Council on DDA: Delay on TIF, OK McWilliams

Also: fossil fuel divestment resolution reconsidered but postponed; new rules adopted allowing public commentary at work sessions; North Main Huron River corridor task force report accepted

Ann Arbor city council meeting (Sept. 16, 2013): Of the roughly 3.5-hour session, about an hour was devoted to two separate items that were added to the agenda the day of the Monday meeting.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5), city administrator Steve Powers

From left: city administrator Steve Powers and Mike Anglin (Ward 5). (Photos by the writer.)

One of those late agenda additions was a confirmation vote of Al McWilliams’ appointment to the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority (DDA) board. The vote tally was 6-5, which was declared sufficient for confirmation. However, the city attorney is still reviewing the possibility that the confirmation required an eight-vote majority, under the council’s rules.

The debate on that item came late in the meeting, because that’s where nominations and appointments are slotted on the agenda template, based on the council’s current rules. But that will change in the future – due to a change in the council’s rules that was also on the Sept. 16 agenda. The council adopted some revisions to the rules that were three months in the works. Those included: adding an opportunity for public commentary to work sessions; changing the order of the agenda to move nominations and appointments for boards and commissions to a slot toward the start in the meeting; and prohibiting the use of personal electronic communications devices while at the council table.

Also related to the DDA on the Sept. 16 council agenda was the final approval of revisions to the city ordinance regulating the DDA’s tax increment finance (TIF) capture. The council again put off a vote on the question, which was given initial approval five and a half months ago – on April 1. The question was put off this time until Oct. 21.

The initially-approved amendments to Chapter 7 of the city code include various changes to governance, including term limits for board members, as well as clarifications to the existing language on TIF capture. The initially-approved amendments would enforce the existing language of the ordinance in a manner that would impact the DDA’s TIF revenue in a way roughly matching the DDA’s projected revenues in its 10-year planning document.

At the council’s Sept. 16 meeting, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) sketched out a different conceptual approach to the way the TIF capture is constrained. It’s an approach being developed by a joint committee of councilmembers and DDA board members as a “dual track” to the ordinance revisions currently under consideration.

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 – a “cap” on TIF revenue – and then set some clearly defined annual increase, keyed to a specific percentage or some variant of a consumer price index (CPI).

A working document used by the joint committee at its Sept. 10 meeting showed two basic scenarios, one of which could roughly mimic the TIF revenue levels that would be provided under the current proposal, while the other might not provide any practical cap.

The second item added to the Sept. 16 agenda on the same day as the meeting was reconsideration of a vote on fossil fuel divestment taken by the council at its previous meeting, on Sept. 3. At that meeting, the council had voted 5-4 on a resolution calling on its employee retirement system to divest from fossil fuel companies. That tally defeated the resolution because it failed to achieve the necessary six votes on the 11-member council.

However, Margie Teall (Ward 4) voted with the prevailing side – one of the votes against it – giving her the right to bring a motion for reconsideration, which the council passed at its Sept. 16 meeting. But on the fossil fuel divestment resolution itself, after about 45 minutes of debate, the council voted to postpone the matter – until its Oct. 21 meeting.

In other business, the council approved the site plan for an expansion of a Honda testing facility, north of Ellsworth on Research Park Drive. The council also approved the rental of 8 extra trucks to supplement the city’s fleet during fall leaf collection season, at a cost of $117,200. It’s an annual expenditure.

Also on Sept. 16, the council formally accepted the final report of the North Main Huron River corridor task force.

The council also heard an update from Ann Arbor police chief John Seto on the preliminary assessment of newly implemented street closures for University of Michigan home football games. That preliminary assessment did not include any major problems, but Seto indicated that he wouldn’t draw conclusions until after a community meeting that’s being held to get additional feedback. That meeting takes place on Tuesday, Sept. 24 at 6 p.m. at Pioneer High School.

DDA Board Nomination: Al McWilliams

The council was asked to vote on the confirmation of Al McWilliams to the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board. Although the item was not included on the agenda until the evening of the meeting, mayor John Hieftje told the council early in the meeting on Sept. 16 that he’d be asking for a vote on McWilliams’ appointment that night.

The action came after McWilliams’ nomination had been withdrawn by Hieftje in the middle of deliberations at the council’s previous meeting, on Sept 3, 2013. At that meeting, a positive outcome on the vote appeared to be in doubt, as two councilmembers were absent – Jane Lumm (Ward 2) and Marcia Higgins (Ward 4).

At that Sept. 3 session, councilmembers who were opposed to the nomination expressed a concern about a potential conflict of interest for McWilliams in votes he might take on DDA funding for the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority’s getDowntown program. His firm, Quack!Media, is an ad agency located in downtown Ann Arbor. Quack!Media lists the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority on its website as one of its clients.

DDA Board Nomination: Al McWilliams – Council Deliberations

Hieftje led off deliberations by saying that younger professionals are under-represented on city boards and commissions. He noted that McWilliams is supported by the director of the Main Street Area Association [Maura Thomson]. He wanted someone to replace Newcombe Clark in representing the Main Street area of downtown.

Sally Petersen (Ward 2)

Sally Petersen (Ward 2).

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) said he wouldn’t be voting for McWilliams. He reported that he’d met with McWilliams and described him as “not ready for prime time.” Kunselman said he wouldn’t belabor the insults that McWilliams uses in Tweets, and the foul language in his blog posts. But you wouldn’t want your mother reading those posts, he said. Kunselman contended that McWilliams is not mature enough to serve on the DDA board – and what’s needed is someone who can show some tact. Kunselman allowed that McWilliams in his online work was coming at it as “joking” and that’s all well and good. But as a public official, that doesn’t work, he said.

Sally Petersen (Ward 2) agreed with Kunselman. She said she was looking at McWilliams’ website, and that there was a “very curious picture of Miley Cyrus’ rear end.” She reported that she’d had a conversation with him about his website, because she’d found some of the images somewhat offensive. She also cited McWilliams’ use of profanity as one objection, characterizing it as not professional. She held the DDA board to higher standards than that, she said. He belongs to the category of a “young, techie entrepreneurial person,” she said, but there are a lot of them out there and the city could do better in selecting them. She didn’t think McWilliams was the right person for the DDA.

Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1) said that as a woman, having come up with the feminist movement, her political engagement had begun with women’s rights. She found his position on women “absolutely degrading,” and concluded that there’s “no way I could support him.” Hieftje asked if Kailasapathy had met with McWilliams and discussed his views on women, or if she was basing her opinion on his online work. Kailasapathy indicated that she’d emailed back and forth with him.

Hieftje responded to the commentary up to that point with sarcasm by saying, “The fact that somebody used profanity on the Internet, I am shocked that this occurred. It’s almost unbelievable that there would be profanity used on the Internet.”

John Hieftje

Mayor John Hieftje.

Margie Teall (Ward 4) said she was extremely uncomfortable assuming that someone who takes on a persona on the Internet would necessarily behave that way at the DDA or in a governmental position. She couldn’t understand why that assumption would be made. Almost off mic, Kunselman responded to Teall by saying that recently a DDA member had resigned [an allusion to the resignation of Nader Nassif from the board after being arrested for sexual assault]. Teall said she’d met with McWilliams, calling him a delightful person. Teall felt he’d be someone who could add energy to the DDA and add a unique and youthful perspective, concluding that that’s a good thing.

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) said he’d support McWilliams. If the city is interested in having young entrepreneurs participate in the governmental process and to invest in the downtown and to become a part of civic life, then the door shouldn’t be shut on someone for exhibiting some of the characteristics of that generation. Those characteristics include an “ironic irreverence” to things, he said. Taylor described McWilliams as a valued member of the Ann Arbor business community who has the full support of the Main Street Area Association. Taylor felt he’d serve with “temperance, smarts, and distinction.”

Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) offered by way of analogy Al Franken. He’d support Franken for the U.S. Senate if he lived in Minnesota, even if he thought that Franken’s book – “Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot” – was inappropriate for attacking someone for their weight. During the Bush years, if Warpehoski had been a member of the Republican Party, he would have supported the re-election of vice president Dick Cheney, even though Cheney told a member of the Senate to “go eff himself,” and that’s not decorum worthy of the office. Warpehoski indicated that he didn’t think that profanity and saying inappropriate things disqualifies someone from public service.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) reported 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 on the phone. Her impression was that he felt comfortable talking to someone of her generation: “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, when he had other different opportunities. He saw himself as an independent player and had not taken a subservient role, she said. 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.

Outcome: Al McWilliams was judged confirmed to the DDA board on a 6-5 vote. Voting against the appointment were Mike Anglin (Ward 5), Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1), Sally Petersen (Ward 2), Jane Lumm (Ward 2) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3).

For a Chronicle op-ed on the procedural issues in connection with the McWilliams appointment, see: “Column: On Counting to 8, Stopping at 6.

New Council Rules

The council considered approval of a new set of council rules, three months after they were first presented for consideration. Among the substantive changes that survived that three-month delay included the following: adding an opportunity for public commentary to work sessions; changing the order of the agenda to move nominations and appointments for boards and commissions to a slot earlier in the meeting; and prohibiting the use of personal electronic communications devices while at the council table.

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, 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.

New Council Rules: Public Commentary

During public commentary reserved time at the start of the meeting, Thomas Partridge stated that he’s a write-in candidate for Ward 5 city council. He called for reform of the council rules to expand opportunities for public participation. He called for an unlimited number of public speakers at the start of the meeting. He noted that the Washtenaw County board of commissioners manages its meetings in that manner.

New Council Rules: Council Deliberations

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), chair of the rules committee, deferred to committee member Sabra Briere (Ward 1) to introduce the item to the council, because she’d been unable to attend the last committee meeting due to an ankle injury. Briere reviewed the history of the proposed revisions. Councilmembers at the last committee meeting had come up with a fresh proposal, which was being considered by the council that night. She reviewed each change, saying that she hoped councilmembers had reviewed the set of changes themselves.

The council first accepted the substitute, fresh version of the rules. [.pdf of council rules as adopted]

Higgins thanked the committee for doing a great job while she wasn’t there. She called the new draft a great piece of work. Mayor John Hieftje said one thing stuck out for him. He noted that the public commentary time for work sessions required to begin no later than 8:45 p.m. Hieftje wondered if that’s feasible.

City administrator Steve Powers indicated that some flexibility might be required to be able to continue the discussion. But he suggested it would be useful to indicate in the rules some guidance on the council’s expectations about how long the working sessions will last.

Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5)

Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5).

Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) noted that working sessions have not always started at 7 p.m. So he suggested that the beginning of public commentary time could be specified to be 105 minutes after the posted start time. City attorney Stephen Postema indicated that the council could vote to suspend that rule and change the procedure. Hieftje said he would feel more comfortable if the time indicated were 9:15 p.m. Jane Lumm (Ward 2) suggested that perhaps no time needs to be specified.

Higgins allowed the changes won’t affect her [because she's leaving council after the Nov. 5 election]. She noted that the council for some time has been working with the city administrator on the structure of work sessions. She ventured that the rule could simply be suspended and she didn’t think that it would happen very often. Lumm thanked the committee for its work. She said the initial proposal to shorten speaking turns was an overreaction to a couple of very long meetings. She felt it was a good move to abandon that approach.

Lumm ventured that the addition of public commentary during work sessions would add an opportunity for additional public dialogue. She was happy to support the rules changes. Hieftje said he appreciated Lumm’s comments. The committee had wanted to get the whole council’s feedback on the proposed changes, he said.

Warpehoski then moved to strike the language setting the time when public comment at work sessions would start. Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) said he didn’t think it was that big a deal. He’d concluded from Powers’ remark on the subject that Powers meant the staff would find some mention of a time as helpful discipline.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) said he’d follow Taylor’s lead on this, agreeing that the time should be left in. Briere noted 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 at the meeting in order to speak. It gives a firm commitment to the public, Briere said. She observed that Monday night is a school night.

Margie Teall (Ward 4) said she’d support Warpehoski’s amendment. She didn’t think 15-20 minutes one way or another would make a big difference.

Outcome on Warpehoski’s amendment: The amendment failed on a 5-6 vote. Voting against it were Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), Mike Anglin (Ward 5), Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Sally Petersen (Ward 2), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3). So the “no later than 8:45 p.m.” start time stayed in the public commentary for work sessions.

Without significant further deliberations, the council voted on the rules as a whole.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve changes to its internal rules, with all councilmembers present by that time in the meeting.

Ann Arbor DDA Ordinance

On the Sept. 16 agenda was a final vote on revisions to a city ordinance regulating the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority tax increment finance (TIF) capture.

The city council and the DDA board have a joint committee that is working out details of an alternative, “dual track” to the ordinance amendments that have already been given initial approval by the council.

The initial DDA ordinance revisions that appeared on the council’s Sept. 16 agenda were awaiting a second and final vote by the council. The amendments to Chapter 7 included 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 manner that would impact the DDA’s TIF revenue in a way roughly matching 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. So about $1 million a year is at stake – which could be distributed to the other jurisdictions whose taxes the DDA captures, instead of being collected by the DDA.

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 – the “dual track” – 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).

For example, the current taxable value on which the DDA captures taxes is roughly $137,000,000. That yielded about $3.76 million in TIF revenue to the DDA in fiscal year 2013, which ended on June 30. If that $137,000,000 were used as a basis for the cap, then a 3% increase applied annually would give the DDA a maximum of $5.063 million in 2023. In any given year, the DDA would receive the lesser of two values: (i) the unconstrained TIF captured on the taxable value; or (ii) the value of the cap.

A working document used by the joint committee at its Sept. 10 meeting showed two basic scenarios, one with a basis of $137,000,000 in taxable value for FY 2013, and a second one starting with a basis of $167,000,000 for the following year, in FY 2014. The second one received more interest from the committee.

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 the 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 with a new conceptual approach, likely shedding the proposed changes to governance with the fresh start.

DDA Ordinance: Public Commentary

During public commentary reserved time at the start of the Sept. 16 meeting, Thomas Partridge called for reform of the relationship between the city and the Ann Arbor DDA. He wanted the DDA district to expand to include all the commercial areas of the city. He ventured that perhaps mayor John Hieftje did not want to do that because Hieftje, as a former real estate agent, might have a financial interest in maintaining the DDA boundaries “contracted” as they are.

David Blanchard introduced himself as chair of the city’s housing and human services advisory board (HHSAB), and spoke on the issue of the DDA ordinance revisions. He noted that the HHSAB board has passed a resolution on this issue. A lot in the revisions goes 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. And HHSAB wants that amount to increase each year.]

DDA Ordinance: Council Deliberations

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) reported on the second joint committee meeting. He said he wanted to give the DDA some time to review the numbers. He described the dual track. He wanted a postponement until Oct. 21.

Ann Arbor city administrator Steve Powers, Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1)

Ann Arbor city administrator Steve Powers and Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1).

Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1) wanted clarification on the “dual track” that Kunselman mentioned. She didn’t have a clear understand if the joint committee recommendation would supersede the existing revisions, which the council has already given initial approval. She said there’s a lot of confusion. The joint committee, she said, seemed to be totally rewriting the revisions that the council had already approved. She was not comfortable with that, because there are other taxing jurisdictions involved. She was not very happy with the way things were turning out. Will the existing revisions be replaced by the version recommended by the committee? she asked.

Kunselman responded to Kailasapathy that after the first reading of the revisions was approved by the council, 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. [The current ordinance is conceived as involving a receipt of TIF revenue and then a return of that revenue to the other taxing jurisdictions.] So the joint committee is looking at a TIF cap, as a conceptual alternative. Kunselman read aloud the draft language from the working document. He said 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, Kunselman said.

But Kunselman didn’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 said he’s been trying to work cooperatively with the DDA, but allowed that DDA board members might not necessarily agree that he’d been doing that. The TIF cap approach would allow the DDA to set its budget more easily, he said.

At the Oct. 21 meeting, the council will likely have the committee’s proposal ready for consideration, Kunselman ventured. He’s focused on the TIF capture methodology, not the governance issue – which involves term limits, among other things. Those governance elements are included in the ordinance revisions that were approved at first reading. Amendments on the governance issue could come from the floor on Oct. 21, he said.

Kunselman told councilmembers that he doesn’t have all the answers and there’s more than one way to approach the issue. He called the changes to the language about TIF revenue the most important of the reforms.

Kailasapathy asked city attorney Stephen Postema if it’s possible for the council to just act unilaterally. Postema declined to give an analysis at the meeting, but said the council would receive advice on the ordinance changes as a whole. [More coverage from The Chronicle on the issue: "Library View on TIF Capture: Unchanged."]

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) tried to get some clarity on what’s going to happen next. She highlighted the clause in the ordinance that says the other taxing jurisdictions need to approve the removal of the restrictions.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5)

From left: During the recess, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) examine the draft language and escalator definitions for a fixed cap on DDA TIF revenue.

Mayor John Hieftje made 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. Hieftje convinced Kunselman to withdraw his motion to postpone.

Powers explained that in cooperation with DDA staff, the draft language was prepared as an alternative. The draft proposal sets a basis for the taxable value and caps the amount of TIF with yearly increases, he explained. 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 described how the DDA would be assisted by city CFO Tom Crawford in modeling the impact of different percentages in the escalator.

Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) asked that the draft language be provided to the council as a whole. The council then took a recess to allow the city clerk to make some copies and distribute them.

When the council returned from recess, Lumm wanted to know the rationale for establishing the baseline value at $167 million. Powers replied that it would allow some future growth. Lumm pointed out that this would mean $700,000 in additional revenue to the DDA. Powers noted that the idea is to provide enough revenue so that the DDA can accomplish the projects in its draft five-year plan. [For coverage of the DDA board meeting when the five-year plan was reviewed, but not voted on by the DDA board, see "DDA Kicks Off Fall with $300K Grant."] 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 explained 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 cost increases the DDA will have to contend with. It’s key that the escalator be reasonable, but Lumm called 10% – which is one of the options indicated in the draft “dual track” language – “off the charts.”

Kunselman indicated that will be the topic of the next committee meeting. The joint committee is scheduled to meet on Oct. 16 at 4 p.m. in the council workroom on the second floor of the Ann Arbor city hall, 301 E. Huron. The meeting is open to the public, and based on the first two committee meetings, an opportunity for public comment will be provided.

Outcome: The council voted to postpone the DDA ordinance revisions until Oct. 21, 2013.

Fossil Fuel Divestment

A resolution on fossil fuel divestment – which was defeated at the council’s previous meeting on Sept. 3, 2013 – was brought back for a re-vote on Sept. 16. The resolution calls on the city’s employee retirement system board to stop investing in fossil fuel companies. The retirement system board is not required to follow the council’s encouragement.

Voting against the resolution on its initial consideration on Sept. 3 were Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), Margie Teall (Ward 4), Mike Anglin (Ward 5) and Sally Petersen (Ward 2). So at that meeting, the resolution fell short of the six-vote majority it needed on the 11-member council. Jane Lumm (Ward 2) and Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) were absent on Sept. 3.

During their Sept. 3, 2013 meeting, councilmembers asked Nancy Walker, executive director of the city’s employee retirement system, about implications for the retirement fund. 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 investment.

In more detail, an energy commission resolution passed on July 9, 2013 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 defined 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 cited 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 warned 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.

By council rule, a councilmember voting with the prevailing side can bring back a question for reconsideration at the same meeting or the immediately subsequent meeting. On Sept. 16, that councilmember was Margie Teall (Ward 4).

Fossil Fuel Divestment: Public Commentary

Mike Shriberg spoke on behalf of the city’s energy commission. He told the council he had also served on the city’s climate action plan task force. He teaches energy policy at the University of Michigan, he said.

Kirk Westphal, Mike Shriberg

From left: Kirk Westphal, chair of the Ann Arbor city planning commission, and city energy commissioner Mike Shriberg .

He was surprised that the resolution at the last meeting was not approved, given the recommendation of the energy commission. He thought it was the first time a recommended resolution from the energy commission had failed to win approval. He called the resolution a first step in the implementation of the city’s climate action plan. So he felt that the two votes by the council – to approve the climate action plan but to reject the fossil fuel divestment resolution – were inconsistent. Shriberg noted there wasn’t a lot of debate on the resolution at the previous council meeting.

Shriberg addressed some of the objections given by councilmembers for voting against it: Was it wise financially? He allowed out that fossil fuel companies have done well in the last several years, but noted that past performance may not be indicative of future results. But if you go back the last 50 years, fossil fuel companies show no better performance than other companies. He ventured that currently we could be in the middle of a bubble and that investments in fossil fuel companies could be at risk. He contended that there’s little or no risk from pulling back from investments in fossil fuel holding companies. Examples in 15 other cities have not shown any negative effects of divesting, he said.

Shriberg also addressed the argument that it’s arbitrary to pull investments out of the 200 targeted companies. The selection of those companies, he said, is based on fossil fuel reserves. If the fossil fuel reserves of those companies were burned, he explained, it would generate five times the “safe limit” of carbon emissions for climate change. So he did not think there’s anything arbitrary about it. He contended that divestment has massive citizen support and noted the council has received the supporting petitions of hundreds of citizens.

The final objection Shriberg addressed related to the question: Does the fossil fuels divestment resolution tie our hands? He noted that the resolution in no way takes away fiduciary responsibility. That responsibility will always come first. It would open up the possibility for a category of investment that would benefit the local and global community, he said. The energy commission had really done its homework, he said. Shriberg felt it’s time to align the city’s commitments [the climate action plan] with potential actions [fossil fuel divestment].

Wayne Appleyard addressed the council as current chair of the energy commission. He wanted to impress on the council the importance of passing the fossil fuel divestment resolution. He pointed out that it got a majority of votes at the previous meeting, just not enough to pass. He stressed that the retirement board is an independent body, so the resolution is only a recommendation and is not binding. Because it’s only symbolic, there’s no important reason not to vote for it, he said.

Divestment resolutions in the past have been helpful in effecting social change on important issues, he said, including apartheid in South Africa and the effects of tobacco. Climate change, which is mostly the result of burning fossil fuels, he said, is the most important to ever face humankind. 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 said. Appleyard contended that fossil fuel investments will become increasingly riskier. This resolution will help create the market for non-fossil fuel funds, he concluded.

Dina Kurz also addressed the council as a member of the energy commission. She’s a longtime resident of Ann Arbor. She talked about the urgency behind the request to pass the resolution. The politics are hard to change, but the laws of physics are immutable, she said. It’s not a question of technology, she told the council, but a question 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 said. It’s a question of social responsibility, she adds. Kurz compared potential action on the fossil fuel issue to past public action against the health effects of tobacco and South Africa apartheid.

Dave Marvin introduced himself as a University of Michigan doctoral student in the department of ecology. He told the council he spends 10 months of the year in the forests of Panama – as his research focuses on the effects of climate change on tropical forests. He’s seeing the impact of climate change in the forest. Before starting graduate school, he’d also worked for two years in Washington D.C. on climate change legislation. Divestment will align the city’s investments with its climate action plan, he said. It’s logically inconsistent to provide financial support to the industry that is responsible for climate change, Marvin said.

Laura Hobbs introduced herself as an undergraduate at the University of Michigan. She was born and raised in San Francisco, she told the council, but she’d decided to attend UM because she thought of Ann Arbor as a socially conscious community. Students like her would like to live and study in an environment of environmental justice, she said. She’s participating in a divestment campaign at UM. As students, they look to Ann Arbor as a leader for progressive change, she said. Hobbs wants Ann Arbor to be a role model for UM. She asked councilmembers to pass the resolution on divestment from fossil fuels.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2)

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) talks with Kai Petainen about the fossil fuel divestment resolution.

Larry Junck spoke in favor of the resolution on divestment from fossil fuels. He’s a professor of neurology at the University of Michigan. He made three points. First, it’s a sound investment decision, he said. Second, divestment is consistent with the city’s climate action plan. Third, it’s effective local action – because it’s not about getting people in far-away cities to take action. In sum, he said, the council has the opportunity to do Ann Arbor’s part to keep the world a livable place for our children and grandchildren.

During public commentary time at the end of the meeting, after the vote on the fossil fuels divestment resolution had been taken, Kai Petainen addressed the council. [Petainen writes for Forbes on the topic of investing.] He talked about shareholder activism. Sometimes the best strategy is to buy shares and show up to shareholder meetings, he suggested. It’s also possible to take a stand about individual companies, he said. If you exclude an entire sector of the economy, no one will care, he cautioned. If you avoid the energy sector, Petainen told the council, no one will care, because someone else will buy those shares.

Fossil Fuel Divestment: Council Deliberations

The first step in the process was to vote on the question of reconsideration.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to reconsider the resolution on fossil fuel divestment.

Margie Teall (Ward 4) indicated that she had felt she needed to vote against the resolution the first time around, but that she’s learned a lot more about the issue since the first time the council considered it. So she would now like to see the resolution passed.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) recalled the remarks that Nancy Walker had made at the previous meeting about moving money out of indexed funds having an inherent cost associated with it.

Sally Petersen (Ward 2) noted that there are significant costs associated with the divestment, according to Walker. Petersen pointed out that fiscal responsibility is one of the council’s stated goals and priorities. She reported that she’d done additional research herself, and she pegged the costs in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. She ticked through the five council priorities identified in December 2012. She suggested a different approach for such a resolution. Instead of divesting, she suggested that a call for investment in clean energy would be more proactive.

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) called divestment from fossil fuels an important issue. He noted that the council doesn’t control the pension board. He proposed an amendment that replaced 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. The exact wording of Taylor’s amendment was:

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 …

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) said he didn’t want his name in the newspaper five years from now, associated with council action that had caused underfunding of pensions. So he felt that Taylor’s amendment helped address that concern. Kunselman cautioned against meddling in other organizations.

Outcome: Taylor’s amendment was approved over dissent from Petersen.

Nancy Walker

Nancy Walker, executive director of the city of Ann Arbor’s employee retirement system.

Nancy Walker was asked to come to the podium. Sabra Briere (Ward 1) said based on the council’s previous meeting, her understanding was that there were no funds in which the pension board could invest that didn’t include fossil fuels. Walker responded by indicating that on initial review, there were not any indexed funds that specifically screened out fossil fuels, but there were some “socially responsible” funds. Briere ventured 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,” said Briere.

Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1) recalled that at the last meeting, Walker had said the costs would be 30-40 basis points to move the money out of indexed funds. That would apply to as much as half of the total investments of the fund, Walker confirmed.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) felt like the council was 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 was “enough meat” in the resolution. Higgins wouldn’t support the resolution, but suggested postponing it until the pension board could meet to discuss the issue.

Walker indicated that the trustees on the pension board are eager for dialogue, but this could require a substantial amount of research. Higgins said she wanted a dialogue with the pension board. Kunselman added that he wanted a public hearing on this topic. He agreed with the idea of postponing a vote, however. He said that the state of California’s pension board had adopted a policy to be socially responsible. Does the city’s pension board have such a policy? Kunselman asked? No, replied Walker.

Kunselman said he really wants to be able to vote for the fossil fuel divestment resolution, but struggled with the obligation to taxpayers. He noted that none of the large universities have gotten on board with the idea of divesting from fossil fuels. He added that he works with energy issues at the University of Michigan. Kunselman concluded that he would support a postponement.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) followed up with more questions for Walker. She said she had to scramble to educate herself, because she missed the last meeting, and the item was added to this meeting’s agenda just that day. Lumm and Walker discussed basis points for fees for a bit. Lumm recalled that back in the 1990s, there was a “socially responsible” investment policy, which was then abandoned because the returns were significantly lower.

Briere moved for postponement until Oct. 7 to give time for the pension board to meet and review the issue. Taylor suggested that the timeframe be extended. Conversation on the topic of the postponement date resulted in a consensus around Oct. 21.

Kunselman wanted to add a public hearing for Oct. 21. But Higgins cautioned that the public hearing comments wouldn’t be informed by the pension board’s communications. So Kunselman withdrew his request that a public hearing be added.

Mayor John Hieftje indicated he didn’t see any need to postpone, saying there’s no reason to delay. He argued that no harm would be done to the pension fund. He characterized the resolution as just a request that the pension board take a look at something.

Anglin indicated he’d support the postponement, given that a lot had been heard on both sides of the issue. Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) said he’d support the postponement too, 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 said, he wanted to keep the conversation going, because “What else do we have to do on a Monday night?”

Petersen focused on the “resolved” clause specifying a five-year timeframe within which divestment was supposed to be accomplished. She called the timeframe of five years very significant. She wanted to vote on the resolution that night because she felt so strongly. But she felt that it’s the council that needs to do some work on the issue. She wanted the energy commission to consider a more proactive resolution on investing in clean energies, instead of divesting from fossil fuels.

Briere allowed there’s a difference between fossil fuels and apartheid, but they both are social issues, she said. It’s about money, but it’s also about people and the future. She was 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 noted, adding that if the council is not ready to vote in a month from now, it probably never will be.

Lumm said she was ready to vote that night. She did not support the resolution, saying her opposition has everything to do with being a good steward of taxpayer money. It would mean divesting from an entire sector of the economy, she said. She was torn on the postponement, she said. There’s an opportunity to understand the issue more thoroughly. Lumm noted that the city has a defined benefit plan, and she’s been pushing the city to convert it to a defined contribution plan.

Hieftje said he’d been persuaded to support a postponement.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to postpone the fossil fuel divestment resolution until Oct. 21.

Honda Testing Facility Site Plan

The council was asked to approve the site plan for the expansion of Honda’s testing facility, located north of Ellsworth on Research Park Drive in Ann Arbor.

Honda testing facility site plan

Honda testing facility site.

The project will 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. 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 was requested.

The project is being managed by Poggemeyer Design Group in Bowling Green, Ohio. The estimated construction cost is $4.3 million.

One person spoke during the public hearing on the site plan. Thomas Partridge wanted 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 said that a representative of Honda should be present. He called for more accessibility of agenda information on the Internet. He asked where the stormwater on the site would go.

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

Leaf Truck Rental

The council considered approval for the rental of eight rear-loading trucks from Premier Truck Sales & Rental Inc. for the fall leaf collection season.

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

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

The truck rental is an annual approval. 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.

Overall, the city of Ann Arbor says it saves money with its current “containerized” leaf collection approach – which allows residents to use paper bags or composting carts – compared to its previous practice of inviting residents to sweep their leaves into the street for mass collection with front loaders and dump trucks.

The bid from Premier Truck Sales & Rental Inc. was just under that of Bell Equipment company – $11,880 compared to $11,920 per truck.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) had a question about how many employees are used for the fall yard waste collection – how many hours and the cost. She was content to have that information forwarded later. [Lumm has argued unsuccessfully the last two years during the adoption of the budget in the spring for the restoration of the approach in which the city invites residents to sweep their leaves into the street for mass collection.]

Outcome: The council voted to approve the rental of additional trucks for use in fall leaf collection.

North Main Huron River Task Force Report

The council considered formally accepting the final report of the North Main Huron River Corridor task force, which was established at the council’s May 7, 2012 meeting. 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 plan for 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 the Argo berm to the DTE/MichCon property, as well as recommendations on the use of city-owned property at 721 N. Main.

David Santacroce, who chaired the task force, appeared at the council’s Sept. 16 meeting to present the report. He ticked through the main elements of the report, saying: “This is what you asked us to do.”

He highlighted the fact that there were 19 public meetings of the committee, and reviewed the public engagement process.

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

He noted that the recommendation of the task force for the two buildings on 721 N. Main not in the floodway is to demolish them. That’s based on a $6 million estimated cost to restore them to a “white box” type state.

Santacroce also talked about idea of asking the planning commission to explore the concept of “riverside zoning” for North Main Street. He described how many people cross the railroad tracks illegally to gain access to the river – including himself. It’s dangerous, illegal, but highly used, he said.

Santacroce summed up by 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.

Mayor John Hieftje praised the work of the committee.

Sally Petersen (Ward 2) asked about the concept of riverside zoning. Santacroce explained 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 the concept.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) applauded the effort of the committee. The report has lots of important suggestions for an important gateway into the city, Lumm said. She had served on the council back in the mid-1990s when the two previous studies were done and they pretty much sat on a shelf, she said.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) called the concept of riverfront zoning an excellent idea. She reminded the council that M1 zoning – which riverfront zoning might replace – is being reduced throughout the city, and pointed out that a place for that type of light industrial use (M1) will need to be found.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to accept the North Main Huron River corridor task force report.

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.

Comm/Comm: 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 on Oct. 7.

UM football game day street closures.

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

The first three games were considered to offer a reasonable chance to assess initially how the street closures are working out – because they all started at different times: noon (Akron); 3:30 p.m. (Central Michigan University); and 8 p.m. (Notre Dame).

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.

At the Sept. 16 meeting, Seto took the podium to address the council with the preliminary report. He noted that a community meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 24 at 6 p.m. at Pioneer High School to gather additional feedback. So Seto stressed that his remarks that evening were his own observations and comments he’s heard, and he’d reserve conclusions until the community has had an opportunity to make comments, which will be reflected in his final report on Oct. 7.

Seto reported that he’d walked the area and talked to some of the residents who might be most impacted by the street closures – in the neighborhoods just west of Main Street. For the first game he’d talked to three people who felt that the street closures had an impact on the number of people who were able to park. Some residents and visitors reported that there had not been a negative impact on the number of people who were able to park in the neighborhoods. For the Notre Dame game, Seto said, he walked the same neighborhoods, and spoke to the same three people who’d expressed concerns. This time, they’d reported negligible impact for that game – as far as the number of people who were able to park on the lawns.

One piece of feedback he’d received from almost all the residents was that they were appreciative of the additional police presence in the neighborhood pre-game and during the game for the perceived curtailment of some disorderly conduct.

Seto reported that some positive feedback on the different treatment of the southbound lane of Main Street – leaving it open until just one hour before the game start. Some residents felt that it helped, and were appreciative of the council’s action to make that modification. And others felt that the closure of the northbound lane didn’t need to be closed as early as three hours before the game.

Seto reported that some of the signage was improved after the first game. The street closures were much smoother for the second and third games, he said, from AAPD’s perspective. The general message Seto gave was 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. That feedback came from a resident on Pauline, he said. He said that traffic control at Main and Pauline would be done a bit earlier in the future, to see if those congestion issues could be relieved.

Public services area administrator Craig Hupy confirmed that the detours were tweaked in the course of the three games and he felt it was functioning better with each game. He said that during the pre-season meetings, the feedback staff had heard was that traffic flow on westbound Stadium Blvd. wasn’t working as well as it should. The bottleneck had been identified by staff as Jackson and Maple at Stadium Blvd. So they’d worked on timing the signals differently. He felt some improvement had been made. But he held off concluding that the problem had been solved, because each game is different, and has different fan dynamics.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) followed up with questions. She reported that for the Notre Dame game, she’d decided to drive down and see how things were going. She thought the situation was being managed very well. She was in the vicinity between 7:30 and 8 p.m., she said. It had taken her 20 minutes to get from 7th Street down to Main Street. She was concerned about the ability of police to control pedestrians at the street corners to keep them off the street. Cars were having a difficult time navigating around that, she said. Coming down Main Street toward Scio Church Road, by Pioneer High School, she also noticed a lot of open intoxicants, saying that she’d seen some people just sort of fall down from drinking.

Seto reported that for the Notre Dame game, there were a lot of pedestrians trying to get to the game. Something that helped was to get the pedestrians to a point north of Stadium Boulevard. Because Main Street was closed to vehicular traffic beyond that point, they were able to cross freely. He noted that south of Stadium Boulevard there’s no sidewalk opposite Pioneer High School on Main Street, which affects pedestrian behavior. He reported that there were a lot of citations for open intoxicants.

Higgins reported for the noon start game, around 11:30 a.m. traffic was backed up on Scio Church Road going toward Wagner Road. She felt the problem was the traffic signal at Maple and Scio Church roads. She wanted more traffic to be allowed to come into town.

Mayor John Hieftje put the number of open intoxicant citations at around 180. He noted that the city is not a big fan of night games, but said the AAPD did a good job of keeping the lid on everything.

Comm/Comm: City 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.

During public commentary reserved time at the start of the meeting, independent Ward 1 city council candidate Jeff Hayner addressed the council on the topic of the city’s crosswalk ordinance. He cited two recent documents related to the issue – the non-motorized plan update and a Sept. 9 memo reviewing the crosswalk safety ordinance. The non-motorized plan calls for the addition of 24 additional flashing crosswalk indicators. And the memo indicates that compliance with the city’s ordinance has increased at those locations where such flashing indicators have been installed. He called that good news. The recommendations include measures to increase compliance with the crosswalk ordinance – like adding signs and pavement markings. But he said that there’s still a community perception and a “tragic reality” that the city’s crosswalks are unsafe.

Mayor John Hiefjte, Jeff Hayner

From left: Mayor John Hieftje, Ward 1 independent candidate for city council Jeff Hayner.

Hayner noted that the non-motorized plan calls for five E’s for promoting bicycling culture, but contended that three are absent from work the city has done to implement connection with the crosswalk ordinance: engineering, education and enforcement. [The five E's are: engineering, education, encouragement, evaluation, and enforcement.] He called for the re-evaluation of the crosswalk ordinance by a professional traffic engineer. He also called for the adoption of crosswalk design guidelines that are consistent with best practices. Educational efforts need to be conducted in a way to make sure that each party is certain of the other’s rights and responsibilities, he said.

Hayner said it’s not enough to proclaim that “pedestrians rule.” He characterized the crosswalk ordinance as “barely” enforced. He added that the signs for crosswalk compliance are confusing and not consistent with the crosswalk ordinance. As an example, on westbound Miller, the signs say, “yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk” but the ordinance says that motorists must also yield to pedestrians stopped at the curb, curbline or ramp. Hayner said that police chief John Seto has said he doesn’t have enough officers for proactive policing, but the council has repeatedly voted against increasing the number of officers available. Hayner called on appropriate funding levels to support for the city’s crosswalk program and to repeal the city’s crosswalk ordinance to bring it in line with state law and “common expectations” of behavior. He called it poor public policy to create an environment where the pedestrian is empowered and the driver is confused.

Kathy Griswold also spoke on the topic of the pedestrian ordinance. She recalled her public commentary from 2009 and a quote she had read on that occasion about sight distance, and how overgrown vegetation can affect that. She mentioned that the Ann Arbor Public Schools has adopted the AAA school safety patrol program. Consistent uniform operating procedures are essential, according to AAA, Griswold said. That means it’s important to have the same crosswalk laws in the entire country or at least one school district, she said. [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, but did not display the map to the council.] She asked the council to rescind the crosswalk ordinance.

Comm/Comm: 1,4-Dioxane

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) recalled the resolution the council had passed on the 1,4-dioxane plume at the previous council meeting, on Sept. 3, 2013. [The Washtenaw County board of commissioners passed a similar resolution at its Sept. 18, 2013 meeting.] On Friday the Coalition for Action on Remediation of Dioxane (CARD) had met, Anglin said, and now CARD would like to increase public outreach. He suggested that the city should receive quarterly reports on the issue. Even if the city has been excluded from a court decision, the issue was still important, he said. Anglin said the city needs to get more serious about this issue. He called for the data from well monitoring from this year to be delivered.

Comm/Comm: D1 Zoning Review

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) gave an update on the downtown zoning review. She said the final public forum would be held on Sept. 19 at Workantile on Main Street.

Comm/Comm: Thomas Partridge

During public commentary time at the conclusion of the meeting, Thomas Partridge asked voters to write in his name for the upcoming November election to represent Ward 5 on the city council. He said the council and the clerk should be urging people to register to vote. The city should put information about how voters can write in their selection for city council. No one in Ward 5 is able to stand up to the mayor’s “surly” attitude toward a variety of different demographics, including women, children and people with disabilities, he contended.

After Partridge exceeded his time limit – as he frequently does – he berated Hieftje for a bit. Hieftje asked Partridge if he wanted to be removed. Partridge relented. [In an email to The Chronicle, Hieftje indicated that the reason he'd threatened Partridge with removal was due to exceeding the time limit, not because of Partridge's criticism of Hieftje.]

Present: Jane Lumm, Mike Anglin, Margie Teall, Sabra Briere, Sumi Kailasapathy, Stephen Kunselman, Marcia Higgins, John Hieftje, Christopher Taylor, Chuck Warpehoski, Sally Petersen (arrived during deliberations on council rules, because she was attending to her daughter in the emergency room with a suspected case of appendicitis).

Next council meeting: Monday, Oct. 7, 2013 at 7 p.m. in the council chambers at 301 E. Huron. [Check Chronicle event listings to confirm date.]

The Chronicle could not survive without regular voluntary subscriptions to support our coverage of public bodies like the Ann Arbor city council. We sit on the hard bench so that you don’t have to. Click this link for details: Subscribe to The Chronicle. And if you’re already supporting us, please encourage your friends, neighbors and colleagues to help support The Chronicle, too!


  1. By Mark Koroi
    September 23, 2013 at 9:04 pm | permalink

    “… an e-mail to the Chronicle, Hieftje indicated that the reason he’d threatened Partridge with removal was due to exceeeding the time limit, not because of Partridge’s criticism of Hieftje.”

    The Open Meetings Act at MCL 15.263(6) provides “A person shall not be excluded from a meeting otherwise open to the public except for breach of peace actually committed at the meeting.”

    This “breach of peace” provision of state law I do not believe has been interpreted by any Court of Appeals decision, however breach of peace has been defined generally to be an intentional and unreasonable disturbance.

    I do not believe that merely speaking past a time deadline for a short period of time would necessarily entitle the Mayor to have any spaeker removed from a meeting.

  2. By John Floyd
    September 24, 2013 at 2:29 am | permalink

    Potty Mouth Public Officials

    I’ve spent a lot of years in a lot of locker rooms. Guess what: there is a lot of profanity in locker rooms (at least in guy’s locker rooms). When you leave the locker room, however, language cleans up (and btw, thereby becomes more creative, expressive, and articulate).

    The internet is not a locker room – it is a public space. Those who still believe that the internet is not a public arena should chat with Anthony Wiener. Those who believe that encryption creates private space should google “National Security Agency”.

    People often walk around nude in locker rooms, but put on clothes when entering public space. When you walk around nude in the locker room or in your home, that’s your business. When you walk around nude (or even in underwear) in a public park, you get arrested. When Anthony Wiener’s self-portraits were displayed on the internet, people responded as if they were actually on billboards, or as if he had walked around town “dressed” as in the portraits, not as if he was engaged in a private activity in a private space.

    It is true that 1) many of us have not fully absorbed the public-square nature of internet activities, even if we realize it intellectually; and 2) all of us have thoughts that could not bear the light of day; 3) failure to self-censor when among friends in your own kitchen is different from failure to self-censor when on the internet – even if both actions come out of the same spirit.

    We got over the shock of the news that some now-middle-aged politicians smoked marijuana in college. There should be a similar social statute of limitations regarding bad social judgements on the internet – but a statute of limitations implies that first there is some period of reckoning. Demonstration of an improved ability to exercise judgement should be part of “social rehabilitation”. No one really cares if Mr. Obama smoked dope in college – but we would care a lot if we learned that he was using it before his speech on Syria last week (although that might explain some things – but I digress…). Making potty mouth postings from your dorm room is one thing. Making them while you want to be a serious candidate for a government position that spends other people’s money is another.

    I don’t know Al McWilliams, my knowledge of this particular nomination is minimal, and I haven’t even looked at his web site (but if he really does have postings of Miley Cyrus…). I do know that behaviors that work in one setting may not be suitable for other settings, and that the inability to distinguish one setting from the other does not improve the case for awarding a position of public trust and authority.

    We all have thoughts and use words that cannot withstand the light of day; bad social judgment should have a statute of limitations. Still, one does not have to be Shocked! Shocked!! by potty mouth to recognize that a current inability to distinguish between situations when potty mouth might be acceptable, from those when it is simply inappropriate, suggests a current unfitness for positions requiring social judgment and public trust, no matter how brilliant one is at one’s day job, or what demographic one “represents”.

    Remember, put your pants back on BEFORE you leave the locker room.

  3. By Alan Goldsmith
    September 24, 2013 at 8:18 am | permalink

    @2. It’s not about ‘bad language’. It’s about misogyny and yet another bad choice for the DDA. Anyone who accepts it because ‘it’s what the kids do these days’ and gives this kind of nominee is free pass needs to be called out.

  4. By Steve Bean
    September 24, 2013 at 9:44 am | permalink

    @2: I don’t disagree, John. However, that whole matter is a sideshow relative to what I think is the real point of concern over McWilliams’ nomination, which is the statement attributed to him as to his interest in serving on the DDA board. I read it in an article on I think it was reported by Ryan Stanton. I would provide a link, but I’ve decided after just a few interactions that their new MLive page is unworthy of one more click. I’ll leave it to others to find for themselves. The statement was along the lines of his wanting to do something that would help his business. I found that to be an overly narrow, personal reason for supposed public service. I wouldn’t have voted to confirm the nomination.

  5. By Herb
    September 25, 2013 at 7:09 am | permalink

    The fossil fuel divestment proposal follows a long tradition of Ann Arbor council neglecting problems that are within its remit and resources to posture on matters such as foreign policy and immigration that are not. There is nothing that a local government can do that will have any significant effect on fossil fuel use. The issues of carbon dioxide emissions and global warming can only be addressed at national and international levels. persons with interest in these matters need to be addressing Congress, not council.

  6. September 25, 2013 at 8:10 am | permalink

    I believe Michigan is the only State that gives cars the right of way in an unmarked crosswalk. So Ann Arbor’s law puts us in line with the rest of the country outside Michigan, at least on the RoW issue. I’d like to see us keep that part of the law, even if we change the part about “stop and yield” and “approaching” the crosswalk.

  7. By Steve Bean
    September 25, 2013 at 9:29 am | permalink

    @4: “what I think is the real point of concern”

    I didn’t word that well. I haven’t seen or heard anyone raise that as a point of concern except me.

  8. September 25, 2013 at 10:10 am | permalink

    Re (5): Michigan allows its municipalities to develop their own traffic regulations, but offers a uniform traffic code which most communities adopt as their own traffic regulations. Ann Arbor has adopted the Michigan Uniform Traffic Code (MUTC), but amended that pedestrian rules in that uniform code.

    The MUTC gives pedestrians the right of way within an unmarked crosswalk (see MUTC R 28.1702). The problem with our amendment of the MUTC isn’t in whether the pedestrian or the vehicle has the right of way. Our problem is found in misguided educational efforts and a lack of enforcement.

    When members of the Washtenaw Biking and Walking Coalition complained to Council that pedestrians could not safely cross streets, the Council should have increased enforcement of the then existing ordinance (from the MUTC) and also installed easy to understand, consistent signs and signals for problem crosswalks. Instead, Council changed the ordinance so it would appear that pedestrians had even more rights but did not increase enforcement.

    As part of the current “educational” effort by the City, a book marker is distributed that proclaims “pedestrians rule”. This message conflicts with what our schools try to teach children about pedestrian safety and seems intent on emboldening pedestrians.

    We should repeal the current City pedestrian ordinance, adopt the MUTC pedestrian rules and focus on meaningful education and enforcement. Enforcement is not a popular subject because recent Councils have tried to avoid the subject of inadequate police staffing. We cannot offer pedestrians any assurances of safety until we have enough police officers to enforce compliance with the MUTC.

  9. September 25, 2013 at 10:12 am | permalink

    Oops, my comment (8) was meant to respond to comment (6), not (5).

  10. September 25, 2013 at 11:50 am | permalink

    Re: “We should repeal the current City pedestrian ordinance, …”

    So abstracting away from what the state law is and what the MUTC provides, I think a fair starting point is to ask a question about what kind of place we’d like to live. And I mean to be asking a question about what people actually do in that place, not a question about what kind of laws that place has on the books.

    Do you want to live in a place where, at marked mid-block crosswalks, a pedestrian has to stand at the side of the road for 10 minutes waiting for traffic to clear, because no motorist yields in any fashion? My answer is: No, I prefer not to live in a place like that. We now have a local ordinance on the books that says motorists are supposed to stop for someone who’s standing at the curb, not just someone who is already within the crosswalk.

    So I don’t understand how repealing that local law helps in any way to make Ann Arbor the kind of place I’d like to live.

    I think that opponents of the crosswalk ordinance are trying to get a lot of mileage out of the contention that there aren’t enough police officers to adequately enforce the ordinance. First that’s not a argument against having the law on the books. Second, when chief Seto describes the police staffing levels as adequate for reactive but not as much proactive policing as he’d like, I don’t think it follows from that statement that there’s not enough police staffing to enforce the crosswalk ordinance. On observation of a violation of the crosswalk ordinance in the wild, I think Seto’s description means that AAPD can react to that. And my recollection is that there was enough police staffing to conduct two targeted enforcement campaigns after the enactment of the current local law – one to issue warnings and another to issue tickets.

    So repealing the ordinance is the solution to what problem, exactly? Some motorists don’t like being told that “pedestrians rule” – I get that. I don’t think anyone is understanding that phrase as meaning, “If I step into the path of a moving vehicle, then as long as I’m in a crosswalk, I am protected by a magical force field that will shield me from harm.”

    But maybe the wording in the pamphlet is off. Maybe the wording should be “human life rules.” And for a motorist that should mean, when you see a pedestrian on the side of the road, maybe just slow down dammit, and even stop if there’s a crosswalk painted on the road.

  11. September 25, 2013 at 12:24 pm | permalink

    Re (10) I had a friend who used to say “it’s nice to want”.

    I’m against any ordinance that leads to injury and death for pedestrians. Until we have a behavior modification program (sometimes called enforcement or maybe radio waves would work) for many motorists in our town, it is pointless to insist that pedestrians expect obedience to this ordinance.

    I’ve written to my council members asking for more enforcement for traffic laws, including running red lights. I see a lot of that, which puts pedestrians, cyclists, and other motorists at risk. At the intersection of Fourth and Catherine, I have frequently found that motorists enter the intersection even when I am part way across the crosswalk. The other day I was deciding whether to enter and (against stereotype) the driver of a red pickup waved me through, at which point a car came toward me from the other side, so I scurried back onto the curb. The pickup driver said “he should have stopped”.

    Yeah, right.

  12. By Steve Bean
    September 25, 2013 at 12:47 pm | permalink

    Today’s apropos quote from Byron Katie:

    “Believing what you fear makes it true for you, and that doesn’t make it true.”

    Apropos for whom? How would I know? If the shoe doesn’t fit, don’t wear it.

  13. September 25, 2013 at 12:54 pm | permalink

    Re: “I’m against any ordinance that leads to injury and death for pedestrians.”

    No reasonable person would disagree with this statement. But I think the associated implication – that Ann Arbor’s crosswalk law has led to injury and death for pedestrians – should include a supporting argument. If you’d like to make a case for that implication, then I think you should lay out that case – in the kind of detail you would demand of someone who asserted that the new crosswalk law has improved mobility and the quality of life for pedestrians by improving motorist behavior at mid-block crosswalks. A persuasive case should include more than a citation of trends for total number of ped-vehicle crashes (that’s shown somewhat of an increase in the last two years, as The Chronicle has reported.) It would necessarily include an analysis of just the crashes at mid-block crosswalks, and how they have trended, as well as an examination of the crash reports and perhaps even interviewing the peds involved to determine if they were aware of any laws regarding pedestrian and motorist behavior at mid-block crosswalks. That’s a hard, if not impossible project for a rank-and-file citizen to complete. But the topic deserves more, I think, than an unsupported implication that Ann Arbor’s crosswalk ordinance has led to pedestrian injury and death.

  14. September 25, 2013 at 2:27 pm | permalink

    Dave, I said “leads to”, not “has led to”.

    That was not an analysis. It was rhetoric.

    The recent pedestrian death is not attributable to the crosswalk law, since it occurred at a signalized crosswalk. However, it is illustrative of the problem we have with motorists who are not sufficiently observant or law-abiding to make this law work.

    I believe (note, not a statement supported by data analysis) that anything that creates a sense of over-confidence on the part of pedestrians does put them at greater hazard.

    My comment was inspired in large part by your belief statement, “when chief Seto describes the police staffing levels as adequate for reactive but not as much proactive policing as he’d like, I don’t think it follows from that statement that there’s not enough police staffing to enforce the crosswalk ordinance.”

    My point is that we should not promise more safety than we can deliver. And especially with what I have observed of drivers here, that means enforcement. Which needs police staffing. Which is at the core of this debate.

  15. By John Floyd
    September 25, 2013 at 4:22 pm | permalink

    @3 & 4

    I did not (and do not) pretend to know much about Mr. Williams. My comments were strictly about potty mouth from would-be and public officials.

    Civility in our public discourse, and in our political spaces, has and continues to degrade. The reasons for this are varied, and not my topic here. Self-censorship is the larger part of public civility; forbearing references to sexual intercourse, feces, and “Sunday words not used in the Sunday Manner”, when none of these are the topic of conversation, strikes me as an encouragement to civility, as well as an indicator of the judgement of a person using these references.

    @10 & 13

    Encouraging pedestrians to cross mid-block (sans crosswalk) on heavily traveled streets defeats the purpose of having crosswalks, which is to make clear to motorists where to expect pedestrians, thus increasing the chance that they will see (and therefore avoid) pedestrians. In California, crossing outside of a crosswalk gets you a ticket, and motorists stop for pedestrians at the crosswalk.

    Increasing the alertness of motorists to pedestrians makes both driving and street-crossing safer for everyone. This is why, at Safety Town, kindergarteners are taught to cross at crosswalks after looking both ways. I don’t think you really mean that we should teach kids to cross mid-block without looking, but that seems to be the sort of place where your argument leads.

    Dave, I wonder if you are conflating distracted drivers (even those simply lost in their thoughts, or obsessed with what is to happen at their destination) with willful intent to run over pedestrians. Do you truly know people who would chose to hit a pedestrian, whether in or out of a crosswalk?

    Sharing the road implies that all users yield to each other in one way or another. If it’s reasonable to require cars to stop at marked crosswalks, its also reasonable for require pedestrians to cross only at crosswalks.

  16. September 26, 2013 at 10:15 am | permalink

    Neither the DDA nor the public deserves a board member who calls himself the “fart-joke dude” in a statement to the media.

  17. September 26, 2013 at 1:26 pm | permalink

    Re (10). You say: “So I don’t understand how repealing that local law helps in any way to make Ann Arbor the kind of place I’d like to live.”

    I am not suggesting that repeal of the ordinance would change the kind of place Ann Arbor is or might become. I am suggesting that changing our ordinance did not resolve the problem that led to its adoption. Our ordinance was changed in response to complaints from the Biking and Walking Coalition about the difficulty residents have crossing the street.

    The fatality accident on Plymouth Road would have happened under either the uniform code or the Ann Arbor ordinance. That indicates we need to try something other than tinkering with the text of the law.

    I believe the problem would be better addressed through enforcement and education. But the current ordinance is difficult to enforce (ask a police officer) and the current “educational” effort is, at best, misleading. Thus, I would start by returning to the uniform code used in other communities, accompanied by increased enforcement and appropriate education.

    As for crosswalks that pose long waits to cross the street, I believe we must address those on a case by case basis using the expertise of traffic engineers (not transportation planners). I would hope for consistency in signals and signs for our crosswalks. Let’s not use white or yellow flashing lights when we wish to indicate the need to stop. Red means stop.

    The uniform traffic code gives pedestrians the right of way. Drivers were not obeying that law. Making the law more demanding does not affect the rate of compliance. Enforcement of the law addresses the rate of compliance.

    The kind of place I would like to live is a town where a pedestrian can actually cross the street safely. That will take more than our current ordinance provides.

    Identify the problem. Try a response. Measure the results. If the response to the problem doesn’t resolve the problem, try something else. If we return to the uniform code and try engineering, education, and enforcement and that does not work, I would be willing to try something else.

  18. By Kathy Griswold
    September 26, 2013 at 1:53 pm | permalink

    @ #10 Regarding, “Do you want to live in a place where, at marked mid-block crosswalks, a pedestrian has to stand at the side of the road for 10 minutes waiting for traffic to clear, because no motorist yields in any fashion? My answer is: No, I prefer not to live in a place like that. We now have a local ordinance…”

    I prefer to live in the safest possible community. We need physical, engineering solutions, not an ordinance that is little more than an inexpensive social policy for pedestrian rights. Traffic engineers have solutions for 10-minute waits and it starts with a gap analysis, followed by expensive, at least relative to an ordinance, physical changes to the roadway and traffic control devices.

    We need an independent, professional engineer who can evaluate the crosswalk conditions and pedestrian crash statistics, and make recommendations to improve safety. Next we need to advocate for immediate funding for the physical improvements, an effective, safety-based educational campaign and adequate enforcement.

    In addition, state reps, including Adam Zemke, are looking into a state crosswalk law consistent with the MUTC. Greater uniformity across the state will reduce ambiguity and improve safety at crosswalks.

  19. September 26, 2013 at 4:34 pm | permalink

    For those of you who want to live in the safest possible community, I suggest we ban walking. That would solve the problem. But it’s not the kind of community I want to live in.

    And please, let’s not rely solely on the expertise of traffic engineers. Those are the people who gave us the four-second walk signal, which is now all to common in Ann Arbor. And traffic lights that never turn green for bicycles. And a 45 mph speed limit on the residential portion of Washtenaw Ave. And pedestrian crossing buttons that don’t do anything.

  20. By Kathy Griswold
    September 27, 2013 at 8:18 am | permalink

    @19 Jim, I apologize for using the term traffic engineer, rather than the more progressive term transportation engineer. The latter usually indicates expertise in non-motorized, as well as motorized transportation, ADA law and the Complete Streets methodology.

    Given your expertise in this area, I hope you will advocate for a professional engineer with the qualifications to recommend solutions that honor our local pedestrian-friendly culture and desire for a robust mass transit system while achieving the safest possible community for all.