Sept. 16, 2013 Ann Arbor Council: Final

Back on the agenda: Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority TIF capture, council's internal rules; also a briefing on new UM football game traffic control measures around Michigan Stadium

The second Ann Arbor city council meeting of the month, set for Sept. 16 19, 2013, comes after three home football games have been played by the University of Michigan football team.

New sign on door to Ann Arbor city council chamber

The sign on the door to the Ann Arbor city council chamber, installed in the summer of 2013, includes Braille.

That’s actually pertinent to the council’s work – because Ann Arbor chief of police John Seto has a spot on the meeting agenda to provide an update about the implementation of new traffic control measures on home game days. This year for the first time, the council gave approval for street closures around the Michigan Stadium in the hours before kickoff through the end of the game.

The council’s 7-4 vote approving the street closures was taken on Aug. 8, 2013. No council action on the issue appears on the Sept. 16 meeting agenda. However, the council’s approval had included a request for a review after the first three games, which featured three different start times.

The council’s Sept. 16 meeting includes two other items on which it has previously punted a number of times: final approval of revisions to the ordinance regulating the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority’s tax increment finance (TIF) capture; and revisions to the council’s internal rules. The council’s Sept. 3 meeting was planned to be the session when the council would tackle those two issues. However, the necessary committee work had not been completed by that time.

A joint committee composed of DDA board members and councilmembers huddled up for a second time on Sept. 10, 2013. And based on that meeting, it’s somewhat unlikely that the council would use its Sept. 16 meeting to take a simple yes-no vote on the ordinance revisions currently in play, which had already been given initial approval back on April 1. Those revisions would enforce the existing language of the ordinance in a way that has an impact on the DDA’s TIF revenue roughly matching the DDA’s projected revenues in its 10-year planning document.

The consensus at the Sept. 10 joint committee meeting appeared to be that the council should give itself a fresh set of downs on the question – by changing the basic conceptual approach to limiting the DDA’s TIF. That approach would impose a cap on TIF revenues with a built-in increase each year. But it’s not clear that a substitute set of changes would be ready for the council to consider at its Sept. 16 meeting.

Starting with a fresh draft of ordinance revisions would mean that the council would again need to give the changes an initial approval, followed by a second vote at a later meeting. The fresh start could also eliminate changes to the governance of the DDA board that had been included in the original revisions initially approved by the council on April 1. Those included term limits for DDA board members.

Among the options in the council’s parliamentary playbook are: tabling, postponing indefinitely, or postponing the DDA ordinance revisions until a date certain. If the council amends the proposal with a substitute proposal, postponement to a date certain would be more likely. However, the council could also choose to vote down the current proposal and leave the committee to come back with a future recommendation.

The council’s rules committee also met on Sept. 10, 2013. Based on discussion at that meeting, the consensus appeared to be that no shortening of speaking turns for the public or for councilmembers should be undertaken, and that the procedure for reserving public commentary time at the start of the meetings should not be altered. Among the substantive changes that survived the committee’s conversation are: adding public commentary to work sessions; changing the order of the agenda to move nominations and appointments to boards and commissions to earlier in the meeting; and prohibiting the use of personal electronic communications devices while at the council table.

The council’s agenda is otherwise fairly light. It includes an expansion of the Honda testing facility on north of Ellsworth on Research Park Drive, formal acceptance of the final report from the North Main Huron River task force, and a $117,200 expenditure for the rental of rear-loading trucks to supplement the city’s fleet during the fall leaf collection season.

Update: An item to reconsider the fossil fuel resolution that failed to pass at the council’s Sept. 3 meeting was added to the agenda on the morning of Sept. 16. The original resolution called on the city’s employee retirement system to divest from fossil fuel companies – but it failed on a 5-4 vote, with two councilmembers absent. Six votes were needed to pass. The motion to reconsider is sponsored on the agenda by Margie Teall (Ward 4).

More detail on other meeting agenda items is 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.

6:33 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. Three people are already here in the audience. One is hoping to get the general construction contract for the Honda testing facility project that’s on the agenda. Another is a graduate student in political science who’s been attending council meetings for over a year. And the third is Thomas Partridge.

6:50 p.m. City administrator Steve Powers is now here, as is Marcia Higgins (Ward 4). Higgins is the only councilmember here so far.

6:50 p.m. Lots of high school students are in attendance tonight as part of a class requirement to attend a public meeting. Public services area administrator Craig Hupy is chatting with Higgins.

6:56 p.m. Councilmembers are starting to filter in. Mike Anglin (Ward 5), Jane Lumm (Ward 2) and Sabra Briere (Ward 1) are now here.

7:05 p.m. All councilmembers except for Sally Petersen (Ward 2) have now arrived.

7:07 p.m. And the meeting has been called to order.

7:08 p.m. Pledge of allegiance, moment of silence and the roll call of council. Petersen is absent.

7:09 p.m. Mayor John Hieftje reports that Petersen has indicated that she’s running late, but will be here.

7:09 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.]

Ten people are signed up to speak tonight during city council reserved time. Ward 5 city council write-in candidate Thomas Partridge will be addressing the council on the topic of building affordable housing in the city. David Blanchard, who chairs the city’s housing and human services advisory board, is signed up to talk about that group’s resolution, passed at its most recent meeting, about the changes to the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority ordinance. Those ordinance changes are on the agenda for final approval tonight. The HHSAB resolution approved on Sept. 12, 2013 calls for the inclusion of ordinance requirements of funding for affordable housing by the Ann Arbor DDA – at a level of $300,000 annually, adjusted upwards each year to account for inflation.

First Ward candidate for city council, Jeff Hayner – who is on the ballot as an independent – is signed up to talk about non-motorized transportation and the city’s crosswalk ordinance. Kathy Griswold is also signed up to talk about the city’s crosswalk ordinance. By way of background, the city released a memo on Sept. 9, 2013 with a review of the city’s crosswalk ordinance. The planning commission, at its Sept. 10, 2013 meeting, approved the update to the city’s non-motorized plan, and recommended that the city council do the same.

Six people are signed up to talk about the motion to reconsider the resolution on fossil fuel divestment, which was defeated on a 5-4 vote at the council’s Sept. 3, 2013 meeting. The motion to reconsider that resolution will come from Margie Teall (Ward 4). Those who are signed up to speak on the question are Mike Shriberg, Wayne Appleyard, Dina Kurz, Dave Marvin and Laura Hobbs.

7:13 p.m. Thomas Partridge is now at the podium. He notes that he’s a write-in candidate for Ward 5 city council. He calls for reform of the council rules to expand opportunities for public participation. He calls for an unlimited number of public speakers at the start of the meeting. He notes that the Washtenaw County board of commissioners manage their meetings in that manner. He calls for reform of the relationship between the city and the Ann Arbor DDA. He wants the DDA district to expand to include all the commercial areas of the city.

7:16 p.m. Mike Shriberg speaks on behalf of the city’s energy commission. He was also on the climate action plan task force. He teaches energy policy at the University of Michigan. He was surprised that the resolution at the last meeting was not approved, given the recommendation of the energy commission. He calls the resolution a first step to implementation of the plan. He notes there wasn’t a lot of debate at the previous council meeting. He points out that fossil fuel companies have done well in the last several years, but that performance may not be indicative of future results. Examples in 15 other cities have not shown any negative effects of divesting. Shriberg now addresses the slippery slope argument. He notes the supporting petition of citizens. Does this tie our hands? he asks. He says that the resolution in no way takes away fiduciary responsibility. The energy commission had really done its homework, he says.

7:19 p.m. Wayne Appleyard is current chair of the energy commission. He says he wants to impress on the council the importance of passing the resolution. He points out that it got a majority of votes at the previous meeting, just not enough to pass. He stresses that the retirement board is an independent body, so the resolution is only symbolic. Climate change is an important issue, he says. This resolution will send a message to fossil fuel companies and others that the city wants the world to reduce dependency on fossil fuels. He says that fossil fuel investments will become increasingly risky. This resolution will help create the market for non-fossil fuel funds.

7:22 p.m. Dine Kurz is also a member of the energy commission. She talks about the urgency of the request to pass the resolution. The politics are hard to change, but the laws of physics are immutable, she says. It’s not a question of technology, she says, but about the political will that’s necessary. The companies cited in the resolution were chosen for the amount of their carbon reserves. By burning those reserves, those companies could raise the global temperature beyond the “safe level.” It’s a quality of life issue that affects the city’s retirees, she says. It’s a question of social responsibility, she adds. Kurz compares the issue to tobacco and South Africa apartheid.

7:25 p.m. Jeff Hayner cites the crosswalk safety memo and the non-motorized plan update. The recommendations include measures to increase compliance with the crosswalk ordinance. Engineering, education and enforcement are absent from implementation of the crosswalk ordinance, he notes. He says it’s not enough to distribute literature saying that “pedestrians rule.” He adds that the signs for crosswalk compliance are confusing. He calls on appropriate funding levels for the city’s crosswalk program.

7:28 p.m. Dave Marvin is a UM student. He spends 10 months of the year in the forests of Panama. Divestment will align the city’s investments with its climate action plan, he says.

7:31 p.m. Laura Hobbs is an undergrad at UM. She was born and raised in San Francisco. She decided to attend UM because of Ann Arbor, as a socially conscious community. Students like her would like to live and study in an environment of environmental justice. She’s participating in a divestment campaign at UM. As students, they look to Ann Arbor as a leader for progressive change, she says. She wants Ann Arbor to be a role model for UM. She asks councilmembers to pass the resolution on divestment from fossil fuels.

7:34 p.m. David Blanchard introduces himself as chair of the city’s HHSAB. He presents the resolution passed by the HHSAB. There’s a lot in the revisions that go beyond the HHSAB’s purview. But HHSAB is committed to affordable housing in this community, he says. [HHSAB wants the ordinance to require that the DDA set aside $300,000 annually for affordable housing, which is the amount set aside this year. HHSAB wants that amount to increase each year.]

7:37 p.m. Larry Junck speaks in favor of the resolution on divestment from fossil fuels. He’s a professor of neurology. He makes three points. First, it’s a sound investment decision, he says. Second, divestment is consistent with the city’s climate action plan. Third, it’s effective local action. It’s not about getting people in far away cities to take action. In sum, he says, the council has the opportunity to do our part to keep the world a livable place for our children and grandchildren.

7:41 p.m. Kathy Griswold is talking about the pedestrian ordinance. She recalls her public commentary from 2009 and a quote she read about sight distance and how overgrown vegetation can affect that. She mentions that the Ann Arbor Public Schools has adopted the AAA school safety patrol program. Consistent uniform operating procedures are essential, according to AAA, Griswold says. That means we need the same crosswalk laws in the entire country or at least one school district. [She had a map with her to highlight the fact that the AAPS district is much larger geographically than just the city of Ann Arbor.] She asks the council to rescind the crosswalk ordinance.

7:41 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.

7:42 p.m. Mike Anglin (Ward 5) recalls the resolution on 1,4-dioxane at the previous council meeting. He suggests that the city should receive the quarterly reports that CARD makes. He says the city needs to get more serious about this issue.

7:44 p.m. Sabra Briere (Ward 1) gives an update on the downtown zoning review. The final public forum is on Sept. 19 at Workantile on Main Street.

7:45 p.m. Mayor John Hieftje, announces that the nomination of Al McWilliams to the board of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority will be re-introduced later in the meeting.

7:45 p.m. UM football street closures. As part of the council’s resolution approving street closures around the University of Michigan’s football stadium on home game days – which passed on a 7-4 vote taken on Aug. 8, 2013 – the council asked that a preliminary assessment of the traffic control measures be given at its Sept. 16 meeting by AAPD chief John Seto. An additional report from Seto – after meeting with neighborhood groups – is to be given to the council at its Oct. 7 meeting.

UM football game day street closures.

UM football game day street closures (pink) with detour route (purple).

Most of the traffic controls were approved to be in place for the period starting three hours before a game until the end of the game. However, the closure of the southbound lane on Main Street was restricted to just one hour before the game start. Traffic controls include the following: E. Keech Street between S. Main and Greene streets are closed. Access to Greene Street from E. Hoover to E. Keech streets is limited to parking permit holders. The westbound lane on E. Stadium Blvd. turning right onto S. Main Street (just south of the Michigan Stadium) is closed. And S. Main Street would be closed from Stadium Blvd. to Pauline.

7:49 p.m. Seto is now at the podium. He notes that a community meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 24 at 6 p.m. at Pioneer High School. Seto is stressing that tonight’s remarks are his own observations and comments he’s heard, and he’ll reserve conclusions until the community has had an opportunity to make comments, which will be reflected in his final report on Oct. 7.

Seto reports that some people who offer parking on their property noticed some negative impact on the number of people who were able to park. Residents appreciated some of the additional police presence for the perceived curtailment of some disorderly conduct. Seto says that some of the signage was improved after the first game. The closures were much smoother for the second and third games, he says. The general message Seto is giving is that he did not observe any significant issues with respect to traffic during the first three game days. Seto said for the third game, with its noon start time, there had been some congestion and backup of traffic.

7:52 p.m. Public services area administrator Craig Hupy confirms that the detours were tweaked in the course of the three games.

7:52 p.m. Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) is asking questions of Seto. She was concerned about the ability of police to control pedestrians to keep them off the street. She also noticed a lot of open intoxicants, saying that she’d seen some people just fall down from drinking.

7:54 p.m. Seto reports that for the Notre Dame game there were a lot of pedestrians trying to get to the game. He notes that there’s no sidewalk opposite Pioneer High School on Main Street, which affects pedestrian behavior. He reports that there were a lot of citations for open intoxicants.

7:55 p.m. Hieftje says there were about 180 citations issued. He notes that the city is not a fan of night games, but says the AAPD did a good job of keeping the lid on everything.

7:56 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. The only public hearing is on the Honda testing facility site plan, which was given a recommendation of approval by the city planning commission on Aug. 20, 2013. The addition to the Honda test facility more than doubles the size of the existing facility, which is located north of Ellsworth on Research Park Drive.

7:59 p.m. Honda test facility site plan public hearing. Thomas Partridge wants the chair of the planning commission to attend every council meeting when there’s a site plan – to explain the planning commission’s recommendation to approve the site plan. He says that a representative of Honda should be present. He calls for more accessibility of agenda information on the Internet. He asks where the stormwater will go.

8:00 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 just one item – a construction contract to Fonson Inc. for the Belmont sanitary sewer extension project ($71,625). The project entails installing about 196 feet of new 8-inch sanitary sewer to bring service at the residence at 2250 Belmont into conformance with standards. The 2250 Belmont proper is currently being served by sanitary sewer through a shared lead with the adjacent property at 2240 Belmont. And the shared lead is now showing signs of failure.

8:00 p.m. Councilmembers can opt to select out any items for separate consideration. No one selects out the single item for separate consideration.

8:00 p.m. Outcome: The council has voted to approve the consent agenda.

8:00 p.m. DDA ordinance changes. The DDA ordinance revisions on the agenda have already been given initial approval by the council and are awaiting a final vote. The amendments to Chapter 7 include various changes to governance, including term limits for board members, as well as clarifications to the existing language on TIF capture. The amendments would enforce the existing language of the ordinance in a way that has an impact on the DDA’s TIF revenue that would roughly match the DDA’s projected revenues in its 10-year planning document.

However, since that 10-year document was last updated, the amount of new construction in the DDA district has resulted in significant increases in the taxable value on which TIF is computed. About $1 million a year is at stake – which would be distributed to the other jurisdictions whose taxes the DDA captures, instead of being collected by the DDA. The council had postponed a final vote on the changes most recently at its Sept. 3, 2013 meeting. Four months earlier, on May 6, 2013, the council had voted to postpone the final vote until Sept. 3, after giving the changes initial approval at its April 1, 2013 meeting.

Two meetings of a joint committee of DDA board members and city councilmembers have taken place about the ordinance changes – one on Aug. 26, 2013, eight weeks after the committee was appointed, and another one on Sept. 10, 2013. At the Sept. 10 meeting, the group appeared to be ready to recommend that the council table the initially-approved ordinance changes and start from scratch – likely shedding the proposed changes to governance with a fresh start. Under the existing ordinance language, the amount of DDA TIF capture is calibrated to projections in the DDA TIF plan, which is a foundational document for the DDA. The different conceptual approach would establish a basis level for the maximum captured taxable value in the DDA district and then set some clearly defined annual increase, keyed to a specific percentage or some variant of a consumer price index (CPI).

8:01 p.m. Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) reports on the second joint committee meeting. He says he wants to give the DDA some time to review the numbers. He wants a postponement until Oct. 21.

8:04 p.m. Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1) wants clarification on the “dual track” that Kunselman mentioned. She wasn’t sure if the committee recommendation would supercede the existing revision that the council has given initial approval. She says there’s a lot of confusion. What’s going on in the joint committee seems to be totally rewriting the revisions. She’s not comfortable, because there are other taxing jurisdictions involved. She’s not very happy with the way things are turning out. Will the existing revisions be replaced by the version recommended by the committee? she asks.

8:10 p.m. Kunselman says that after the first reading of the revisions passed, there was a lot of angst about the idea that the DDA would first collect and then return tax money to the other taxing authorities. So the joint committee is looking at a TIF cap. He reads aloud the draft language. He says the idea is to make it as clear as possible. There’s no money to be returned because the amount the DDA gets in the first place is subject to the cap. A cap takes away the need to enforce anything.

He doesn’t want to take the initially-approved revision off the table, because it allows the council to make that decision whenever the council chooses. He’s been trying to work cooperatively with the DDA, but allows that DDA board members might not necessarily agree. The TIF cap approach would allow the DDA to set its budget more easily, he says. At the Oct. 21 meeting, the council will likely have the committee’s proposal ready for consideration. He’s focused on the TIF capture methodology, not the governance issue. Amendments on the governance issue could come from the floor on Oct. 21, he ventures.

8:10 p.m. Kunselman says he doesn’t have all the answers and there’s more than one way to do this. He calls the TIF changes the most important of the reforms. Does that help? he asks Kailasapathy.

8:11 p.m. Kailasapathy asks city attorney Stephen Postema if it’s possible for the council to just act unilaterally. He declines to give an analysis right now, but says the council would receive advice on the ordinance as a whole.

8:14 p.m. Lumm is trying to get clarity on what’s going to happen. She highlights the clause that says that the other taxing jurisdictions need to approve the removal of restrictions. Mayor John Hieftje makes a gambit to discuss the issue further, suggesting that city administrator Steve Powers and DDA executive director Susan Pollay could provide some discussion of the TIF cap issue.

8:18 p.m. Hieftje convinces Kunselman to withdraw the motion to postpone. Powers is now talking about the TIF cap. He says that in cooperation with DDA staff, draft language was prepared for an alternative. The draft proposal sets a basis for the taxable value and caps the amount of TIF with yearly increases. The amounts were chosen to recognize the growth that was currently occurring and to allow the DDA to retain that growth. The percentage increases could range from 3% to 10%. Pollay says that the DDA will be assisted by city CFO Tom Crawford in modeling the impact of different percentages.

8:20 p.m. Chuck Warpehoski asks for the draft language to be provided to the council as a whole. The council is taking a break to allow the clerk to make some copies.

8:23 p.m. Recess. The council is now in recess.

8:23 p.m. Here’s a link to the draft language and schedule from the committee meeting.

8:35 p.m. We’re back.

8:41 p.m. Lumm is asking questions. She wants to know the rationale for establishing the baseline value at $167 million. Powers says that would allow some future growth. Lumm points out that this is a $700,000 additional revenue to the DDA. Powers notes that the idea is to provide enough revenue so that the DDA can accomplish the projects in its draft five-year plan. Hieftje says it wasn’t his intent to make a decision, but he wanted the council to have a chance to discuss the issue. Powers noted that the whole council had been provided with the draft five-year plan.

Lumm asked why there was not a lot of enthusiasm from the committee for a CPI index. Taylor explains that the regular CPI is not related to the kind of construction projects the DDA undertakes. So that’s not a neat fit for the kind of costs increases the DDA will have to contend with. It’s key that the escalator be reasonable. Lumm calls 10% “off the charts.” Kunselman says that will be the topic of the next committee meeting.

8:42 p.m. The motion to postpone until Oct. 21 is back.

8:42 p.m. Outcome: The council has voted to postpone the DDA ordinance revisions until Oct. 21, 2013.

8:42 p.m. East Huron River Drive rezoning. The council is being asked to give initial approval of a rezoning request for 3875 E. Huron River Drive from R1A (single-family dwelling) to PL (public land). The site, which is adjacent to the city’s South Pond park, will be used as parkland.

3875 E. Huron River Drive, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Aerial view of 3875 E. Huron River Drive.

The property was acquired by the city in 2010, but a “life estate” was in place until earlier this year, according to a staff memo. The two-acre site – located on the north side of E. Huron River Drive and west of west of Thorn Oaks Drive – includes a single-family home. The land overlooks South Pond. City assessor records show that the property was previously owned by the Elizabeth Kaufman and Wes Vivian trust.

At its Sept. 8, 2009 meeting, the city council approved the purchase of the property, allocating $636,000 from open space and parkland preservation millage, which is used for greenbelt and parkland purchases. Of that total, $600,000 was designated for the purchase price, with the remainder used for closing costs, a property survey and Phase I environmental site assessment. The deal closed in 2010.

A staff memo prepared for the council in 2009 described the site’s future use as “passive recreation”: “The property would be suitable for a picnic area and possibly a picnic shelter. As water and sewer are already on the site, a restroom structure could be constructed as well. The site would provide boaters with access to South Pond.” Former U.S. Congressman Wes Vivian has now moved out of the residence, according to city planning manager Wendy Rampson, which makes the property now available to the city.

8:44 p.m. Lumm says she’s glad to see this resolution. The city is able to do this because of the generosity of Vivian and his wife. She asks for comment from staff about possible park uses. Planning manager Wendy Rampson says that it might be used for headquarters for the natural areas preservation program, but it’s not clear that would be a good fit.

8:44 p.m. Outcome: The council has voted to give initial approval for the rezoning of 3875 E. Huron River Drive from R1A (single-family dwelling) to PL (public land).

8:44 p.m. Resolution to approve changes to the city council rules. The council is being asked to approve a set of revisions to the council’s rules. A revision to the rules was first presented to the council on June 17, 2013. However, a vote was postponed at that meeting. The revisions were prompted by a desire to allow for public commentary at council work sessions – to eliminate any question about whether councilmembers were engaged in deliberative interactions at those sessions. By allowing for public commentary at work sessions, the council would ensure compliance with Michigan’s Open Meetings Act.

The council’s rules committee also recommended additional changes, including a shortening of the individual speaking turns for public comment as well as shortening of time for councilmembers. Those additional changes were included in the June 17 version of the rules. After again postponing a vote at its July 1, 2013 meeting, the council used its following meeting, on July 15, 2013, to eliminate one of the proposed rule changes – the shortening of public speaking turns. But the council postponed further revisions and a vote until Sept. 3. The council again postponed a vote on Sept. 3, 2013 because the council’s rules committee had not met in the interim.

On Sept. 10, the rules committee did meet, and the consensus appeared to be that no shortening of speaking turns for the public or for councilmembers should be undertaken and that the procedure for reserving public commentary time at the start of the meeting should not be altered. Among the substantive changes that survived the committee’s conversation are: adding public commentary to work sessions; changing the order of the agenda to move nominations and appointments to earlier in the meeting; prohibiting the use of personal electronic communications devices while at the council table.

8:49 p.m. Briere introduces the resolution and reviews the history of the proposed revisions. Councilmembers at the last committee meeting had come up with a fresh proposal, which is being considered by the council tonight. She goes through each change. She hopes that councilmembers have reviewed the set of changes. She notes that she’s filling in for Higgins, who was not able to attend the committee meeting, because she had sustained an ankle injury.

8:54 p.m. The council has now accepted the substitute, fresh version of the rules. Higgins thanks the committee for doing a great job while she wasn’t there. She calls it a great piece of work. Hieftje said one thing stuck out for him. He notes that the public commentary time for work sessions is supposed to begin at 8:45 p.m. on the agenda. So Hieftje wonders if that’s feasible. Powers indicates that some flexibility might be required.

Warpehoski notes that working sessions have not always started at 7 p.m. So he suggests that the beginning of public commentary time could be specified to be 105 minutes after the posted start time. City attorney Stephen Postema says that the council could vote to suspend that rule and change the procedure. Hieftje says that he would feel more comfortable if the time would be 9:15 p.m. Lumm suggests that perhaps no time needs to be specified.

8:57 p.m. Higgins allows the changes won’t affect her [because she's leaving council]. She notes that the council for some time has been working with the city administrator on the structure of work sessions. She ventures that the rule could simply be suspended and she didn’t think that it would happen very often. Lumm thanks the committee for its work. She says that the initial proposal to shorten speaking turns was an overreaction to a couple of very long meetings. She says it was a good move to abandon that approach.

8:57 p.m. Sally Petersen (Ward 2) has now arrived at the meeting.

9:02 p.m. Lumm says that the addition of public commentary will add the opportunity for additional public dialogue. She’s happy to support the rules changes. Hieftje says that he appreciates Lumm’s comments. The committee had wanted to get the whole council’s feedback.

Warpehoski moves to strike the language setting the time when public comment at work sessions would start. Taylor says it’s not that big a deal. He said he inferred that Powers’ remark on the subject as meaning that the staff would find some mention of a time as helpful discipline. Kunselman says he’ll follow Taylor’s lead on this. Briere says that because the rules can be amended and there’s no limit on the number of speakers, it gives members of the public a clear indication of when they need to appear in order to speak. It gives a firm commitment to the public, Briere says. She notes that it’s a school night.

9:04 p.m. Teall says she’ll support the amendment. She doesn’t think 15-20 minutes one way or another will make a big difference.

9:05 p.m. Outcome on Warpehoski’s amendment: The amendment fails on a 5-6 vote. Voting against it were Higgins, Anglin, Briere, Petersen, Taylor and Kunselman. So the “no later than” start time stays in the public commentary for work sessions.

9:05 p.m. Outcome: The council has voted to approve changes to its internal rules.

9:05 p.m. Resolution accepting the North Main Huron River corridor vision task force report. The North Main Huron River Corridor task force was established at the council’s May 7, 2012 meeting, and its report had been due at the end of July 2013. However, Sabra Briere (Ward 1), who served on the task force, had apprised the council during communications time at previous council meetings to expect a slight delay.

The resolution formally accepts the group’s final report and directs the city administrator to program the recommendations “as feasible within the constraints of available resources and other priorities.” The report includes some before-after photos depicting possible improvements, like a pedestrian bridge across the Huron River connecting Argo berm to the MichCon property, as well as recommendations on the use of city-owned property at 721 N. Main.

9:06 p.m. David Santacroce is at the podium to present the report. He chaired the committee. He’s ticking through the main elements of the report. “This is what you asked us to do,” he says.

9:07 p.m. He notes that there were 19 public meetings of the committee. He reviews the public engagement process.

9:09 p.m. Not a lot had happened as a result of the two previous studies, he says. The little secret of the river is out, he notes, and the area is now “packed.” Residents come from all corners of town, he says. “We’ve got a river in the middle of town.” The public wants and expects improvements, he says.

9:12 p.m. The recommendation for the two buildings on 721 N. Main is to demolish them, he says.

9:16 p.m. Santacroce talks about the idea of asking the planning commission to explore the concept of “riverside zoning” for North Main.

9:18 p.m. Santacroce talks about how many people cross the RR tracks illegally – including himself. It’s dangerous, illegal, but highly used, he says.

9:20 p.m. Santacroce is summing up, saying that it’s hard to imagine a more thoroughly vetted proposal by the public. He calls many of the recommendations “soft,” which means that they are recommendations to study this or look at that. Hieftje praises the work of the committee.

9:25 p.m. Petersen asks about the riverside zoning. Santacroce notes that it’s prime real estate. The idea is that the proper city commission with the proper expertise – the planning commission – should take a look at it. Lumm applauds the effort of the committee. The report has lots of important suggestions for this important gateway, Lumm says. She was around when the two previous studies were done and they pretty much sat on a shelf, she says.

Higgins calls the riverfront zoning an excellent idea. She reminds the council that M1 zoning is being reduced throughout the city, and points out that a place for that light industrial use will need to be found.

9:25 p.m. Outcome: The council has voted to accept the North Main Huron River task force report.

9:25 p.m. Resolution recognizing Michigan Ability Partners (MAP) as a civic nonprofit organization for the purpose of obtaining a charitable gaming license. According to the staff memo accompanying the resolution, Michigan Ability Partners (MAP) is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that partners with veterans and people with disabilities to help them achieve self-sufficiency. MAP plans to hold a fundraising raffle on Nov. 6, 2013 for which it needs the designation as a civic nonprofit, so that it can obtain the gaming license.

9:25 p.m. Outcome: The council has voted to recognize MAP as a civic nonprofit.

9:25 p.m. Reconsideration of fossil fuel divestment resolution. Margie Teall (Ward 4) has brought back for reconsideration a resolution calling on the employee retirement system to divest from fossil fuels companies. It failed on a 5-4 vote at the council’s Sept. 3, 2013 meeting. Voting against it on that occasion were: Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), Margie Teall (Ward 4), Mike Anglin (Ward 5) and Sally Petersen (Ward 2). Jane Lumm (Ward 2) and Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) were absent from that meeting. Teall voted with the prevailing side and this is the next regular meeting after the question was originally considered. So it needs just a simple six-vote majority to be approved. If the motion on reconsideration passes, the council will vote on the divestment resolution again.

9:25 p.m. The council’s resolution stems from an energy commission resolution passed on July 9, 2013, which recommended that the city council urge the city’s employee retirement system board to cease new investments in fossil fuel companies and to divest current investments in fossil fuel companies within five years. The resolution defines a “fossil fuel company” to be any of the top 100 coal companies or top 100 gas and oil extraction companies. The top three coal companies on the list are: Severstal JSC; Anglo American PLC; and BHP Billiton. The top three gas and oil companies on the list are: Lukoil Holdings; Exxon Mobil Corp.; and BP PLC.

The basic consideration of the resolution is the importance of the role that greenhouse gas emissions play in global warming. The resolution cites the city of Ann Arbor’s Climate Action Plan, which has a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2025 and 90% by 2050. The resolution warns that fossil fuel companies have enough fossil fuel reserves that, if burned, would release about 2,795 gigatons of CO2. That’s five times the amount that can be released without causing more than 2°C global warming, according to the resolution.

9:25 p.m. By way of background, at the council’s Sept. 3, 2013 meeting, executive director of the city’s employee retirement system Nancy Walker had told the council that moving to separately managed accounts from the system’s preferred strategy – of using co-mingled funds, mutual funds, and particularly indexed funds – would cost 30-40 basis points more in fees, independent of any difference in the return on investments.

9:27 p.m. Outcome: The council has voted to unanimously to reconsider the resolution on fossil fuel divestment.

9:31 p.m. Teall says that she’s learned a lot more about the issue and would like to see the resolution passed. Anglin recalls the remarks that Nancy Walker had made at the previous meeting. Petersen notes that there are significant costs associated with the divestment, according to Walker. Petersen points out that fiscal responsibility is one of the council’s stated goals. She says she’s done additional research. She pegs the costs in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. She ticks through the five council priorities identified in December 2012. She suggests a different approach for such a resolution. Instead of divesting, she suggests that a call for investment in clean energy would be more proactive.

9:36 p.m. Taylor says it’s an important issue. He notes that the council doesn’t control the pension board. He proposes an amendment. He wants to replace the next-to-last resolved clause on the timeline – that the city council acknowledges that compliance with the requests has to be consistent with the pension board’s fiduciary responsibility.

Kunselman says he doesn’t want his name in the newspaper five years from now, associated with council action that had caused underfunding of pensions. So he feels that Taylor’s amendment helps with that. Kunselman cautions against meddling in other organizations.

9:38 p.m. Outcome: Taylor’s amendment is approved over objection from Petersen.

9:41 p.m. Nancy Walker is now at the podium. Briere says she has only easy questions. At the last meeting, Briere said her understanding was that there were no funds in which the board could invest that didn’t include fossil fuels. Walker indicated that on initial review, there were not any indexed funds that specifically screened out fossil fuels, but there were some “socially responsible” funds. Briere ventures that there are perhaps no such funds because there’s no demand for them. By asking the board to look at divesting, that might help to generate demand for such funds. “If it’s never asked for, it’s never going to be given,” says Briere.

9:44 p.m. Kailasapathy recalls that at the last meeting that Walker said the costs would be 30-40 basis points to move from indexed funds. That would apply to as much as half of the total investments of the fund, says Walker.

9:44 p.m. Exact wording of Taylor’s amendment is: “RESOLVED, That the City Council acknowledges that compliance, if any, with the requests above must be consistent with the Retirement Board’s fiduciary duties; and …”

9:49 p.m. Higgins says she feels like the council is going off on a tangent by not asking the pension board what it could do with such a resolution. She didn’t feel like there is “enough meat” in the resolution. Higgins won’t support it, but suggests postponing until the pension board meets to discuss the issue.

Walker says the trustees on the pension board are eager for dialogue, but this could require a substantial amount of research. Higgins wants a dialogue with the pension board. Kunselman adds that he wants a public hearing on this. He agrees with the idea of postponing. He says that California’s pension board has adopted a policy to be socially responsible. Does the city’s pension board have such a policy? Kunselman asks? No, says Walker.

Kunselman says he really wants to be able to vote for it, but struggles with the obligation to the taxpayers. He notes that none of the large universities have gotten on board with this idea of divesting from fossil fuels. He adds that he works with energy issues at the University of Michigan. Kunselman concludes that he would support a postponement.

9:56 p.m. Lumm is now asking questions of Walker. She says she had to scramble to educate herself, because she missed the last meeting and the item was added to this meeting’s agenda just today. Lumm and Walker are talking about basis points for fees. Lumm says that back in the 1990s, there was a socially responsible policy, which was then abandoned because the returns were significantly lower.

Briere moves for postponement until Oct. 7 to give time for the pension board to meet and review. Taylor suggests that the timeframe be extended. Conversation is now focusing on the timing of the postponement. The date certain is Oct. 21.

Kunselman wants to add a public hearing for Oct. 21. Higgins says the public hearing comments wouldn’t be informed by the pension board’s communications. Kunselman withdraws his request that a public hearing be added.

10:01 p.m. Hieftje says he doesn’t see any need to postpone. He says there’s no reason to delay. He argues that no harm will be done to the pension fund – it’s just a request that the pension board take a look at something.

Anglin says he’ll support the postponement, given that a lot had been heard on both sides of the issue. Warpehoski says he’ll support the postponement, because he feels that the longer it stays in the news, that fits into the campaign for putting pressure on fossil fuels companies. For now, he says, let’s keep the conversation going, because “What else do we have to do on a Monday night?”

10:08 p.m. Petersen focuses on the “resolved” clause with the five-year timeframe. She calls the timeframe of five years very significant. She would rather vote on it tonight because she feels so strongly. But she thinks that it’s the council that needs to do some work. She wants the energy commission to consider a more proactive resolution on investing in clean energies, instead of divesting from fossil fuels.

Briere says there’s a difference between fossil fuels and apartheid, but they both are social issues. It’s about money, but it’s also about people and the future. She says she’s content to let the energy commission take a look at it and to have the pension board look at it. The postponement is not meant to bury the resolution, she notes, adding that if the council is not ready to vote in a month from now, it probably never will be.

10:09 p.m. Lumm says she’s ready to vote tonight. She doesn’t support the resolution. It has everything to do with being a good steward of taxpayer money, she says. It’s divesting from an entire sector of the economy. She’s torn on the postponement, she says. There’s an opportunity to understand the issue more thoroughly. She notes that the city has a defined benefit plan. She’s been pushing the city to convert to a defined contribution plan.

Hieftje says that he’s been persuaded to support a postponement.

10:09 p.m. Outcome: The council has voted unanimously to postpone the fossil fuel divestment resolution until Oct. 21.

10:09 p.m. Honda testing facility site plan. The proposal would more than double the size of the existing facility and increase the number of American Honda Motor Co. employees who work at the site from 6 to 10, according to the city planning staff.

Honda, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Aerial view of Honda test site, north of Ellsworth on Research Park Drive.

The existing 19,357-square-foot building, built in 1975 and used for vehicle testing, is located at 3947 Research Park Drive on a 2.72-acre site. The proposal calls for building a two-story, 24,116-square-foot addition. Part of that square footage includes a basement level. According to Honda, the expansion will include a state-of-the-art environmental testing chamber, to help Honda develop vehicles with cleaner fuel emissions. Two of the site’s seven landmark trees would be removed, and mitigated by planting six new trees. In addition, 32 shrubs will be planted in front of the new addition. A 5-foot public sidewalk will also be built along Research Park Drive. A variance related to the size of the existing curbcut was needed from the city’s zoning board of appeals.

The site is zoned RE (research district) and no rezoning is requested. The project is being managed by Poggemeyer Design Group in Bowling Green, Ohio. The estimated construction cost is $4.3 million.

10:10 p.m. Outcome: The council has voted unanimously without discussion to approve the Honda testing facility site plan.

10:11 p.m. Recess. The council has again taken a recess.

10:17 p.m. We’re back.

10:17 p.m. Resolution authorizing a contract with Premier Truck Sales & Rental Inc. for truck rental for leaf collection ($117,200). The trucks are being rented in order to handle the increased volume of yard waste during the fall season. Based on the staff memo accompanying the resolution, the city has a fleet of three side load compost trucks, which have smaller “hoppers” designed for routine collection of a couple of compost carts per stop. The frequency of “packing” required for the truck – during which no waste can be added – depends on the hopper size. The rental trucks have much larger hoppers so “packing” is less frequent.

leaf truck in action

A leaf truck rented from Premier Truck Sales & Rental in action back in 2011 on the Old West Side in Ann Arbor.

10:18 p.m. Lumm has a question about how many employees are used for the fall yard waste collection – how many hours and the cost. She’s content to have that information forwarded later.

10:19 p.m. Outcome: The council has voted to approve the rental of additional trucks for use in fall leaf collection.

10:19 p.m. Resolution on public utilities easement at 1900 Manchester Road. The resolution would vacate the existing public utilities easement and accept a new one from Memorial Christian Church. According to the staff memo, the new easement is for the same area as the old one, but adopts the standard approach used by the city for easements, and prohibits any further establishment of structures by the church in the easement area.

10:19 p.m. Outcome: The council has voted to accept the easement from the Memorial Christian Church.

10:20 p.m. Nominations. Nominations to boards and commissions tonight, on which the council will be asked to vote at its next meeting, include Brock Hastie to the employees’ retirement system board of trustees. That’s a re-appointment. Being nominated to the city’s energy commission tonight are Erik Eibert (replacing Cliff Williams), Elizabeth Gibbons (replacing Josh Long), and Wayne Appleyard (re-appointment). Nominated to fill a vacancy on the housing and human services advisory board is Kyle Hunter, and to fill a vacancy on the recreation advisory commission is Katie Lewit.

10:20 p.m. Appointments. The council is being asked to confirm the nomination of Pamela Meadows to the city’s human rights commission. The nomination was made on April 1, 2013.

10:21 p.m. Outcome: The council has voted to confirm Pamela Meadows’ appointment to the city’s human rights commission.

10:22 p.m. Al McWilliams to the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board. This nomination is now being brought back, after it was withdrawn during deliberations at a previous meeting.

10:23 p.m. Hieftje says that younger professionals are under-represented on city boards and commissions. He notes that McWilliams is supported by the director of the Main Street Area Association [Maura Thomson]. He wants someone to replace Newcombe Clark in that regard.

10:26 p.m. Kunselman says he won’t be voting for McWilliams. He’s met with McWilliams and describes him as “not ready for prime time.” He says he won’t belabor the insults that McWilliams uses in Tweets, and the foul language in his blog posts. You wouldn’t want your mother reading those posts, he says. Kunselman says McWilliams is not mature enough – the city needs someone who can show some tact.

10:29 p.m. Petersen agrees with Kunselman. She cites McWilliams’ use of profanity as one objection. Kailasapathy, having come up with the feminist movement, says she finds his position on women to be degrading. Hieftje says, sarcastically, that he’s “shocked” that profanity would be used on the Internet.

10:31 p.m. Taylor says he’ll support McWilliams. Taylor indicates that he thinks McWilliams will serve well on the board. He characterizes McWilliams as showing traits typical of his generation – ironic irreverence. Warpehoski says he doesn’t think that profanity and saying inappropriate things disqualifies someone from public service.

10:35 p.m. Briere says that she did not find herself offended by what McWilliams had written on the Internet. But it had been pointed out to her that this behavior could be considered immature and so she had talked with him: “We did not exchange expletives, mine or his.” She’d asked him about what he wanted to accomplish on the board of the DDA. She said she didn’t find anything to worry about – except that he wanted to dig into the mission of the DDA and what it was supposed to be accomplishing. She was impressed that he’d chosen Ann Arbor, and had other opportunities. He saw himself as an independent player and had not taken a subservient role. For councilmembers who were concerned that some DDA board members didn’t know when to say no to the council, she thought that could be a benefit. She’d enjoyed talking to him.

10:37 p.m. Outcome: Al McWilliams has been confirmed to the DDA board on a 6-5 vote. Voting against the appointment were Anglin, Kailasapathy, Petersen, Lumm and Kunselman.

10:37 p.m. Public commentary. There’s no requirement to sign up in advance for this slot for public commentary.

10:41 p.m. Thomas Partridge again asks voters to write in his name on Nov. 6 for Ward 5 city council. He says the council and the clerk should be urging people to register to vote. He says the city should put information about how to write in their selection for city council. No one in Ward 5 is able to stand up to the mayor’s “surly” attitude towards a variety of different demographics, including women, children and people with disabilities, he says.

10:43 p.m. Partridge berates Hieftje for a bit. Hieftje asks Partridge if he’d like to be removed.

Kai Petainen talks about shareholder activism. Sometimes the best strategy is to buy shares and show up to shareholder meetings. It’s also possible to take a stand about individual companies, he says. By excluding an entire sector, no one will care. If you avoid energy, Petainen says, no one cares, because someone else will buy it.

10:43 p.m. Adjournment. We are now adjourned. That’s all from the hard benches.

Ann Arbor city council, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

A sign on the door to the Ann Arbor city council chambers gives instructions for post-meeting clean-up.

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  1. By Joan Lowenstein
    September 17, 2013 at 3:00 pm | permalink

    Can you please clarify, was McWilliams nominated for DDA or was he rushing a sorority?

  2. September 17, 2013 at 3:34 pm | permalink

    Thanks so much for the blow/by/blow coverage of the council meeting. It is really valuable in understanding how some of the decisions are made, including a little of the displayed personalities (though you underplay that nicely).

    And still to anticipate – your actual story about the Council decisions with the deeper analysis! Life is good.

  3. By Alan Goldsmith
    September 17, 2013 at 3:36 pm | permalink

    The nomination by the Mayor and approval of Mr. McWilliams’ appointment was a clear signal it will be business as usual for the DDA. Something you are the expert in, for now, Ms. Lowenstein.

  4. September 17, 2013 at 6:57 pm | permalink

    Actually, McWilliams’ frat boy humor would have made him a perfect candidate to rush a fraternity.

  5. By Steve Bean
    September 17, 2013 at 7:01 pm | permalink

    “It’s divesting from an entire sector of the economy.”

    Yes, an entire sector that is facilitating, promoting, and profiting from the foreseeable destruction of the biosphere. That seems to be the point of the resolution. Slavery was an entire sector of the economy, too, so the above is an empty objection.

    That said, the entire growth-oriented economy is similarly complicit in that destruction. A more worthwhile resolution would endorse the global-societal end of the use of money and exchange, which is what has driven our insane continuation of the fossil-fuel and unsafe-nuclear powered economy.

  6. By Mark Koroi
    September 17, 2013 at 11:50 pm | permalink

    “…….Hieftje asks Partridge if he would like to be removed.”

    For what reason? First Amendmnet expression?

    Be careful, Mayor.

    City of Ann Arbor attorneys just shelled out funds to settle two federal civil rights cases in the last few months in which First Amendment abridgments were alleged.

  7. By Alan Goldsmith
    September 18, 2013 at 5:57 am | permalink


    From his rubber stamp appointments to the DDA and other boards, his contempt of hearing other thoughts and opinions that disagree with his own and his use of the word ‘haters’ to paint people who have honest disagreements with his direction for the City, Mr. Hieftje can’t tolerate Mr. Partridge and wanted him tossed out of the run. It’s the trait bullies have but one most Ann Arbor voters won’t tolerate for long in its elected officials. It would be a major error in judgement for the Mayor to act on his anger and have a YouTube video of Mr. Partridge carried out of Council Chambers by Ann Arbor Police.

  8. By Rod Johnson
    September 19, 2013 at 7:55 pm | permalink

    I guess it depends on what the “berating” consisted of. If it contained threats or aggression, it seems reasonable to the mayor to say “calm down of I’ll have you removed.” If it was just rudeness, well, it’s unfortunate that that’s kind of becoming a norm, but it seems like protected speech. If it’s off-topic or over-time, again, the mayor’s response seems plausible. And if it’s coherent, well-argued speech, well, that’s a surprise.

  9. September 19, 2013 at 8:01 pm | permalink

    Re: “If it’s off-topic or over-time, again, the mayor’s response seems plausible.”

    Partridge was over-time, as usual.

  10. September 20, 2013 at 8:56 am | permalink

    Not just plausible but reasonable. I’ve observed several times when Mr. Partridge became argumentative when told that his time was up or that he was not permitted to speak (because of the agenda, or because he had previously spoken in a particular public hearing). The person chairing the meeting has little choice but to exert authority in such cases. I don’t believe that the First Amendment protects a right to speak at any time, according to whim.

  11. September 20, 2013 at 5:49 pm | permalink

    There is no easy way to deal with a PWI (Person With Issues) while still complying with the state’s Open Meetings Act.