s a solution in search of a problem. He knew he wouldn’t support it when it came to the second reading. He feels it tied the city administrator’s hands. Privacy is already protected, he says. Surveillance cameras do work, he says, giving the West Willow neighborhood as an example. He asks: Where’s the budget for this? Asking the city administrator to run around getting permissions from residents didn’t seem sensible, he said.

Kailasapathy indicates support for postponement. She moves for postponement. Warpehoski seconds that motion. Taylor indicates support for the postponement. He said he’d have probably been inclined to support it at first reading.

11:20 p.m. Outcome: The council has voted to postpone the video privacy ordinance until July 1, when police chief John Seto will be available.

11:21 p.m. Ordinance: Fire code. This first reading of the ordinance would amend Chapter 111 (Fire Prevention) of the city code so that it refers to the 2009 International Fire Code instead of the 2003 version.

11:30 p.m. Warpehoski says that he’ll support the ordinance at first reading, but he has some concerns about the inspection of certain areas. Lumm asks fire chief Chuck Hubbard about frequency and cost of fire inspections. He contrasts inspections with re-inspections. If there are violations found, then an inspector will return to confirm that the violation has been corrected. Hubbard allows that inspections have been stepped up. It’s being done for the benefit to the property owners, he says.

Powers says that the performance of the fire inspection program is being reviewed. Kunselman notes that the building department is already using the 2009 code, but the fire department is using the 2003 code. What are the differences? Kunselman gets confirmation that the council’s approval is more or less a formality. It’s like “housekeeping.” Anglin asks how many staff are allocated. Hubbard says it’s been increased from three people to seven. Anglin feels the overall safety of the community is being improved.

11:31 p.m. Taylor says he’s delighted that the city is conducting more fire inspections.

Outcome: The council has voted to give initial approval to the adoption of the 2009 fire code.

11:31 p.m. CTN truck upgrade. The upgrade is for high-definition production equipment for the Community Television Network (CTN) truck. The $77,711 contract with VTP Inc. was included as part of the FY 2013 budget, according to a staff memo accompanying the resolution.

11:31 p.m. Outcome: The council has voted without discussion to approve the CTN truck upgrade.

11:31 p.m. Resolution of commitment: 721 N. Main. This is a resolution of commitment from the council that it’s willing to spend up to $750,000 of city general fund money to undertake planned improvements to the city-owned property at 721 N. Main. If the city’s plan unfolds as it expects, then none of that general fund money would be needed. Of the $1.2 million estimated cost for the trail and stormwater improvements to the site, the city plans to use $150,000 from the city’s stormwater fund. To cover part of the remaining $1.05 million, the city hopes to use $600,000 from a grant it hopes to receive from the Michigan Dept. of Transportation (MDOT) and the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) – through SEMCOG’s transportation alternatives program (TAP). The council approved the application for the SEMCOG grant at its April 15, 2013 meeting.

To cover the remaining $450,000, the city hopes to use $150,000 from a Washtenaw County Parks & Recreation Connecting Communities grant and $300,000 from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund (MNRTF) grant. The council approved the application for those last two grants at its Dec. 17, 2012 meeting. Tonight’s resolution comes in response to an MNRTF grant requirement that the council commit the city to funding the other grants itself – from general fund money – if the grants fail to materialize. The $750,000 figure comes from adding the $600,000 SEMCOG grant to the $150,000 Washtenaw County Parks & Recreation grant.

11:42 p.m. Briere stresses that the commitment is not an expenditure. Lumm thanks Briere for her service on the North Main Huron River task force. She’ll support it. Kunselman wondered if any park millage dollars would be spent on this project. Briere notes that the property is not a park. When will it be a park? asks Kunselman. That’s a decision for park advisory commission (PAC), not for her, Briere responds.

Taylor, who serves as an ex officio member of PAC, notes that park staff is sensitive to the funding requirements of maintaining existing parks. Hieftje describes the general context of 415 W. Washington and 721 N. Main and how the two city-owned properties fit into the context of greenway planning. Hieftje is talking about the need to focus on the provision for long-term maintenance. Anglin says it’s important that this resolution commits money. He says a chain of parks through the city – like the greenway – would have a positive economic impact.

11:42 p.m. Outcome: The council has voted to commit the funds for the 721 N. Main site.

11:43 p.m. Opposition: SEMCOG long-range plan. This is a symbolic resolution opposing expansion of I-94 in Detroit and I-75 in Oakland County. The Washtenaw County board of commissioners passed a similar resolution at its June 5, 2013 meeting. The interstate highway expansion is a part of SEMCOG’s 2040 Regional Transportation Plan with an estimated cost of $4 billion.

11:45 p.m. Warpehoski says there are a lot of good elements in the SEMCOG plan. But there are not forecasts for additional traffic and population, so it didn’t make sense to expand the highways instead of maintaining. Warpehoski quotes Picasso: “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” He’s copied much of the resolution from others that have been passed, he says.

11:45 p.m. Outcome: The council has voted to pass the resolution opposing SEMCOG’s 2040 plan.

11:45 p.m. Ann Arbor Housing Commission operating support funding. The resolution, which provides $382,000 for operational support for the Ann Arbor Housing Commission (AAHC), is held over from the council’s June 3, 2013 meeting, when the council took several steps to move the commission forward along a path to converting the properties it manages to project-based vouchers. A similar operations funding resolution had appeared on that meeting’s agenda, but was withdrawn. Of the total amount, $159,000 is appropriated from the city of Ann Arbor’s affordable housing trust fund, and $223,000 would be appropriated from the general fund. The housing and human services advisory board has voted to recommend the $159,000 be appropriated from the city’s trust fund.

11:54 p.m. Briere introduces the resolution, noting that this resolution will empty the affordable housing trust fund – but it will receive $100,000 on July 1, because of the budget allocation the council passed. Kunselman asks Crawford if there were sufficient funds in the general fund reserve. Crawford projects a fund balance of $13.9 million at the end of the fiscal year. That’s about 17%. He does have some concerns, he says. At the end of FY 2015, based on the council’s recent action, the fund balance would be around 13%. In general, he has some concerns about how the fund balance is being used.

Powers notes that the current council policy is 8-12%. Hieftje reads aloud from the staff memo. Lumm thanks executive director of the AAHC Jennifer Hall for her work.

11:54 p.m. Outcome: The council has voted to approve the AAHC allocation.

11:54 p.m. Appointment: City planning commission. One of the city planning commission members is drawn from the city council. Since November 2012, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) has served in this capacity. Terms for planning commission members are made through June 30. The resolution extends her term until Nov. 7, 2013 at which point the membership on the new city council will be settled. Briere is unopposed in the Democratic primary. An independent candidate, Jaclyn Vresics, has taken out petitions to run for that seat but has not yet filed them with the city clerk’s office. The deadline for independent candidates to submit petitions is Aug. 7.

11:55 p.m. Outcome: The council has voted to approve Briere’s appointment to the planning commission.

11:55 p.m. FY 2014 Budget: Correction to park capital improvement millage rate. This resolution corrects the millage rate that was listed in the FY 2014 budget resolution that the council approved at its May 20, 2013 meeting. The park maintenance and capital improvements millage was listed at 1.0969 mills when it should have been listed as 1.10 mills– with the corresponding correction from the total millage rate from 16.4470 to 16.4501 mills. Measured in dollars, the correction is estimated to bring in an additional $14,460 in revenue.

11:56 p.m. Outcome: The council has approved the correction to the millage rate.

11:56 p.m. Council rules changes. For Chronicle coverage on these changes, see “Council Mulls Speaking Rule Changes.” Highlights include adding public commentary to council work sessions, but reducing public speaking time to two-minute turns. A “frequent flyer” rule would prevent people from signing up for reserved time at the start of a meeting two meetings in a row.

11:56 p.m. Higgins is introducing the proposed rules. She says that she’d like to see it postponed.

11:57 p.m. Outcome: With no further discussion, the council has voted to postpone the rules changes until July 1.

11:57 p.m. Site plan: State Street Center. The rezoning of the parcel for this site plan was given final approval at the council’s June 3, 2013 meeting. The project calls for demolishing a vacant 840-square-foot house on this site. In its place, the developer plans a one-story, 1,700-square-foot drive-thru Jimmy John’s restaurant facing South State Street.

11:57 p.m. Outcome: The council has voted without discussion to approve the State Street Center site plan.

11:58 p.m. Site plan and brownfield plan: 544 Detroit Street. The planning commission gave the 544 Detroit St. project a recommendation of approval at its Dec. 18, 2012 meeting. It’s planned to be a three-story building at 544 Detroit St. with offices on the first floor and residences on the upper two floors. It’s a “planned project” to allow an additional 3.5 feet of building height for a “decorative parapet” on the building’s north end and a stair enclosure to access a roof deck. [.jpg image of proposed design]

The two items on the council’s agenda for this project are the site plan approval and the brownfield plan. The parcel is the site of a former gas station. According to a staff memo, the brownfield component – which allows tax increment financing (TIF) to reimburse the developer for eligible costs – includes a total of $698,773 in eligible activities. Some of those eligible activities include soil remediation ($174,620), infrastructure improvements ($70,350), and vapor mitigation ($32,000).

11:58 p.m. Outcome: The council has voted to approve both the site plan and the brownfield plan for 544 Detroit.

11:58 p.m. Brownfield plan: Packard Square. This amends a previously approved brownfield plan for the former site of the Georgetown Mall. The amendment adds to the list of eligible activities – including underground parking and urban stormwater management. The total cost of eligible activities is not changed.

12:04 a.m. Higgins asks about payment of back taxes. Nathan Voght is fielding Higgins’ questions. Higgins notes that the demolition is in progress. Voght gives an update. May 28 was the start of demolition. MDEQ indicated that additional asbestos mitigation was needed. Soil excavation to remove contamination is ongoing. A vapor barrier will probably need to be installed. He thinks by mid-July the demolition will be done. The developer indicates that construction would begin as soon as possible after that. Higgins says that residents are pleased to see the project going forward. Hieftje thanks Higgins for her efforts.

12:04 a.m. Outcome: The council has voted to approve the Packard Square brownfield amendment.

12:04 a.m. Street resurfacing: Packard from Anderson to Kimberly. This is a contract with MDOT that the city will act as project manager on the resurfacing project. Total cost for the work is $1,447,900, with the city’s share working out to $620,900. The rest will be paid with federal funds.

12:05 a.m. Kunselman says he’s excited to see the project. It shows that investment is taking place along Packard. He ventures that it starts on June 22. Hupy says he won’t swear to that date, but it will happen soon. The contract hasn’t been awarded yet, he cautions.

Outcome: The council has voted to approve the street resurfacing contract.

12:05 a.m. Drinking water system: Pump station electrical upgrade. The contract with Shaw Electric Company to upgrade electrical systems for the city’s drinking water system is worth $2,619,000. The work would cover replacement of the primary and secondary switchgear at Barton Pump Station and replacement of electrical controls and a check valve at South Industrial Pump Station.

12:06 a.m. Outcome: The council has voted without discussion to approve the contract with Shaw Electric.

12:06 a.m. Development agreement: The Varsity. This resolution approves a revision to the development agreement for The Varsity, a 13-story, 177,180-square foot apartment building containing 181 dwelling units (415 bedrooms) and 78 off-street vehicle parking spaces. A minimum of 76 off-street parking spaces were required. Only 69 were provided onsite. The others were provided through the contribution in lieu (CIL) program. The seven spaces were approved by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority at its June 5, 2013 meeting. The Varsity is located at 425 E. Washington St. in downtown Ann Arbor.

12:07 a.m. Briere recites the background of the situation.

Outcome: The council has voted to approve the revision to the development agreement.

12:07 a.m. Labor contracts: Wage increases. Re-openers for the final year of their contracts resulted in new contracts with six police department unions, which the council is being asked to approve on separate votes: Teamster Civilian Supervisors, Teamsters Local 214; Police Professional Assistants, Teamsters Local 214; Ann Arbor Police Officers Association – Police Service Specialists; Command Officers Association of Michigan; Ann Arbor Police Officers Association; and Deputy Chiefs, Teamsters Local 214.

Common to all the contracts are a 2% wage increase starting July 1, 2013 and a 1% increase starting Jan. 1, 2014. Also common to the contracts is the acceptance of the change in pension board composition, which was approved by voters on Nov. 8, 2011 with a 68% majority. The change retained the body as a nine-member group but distributed them differently: (1) the city controller; (2) five citizens; (3) one from the general city employees; and (4) one each from police and fire employees. Eliminated from the mix was the city administrator.

Membership in these unions breaks down as follows: Deputy Chiefs (2); Teamster Civilian Supervisors (35); Teamster Police Professionals (5); AAPOA (90); COAM (22); and Police Service Specialists (5).

12:11 a.m. Higgins thanks staff. It’s the first time since she’s been on council that all the contracts have been resolved before expiration. Lumm thanks the staff and recites the nature of the agreements.

12:12 a.m. For the AAPOA an administrative correction was made to the phone allowance – $600, instead of $550.

12:13 a.m. Outcome: The council has voted to approve all the police department union contracts.

12:13 a.m. Appointments: Among those to be confirmed tonight, having been nominated on June 3, are Bonnie Bona to the planning commission and LuAnne Bullington to the taxicab board.

Although Tony Derezinski’s name had appeared on the list distributed to the council at the June 3 meeting as a nomination to the city planning commission, and was reported (mistakenly) by The Chronicle as having been nominated, Derezinski’s name was not actually read aloud that evening. On the council’s agenda is a different nomination, who will replace Derezinski – Jeremy Peters. Peters works in creative licensing and business affairs, with Ghostly Songs.

Derezinski was filling out the remainder of Evan Pratt’s term – through June 30, 2013. Pratt was elected as Washtenaw County water resources commissioner in November 2012 and resigned from the planning commission. At its Nov. 8, 2012 meeting, the council had voted, over dissent from Lumm, to appoint Derezinski to that partial term. Up to that point, he’d served as the city council’s representative to the planning commission, but he did not prevail in the August 2012 Democratic primary in his Ward 2 race against Sally Petersen.

Also up for confirmation by the council are nominations to the downtown citizens advisory council.

12:14 a.m. Outcome: Without discussion, the council confirms all the appointments in one vote.

12:15 a.m. Public commentary. There’s no requirement to sign up in advance for this slot for public commentary.

12:31 a.m. Thomas Partridge takes the podium. He expresses disappointment with the council and the mayor for leaving the city without sufficient affordable housing. He says they lack the courage to stand up and bring the facts to the voters for support of tax increases to fund what’s needed.

Diane Chapman introduced herself as a resident of Ann Arbor Housing Commission properties. She reports that she’s been physically attacked and complains about the lack of response by AAHC.

Seth Best and Peggy Lynch address the council on the idea of the fee waiver for Liberty Plaza. They’d like something in writing and they’d like it to be possible for humanitarian aid to be distributed in any park. Caleb Poirer says it feels wonderful staying up late with the council. He asks the council to wrestle with the language that would make an ordinance work to allow humanitarian aid to be distributed. He thinks there’s a lot of people who want to do kind things, and not let fees get in the way.

Michael Benson thanks the council for staying late. He commends the rules committee, saying that the proposed rules represent a step forward. He suggests that when people hand over written remarks to the clerk, those documents should eventually be added to the agenda. He tells the council they should consider constraining their own question time during the meeting. He also suggests that reserved time be confined to true action items.

Jeff Hayner said he thought it’s great that someone talked about the rules. He agreed with Benson’s point about the ability to submit written remarks.

12:31 a.m. Adjournment. We are now adjourned. That’s all from the hard benches.

Ann Arbor city council, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

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  1. By Rod Johnson
    June 18, 2013 at 9:17 am | permalink

    Congratulations on surviving another meeting, and thanks for the liveblog.

    CM Petersen’s argument about billboards seems… obtuse (or maybe it’s me who’s obtuse, because I don’t understand her argument). What does “digital technology retrofitting of billboards” have to do with Ann Arbor’s aspirations to be a “tech town,” except for the word “digital”? Does she think tech employers will say “let’s move to Ann Arbor, they have awesome billboards there”?

  2. By Curious
    June 18, 2013 at 1:49 pm | permalink

    This defense of the Wind Turbines as an educational tool is one of the more ludicrous things I’ve seen, even in A2. This whole project is the absolute antithesis of green and education, unless it’s instructional in terms of what NEVER to do.

    Kunselman itemized what I assume he felt to be the most useful aspects; students would be able to see, on a screen, the wind speed, electricty being generated, and several other environmental factors. And I suppose in order to see anything like that, you must have a million dollar wind turbine right outside the building attached to it. Because the cables from the screen are too short to reach some other, currently existing, more sensible, actually productive, non-tremendous-loss turbine.

    Why this is not enraging other residents of this city I have no idea. And yet the handwringing about the budget from the BOE continues.

  3. By Mark Koroi
    June 18, 2013 at 2:40 pm | permalink

    One more example of an important board or commission nomination jammed on the Agenda at the last minute was the mayoral nomination of Jeremy Peters to the Planning Commission.

    Peters’ nomination smacks of political cronyism.

    He is a young University of Michigan graduate and multimedia production specialist. He has no substantial educational, professional, or vocational background that I am aware of that would qualify him to sit on the Planning Commission – such as urban planning, architecture, land use, real estate, civl engineering, real estate or construction law.

    He is a Democratic Party activist that has previously publicly endorsed John Hieftje. At lest other appointees of the mayor previously – such as Kirk Westphal and Wendy Woods, did have qualifications to sit on the Planning Commission.

    Peters in 2012 filed a grievance against the Albert Howard mayoral campaign committee for allegedly not containing the “paid for by…” endorsement. This was disputed by Rev. Howard (who opposed John Hieftje in the November election as an independent candidate) and eventually dismissed by the Secretary of State, Bureau of Elections. This prior conduct by Peters suggests a cozy relationship with the Mayor that is inimical to the public interest.

    Peters’ belated nomination operates to stifle robust public comment and citizen input.

  4. By Jeff Hayner
    June 18, 2013 at 8:29 pm | permalink

    In addition to agreeing with Michael Benson’s well thought out suggestions for positive change to the council rules, I spoke against the shortening of the public commentary time. To reduce the public commentary time allotment by one-third is a step backwards for a city council that, if anything, needs to devote more time to public commentary, on a broader range of topics. Last night there was no debate at all about the appointments and re-appointments to many important advisory boards and commissions. I suggest that if the council reduces the time for public hearings on agenda items, they add time for public hearings on appointments, which have a large impact on city policy, but are currently not part of public discussion. This lack of public input only serves to strengthen suspicions that mayoral and council appointments are based not on qualifications, but politics.

  5. By Mark Koroi
    June 18, 2013 at 9:34 pm | permalink

    @Jeff Hayner:

    “Last night there was no debate at all to many appointment advisory boards and commissions …….[t]his lack of public input only serves to strengthen suspicions that mayoral and council appointments are based not on qualifications, but politics.”

    I would have been present to deliver Public Commentary against the Jeremy Peters nomination – except it was not added to the Agenda until the date of the City Council meeting.

    The 413 E. Huron controversy was fueled by the fact many of the mayoral appointees to the Planning Commission vote in lockstep with the Mayor. It’s even worse when you have someone nominated that appears to have little or no background in building and construction codes, zoning regulations, and other areas affecting urban development.

    There was no City Council debate about the Downtown Area Citizens Advisory Council and we have yet another re-appointment of a husband-wife team (the Kerns) without any apparent efforts to recruit new people to the CAC – there are still seven vacancies left.

  6. By John Q.
    June 18, 2013 at 11:29 pm | permalink

    “He is a young University of Michigan graduate and multimedia production specialist. He has no substantial educational, professional, or vocational background that I am aware of that would qualify him to sit on the Planning Commission – such as urban planning, architecture, land use, real estate, civl engineering, real estate or construction law.”

    Planning Commissioners are expected to represent the full range of community backgrounds, not only those with expertise in the planning, legal or development fields. Whatever Mr. Peters political connections may be, your argument against his appointment for the reasons that he doesn’t possess the appropriate “educational, professional, or vocational background” is off base.

  7. By Mark Koroi
    June 19, 2013 at 12:00 am | permalink

    @John Q:

    If this is a “citizen appointment”, that is fine, but was there a public vacancy posting, an application and interview process that many board and commission selection processes require in other jurisdictions?

    Were application materials given to the City Council members so they could weigh his qualifications against other applicants? Were there any other applicants at all? The fact that Tony Derezinski’s name as nominee was suddenly replaced with another mayoral insider suggests that Jeremy Peters’ insider status alone iced the nomination for him. The grievance Peters filed against Rev. Howard’s campaign committee possibly scored points with Hizzoner as well.

    There are serious questions being posited by the public about the board and application selection process in Ann Arbor, as Mr. Hayner’s post above so articulately suggests.

  8. By John Q.
    June 19, 2013 at 11:31 am | permalink

    If your problem is with the process or ties to the Mayor, stick to those points. Attacking him because he lacked what you deemed the appropriate “educational, professional, or vocational background” wasn’t merited and such restrictions don’t serve the city well. The boards and commissions should be open to a wide range of people, not only those in select professions.

  9. By Mark Koroi
    June 19, 2013 at 1:30 pm | permalink

    @John Q:

    I am criticizing the process and the ties to the Mayor, however the fact that Peters has little expertise qualifications to bring to te table as a Planning Commissioner is another factor. Kirk Westphal’s architectural background, for example, mitigates critics who my question his appointment due to his mayoral ties.

    BTW, its good to hear to from you. I remember your erudite observations on Arbor Update on land use and taxation issues that many enjoyed. We would like to see you contribute more often. :)

  10. By Mary Morgan
    June 19, 2013 at 1:44 pm | permalink

    Re. “Kirk Westphal’s architectural background, for example, mitigates critics who may question his appointment due to his mayoral ties.”

    According to Westphal’s website, he has a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Pennsylvania and a master’s degree in urban planning from the University of Michigan. [link]

  11. By Mark Koroi
    June 19, 2013 at 3:50 pm | permalink

    @Mary Morgan:

    Kirk’s LinkedIn page describes him as the principal of Westphal & Associates, LLC and Architecture/Planning as its business.

    While Kirk may not himself be an architect, his firm may still render those services.

  12. June 19, 2013 at 4:12 pm | permalink

    Re: [11] “… [based on Linkedin] his firm may still render those [architectural] services”

    Kirk’s firm is a one-person shop. He doesn’t provide architectural services, but rather produces videos: [link]

  13. By James D'Amour
    June 20, 2013 at 9:18 am | permalink

    To Jeremy Peters’ credit: Agreed with John Q. There is no requirement that a member of the Planning Commission need be an “industry-related” appointee (real estate, architect, developer, civil engineer, etc.). In fact, it can be argued that a commissioner NOT be one of these as they inherently may have a conflict of interest (or treat with more deference than they should their past and/or future business partners/collaborators).

    Ann Arbor enjoys a professional planning staff, and the commission relies on that expertise. That being said, it is also a commissioner’s responsibility to provide oversight and independent analysis where that commissioner disagrees with staff’s recommendation and analysis. To be sure, the burden is on the commissioner here, but if I felt there is a requirement to serve, it requires the ability to do one’s own homework and rely on outside resources — but in the case of the Planning Commission, training and introduction by the Michigan Society of Planning is readily available for any commissioner who chooses it.

    It is also true that a planning commissioner is likely to be appointed to reflect the mayor (and majority of council’s) philosophies of issues, so it is no accident that more often than not, especially with the longevity of this mayor’s tenure, that any appointee is going to represent the mayor’s wishes and point of view on a variety of issues. Again, given his long time in office, he’s probably gotten pretty good at figuring out who he wants there and he has certainly a significant support network to whisper in his ear where he is unsure at this stage of the game.

    If one does not like who is being appointed and how, and what direction the appointees take in policy, the burden is upon the citizens to change out those who make those decisions — i.e., mayor and council.

    But otherwise, “to the victor goes the spoils” remains true, for better or for worse.

  14. By Jeff Hayner
    June 20, 2013 at 5:02 pm | permalink

    I would like to point out that my remarks at council and on this message board are in no way connected to the appointment of Jeremy Peters to the planning commission. I know Jeremy from his work at Ghostly, and my experiences with him in that setting were great. I was surprised to hear his name called for the planning commission aopointment, but frankly, his tenure will have to be better than the person he is replacing, Tony Derezinski, who got up and left the room at the start of public commentary the last time I attended a planning commission meeting.