Friction Emerges Between Council, Court

Ann Arbor council OKs budget adjustments to cover 15th District Court salary increases, other costs; Also: wind energy project scrutinized

Ann Arbor city council meeting (June 17, 2013): Budget items for the 15th District Court drew more attention than any other single topic, taking up more than an hour of the council’s deliberations. The council also devoted more than a half hour to an item related to a Department of Energy grant that could lead to the installation of a wind generator on the property of Pioneer High School.

From left: judge Christopher Easthope and 15th District Court administrator Keith Zeisloft.

From left: 15th District Court judge Christopher Easthope – a former Ann Arbor city councilmember – and 15th District Court administrator Keith Zeisloft at the council’s June 17 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

The main court-related item was part of an annual adjustment to the current fiscal year’s budget (FY 2013), which ends on June 30. The adjustment is made on a routine basis in order to bring the budget in line with actual expenditures. The general fund budget adjustment that was eventually approved by the council increased it by $567,000.

And of that amount, a significant part was 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. None of the salary increases went to judges, whose compensation is set through state statute.

The council was essentially being asked to approve the accounting adjustment for money that had already been spent this year.

The city’s budget for the next fiscal year – approved by the council last month, on May 20, 2013 – already incorporated the court workers’ salary increases going forward, and councilmembers had been apprised of the raises before their budget deliberations in May. The council’s deliberations on May 20 had not focused on those raises, but rather on the possibility of reducing the court’s budget in order to fund additional police officers for the city.

At the June 17 meeting, all three judges of the court plus the court administrator were on hand – as some councilmembers drew out a disagreement regarding how the wage increases should have been approached. At least some councilmembers felt the court should have asked the council before awarding wage increases to its workers.

Tom Crawford, the city’s chief financial officer, indicated at the meeting that if the council had not approved the budget adjustment for the court, it would likely have generated a note in next year’s audit.

Other court-related items on the council’s agenda included a new $240,000 annual flat-fee contract with Nassif and Reiser – the firm that provides indigent representation for the court. The council also approved 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 council approved two items related to the court’s special Sobriety Court, one of which was a $65,000 grant program contract with the nonprofit Dawn Farm to provide in-patient and out-patient drug abuse counseling to 15th District Court defendants. It was approved over the dissent of Sabra Briere (Ward 1), who objected to the accompanying provision that waived a requirement that Dawn Farm adhere to the city’s living wage ordinance.

The wind generator item was originally on the consent agenda, but was pulled out for separate consideration. The council had previously voted unanimously at its Jan. 7, 2013 meeting to accept a roughly $950,000 U.S. Department of Energy grant for installation of the wind generator. The council was asked on June 17 to spend about $50,000 of the grant proceeds on an initial environmental assessment, required before the project can move forward. Three councilmembers balked at the request, but the resolution was ultimately approved.

In business related to revisions of local laws, the council gave final approval to an ordinance change that limits use of fireworks to between the hours of 8 a.m. and midnight. And the council gave final approval to the city’s outdoor sign ordinance that limits the incorporation of digital technology into outdoor signs – in a way that prohibits such use for billboards. However, the council again delayed taking an initial vote on an ordinance that would regulate how local law enforcement officials can use public surveillance cameras. The council did give initial approval to adopt the new fire code into the city’s ordinances.

In land use and development business, the council approved a revised development agreement for The Varsity. The agreement now incorporates a total of seven monthly parking permits that will be purchased at a premium cost under the city’s contribution in lieu (CIL) program. The council also gave approval to site plans for two projects: the State Street Center and 544 Detroit St. The 544 Detroit St. project included a brownfield plan, which was also approved. Another brownfield plan was on the council’s agenda – related to the Packard Square development on the site of the former Georgetown Mall. That plan had previously been approved, but an additional council vote was needed to change the set of activities that are eligible for reimbursement.

In connection with government-controlled land, the council approved $382,000 in additional operating support for the Ann Arbor Housing Commission. The council also passed a resolution committing up to $750,000 in general fund money to convert city-owned property at 721 N. Main to a greenway park. However, if the grants that the city expects to be awarded are actually received, none of that $750,000 would need to be spent on the project.

The council again heard public commentary about a homelessness outreach ministry in one of the city’s established parks – Liberty Plaza in downtown Ann Arbor, at Division and Liberty streets.

The council also approved revisions to collective bargaining agreements with the six unions in the police department, which gave members a 2% wage increase.

In a symbolic effort, the council voted to oppose expansion of I-94 in Detroit and I-75 in Oakland County – a proposal that’s part of SEMCOG’s 2040 Regional Transportation Plan with an estimated cost of $4 billion. SEMCOG subsequently adopted the plan.

The council put off voting on proposed changes to its internal rules, which could result in adding public commentary time at the council’s work sessions, but reducing the time allowed per turn from three minutes to two minutes. The council is expected to vote on the full set of rule changes at its July 1 meeting.

The proposed changes to the rules would move nominations and confirmation of appointments to a slot near the start of the meeting, instead of its current position near the end. For the June 17 meeting, the council’s confirmations came after midnight – and included reappointment of Bonnie Bona to the planning commission, and LuAnne Bullington to the taxicab board.

15th District Court

A number of items on the June 17 agenda related to the 15th District Court – either directly or indirectly.

15th District Court: City FY 2013 Budget Adjustment

The council was asked to make changes to the FY 2013 budget – which ends on June 30 – totaling $567,000 for the general fund. Much of that stemmed from additional expenses incurred by the 15th District Court. [.pdf of proposed amendments]

The 15th District Court’s portion of that adjustment stemmed from $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.

General information about the court’s wage increases – authorized by chief judge Libby Hines in October 2012 and the focus of council inquiry at the council’s June 17 meeting – was known to the council before its May 20, 2013 meeting, when councilmembers voted to approve next year’s FY 2014 budget. [.pdf of May 13, 2013 memo on 15th District Court expenses] That FY 2014 budget incorporated the wage increases going forward.

As it related to the court, the council’s May 20, 2013 deliberations on the FY 2014 budget were in the context of reducing the court’s budget in order to fund three police officer positions – a proposal put forward by Jane Lumm (Ward 2). 15th District Court administrator Keith Zeisloft was present at that meeting and took questions about the salary increases at that time. However, Lumm’s FY 2014 budget amendment failed on a 5-6 vote.

15th District Court administrator Keith Zeisloft and Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1) before the meeting started.

15th District Court administrator Keith Zeisloft and Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1) before the June 17 meeting started.

Subsequently, Zeisloft provided a memo to the council in advance of its June 17 meeting, giving a more detailed explanation of the salary increases. The judges, magistrate and Zeisloft were excluded from the increases. The majority of other staff received a 0-3% increase. Administrative staff received an average 4.85% increase based on the conclusion that they were under-compensated compared to their peers in other courts.

The case management staff received an average of 4.22% raises based on increased supervisory responsibilities. Judicial staff averaged a 4.76% increase based on increased specialty court responsibilities. The highest increases, averaging 18.15%, were given to probation officers who were found to be significantly under-compensated compared to their peers, and who had increased multi-jurisdictional, specialty court responsibilities. [.pdf of responses from 15th District Court to councilmember inquiries]

The block of items related to the 15th District Court were moved up on the agenda at the start of the meeting, in deference to the fact that three judges and the court administrator were in attendance.

15th District Court: City FY 2013 Budget Adjustment – Deliberations

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) led off the discussion by proposing an amendment that eliminated the $112,000 budget adjustment for the 15th District Court salary increases – which had been approved by chief Judge Libby Hines in late 2012. Briere contended that the regular processes weren’t followed for the wage increases, venturing that the chief judge had overstepped her bounds. Briere was not satisfied with the mechanism by which the wage increases were approved, saying they were “not properly done.”

The overall tone of the ensuing interaction between the three judges and the council was consistent with the language Zeisloft had provided in his memo. 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.

At the meeting, Zeisloft generally deferred questions to the judges of the court, who were all in attendance: Judges Chris Easthope, Libby Hines and Joe Burke are all standing at the podium. However, Zeisloft also responded to particular items.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) followed up on the salary increases – which were implemented in October 2012 – asking for a breakdown of the $112,000. Relying on figures from the city’s finance department, Zeisloft gave the breakdown as follows: compensation ($115,000), overtime ($10,000), temporary pay ($19,000) and vacancies (-$32,000) for a total of $112,000. The annual cost going forward was calculated at $193,000. Zeisloft had prefaced his remarks by saying that the information hadn’t been distributed to councilmembers because he didn’t have the information earlier. Lumm asked for the information to be provided in writing.

Hines told the council she respects the separation of powers, but she asserted the authority of the chief judge to increase salaries. The court has never asked the city for permission to do that in her 22 years on the bench. She pointed out the money that the court has managed to return to the city in past years when it has come in under budget. Zeisloft’s memo put the figures as follows: for FY 2002 through FY 2012, the council had budgeted a total of $41,865,240 from the general fund for court operations. Over that period, the court spent only $40,435,613, for a net return to the city budget of $1,429,627.

Hines put the salary increases in the context of retaining employees. She described past pay cuts and freezes. She also described a gross disparity in pay between the probation officers in the 15th District Court compared to other courts. And she added that while the court had worked with the city’s HR department, the court had not asked permission to implement the raises. The court is not overpaying its employees by any means, she said, concluding that she felt the pay raises were only reasonable.

Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1) disagreed with the narrative of the “honorable judges,” citing the decrease in cases handled by the court. The workload has come down, Kailasapathy contended. She was relying on the data that the court had provided to the council earlier in the year:

By way of background, Ann Arbor’s caseload downward trends are in line with the overall trend for other comparable courts [.pdf of caseload trends for 15th District Court]:

               Misdem       Civil Inf    Gen Civil
D15 Ann Arbor  3,109 ‐31%   13,894 ‐49%  1,742 ‐16%


Easthope said the 15th District Court was trying to be in the lead in reducing its costs. He allowed that the caseload had gone down, but the number of employees had also gone down, he contended.

The city’s comprehensive financial reports show 41 FTEs (full-time equivalents) for the court in 2007 compared to 36 in 2012:

15th District Court Historical FTE Count

15th District Court historical FTE count. (Data from city records, chart by The Chronicle)

Hines said that the kind of cases that had gone down – civil infractions – were not the kind that reduce judge and staff time. Hines returned to her earlier point about the basis for the salary increases – the challenge of retaining employees.

Briere said she’s not unsympathetic to the situation. But she felt the salary increases should have been considered as part of the standard budgeting process. The money should have been built into the FY 2013 budget, Briere contended. She agreed with the need to compensate the court staff – but a standard increase in salary should have been included in previous year’s budget.

Burke offered his perspective of the newest judge of the court, telling the council that when he became a judge, Hines and Easthope had sat him down and talked to him about the employees and the need for retention. He said that in making the salary increases, they had followed the normal procedures that anyone would in determining the amounts of the increases – gathering comparative data and the like. The one thing that they had not done was ask the city council. Responding to Briere’s point about budgeting, Burke said the court had calculated that the salary increases would come in within the court’s FY 2013 budget – but they had been wrong. It was a point to which Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) returned later in the deliberations, telling Burke that he appreciated the fact the court had acknowledged that its math was off.

Kailasapathy then cited a Michigan Supreme Court administrative order. It 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 line-item 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 multiple-year 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 responded to Kailasapathy by saying that the court submits a budget in a line item form only as a courtesy. It’s a function of the city’s financial software. Tom Crawford, the city’s CFO, followed up with the additional explanation that the city requires all the component units to submit line item budgets, but the city council authorizes the budgets by fund. Kailasapathy returned to her question about the administrative order.

Easthope, a former city councilmember, stated that 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 said. Easthope reiterated the description of the court as a separate branch of government. There was some unclarity expressed about where the comparative salary data had come from and who had gathered it. About the comparative salary data and its source, Easthope stated that the Supreme Court administrative office had provided all the comparative data. Hines had not simply said, “You get a raise and you get a raise …”

Considerable back-and-forth ensued between Kailasapathy and Zeisloft on the way the HR department of the city had been involved in the compensation adjustment amount. No formal report had been requested from HR, Zeisloft confirmed.

Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) asked for clarification of the administrative order on line item budgeting. and what happens if the council doesn’t approve the adjustment. That is, what happens if Briere’s amendment passes? Crawford indicated that the city would probably receive a formal note from the city’s auditor next year. The money has already been spent, Warpehoski ventured. Crawford indicated agreement that it would be difficult to stop the expenditures before the fiscal year ends on June 30.

Lumm then confirmed with Crawford that court employee checks are processed through the city. In describing the fact that the court had exceeded its budget this year (FY 2013), Lumm said that the court’s budget seems to be “optional.” But picking up on Warpehoski’s point – that the council essentially needs to approve the budget adjustment or accept a negative note on the audit of its financial statements next year – Lumm ventured that there doesn’t seem to be an option not to make the adjustment. Easthope contended that the court was actually under the budget by $99,000. Lumm wanted to follow up later on that, indicating that Easthope’s remarks weren’t consistent with the information the council had received.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3)

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3).

Kunselman asked what Burke thought the consequence should be: Should the council just cover the amount of the salary increases? In the short term, Burke replied, yes. He said the court doesn’t spend money like drunken sailors. Burke indicated that there is a clear understanding on the court’s part that the council would not want to hear next year at this time that the court had the same issue.

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) ventured that the council had engaged in a full conversation, but it’s a simple question. The court had diligently determined that their line workers’ wages were below market, Taylor concluded. And the council has already approved the increases going forward, he noted, when it approved the FY 2014 budget. So Taylor indicated he’d vote against Briere’s amendment. Mayor John Hieftje confirmed with Crawford that the budget resolution basically recognizes reality.

Briere indicated that her intent was not to force the court into a deficit. The court’s staff should not be penalized for the actions of their supervisors. So she’d withdraw her amendment. But she said the court should have done a better job of communicating, and she stated she would remember the situation without fondness. Kailasapathy, who seconded the amendment, hesitated for several seconds before agreeing with Briere to withdraw it.

With that amendment withdrawn, Sally Petersen (Ward 2) moved on to the indigent representation and the security services issue. Zeisloft characterized those as an unusual circumstance, that should not arise again in the future. Easthope noted that the special docket courts are operated at no cost to the city.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) returned to the issue of the salary increases, picking up on the historical pattern that Hines had cited of the court coming in under budget and returning money to the city. Why were salary increases 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?

As far as the idea that the court was trying to mirror the city organization’s approach of not giving raises during the period of the economic downturn, Higgins pointed out that the city had not given its employees the kind of raises the court had implemented over the last year. So she didn’t see the mirroring play out.

Burke ventured that unfortunately the court did not get the opportunity to come before the council to say that it was returning money to the city. It was only when more money was needed that court officials came to the council. Higgins complained that she felt blindsided, because the court did not come to the council and communicate that to the council about a major increase.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4)

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4).

Briere ventured that it’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission. Burke responded by saying he felt Briere’s remark was “[holding his fingers apart to indicate an increment] this much of a cheap shot.” Briere told Burke it was OK that he felt that way, because she felt the other way – that in years past when the court knew it had outstanding debts to the county for security services, for example, but had returned money to the city, to her that was a problem. Briere also alluded to the issue with the court’s math, which Kunselman had also noted. Briere indicated that she had great respect for the court and the work that it did. But it was a “big chunk” to come to the council with at the last meeting in June.

Burke said that if his mathematical competence was being questioned, then he could live with that. But if Briere was saying that the court didn’t come to the council even though it knew that it should have, then “I’m sorry, but you’re just wrong about that. We are separate branches of government and what you’re talking about is an integrity issue.”

City administrator Steve Powers shared his perspective as a former county administrator working three different courts. Prior to his taking the city administrator position in September 2011, he felt there hadn’t been enough consultation and communication between the city and the 15th District Court. So he’d met with the chief judge and the court 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, Powers said. He stressed the importance of the two branches of government doing things in consultation, not confrontation.

Outcome: The council voted to approve the FY 2013 budget adjustments, over the lone dissent of Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1).

15th District Court: Indigent Representation

Two agenda items related to the law firm that provides indigent representation for defendants in the 15th District Court.

Nader Nassif

Nader Nassif with Nassif and Reiser, P.L.L.C., which does business as Model Cities Legal Services. Nassif also serves on the board of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. In the foreground is 15th District Court judge Chris Easthope.

The 15th District Court is required to provide representation to those who cannot afford an attorney, if a conviction would result in jail time.

The council was asked to approve a $240,000 flat-fee 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”). The contract covers FY 2014, which begins July 1.

The reason the contract was structured as a flat fee is that MCLS had customarily delayed billing for services until a defendant’s case was completely closed or additional court action was deemed unlikely.

Even after a guilty verdict, defendants remain under court supervision and can be subject to other court orders.

Delayed billing resulted in another agenda item requesting that the council cover $203,000 of fees to “catch up” the billing.

15th District Court: Indigent Representation – Deliberations

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) indicated that the contracting party is a client of his law firm. He asked the council to vote to excuse him from voting.

They did so, and Taylor took a seat in the audience.

Lumm asked Zeisloft if the court had considered issuing an RFP (request for proposals) for the service. Zeisloft described the negotiation between the court and the law firm. He indicated that the court had not considered issuing an RFP, but it would be possible. Model Cities, however, provides the service at a very competitive cost, he said.

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) sat in the audience as the contracts for indigent representation were discussed.

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) sat in the audience as the contracts for indigent representation were discussed.

Easthope explained that Model Cities doesn’t just stand in court – they provide far more than that. There’s a value that’s hard to represent, and it doesn’t have to do with just the lowest price. Model Cities has a personal connection to all the social services agencies, Easthope explained.

Outcome: The council voted to approve the two resolutions related to Model Cities for legal services.

15th District Court: Security Billing

In addition to an FY 2013 budget adjustment that included back-billing for security services, the council was asked to approve next year’s $160,000 contract with the 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.

During deliberations, Jane Lumm (Ward 2) got clarification on the way the cost of the contract was estimated. Zeisloft explained that it’s based on a wage rate of $25.25 per hour. The reduction from the $187,000 for the previous year was due to a reduction in the projected number of hours that would be worked, he said, not a reduction in the wage rate.

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

15th District Court: Specialized Courts

Two other items related to the 15th District Court appeared initially on the council’s consent agenda, a group of items considered routine and voted on as a group. The council was asked to approve $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. And the council was asked to approve $65,000 for a Sobriety Court grant program contract with Dawn Farm for in-patient and out-patient drug abuse counseling to 15th District Court defendants.

At Sabra Briere’s (Ward 1) request, the Dawn Farm item was pulled out for separate consideration, because the item included a request for a waiver of the city’s living wage ordinance. 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 for that nonprofit at the council’s Nov. 8, 2012 meeting.

From left: Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1) and Sabra Briere (Ward 1)

From left: Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1) and Sabra Briere (Ward 1).

Briere led off the discussion saying she wasn’t satisfied with the answers she’s received to questions she had asked about the living wage ordinance exemption that had been requested by Dawn Farm. She wanted to know if the item could be postponed so that adequate answers could be given.

Judge Joe Burke, who runs the Sobriety Court, explained to Briere that the court’s application for a grant was due on Friday, June 21 – so postponement would be difficult. Burke indicated that he was the one who’d asked for the living wage ordinance exemption – and that was based on communication from Jim Balmer, executive director of Dawn Farm, who’d reported that Dawn Farm can’t comply with the living wage.

Burke said he couldn’t speak for Dawn Farm but could speak about Dawn Farm. Briere interrupted Burke, apologizing for doing so, but stressed that her concern was not with Dawn Farm but rather with the living wage compliance: “I just don’t want you to spend too much time telling us what we all agree are the virtues of Dawn Farm as an entity and the work they do for the Sobriety Court.” Burke stressed that Balmer agreed with the city’s living wage ordinance, but was not in a financial position to comply, and Balmer had wanted to be honest about that. Burke then went on to explain the importance of the work that Dawn Farm does in support of the Sobriety Court.

Briere indicated that she didn’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, Briere said, working toward financial solvency also has steps. Her problem was with the exemption, not the contract.

By way of background, the point Briere was raising related to conditions on the exemption that the council can grant under the ordinance. The Ann Arbor’s living wage ordinance reads in relevant part [emphasis added]:

… provided further that the otherwise covered non-profit employer shall provide a written plan to fully comply with this Chapter within a reasonable period of time, not to exceed three years, and the City Council then agrees that granting a partial or complete exemption is necessary to ameliorate the harm and permit the non-profit organization sufficient time to reach full compliance with this Chapter.

Briere wanted that process to be included in the application for the exemption.

Outcome: The Dawn Farm contract, with the three-year exemption from the city’s living wage ordinance, was granted by the council over dissent from Sabra Briere (Ward 1). She did not insist on a roll call vote.

Wind Energy

The council had previously voted unanimously at its Jan. 7, 2013 meeting to approve the acceptance of a roughly $950,000 U.S. Department of Energy grant for installation of a wind generator project. On June 17, the council was asked to spend about $50,000 of the proceeds of that grant on the initial environmental assessment, required before the project can proceed. The specific item on which the council was asked to vote was a contract with CDM Smith to perform an environmental analysis (EA) under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which includes public engagement.

The wind generator item was on the consent agenda, but was pulled out for separate consideration.

Wind Energy: Council Deliberations

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) led off discussion by saying that she’d learned that day that the proposal is to place a wind turbine at Pioneer High School. She felt it was unfortunate that an initial decision had been made to place the generator on the high school property, without more community outreach – but she allowed that part of CDM Smith’s scope of work would include public engagement.

Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1) followed up on Lumm’s remarks by reporting that she’d received a letter from a University of Michigan physics professor – Gregory Tarlè – on the topic of the wind generator. She read aloud some concerns outlined by him in his message:

I am currently teaching a class “Energy for our Future” at the University of Michigan. One of the first things we learn when studying wind power is that the power you can get from a wind turbine goes as the cube of the wind velocity. Effective wind turbines must be sited in places where the wind velocity is high and steady or where there are frequent high velocity gusts. Attached is a map of US Wind Resources from the Department of Energy. As you can see, wind resources are marginal at best in Ann Arbor but are excellent offshore in the Great Lakes. Winds increase with altitude (because of wind shear) and that is why large towers are needed. It is not educational to site wind turbines at sites selected for non scientific reasons.

Kailasapathy summarized Tarlè’s remarks by saying that the only thing this turbine would 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. She regretted voting for the project earlier, but it’s not too late, she said. She allowed that it was federal dollars, but that’s still taxpayer money and it’s the council’s duty to be a good steward, she said.

City utilities engineer Brian Steglitz, who’s managing the wind generator project, and public services area administrator Craig Hupy were on hand to answer questions. Sabra Briere (Ward 1) asked Steglitz to explain why it’s a good project. He characterized it as a demonstration program for wind energy in an urban environment. The city went through a competitive process with the Department of Energy to obtain the grant, he said. The partnership the city is working on with Wind Products – the company that will install the wind generator – would include a guarantee that the turbine will produce a minimum amount of energy. Wind Products had also looked at wind maps, Steglitz said, and looked at the cut-in speeds for the turbines to evaluate how much of the time the windmills would actually be spinning. Based on that analysis, Wind Products was willing to guarantee a minimum amount of power. The project is also part of the city’s goal to generate alternative energy, Steglitz said.

Briere indicated she’d heard from others that there’s no way the wind generator could produce enough electricity to pay for itself. Steglitz noted that the data provided by Wind Products indicated that the 60kW turbine would not generate a tremendous amount of power, but it would offset some of the power needs of the high school. Wind Products would subsidize any possible shortfall in power generation. The power that the school would purchase from the developer will cost less than conventional power, Steglitz said, which is part of the school district’s incentive to participate in the program – to realize a few thousand dollars worth of electricity savings per year. The city’s role is more like a broker between Wind Products and the school district.

Later in the meeting, Kailasapathy asked if the estimates for energy production were independently verified by a third party. Hupy explained that they had not been verified, but that the estimates would be tied to a financial commitment from Wind Products – that it would subsidize any shortfall in power production.

Sally Petersen (Ward 2) asked for more information about the Ann Arbor Public Schools participation in the project. Once the generator is installed, who takes over from there? If AAPS cuts its budget, will it possibly cut support for the turbine? Steglitz indicated that the AAPS will lease the space for the turbine and purchase the power. That’s the extent of AAPS participation. Wind Products would maintain and operate the generator, he explained. Later in the council’s deliberations, information in the staff memo accompanying the resolution was drawn out – that the city would eventually own the generator:

It is anticipated that the wind turbine(s) will be located on AAPS property, that the wind turbine(s) will be owned or purchased by the City, that the developer will construct the wind turbine(s), and that the AAPS will purchase the power from the wind turbine(s) under a power purchase agreement. While the City, AAPS and Wind Products have been meeting and continue to work to come to terms on the several agreements so that they can be ready to be brought forward for review and approval once the NEPA EA and public engagement process are completed and accepted by the DOE.

Sally Petersen (Ward 2)

Sally Petersen (Ward 2).

Petersen ventured that AAPS will have a financial upside, which Steglitz confirmed.

Hupy explained that the item the council was being asked to approve provided funding to look at the environmental impact of the turbine. In arguing against the approval, Lumm cited the same letter from Tarlè that Kailasapathy had mentioned.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) asked how the public would be notified about the public engagement process. Steglitz explained that the intent would be to broaden the scope beyond the standard requirement that residents within 500 feet be notified. He described how the process would include the city’s public engagement “toolbox.” The intent, Steglitz said, was to conduct public engagement and environmental review over the next six months, and to have the review and assessment finished by the end of the 2013 calendar year.

Higgins ventured that it’ll be a lively debate about whether a wind turbine should be placed at Pioneer High School. Responding to a question from Higgins about the city’s financial commitment, Steglitz described it as around $18,000 worth of staff time. Higgins said she was willing to let the debate unfold and not get in the way of it. She confirmed with Hupy that before any further city commitment is made, the council would have to approve it.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) asked for a refresher on the height of the pole where the wind-turbine would be mounted. Steglitz explained that it’d be about 120 feet tall with a 60-foot diameter blade. Kunselman concluded it’s not really a “turbine” but rather just a “generator.” [Kunselman's day job at UM is as energy liaison with Planet Blue.] He felt that the generator will actually be generating a decent amount of electricity given its educational, demonstration purpose. Mike Anglin (Ward 5) also expressed his support for the project based on its educational impact.

Lumm allowed that she had voted to accept the federal grant back in January. But she’d learned a lot since that vote was taken, she said. She wouldn’t support taking the next step based on the idea that it would be sited in a location that doesn’t have much wind.

As a partial counter to Lumm’s complaint that there had not been community outreach on the siting of the generator, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) ventured that public outreach wouldn’t happen unless the city hired CDM Smith to do the public outreach, which the council was being asked to approve. That process would help determine whether this is an appropriate site, she ventured. Steglitz confirmed that’s correct. Briere wondered what the alternative locations are. Steglitz indicated that there aren’t really any alternative sites. Hupy confirmed that the city has looked extensively, even as far north as East Lansing – where it might be sited with a maize-and-blue pole, he quipped. City administrator Steve Powers subsequently assured the council that Hupy was not joking about the idea of trying to find a location in East Lansing.

Petersen wanted to know if anyone from AAPS was at the council meeting to talk about the educational component – no one was. Kailasapathy questioned the idea that there could be an educational benefit, if the generator were to be located in East Lansing. Hupy explained how utility regulations require that the power be consumed on the site where it’s generated. Transmission over lines to be used in other locations isn’t allowed except with permission of the electric utility.

Kailasapathy raised a question about noise created by the generator. Steglitz explained that the noise issue would be part of the environmental assessment.

From left: Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3)

From left: Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3).

In the course of the council’s discussion, the email from Tarlè had been sent to all councilmembers, and Kunselman took the opportunity to comment on it in more detail. He stressed that Tarlè seemed to be talking about wind-farm sized turbines – not the size of the generator that the city is considering. What the city is considering, he said, is a 60 kW wind generator that will be running about 30% of the time. And part of that time, students would have the opportunity to look at a data center that shows all the data. That’s the educational component of the project, he said. And the money is Dept. of Energy grant money, not city money, Kunselman added. He concluded that the city should move forward with the project.

Mayor John Hieftje weighed in for the resolution, saying it’s worth exploring the next stage of the project. Hieftje said he wants to follow the lead of the DoE. Lumm responded to Hieftje’s argument based on the DoE, by questioning whether the DoE is aware of the power generation estimates. Hieftje ventured that DoE is aware of the educational nature of the project.

Outcome: The contract with CDM Smith to conduct an environmental assessment for the wind generator project was approved over dissent from Sally Petersen (Ward 2), Jane Lumm (Ward 2) and Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1).

Video Privacy Ordinance

The council was asked to give initial approval to an ordinance regulating the use of public surveillance cameras in the city.

The council had previously postponed the item at its May 20, 2013 meeting. Before that, the council had postponed the item 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 new 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.

The council’s consideration of the topic dates back a few years. Former Ward 1 councilmember Sandi Smith had announced at a council meeting 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.

Video Privacy Ordinance: Council Deliberations

Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) introduced the ordinance. He noted that while Chief John Seto was out of town and not available to answer questions about the potential impact of the ordinance on law enforcement activity. Still, Warpehoski asked his colleagues to move the change forward to a second reading. He characterized the ordinance as striking a balance between the right to privacy and the interests of law enforcement. In light of the full agenda that night, Warpehoski suggested a more in-depth discussion when it came back for second and final reading.

Sally Petersen (Ward 2) asked for a clarification of some of the changes that had been made to the proposed ordinance. Sabra Briere (Ward 1) thanked Warpehoski for his work, but said that this ordinance was not her favorite idea.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) indicated she was hoping it would be postponed, citing Seto’s absence. She also noted that new revisions had been given to the council only last night. She didn’t think the council should pass ordinances at the first reading just to get them to the second reading. So she said she wouldn’t be supporting it.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) appreciated Warpehoski’s work to bring the ordinance forward. But he felt it’s a solution in search of a problem. He knew he wouldn’t support it when it came to the second reading – because he felt it tied the city administrator’s hands. Privacy is already protected, he contended. And surveillance cameras do work, he said, giving the West Willow neighborhood as an example. He asked: Where’s the budget for this? Asking the city administrator to run around getting permissions from residents didn’t seem sensible, Kunselman said.

Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1) indicated support for postponement and made a motion to postpone. Warpehoski seconded that motion. Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) indicated support for the postponement, but said he’d have probably been inclined to support it at first reading.

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

Fire Code

The council was asked to give initial approval to an amendment to Chapter 111 (Fire Prevention) of the city code so that it refers to the 2009 International Fire Code instead of the 2003 version.

Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) indicated that he’d support the ordinance at first reading, but he had some concerns about the inspection of certain areas. Jane Lumm (Ward 2) asked fire chief Chuck Hubbard about the frequency and cost of fire inspections. Hubbard contrasted inspections with re-inspections. If there are violations found, then an inspector will return to confirm that the violation has been corrected – and that’s a re-inspection. Hubbard allowed that inspections have been stepped up. It’s being done for the benefit to the property owners, he said.

Ann Arbor Fire Inspections

Ann Arbor fire inspections: 2006-2012. (Data is from city financial records. Chart by The Chronicle.)

City administrator Steve Powers indicated that the performance of the fire inspection program is being reviewed. Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) noted that the building department is already using the 2009 code, but the fire department is using the 2003 code. What are the differences? Kunselman got confirmation that the council’s approval is more or less a formality. It’s like “housekeeping.”

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) asked how many staff are allocated to fire inspections. Hubbard told Anglin it’s been increased from three people to seven. Anglin felt the overall safety of the community was being improved through that effort.

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) said he’s delighted that the city is conducting more fire inspections.

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

Billboard Ordinance

The council was asked to give final approval to an ordinance change that would restrict the way that digital technology could be incorporated into outdoor 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. The change had been given initial approval by the council and had been up for final action twice before – most recently, on May 6, 2013. Action on May 6 was to postpone a final decision – until the council’s June 17 meeting. [.pdf file of map showing billboard locations in the city]

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) introduced the agenda item, describing it as enforcing the status quo. He described some changes that had been made to the proposed ordinance revisions, compared to those already given initial approval by the council. One is an exception for churches and schools. The definition of “changeable” copy had also been revised. Taylor said it’s important that billboards not expand beyond their current status.

Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) reported that 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 a clear consensus for that point of view.

Sally Petersen (Ward 2) argued that if Ann Arbor wants to be a tech town, then preserving the status quo is too conservative. She cited the possible negative impact on economic development. The ordinance changes promote blight by not allowing existing billboards to be removed and replaced with new ones, she contended. So she’d oppose the ordinance change. She pointed out that the Michigan Dept. of Transportation (MDOT) relies on digital technology to convey messages along the highways. She called for a more comprehensive look at the ordinance. It’s way too conservative for a town that wants to move forward with technology, she said.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) ventured that the Ann Arbor Public Schools district is unlikely to go ahead with a proposal to contract with Adams Outdoor Advertising on school property. She said that two of the digital signs proposed by Adams Outdoor Advertising were in Ward 1 – which she represents. The idea of having digital signs there didn’t make her happy, but she conceded she was perhaps an old fogey.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) thanked the city staff for all their research and their work on the ordinance. She thought the proposed changes were reasonable, so she’d be supporting the ordinance change.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) thanked the staff for their work. He said it’s clear that the community doesn’t want any more visual intrusion. He characterized the ordinance change as not an anti-business proposal, but rather a pro-community move.

Outcome: The council voted to give final approval to the billboard ordinance, over dissent from Sally Petersen (Ward 2) and Marcia Higgins (Ward 4).

Fireworks Ordinance

The council was asked to consider a revision to the city ordinance on fireworks. The impact on the upcoming July 4 holiday would be that fireworks use would be limited in Ann Arbor to the time between 8 a.m. and midnight. A necessary revision to state law, in order to make the city’s action legal, had already been passed by the Michigan House and Senate when the council met. It awaited only signature by the governor’s office, which it subsequently received two days later on June 19.

The revision to the city’s fireworks ordinance was given initial approval at the council’s June 3, 2013 meeting. The impact of the ordinance change is 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 applies to other national holidays as well. On New Year’s Day, however, the time extends to 1 a.m.

The local ordinance change is made possible by the change to state law, which previously did not allow local governments to regulate fireworks for a continuous 72-hour period – for the day preceding a national holiday, the national holiday, and the day following the national holiday. The statutory change makes it possible for a local government to regulate the time of fireworks use around the time of national holidays.

Fireworks Ordinance: Public Hearing

Two people spoke at the public hearing on the fireworks ordinance change. Thomas Partridge said that July 4 should be a celebration of civil rights and human rights. He objected to celebrating the holiday with fireworks. Michael Benson asked the council to consider allowing people to apply for a permit to use fireworks on other days. He wondered what other costs could be imposed by the ordinance language “plus costs” that are mentioned in connection to a $500 fine.

Outcome: After a brief introduction by Sabra Briere (Ward 1), the council voted to give final approval to the fireworks ordinance.

CIL Parking for The Varsity

The council was asked to approve a change to the development agreement between the city and The Varsity – a 13-story, 177,180-square-foot apartment building containing 181 dwelling units (415 bedrooms). The council’s requested action was essentially a confirmation of an Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority decision to award the right to purchase a total of seven monthly permits, at a 20% premium cost.

The Varsity is located at 425 E. Washington St. in downtown Ann Arbor. Based on zoning requirements, 76 off-street parking spaces are required. Only 69 were provided on site. The others were provided through the contribution in lieu (CIL) program. The seven spaces were approved by the Ann Arbor DDA at its June 5, 2013 meeting. It falls to the DDA to make a decision on the CIL spaces, because the DDA administers the city’s public parking system under a contract with the city.

Outcome: After a recitation of the situation’s background by Sabra Briere (Ward 1), the council voted to approve the revision to the development agreement.

Site Plans, Brownfield Plans

At its June 17 meeting, the city council was asked to give approvals in connection with three developments.

Site Plan: State Street Center

One request was a site plan approval for the State Street Center, near the intersection of South State and Ellsworth. 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. A one-story, 6,790-square-foot retail building will be built behind the restaurant. The rezoning of the parcel for this site plan was given final approval at the council’s June 3, 2013 meeting.

Outcome: The council voted without discussion to approve the State Street Center site plan.

Site Plan, Brownfield Plan: 544 Detroit St.

The council was also asked to approve the site plan for 544 Detroit St. – a three-story building 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.

544 Detroit, Rueter Associates Architects, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

A rendering that shows the proposed design for 544 Detroit St., at the corner of Detroit and North Division.

For the 544 Detroit St. project, the council was also asked to approve a brownfield plan. 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).

The planning commission gave the 544 Detroit St. project a recommendation of approval at its Dec. 18, 2012 meeting.

Site Plan, Brownfield Plan: 544 Detroit St. – Public Hearing

Jeff Crockett spoke in favor of the 544 Detroit St. project. He called it a responsive development. The site plan demonstrates serious consideration of citizen input, he said – and he knew of no one who opposed this project. He called for zoning laws that are not driven just by statistics, but rather are value-driven. Thomas Partridge also spoke on the 544 Detroit St. project, criticizing the fact that there was no attached requirement that the site provide affordable housing or access to public transportation.

Site Plan, Brownfield Plan: 544 Detroit St. – Council Deliberations

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) mentioned briefly that this was one of the better brownfield projects the committee had seen. She serves on the city’s brownfield committee.

Outcome: The council voted to approve both the site plan and the brownfield plan for 544 Detroit.

Brownfield Plan: Packard Square

Finally, the council was asked to approve an amendment to a previously-approved brownfield plan for Packard Square, at 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. Demolition at the site began a few weeks ago.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) asked about payment of back taxes – the project is located in Ward 4. Nathan Voght of the Washtenaw County office of community and economic development, which manages the county’s brownfield redevelopment program, fielded Higgins’ questions. The indication was that the back taxes would be paid.

Higgins noted that the demolition is in progress, so Voght gave an update. May 28 was the start of demolition. The Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) indicated that additional asbestos mitigation was needed. Soil excavation to remove contamination is ongoing and a vapor barrier will probably need to be installed, Voght said. He thought by mid-July the demolition will be done. The developer indicated that construction would begin as soon as possible after that.

Higgins said that residents are pleased to see the project going forward. Mayor John Hieftje thanked Higgins for her efforts.

Outcome: The council voted to approve the Packard Square brownfield amendment.

$382K for Housing Commission

The council was asked to provide $382,000 of operational support to the Ann Arbor Housing Commission.

The resolution was held over from the council’s June 3, 2013 meeting. That’s when the council took several steps to move the Ann Arbor Housing 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.

The additional funding, according to a staff memo accompanying the resolution, is needed to mitigate against the impact of federal sequestration. The memo puts that impact at about $300,000 less for public housing and $50,000-$75,000 less for capital funding.

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 city’s housing and human services advisory board had voted to recommend the $159,000 be appropriated from the affordable housing trust fund.

$382K for Housing Commission: Council Deliberations

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) introduced the resolution, noting that it will empty the affordable housing trust fund – but that fund will receive $100,000 on July 1, because of the budget allocation the council passed as part of the FY 2014 budget. Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) asked city CFO Tom Crawford if there were sufficient funds in the general fund reserve to cover the allocation. Crawford projected a fund balance of $13.9 million at the end of the fiscal year. That’s about 17% of operating expenses. But he did have some concerns, Crawford said. 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.

City administrator Steve Powers noted that the current council policy is to maintain 8-12% of operating expenses in the fund balance.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) thanked Jennifer Hall, executive director of the AAHC, for her work.

Outcome: The council voted to approve the AAHC allocation.

Commitment of $750,000 for 721 N. Main

The council was asked to make a commitment of up to $750,000 from the city’s general fund – to undertake planned improvements to the city-owned property at 721 N. Main. The commitment is a requirement for a grant application that the city is making to the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund for $300,000.

If the city’s plan unfolds as it expects, then none of the $750,000 in general fund money would be needed.

The improvements to 721 N. Main have resulted from work done by a North Main Huron River corridor task force that has been working at the direction of the city council since the summer of 2012 to make recommendations for the corridor.

Of the $1.2 million estimated cost for the planned 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 has applied for 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.

The council’s resolution considered on June 17 came in response to an MNRTF grant requirement that the council commit the city to funding the other grants itself – from general fund money – if those 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.

Commitment of $750,000 for 721 N. Main: Public Commentary

During public commentary time at the start of the meeting, Bob Galardi addressed the council on the MDNR grant application in connection with the city-owned property at 721 N. Main. He’s a member of the city’s park advisory commission, but spoke on behalf of the Allen Creek Greenway Conservancy. He’s president of the conservancy’s board. Galardi asked the council for their support of the resolution that commits the city to as much as $750,000 of general fund money for the project. The conservancy, he said, 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.]

Commitment of $750,000 for 721 N. Main: Council Deliberations

When she introduced the item, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) stressed that the commitment the council was being asked to make is not an expenditure.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5)

Mike Anglin (Ward 5).

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) thanked Briere for her service on the North Main Huron River task force. Lumm indicated support for the resolution. Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) wondered if any park millage dollars would be spent on this project. Briere noted that the property is not yet a park. When will it be a park? asked Kunselman. That’s a decision for the park advisory commission (PAC), not for her, Briere responded.

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), who serves as an ex officio member of PAC, noted that park staff are sensitive to the funding requirements of maintaining existing parks. Mayor John Hieftje described the general context of two city-owned properties – 415 W. Washington and 721 N. Main – and how those properties fit into the context of greenway planning. Hieftje talked about the need to focus on the provision for long-term maintenance.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) said it’s important that this resolution commits money. Anglin said a chain of parks through the city – like the greenway – would have a positive economic impact.

Outcome: The council voted to commit the funds for the 721 N. Main site.

Pizza in the Park

Several speakers addressed the council in connection with a petition they delivered to the city – a copy of which was attached to the council’s electronic agenda. The petition asked the council to take action to ensure that no fees are required to be paid by organizations that are providing humanitarian aid in the city’s parks.

The general petition stemmed from concerns about protecting a specific event – Pizza in the Park, a homelessness ministry of the Vineyard Church that includes distribution of food and other aid at Liberty Plaza, located 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 park 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. During council communications time on June 17, Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), who serves as one of two city council ex officio representatives to the city’s park advisory commission (PAC), announced that PAC would be considering a related resolution at its meeting the next day. And on June 18, 2013 PAC considered and passed a resolution recommending the waiver of rental fees associated with Liberty Plaza – a waiver that would apply to any group. That recommendation will need the approval of the city council.

First to address the council on the topic during June 17 public commentary was Peggy Lynch, who took the podium to applause. She described an unmet and tragic humanitarian need in Ann Arbor. She thanked the council for the eliminating the fee that was being applied to Pizza in the Park at Liberty Plaza. But she was hopeful that the gentleman’s agreement could be replaced with something in writing. David Williams echoed the request for a written commitment.

Thomas Partridge assured 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 called for the advancement of Dr. Martin Luther King’s civil rights agenda. He recalled King’s “I have a Dream” speech.

Jose Galofre addressed the council through a sign language interpreter, calling for the passage of an ordinance – put down in writing for the future to ensure that fees would not be applied to Pizza in the Park. Michael Ramirez told the council he has medical issues that require him to go to the University of Michigan health system, and he spoke in support of Pizza in the Park ministry. Christine Kern told the council she lives on the street with her boyfriend. They’d be sleeping outside that night. She recited a definition of basic human rights, and asked the council to enact an ordinance that protects the right to distribute humanitarian aid on public land.

At the end of the meeting during public commentary time, Seth Best and Peggy Lynch again addressed the council on the idea of the fee waiver for Liberty Plaza. They wanted something in writing – and they wanted it to be possible for humanitarian aid to be distributed in any park.

Caleb Poirer quipped that it felt wonderful staying up late with the council. [By that point, it was about 12:30 a.m.] It reminded him of staying up late as a kid, but with adults – just without “the blankets and the socks with the bottoms.” He allowed that there was a concern that someone could drive a semi-trailer truck through the loophole of the phrase “humanitarian aid.” But he asked the council to wrestle with the language that would make an ordinance work to allow humanitarian aid to be distributed. There are a lot of people who want to do kind things, he said, and urged the council not to let fees get in the way.

Outcome: This was not a voting item.

Millage Rate Correction

The council was asked to correct a .0031 error in the specification of the rate of the FY 2014 tax levy for the city’s park maintenance and capital improvements millage. The FY 2014 fiscal year begins on July 1.

The millage rate that was listed in the FY 2014 budget resolution – approved by the council at its May 20, 2013 meeting – was 1.0969 mills. The park maintenance and capital improvements millage should have been listed as 1.10 mills. The corresponding correction from the total millage rate was from 16.4470 to 16.4501 mills. Measured in dollars, the correction is estimated to bring in an additional $14,460 in revenue.

Outcome: After a brief introduction from Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), the council approved the correction to the millage rate.

Police Unions Wage Bump

The council was asked to approve contracts with city police unions that award 2% and 1% wage increases.

Re-openers for the final year of their contracts resulted in new contracts with six police department unions: 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.

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).

Common to all the contracts is 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 the membership differently, as follows: (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.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) thanked the staff for their work. It’s the first time since she’s been on council that all the contracts have been resolved before expiration, she said. Jane Lumm (Ward 2) thanked the staff and recited the nature of the agreements.

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

The council voted to approve all the police department union contracts.

Resolution on SEMCOG Highway Plan

The council considered a resolution opposing the proposed expansion of I-94 in Detroit and I-75 in Oakland County.

Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5)

Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5).

The Washtenaw County board of commissioners had 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.

Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) stated that 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 them.

Warpehoski then quoted Picasso in explaining where the text for the resolution had come from: “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” He’d copied much of the resolution from resolutions that have been passed by other municipalities.

Outcome: The council voted to pass the resolution opposing SEMCOG’s 2040 plan. SEMCOG’s general assembly subsequently voted to adopt the plan.

Annual Contracts: SPARK, Lobbyist

As part of its consent agenda, the council was asked to approve two annual contracts for services at its June 17 meeting. One was a $48,000 contract with Governmental Consultant Services Inc. (GCSI) for lobbying services with the state legislature. The council also approved a $75,000 contract with Ann Arbor SPARK for business support services.

Items on the consent agenda are considered routine, and include contracts for less than $100,000. They’re voted on as a group.

The contact with the economic development agency Ann Arbor SPARK is one that has been renewed annually since the Washtenaw Development Council and Ann Arbor SPARK merged in 2006. Previously, Ann Arbor had contracted with the WDC for the business support services for which it now contracts with SPARK. On June 20, 2005, the city council authorized that one-year contract with WDC for $40,000. The resolution authorizing the $75,000 contract with SPARK again this year describes the organization’s focus as “building our innovation-focused community through continual proactive support of entrepreneurs, regional businesses, university tech transfer offices, and networking organizations.”

Ann Arbor SPARK is also the contractor hired by the city’s local development finance authority (LDFA) to operate a business accelerator for the city’s SmartZone, one of 11 such districts established in the early 2000s by the Michigan Economic Development Corp. (MEDC). The SmartZone is funded by a tax increment finance (TIF) mechanism, for a TIF district consisting of the union of the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti Downtown Development Authority districts.

Revenue is generated only in Ann Arbor’s district, and the LDFA is a component unit of the city’s budget. In the FY 2014 budget, the LDFA is expected to receive $1,655,647 in revenue. The specific taxes on which the increment since 2002 is captured are the school operating and state education taxes, which would otherwise be sent to the state and then redistributed back to local school districts.

GCSI’s Kirk Profit, an Ann Arbor area resident and former member of the state House of Representatives, typically makes an annual presentation to the council with an update on state-level legislative issues relevant to the city’s budget situation. Written updates to councilmembers on legislative activity are sent on a weekly or daily basis.

Outcome: As part of the consent agenda, councilmembers approved contracts with GCSI and Ann Arbor SPARK.

Council Rule Changes

The June 17 agenda included an item related to changes in the council rules. Possible changes include adding a period of public commentary to the council’s work sessions, but reducing public speaking time per turn from three minutes to two minutes. [.pdf of draft rules changes]

The procedure for reserving one of the 10 reserved speaking slots at the start of the meeting is also proposed to be revised. Only people who did not address the council at its immediately previous meeting would be eligible to reserve a slot. And of the 10 slots, eight would be designated for people who want to address the council on agenda action items. Two slots would be provided for those who want to address the council on any topic.

Councilmember speaking time is also proposed to be reduced. Councilmembers are allowed two speaking turns per agenda item. Under the current rules, time limits for those speaking turns are five minutes for the first turn and three minutes for the second turn. Under the proposal, those times would be reduced to three minutes and two minutes, respectively.

The proposed addition of an opportunity for public commentary at council work sessions would ensure that councilmembers could freely deliberate toward public policy decisions at those sessions and still conform to Michigan’s Open Meetings Act.

The proposed rules changes would move mayoral communications from the end of the meeting to a spot closer to the start of the meeting. That would give nominations to boards and commissions – which are a part of those communications – somewhat greater prominence.

[For previous Chronicle coverage, see: "Council Mulls Speaking Rule Changes."]

Council Rules Changes – Frequent Speakers

A consequence of reducing the speaking time limit from three minutes to two minutes is that the total speaking time a single speaker could take at a meeting would be reduced by one-third. It’s not unusual for a meeting to include a half dozen or more formal public hearings, in addition to the public commentary slots on the agenda. The June 17 meeting, for example, featured seven public hearings. With a three-minute time limit, it’s not uncommon that one person could have a total of about a half hour available to address the council.

Thomas Partridge typically reserves one of the 10 slots at the start of the meeting and speaks at most of the public hearings at any given meeting of the council – generally connecting his remarks to the topic of the hearing with general themes of affordable housing, transportation and education, as well as calls for social justice. Occasionally mayor John Hieftje, who presides over the council’s meetings, will deem Partridge’s remarks to be insufficiently related to the topic of the public hearing and admonish Partridge to stay on topic. The June 17 meeting featured one occasion when Hieftje offered that admonishment to Partridge.

And at the conclusion of the meeting’s seventh public hearing – on the brownfield plan for Packard Square – after  Partridge had held forth several times at previous hearings, Ann Arbor resident Todd McWilliams addressed the council, but not on the topic of the brownfield plan for Packard Square. He told the council he’d attended several of the council’s meetings over the last six months and wanted to address Partridge. McWilliams told Partridge that Partridge was doing an injustice to the public hearings, and was abusing the council’s time. At that point, McWilliams earned an admonishment from Hieftje to speak to the topic of the hearing.

Partridge responded to McWilliams from the audience by accusing McWilliams of abusing Partridge’s civil rights. McWilliams said: “There’s got to be another way of doing this; because this isn’t the right way to do it.” Partridge’s rejoinder was: “See you in court.”

Council Rules Change: Public Comment

During public commentary time at the conclusion of the meeting, two people addressed the council on the topic of the rules changes.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) and resident Michael Benson. Benson serves on the city taxicab board.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) and resident Michael Benson. Benson serves on the city’s taxicab board.

Michael Benson thanked the council for staying late. He commended the rules committee, saying that the proposed rules represent a step forward. He suggested that reducing the speaking time from three minutes to two minutes might not be so bad, given that when people hand over written remarks to the clerk, those documents can eventually be added to the agenda. He told the council they should consider constraining their own question time during the meeting – as that was where the council spent the majority of its time. He also suggested that reserved time at the start of the meeting be confined to true action items.

Jeff Hayner thought it’s great that someone talked about the rules. He agreed with Benson’s point about the ability to submit written remarks. He suggested, however, that some of the time saved through a reduction in speaking time be re-allocated to council discussion of items that sometimes didn’t receive much discussion – like the appointments to boards and commissions.

Council Rules Changes: Deliberations

Council conversation was scant. Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), chair of the council’s rules committee, said she’d like to see the item postponed. By way of background, the council’s current meta-rule on changing the rules requires that the council be notified of changes at the meeting prior to a vote on the changes – which had not happened yet. The proposed rules revisions include a change to that meta-rule.

Outcome: With no further discussion, the council voted to postpone the rules changes until July 1.


The June 17 agenda included several items regarding appointments to city boards and commissions.

The council was asked to confirm the extension of Sabra Briere’s (Ward 1) appointment as the councilmember representative to the planning commission. She’s served in that capacity since November 2012. The council was asked to extend the term through Nov. 7, 2013. At that point the membership on the new, post-election city council will be settled. Briere is unopposed in the Democratic primary. An independent candidate, Jaclyn Vresics, has taken out petitions 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.

Later, toward the end of the meeting, the council was asked to confirm Bonnie Bona’s reappointment to the planning commission.

Although Tony Derezinski had appeared on the list distributed to the council at its 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. The Chronicle learned that there was pushback on the council about Derezinski’s nomination for reappointment. He 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 that time.

At the council’s Nov. 8, 2012 meeting, councilmembers had voted – over dissent from Jane Lumm (Ward 2) – to appoint Derezinski to that partial planning commission term. Up to that point, he’d served as the city council’s representative to the planning commission. However, he did not prevail in the August 2012 Democratic primary in his Ward 2 race against Sally Petersen.

On June 17, Jeremy Peters was nominated to replace Derezinski on the planning commission. Peters works in creative licensing and business affairs with Ghostly Songs. A council vote to confirm his appointment will occur on July 1.

Other appointments the council was asked to confirm on June 17 included members of the downtown area citizens advisory council: John Chamberlin, Ray Detter, Joan French, Jim Kern, Sue Kern, Kathleen Nolan, Herbert Kaufer and Hugh Sonk. They had been re-nominated at the council’s June 3 meeting, having first appeared on the council’s May 13 meeting agenda for reappointment. The names had not been presented to the council for confirmation on May 20. The terms of all the members had expired.

Also at its June 17 meeting, the council was asked to confirm LuAnne Bullington’s nomination to the taxicab board, having been nominated on June 3. Bullington had submitted an application to serve on the board of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority earlier this year, which resulted in a divided vote by the council on the nomination that was put forward by mayor John Hieftje – Eric Mahler. Mahler was confirmed on a 7-4 vote as the AATA board appointment at the council’s May 13, 2013 meeting. He recently ended his service as a planning commissioner.

Other reappointments confirmed on June 17 were: Barbara Clark to the cable communications commission; Paul Fontaine and Chester Hill to the design review board; and Tom Stulberg to the historic district commission.

In the last few months, the council has taken an increased interest in mayoral appointments. That’s reflected in a change recommended by the council’s rules committee – to move the mayor’s communications time closer to the start of the meeting, instead of near the end. The mayor’s communications include nominations to boards and commissions and the council’s confirmation votes.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to confirm all the appointments.

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: Public Safety

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) alerted her colleagues that a resolution regarding a public safety task force that she wants to form will be on the council’s July 1 agenda.

Comm/Comm: Stop Signs

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) called for a focus on safety as people move around the city during the summer. He called for the installation of stop signs to slow traffic on streets over which the city has control.

Comm/Comm: Affordable Housing

Thomas Partridge expressed disappointment with the council and the mayor for leaving the city without sufficient affordable housing. He said they lack the courage to stand up and bring the facts to the voters for support of tax increases to fund what’s needed.

Comm/Comm: AAHC Complaint

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

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, July 1, 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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  1. June 27, 2013 at 12:57 pm | permalink

    The article notes that the Council approved “an amendment to a previously-approved brownfield plan for Packard Square” which “adds to the list of eligible activities – including underground parking and urban stormwater management.”

    As I understand this amendment, it was necessary to add eligible expenses to the plan because the original plan included costs related to demolition and clean up of the site which now have been covered by the combination of a $1 million dollar state grant and a $250,000 expenditure by the developer.

    The Brownfield TIF for this project allows the developer to capture about $5.8 million dollars of local taxes over 14 years. Before the Council approved that TIF capture, the local news site noted:

    “If the city approves the brownfield plan, more than $3 million in taxes would be diverted from schools to help finance the project. Another $1.24 million would be diverted from the city’s general fund and the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, nearly $16,000 from city parks, nearly $20,000 from city street repairs, more than $57,000 from Washtenaw County government, more than $15,400 from libraries, and lesser amounts from various entities.” [link]

    If completed, the $48.2 million dollar development will receive the $1 million state grant plus the $5.8 million TIF capture. Is there something so compelling about this project that justifies $6.8 million dollars of public funding?

  2. By Mark Koroi
    June 27, 2013 at 7:20 pm | permalink

    “The Chronicle learned that there was pushback on the Council about Derezinski’s nomination for reappointment.”

    Pushback? Can you elaborate on this?

    Regarding the Downtown Area Citizens Advisory Council re-apppointments, it should be noted that that three of the former members who had initially been re-nominated after their respective terms had expired were not on the final list of those being re-nominated to a seat on that public body and Hizzoner added Hugh Sonk to replace one of three whose re-nominations had been withdrawn by the Mayor.

    It should also be noted that seven of the fifteen seats on the CAC remain unfillled and it is not apparent what the Hieftje administration is doing, if anything at all, about getting these filled.

    Revelations as a product of investigations from numerous citizens on how the CAC operated and how all seats expired have been a painful source of embarrassment to City Hall. Thanks should go to Ed Vielemetti and Pat Lesko for these investigations of this copntroversial public body.

    Look for the Mayor and Stephen Postema to begin revving up the public relations machine for Hieftje administration very soon to help turn back the tide of recent bad publicity.