Ann Arbor Grinds Gears But OKs Rail Study

Council delays Ypsilanti Township membership in Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority, but OKs passenger rail station study. Also, action on fossil fuel divestment, Ann Arbor DDA issues

Ann Arbor city council meeting (Oct. 21, 2013): The council did not adjourn its meeting until just before 1 a.m., but still left itself with unfinished business.

Mayor John Hieftje checked his computer screen before the meeting started. Six hours later, the meeting adjourned.

Mayor John Hieftje checked his computer screen before the meeting started. Six hours later he declared the meeting adjourned. (Photos by the writer.)

Some of that business – the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority ordinance revision on TIF (tax increment financing) capture – was postponed until the council’s next meeting, on Nov. 7. Other business – Ypsilanti Township’s membership in the AAATA – was postponed until Nov. 18. That will be the first meeting of the new, post-election composition of the council.

First, here’s a rundown of the main outcomes from the meeting.

Transportation was a main theme on the agenda. The postponement on admitting Ypsilanti Township as a member of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority was the clear majority consensus, as it succeeded on an 8-3 vote. After that, the council voted unanimously to approve a contract with URS Corporation Inc. (URS) to conduct the Ann Arbor Station project environmental review. The total approved for the Ann Arbor Station contract – which will cover public engagement, site selection and conceptual design – was $824,875, an amount that includes a $63,083 contingency.

The city would pay 20% of that, or about $165,000. The remainder will be covered by a federal grant. The council’s unanimous support was based on two factors: (1) the fact that there was to be no presupposed preferred alternative location for the station, and (2) that the public engagement process outlined in the project tasks was thorough.

The council also voted unanimously to give final approval to a change in the city’s sidewalk ordinance. As a result, cross-lot walkways in Ann Arbor will now be treated as “sidewalks” from the perspective of the city’s sidewalk repair millage. Even though the millage funds can now be used to repair the walkways, owners of property adjacent to cross-lot walkways will not bear responsibility for snow removal in the winter. Cross-lot walkways include those that connect streets to parks or school property, or connect two parallel streets.

The Ann Arbor DDA figured in other agenda items beyond the postponed vote on TIF capture. The council voted just 7-4 to approve a new budget allocation of $280,000 from the general fund to pay for a portion of a Main Street light pole replacement project. That didn’t meet the eight-vote majority requirement for the budget allocation to pass. The failed vote was the result of political wrangling between the council and the DDA board and staff over whether the DDA would not be able, or simply was unwilling, to fund the total cost of the $580,000 light pole replacement project. The poles are rusting out and pose some level of safety threat, although those deemed to be in immediate danger of falling have already been replaced.

The Ann Arbor DDA was also the topic of another agenda item – when the council voted 8-3 to reconsider its Sept. 16 vote on the appointment of Al McWilliams to the board of the DDA. On the 8-3 vote, the question of the appointment was again in front of the council. Councilmembers took 20 minutes to discuss the item before voting again 6-5 – along the same split as on Sept. 16 – to appoint McWilliams to the board. The 8-3 split on reconsideration was the same 8-3 split as on the postponement of the Ypsilanti Township membership in the AAATA – with mayor John Hieftje, Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) and Margie Teall (Ward 4) declining to join the majority on both occasions.

The other nomination on which the council voted was Wayne Appleyard’s reappointment to the city’s energy commission – with a tally of 8-3. That was enough to satisfy the city charter’s non-city resident requirement of seven votes. Dissenters were Mike Anglin (Ward 5), Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1) and Jane Lumm (Ward 2). Kailasapathy and Lumm had concerns about Appleyard’s long term of service (since 2002). So they’ll be bringing forward an ordinance revision at a future meeting to establish term limits for all boards and commissions. The city charter already imposes term limits on a specific category of boards and commissions.

The council had another significant item on its agenda related to the energy commission – a resolution on divestment from fossil fuel companies that the commission had recommended the council approve. It was the third time the council had seen the question, after first voting it down, then reconsidering and postponing it. At the Oct. 21 meeting, the council amended the resolution to soften it further, which gave it a 9-2 tally when the council voted. Ward 2 councilmembers Sally Petersen and Jane Lumm dissented.

Besides the unfinished business from the Oct. 21 meeting, future meetings of the council will include the Lumm-Kailasapathy initiative to amend the city’s ordinance on boards and commissions to include term limits. Other initiatives announced at the Oct. 21 meeting included an outdoor smoking ordinance that Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) reported he’s been working on with city staff – with an eye toward establishing non-smoking areas in city parks.

Petersen announced that she’ll be putting forward a resolution stemming from frequent mention by community members of the need for a council ethics policy. Among other direction, Petersen’s resolution would ask the city attorney to provide guidance on a state statute. Warpehoski announced that he and Sabra Briere (Ward 1) were working on a framework to establish a pedestrian safety citizens advisory committee – possibly to be seated at the Nov. 18 council meeting. The effort is not designed to determine or preempt the outcome of an effort to repeal the pedestrian crosswalk ordinance, Warpehoski stated.

And Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) announced that he and Margie Teall (Ward 4) would be bringing forth a resolution asking the University of Michigan to decommission the large digital billboard it has constructed on East Stadium Boulevard next to the football stadium. The fallback position of the resolution will be to ask that the university restrict the time of the billboard’s operation, Taylor said.

Some items considered by the council but not included in this report are reflected in the live updates filed from the Oct. 21 meeting.

Transportation: Ypsilanti Township Membership in AAATA

The council was asked to approve revised articles of incorporation for the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority, so that Ypsilanti Township could be admitted as a member of the authority.

Transportation: Ypsi Twp. Membership in AAATA – Background

The change to the articles of incorporation would expand the board from nine to 10 members, with the additional member to be appointed by Ypsilanti Township. At its Sept. 26, 2013 meeting, the AAATA board already approved the membership of Ypsilanti Township. That action was contingent on approval by the Ann Arbor city council.

Ypsilanti Township is now a member of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, pending consideration by the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti city councils.

Ypsilanti Township hopes to become a member of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority, pending approval by the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti city councils. (Solid green indicates the geographic area already included by the AAATA.)

An earlier expansion in membership was given final approval by the AAATA board at its June 20, 2013 meeting. That’s when the city of Ypsilanti was admitted as a member of the AAATA and its board was increased from seven to nine members, one of whom is appointed by the city of Ypsilanti. The name of the authority was also changed at that time to add the word “area” – making it the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority. [Amendment 3 of the AAATA articles of incorporation]

The expansion of the AAATA’s geographic footprint to include some jurisdictions geographically close to the city of Ann Arbor – and with whom the AAATA has historically had purchase-of-service agreements (POSAs) – sets the stage for a possible request of voters in the expanded geographic area. That request would be to approve additional transportation funding to pay for increased service frequencies and times.

The approach of focusing on the neighboring jurisdictions instead of all of Washtenaw County was one directed by the Ann Arbor city council at its Nov. 8, 2012 meeting, when the council chose to opt out of a countywide initiative.

The AAATA could place a millage request on the ballot in May 2014, probably at the level of 0.7 mills, to support a 5-year service improvement plan that the AAATA has developed. A schedule of public meetings to introduce that plan runs through mid-November. A decision to place a millage on the ballot would first need AAATA board approval – a question that has not yet come before the board.

Ypsi Twp. Membership in AAATA: Public Commentary

Martha Valadez introduced herself as a transit organizer for the Ecology Center and Partners for Transit. She told the council that access to public transportation is crucial for her personally and for her community. She supported the urban core transit program. She supported the membership of Ypsilanti Township in the AAATA. Membership would give the township a chance to participate in future funding requests, not just participation in governance, she said.

Matt Vanauker introduced himself as a Ward 5 resident and high school classmate of Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3). He was surprised that the council didn’t support the countywide initiative last year. He couldn’t imagine a reason why Ypsilanti Township would not be included as a member in the AAATA. He relied on public transportation to accomplish basic life functions, like grocery shopping and medical appointments, he told the council.

Abishek Thiagaraj introduced himself as a junior at the University of Michigan, studying biomedical engineering and volunteering with Partners for Transit. He sees transit as a priority, he told the council. The student perspective is that they’re grateful for the current service AAATA provides. But he talked about the need to improve transportation services to off-campus locations. He talked about the ability to integrate students more completely into the community through public transportation.

Ypsi Twp. Membership in AAATA: Deliberations – Summary Version

The idea that a vote on the admission of Ypsilanti Township into the AAATA should be delayed was not a clear consensus view on the council at the start of the meeting. The decision to postpone evolved during the course of deliberations – which lasted about an hour and fifteen minutes.

From left: Ann Arbor city administrator Steve Powers and Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority CEO Michael Ford.

From left: Ann Arbor city administrator Steve Powers and Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority CEO Michael Ford.

The deliberations appeared to shift in favor of postponement when Sally Petersen (Ward 2) ventured that if there were a delay now to allow for residents to get their questions answered and weigh in on the governance question, a future transit millage would have a better chance of passing. Earlier in the meeting, Mike Anglin (Ward 5) had also spoken of the “strong minority” that was now asking for more time to review the proposal – a group that could “put the AAATA over the top some day.”

Following Petersen’s remarks, Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5), who’s been consistent and adamant in his support of transit initiatives, revealed that he would support postponement. Warpehoski wanted to postpone so that when the question returned to the council, it would pass with as much support as possible, not just a slender majority.

Warpehoski’s willingness to postpone appeared to convince Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) also to support postponement. But Kunselman’s support was somewhat reluctant, because he’d pledged to the leadership of Ypsilanti Township a year ago that he’d do whatever he could as a city councilmember to get Ypsilanti Township into the authority. Kunselman’s connection to the township is personal, as he was employed briefly as a planner for Ypsilanti Township from August 2003 to February 2004 before resigning. Kunselman said he wanted to see the resolution pass unanimously when it returns at the council’s second meeting in November.

And Kunselman pledged to attend some of the meetings that the AAATA has scheduled over the next few weeks to explain the importance of adding Ypsilanti Township to the AAATA. Those meetings had been conceived by the AAATA as a way to introduce the 5-year service plan for increased frequency and times. Now the meetings will serve the dual purpose of entertaining a discussion of the AAATA’s governance as it relates to the township’s possible membership.

After midnight during the final general communications time of the meeting, Warpehoski expressed a concern that the council’s action in postponing had probably done some damage to the perception of Ann Arbor as a good regional partner. In apologizing for his part in that, Warpehoski said it would be important for councilmembers to reach out to the leadership of Ypsilanti Township to try to repair that relationship.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5)

Mike Anglin (Ward 5).

The interactions on Oct. 21 between Ann Arbor city councilmembers and other officials – Ypsilanti Township supervisor Brenda Stumbo and AAATA’s CEO Michael Ford – were marked by a certain tension. Answering questions at the podium in front of the council, Stumbo and Ford appeared exasperated that the proposal the council was being asked to consider was being labeled as “rushed,” given the roughly year-long lead-up and the participation of five councilmembers in the ongoing discussions with other communities. Their frustration was also based on the fact that some councilmembers were not willing to separate out the question of governance – which was the question in front of the council that evening – from the question of future funding.

The atmosphere was one that saw Mike Anglin (Ward 5) – who’s been generally skeptical of AAATA initiatives – appear to sympathize with Ford, telling him that Ford is one of the most patient people he knows.

Just before she made the formal motion to postpone the vote, Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) shut down Ford as he sought to respond to statements she’d made by telling him, “I didn’t ask you a question.” Later Ford asked mayor John Hieftje if he could respond to some statements Jane Lumm (Ward 2) had made. Hieftje declined to let him respond – but recognized Margie Teall (Ward 4) to speak. And Teall invited Ford to respond. Ford then stressed that the question before the council that night was governance: “The rest is noise,” he said.

Ypsi Twp. Membership in AAATA: Deliberations – Noisy Version

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) led off deliberations by noting that it’s been over a year since he had been actively opposing AAATA’s countywide initiative. But he had told Ypsilanti Township supervisor Brenda Stumbo at the time that he’d do whatever he could as a city councilmember to get Ypsilanti Township into the authority. He would support Ypsilanti Township as a member of the AAATA, he said, but it’s important to understand what the significance of that is. It’s a matter of governance, not of finances, he stressed. However, if there were questions that still needed to be answered, he’d be content to wait. Putting Ypsilanti Township at the table would bind the community together better, Kunselman said.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) thought it was a bit premature to vote on the question that night, given that AAATA had just now started its public engagement campaign on the 5-year plan. She floated the idea of postponing until the second meeting in November. [That would be on Nov. 18, after the new composition of the council is seated, post-election.]

Michael Ford, CEO of the AAATA, answered questions from the podium, and was joined by Stumbo. Ford said all that was being asked of the council was to approve Ypsilanti Township admission as a member into the AAATA.

Stumbo told the council that Ypsilanti Township residents support this move. She recalled her long career in elected public service in the township – which spans nearly 25 years – joking that she started when she was 12. The township’s membership would come with a long-term financial commitment, she said. Currently the route the township pays for is $340,000 annually, she reported. It’s imperative for the township to have transportation. “We need to lift people up,” she said, and the way to do that is to provide transportation. Public transportation will help decrease congestion in Ann Arbor, she said. She was proud to be there that night and noted that the township board supports the move.

Sally Petersen (Ward 2)

Sally Petersen (Ward 2).

Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1) confirmed with Ford that Ypsilanti Township currently has a purchase-of-service agreement (POSA). She said that although meetings were held in the township about this and the move was supported by Ypsilanti Township, she’s supposed to represent Ann Arbor. She characterized the timetable as “rushing” it. She addressed comments made by Ford and Stumbo from the podium that when the city of Ypsilanti was given membership, no objections were raised by the council and councilmembers had approved membership for the city of Ypsilanti. Kailasapathy noted that just because concerns weren’t raised when Ypsilanti city was added, doesn’t mean that she could not raise concerns now.

Ford responded by saying that the proposal was not being rushed. The AAATA had followed the Ann Arbor city council’s direction to work with the urban core communities to develop a service plan, the financial structure, and governance.

Kailasapathy countered Ford by saying that it’s not required that Ypsilanti Township be handled the same way as the city of Ypsilanti.

Petersen pointed out that the AAATA already has 5-year service plan meetings scheduled over the next few weeks. Petersen said her understanding was that the meetings would provide an opportunity for a give-and-take exchange. Given that the meetings are already scheduled, and her constituents have asked that the meetings be used to hear what everybody has to say, she indicated she wanted the meetings to be used to discuss the question of adding Ypsilanti Township. She wanted to slide the approval schedule forward only four weeks, she said, until the middle of November.

Margie Teall (Ward 4)

Margie Teall (Ward 4).

Margie Teall (Ward 4) responded to Petersen’s suggestion by saying that just because the meetings happen to be already planned, they shouldn’t be used to divert the planned focus of those meetings. Teall said the planning process had been exhaustive – describing it as lasting years. Ford noted that he’d met with individual councilmembers, so the proposal shouldn’t be a surprise to them. He pointed out that five of the councilmembers had participated in the urban core discussions, which had included Ypsilanti Township.

Ford said that some of the questions posed by the councilmembers had been received by the AAATA at noon that day, but the AAATA staff had done its best to answer them. Jane Lumm (Ward 2) responded that some of the questions weren’t answered. A spirited back-and-forth unfolded between Ford and Lumm. Lumm took the position that admitting Ypsilanti Township into the AAATA is not a stand-alone decision.

Ford reviewed the point of the 5-year service plan meetings – to go over the planned improvements to service. Lumm said she was trying to weigh the cost-benefit of a possible 0.7 mill tax. It’s difficult to assess it without more information, she said.

Mayor John Hieftje weighed in, saying he didn’t see how the funding mechanism affected the decision in front of the council that night. Admitting Ypsilanti Township is something that should have happened 30 years ago, he said. Anyone who was paying attention to transportation issues would have known this was coming, Hieftje said. And any funding decision would need to be approved by voters. Ann Arbor needs to work with communities around it, to realize its great promise as a city, Hieftje said.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) said the question is whether to allow Ypsilanti Township a seat at the table. Briere asked Stumbo what she sees as a benefit to membership.

As benefits, Stumbo talked about the Washtenaw Avenue connection to the eastern part of the county, and the long-term commitment that the township would be making. Instead of a year-to-year POSA agreement, there would be a longer-term agreement, she said. Stumbo said she was trying not to take it personally, but she could not understand why the council wouldn’t vote to allow Ypsilanti Township to join the AAATA.

Briere asked Ford if residents will be presented with a menu of improvements and their associated costs so that residents can choose what services they’d like. Ford described it as a very engaged process that would include adjustments based on what people say at the engagement meetings. Briere asked again when the dollar amounts would be broken down for each element of the service improvement plan. Ford replied that about a month after the meetings are concluded, those exact costs will be available. [Given the mid-November conclusion of the series of meetings on the 5-year service plan, that would mean the cost information would be available in mid-December.]

Kunselman reiterated that he’s committed to Ypsilanti Township having a seat at the table. That seat at the table does nothing to change the financing, he said. The city of Ann Arbor would still have eight out of 10 seats, which could easily control the board. He said that transportation services would only be “given away” to Ypsilanti Township if Ann Arbor’s own representatives on the AAATA board approved it. A discussion about the finances isn’t the one the council should be having right now, he said. That’s possibly even a year away, he said. [That means Kunselman is thinking a May 2014 millage vote is probably too soon.]

Kunselman said he’d opposed the initiative to establish a countywide transportation authority because of the proposed board composition. [Ann Arbor would have had 8 out of 15 board seats on that now-demised proposal.] He didn’t think the Ann Arbor city council needed to worry about board control. It’s just approving a seat at the table so the township can have a voice, Kunselman said.

Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) started by saying that he was wrong earlier – when the council had decided to “bail” on the countywide proposal – saying he’d been angry and he might have said some things about Kunselman that might have been insulting to Kunselman. [That was an allusion to the fact that Kunselman had cited an insult from DDA appointee Al McWilliams as Kunselman's reason for voting against McWilliams.] Warpehoski said that he now took it very seriously when Kunselman said that Ypsilanti Township should have a seat at the table. It’s important to be a good regional partner, Warpehoski said.

Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5)

Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5).

On the finances, Warpehoski said it’s a chicken-and-egg problem. To get a solid financial foundation, you need a solid governance structure, he said. The step of finalizing governance needs to be taken before establishing the funding and service plan, he said.

Warpehoski asked Ford about the various permutations of Ypsilanti Township being in or out of the AAATA, and whether the millage passes or not: Is there any threat to Ann Arbor services? No, answered Ford. What’s the mechanism for funding Ypsilanti Township service as a member of AAATA if the millage doesn’t pass? Warpehoski asked. Stumbo explained that it would be paid for out of the township’s general fund. Ford noted that a similar financial agreement to the one the city of Ypsilanti had recently made would also be made with the township.

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) characterized the proposal before the council as a pretty simple process. After the countywide transportation initiative was turned down a year ago, the council had said to the AATA: Go away and come back with an urban core plan. Now the question is whether the council meant what the council said back then, Taylor said. Taylor then ticked through the general benefits of public transportation – including congestion reduction and economic development.

Kailasapathy questioned Stumbo and Ford again. She wanted a copy of the MOU (memorandum of understanding) that would be signed with the township. Ford explained that the MOU would follow admission of Ypsilanti Township as a member of the AAATA. Kailasapathy indicated that she thought it would be appropriate to have a copy now for review. She referred to Taylor’s comments about the direction the council had given to the AAATA about the urban core process – by saying that the council had not given the AAATA a blank check for that process.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) acknowledged some of the frustration that had been expressed to that point by calling Ford one of the most patient people he knows. But Anglin said a strong minority on the council had asked for something specific – a strong minority that could put the AAATA over the top someday. Some councilmembers are asking for more time to answer questions of their constituents, he said. And Ann Arbor residents have paid the transit millage for many years, so if some councilmembers want some more time, they should be listened to, Anglin concluded.

Ford said that everyone seemed to be hung up on the idea of the millage. The AAATA had done what the council had asked it to do and that’s what the proposal was about, Ford said.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4)

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4).

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) told Ford said that the discussion is about whether the board should be expanded – and that’s what residents want to weigh in on. People get very concerned if a decision is made without giving them a chance to provide input, she said. On the question of expanding the board, people should have a chance to weigh in on that, she said – during the meetings the AAATA has scheduled over the next few weeks. Higgins said she was not against having residents have a say.

Ford pointed out that the process for admitting Ypsilanti Township is the same process that had been used with the city of Ypsilanti. But Higgins shut down Ford by saying, “I didn’t ask you a question.” At that point, Higgins moved for postponement.

Teall said she’d oppose postponement. Warpehoski asked Ford what the impact of a postponement would be. Ford explained that the AAATA has been working on this a long time. Treating the township differently from the city of Ypsilanti is a problem, he said. It’s not the first time the AATAA has talked with the council about it, he noted. When Ford responded to Warpehoski’s specific question, he said it would slow down the process and not send a good message.

Hieftje said that Ypsilanti Township has been a “good citizen” for many years. He didn’t understand why the city of Ypsilanti should “breeze through” and then there’d be a pause with the township. Briere picked up on a concern expressed by Teall – that the meetings scheduled for the next few weeks would be refocused – from the 5-year service plan to the expansion of the board. Ford said it would put the AAATA behind on making any improvements to service. Briere asked how many meetings had been scheduled. Thirteen, said Ford, running through Nov. 14.

Briere ventured that Lumm wants dollar amounts attached to each improvement, to be able to choose from them Chinese-menu style. Briere asked Ford if that information could be assembled by mid-November. Ford ventured that it would take about a month after the meetings conclude to do that analysis.

Briere ventured that without membership on the board, Ypsilanti Township would still continue with its year-to-year POSA. She asked if it will be possible to have productive conversations at the scheduled public meetings if the governance question were not already settled. At that point, Jerry Lax – legal counsel for the AAATA – said Ypsilanti Township was prepared to make the longer-term POSA commitment, if it has a seat at the table. Lax said that if the township did not commit to a longer-term arrangement after being admitted to the authority, the AAATA would still have leverage in the negotiation of the year-to-year POSA.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2)

Jane Lumm (Ward 2).

Lumm disagreed with Ford that it’s inappropriate to treat the city and the township differently – citing the city’s dedicated millage versus the township’s POSA. Lumm said it sets a bad precedent – that to be eligible for membership in the AAATA, all you need is a POSA. She wanted to see the long-term MOU.

Lumm added that with so many unanswered questions, she thinks it’s important to postpone. Taking a cue from Higgins’ earlier objection to his commenting unless he’d been asked a question, Ford asked to be able to respond to Lumm, but Hieftje declined.

Teall was next to be called on by Hieftje, and after some brief remarks she gave Ford the floor. Ford reiterated that the issue before the council is governance – that is, adding Ypsilanti Township to the board. He added: “The rest is noise.”

Petersen responded to Ford’s statement by saying that governance and funding are inextricable linked. Petersen said that based on constituent feedback, the two issues are co-mingled. By delaying now, she said, a millage would have a better chance of passing.

Kailasapathy still wanted to see the MOU before voting to add Ypsilanti Township as member. Hieftje then indicated that he was keen to see the council progress to a vote on the motion to postponement. Ypsilanti Township has a greater risk in joining the authority, Hieftje said. He reiterated that Ypsilanti Township should have been added as a member of the transportation authority 30 years ago.

Stumbo told the council that the township doesn’t have a ward system like the city does – saying that she was elected in the township at large. So she understood the conversation around the table in that context. She pointed to the geography of the township, which surrounds the city of Ypsilanti. The city of Ypsilanti and the Ypsilanti Township are linked.

Warpehoski said he’d vote to admit Ypsilanti Township into the AATA today or a month from now. Kunselman’s 8-2 odds for the city on the board are pretty good, he allowed. But he’d vote for postponement because he wanted the final vote to have as much support as possible. He did not want it to pass with just a 6-5 vote, but rather with a solid majority.

Kunselman said he started out the deliberations stating he had unwavering support for adding Ypsilanti Township, but had been open to postponement. He told Stumbo that he was still committed to getting it done, but that night he’d support the postponement. “When we get back here, I look to have everybody here unanimously supporting this,” Kunselman said.

If the addition of the township as a member did not win that kind of support on the council, a millage wouldn’t pass, Kunselman cautioned. He said he’d attend some of the already-scheduled meetings and make clear why it’s important to add Ypsilanti Township as a member of the AAATA. It’s important to rebuild trust, he said. But “government is messy,” Kunselman allowed. He added that he had almost been ready to go for the vote that night, but now felt it was important to take the time to build trust.

Outcome: The council voted 8-3 to postpone the revised articles of incorporation for the AAATA admitting Ypsilanti Township as a member. The item was postponed until the council’s second meeting in November – on Nov. 18. That’s after the new composition of the council is seated, following the Nov. 5 election. Dissenting were mayor John Hieftje, Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) and Margie Teall (Ward 4).

Transportation: Ypsi Twp. Membership in AAATA – Coda

At the end of the meeting, well after midnight during the council’s final opportunity for communications, Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) said that Ypsilanti Township had done a tremendous amount of work. When he counted the votes around the table, he thought there would have been six votes that night and would be at least six votes in a month – but he wanted to work toward unanimity. He said that “relationships are important,” and he feared that by postponing the Ypsilanti Township vote, the council was not perceived by the township leadership as working well with its regional partners.

He suggested that councilmembers reach out to the township and give the relationship a personal touch. The relationship was hurt that night, he said, and he’d been a part of that, so he apologized. Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) added his support to Warpehoski’s remarks.

Transportation: Ann Arbor Station

The council considered a contract with URS Corp. Inc. (URS) to carry out an environmental review of the Ann Arbor Station project. This rail station project relates most immediately to the prospect that Amtrak will be offering improved intercity service on the Chicago-Detroit Amtrak line.

Amtrak train arrival (Chronicle file photo from September 2013)

Amtrak train arrival in Ann Arbor. (Chronicle file photo from September 2013)

An improved intercity rail station also has implications for the way that a different type of service – commuter rail service between Ann Arbor and Detroit – might be created and offered in the future. The total budgeted for the Ann Arbor Station contract on the Oct. 21 agenda – which will cover public engagement, site selection and conceptual design – was $824,875, an amount that includes a $63,083 contingency. The city would pay 20% of that, or about $165,000. A transfer of $550,000 to the city’s major grant fund was approved a year ago by the city council at its Oct. 15, 2012 meeting for the total project budget.

The federal grant that will cover 80% of the project cost, up to $2.8 million for the federal share, had been accepted by the council at its June 4, 2012 meeting. So for the contract on the Oct. 21 agenda, the city’s share works out to approximately $165,000 with the Federal Rail Authority covering the remaining $660,000.

The funding approved by the city council a year ago came after the city learned that previous expenditures – which were made in connection with the now demised Fuller Road Station project – would not be considered as eligible local matching funds under the federal grant. Fuller Road Station had been a joint venture with the University of Michigan, and called for UM to build a parking structure on the same site as the proposed rail station at a location on Fuller Road.

The preliminary work that URS would do under the contract on the Oct. 21 agenda does not presuppose a preferred location for a new passenger rail station. The existing Amtrak station on Depot Street would be among the alternatives considered, in addition to the location identified for the Fuller Road Station, which is on city-owned land between Fuller Road and East Medical Center Drive adjacent to the UM medical center. The land is designated by the city in planning documents as parkland, and is zoned as public land. A 2009 appraisal commissioned by the city put the value of the land at $4.25 million.

Transportation: A2 Station – Public Commentary

During public commentary reserved time at the start of the council’s meeting, several people addressed the council on the topic of the train station.

Rita Mitchell told the council that the community has not yet agreed on whether the city should take responsibility for a new train station. She pegged the total amount of money already invested in study of a site at $1.7 million, when the sewer work was factored in. She questioned whether URS could be an objective consultant, given some work done in connection with the previous Fuller Road Station and as well as the ongoing connector study. Mitchell questioned the amount of funding in the contract just for the public engagement process, which she thought was too much, compared to the amount for the environmental assessment per se.

Nancy Shiffler introduced herself as chair of the Huron Valley Group of the Sierra Club. She thought the public involvement component is a strength of the proposal. She’s looking forward to a well-publicized schedule for that engagement. She cautioned against relying on self-selected participants in online surveys. Task 4 of the contract, she said, is problematic, because it could result in a categorical exclusion for an FRA requirement with respect to parkland – an exclusion that would come too early in the process.

Clark Charnetski recalled the 30-year history of the study of different sites for a new rail station. Charnetski participated in the 1979 study. [.pdf of "The Ann Arbor Depot: A First Phase Investigation of Location Alternatives"] That was the era when the Amtrak station was still located within the building where the Gandy Dancer restaurant is currently located, Charnetski said. He invited the council to think about rail transportation from the passenger’s point of view. He noted a number of assumptions that were in place 30 years ago that have not proven to be correct. He said that even with current levels of ridership, an improvement to the station is needed. Responding to the idea that the current location could be used to improve the station, he said that the study will examine that option.

Jeff Hayner delivered remarks on several topics during public commentary, but on the train station contract, he told the council the public engagement component is very heavy, but wondered if that would be used to shape public opinion or to listen to it.

Transportation: A2 Station – Section 4(f) Background

Mentioned at several points during the meeting was a “Section 4(f) requirement.” It refers to part of the 1966 U.S. Dept. of Transportation Act. That federal act became ensconced in part as Section 138 of Title 23 of the United States Code. It includes the stipulation that publicly-owned park and recreational lands – as well as wildlife and waterfowl refuges, and historic sites – cannot be used for transportation project development unless there is no feasible and prudent alternative.

However, in August 2005, Section 6009(a) of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) revised Section 138 of Title 23. It simplified the process and approval of projects that are deemed to have only de minimis impacts on Section 4(f) lands. Specifically, even if the U.S. Dept. of Transportation determines that a transportation use of Section 4(f) property results in a de minimis impact, an analysis of avoidance alternatives isn’t required.

The definition of “de minimis impact” in SAFETEA-LU is as follows [emphasis added in italics]:

With respect to parks, recreation areas, or wildlife or waterfowl refuges, the Secretary may make a finding of de minimis impact only if the Secretary has determined, after public notice and opportunity for public review and comment, that the transportation program or project will not adversely affect the activities, features, and attributes of the park, recreation area, or wildlife or waterfowl refuge eligible for protection under this section;

The Fuller Road site that’s been under discussion includes a 250-space surface parking lot. The previous Fuller Road Station collaboration with the University of Michigan was planned to be confined to the footprint of that currently paved surface, and not to extend farther towards the Huron River, where a soccer practice field is situated.

.gif animation of the Fuller Road site, which loops continuously, beginning in the 1940s.

.gif animation of the Fuller Road site, which loops continuously, beginning with an image from the 1940s.

Given a configuration with a rail station building, platforms and an appurtenant parking facility – all of which is confined to the footprint of the current parking lot – it’s conceivable that an argument could be made for meeting the SAFETEA-LU “de minimis” standard. The argument would depend on a claim that the two activities currently undertaken on the parkland site – parking and soccer practice – would not be adversely affected.

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) noted during the Oct. 21 meeting that the Fuller Road site had not seen a soccer ball since the Clinton administration, a rhetorical flourish he consistently uses in deliberations about the planning for a rail station at that location. Taylor’s point is relevant to the extent that the focus of the conversation remains only on the section of the site that’s currently paved and used as a parking lot. If it were determined that construction of a rail station facility on just that section of the site that’s paved still had an adverse effect on the use of the portion nearer the Huron River, which serves as a soccer field, then the SAFETEA-LU “de minimis” impact standard might not be met, and the Section 4(f) “no feasible” alternative standard would then apply.

Transportation: A2 Station – Sewer Work Background

During public commentary, Rita Mitchell referred to the sewer work that had been done on the Fuller Road site. That resulted in a defense of that work during deliberations by Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), Sabra Briere (Ward 1) and mayor John Hieftje – as a project that was part of the city’s capital improvements plan. That is, they argued that it was not done just to move sewer lines so that a foundation for a parking structure and train station could more easily be built. The council had originally approved the work at its June 20, 2011 meeting, but then reconsidered the vote on July 5, 2011 at the request of Mike Anglin (Ward 5). The council then re-voted the approval, but with Anglin’s dissent.

The approval two years ago was for a $1,216,100 construction contract to Hoffman Brothers Inc. The project involved relocating a sanitary sewer south of Fuller Road, and east of the Maiden Lane and East Medical Center Drive intersection. The project included moving and replacing an 825-foot, 30-year-old section of 60-inch sanitary sewer pipe. It also included construction of 525 feet of 24-inch stormwater pipe, as well as construction of 925 feet of a new 12-inch water main for service to Fuller Pool.

Transportation: A2 Station – Council Deliberations

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) led off deliberations by asking city transportation program manager Eli Cooper to clarify how much of the contract would use city funds. Cooper explained that the city amount is $165,000. Kunselman noted that the money has been appropriated and does not presuppose a particular site – so he was going to support the contract.

Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1) wanted to know who would decide the recommended location of the train station. Cooper noted that residents during the public commentary period that evening had pointed out that one-third of the contract was for public engagement. And council could participate in the process, he said. Kailasapathy asked if there would be one preferred site at the end. Cooper indicated that there would be a single preferred site at the end, and explained that as the sites are winnowed down, the criteria to be used would also be subject to public review and input.

Briere noted that most of the suggested sites are in Ward 1. She confirmed that the goal of a previous process was to present the federal government with a preferred site. Cooper indicated that Briere was right – it’s a requirement of a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) project. The emphasis on the previous project [Fuller Road Station] was based on the intermodal character of that facility. How does this proposal differ from that [Fuller Road Station] proposal? Briere asked. Cooper said that one difference is that there’s no initially preferred alternative for the location.

Briere followed up with another question: What is an environmental assessment? Cooper explained that it’s an analysis of the direct, indirect and cumulative effect of human action. It’s a qualitative descriptor about the impact of a project. That contrasts with an environmental impact statement, which is quantitative, he said.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) said she hadn’t yet heard Cooper say the word “parkland.” Responding to a question from Lumm, Cooper said that any project on parkland would not be eligible for an FRA categorical exclusion. If the preferred site were parkland, then it would be subject to Section 4(f) review, Cooper said. Lumm asked for confirmation that as part of the process, it would be possible to see the “arc” of the selection process – as the set of potential sites is winnowed down.

In a comment that reacted to concerns expressed during public commentary, Cooper said that the public engagement process is not meant to tell people what the plan already is. Lumm asked who Cooper sees as the stakeholders. Cooper said that will be clearer after the project kickoff. Power Marketing Research will be doing the public engagement, he said. Cooper allowed that some of the stakeholders will be the “usual suspects,” in addition to the stakeholders who’d participated in the previous, now-demised Fuller Road Station project, he said. Those would include transportation agencies like the AAATA, MDOT, and UM parking and transportation staff, he said. It would be as comprehensive a list as possible. Stakeholders are only one part of the public engagement process, he said. There will be site tours to “walk the ground together,” he said.

Cooper noted that the no-build alternative is required to be included in the set of alternatives. The intent is to do this in an open and transparent and participatory process, he said. Lumm told Cooper some people have “zero confidence” that the outcome has not been determined to be Fuller Road. She contended the existing location of the Amtrak location is a “sweet spot” in terms of engineering.

Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1) asked what she should tell residents who wonder why the city should build a new station for Amtrak. Cooper explained that Amtrak’s focus is on the operations – the trains themselves. It’s a discretionary decision for the city, he allowed. The idea is to meet the needs of residents and businesses to provide the kind of transportation facility they’d expect arriving in Ann Arbor. [In this remark, Cooper alluded to the sentiments expressed during an Oct. 14, 2013 city council work session by MDOT director of rail operations Tim Hoeffner, who described a passenger rail station as “the gateway to your community.” Hoeffner added: "That should be your face – that should be what you want to put forward. That shouldn’t be what we want to have come forward from Lansing."]

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) said he was happy to see that this project seems different from the previous approach, with the Fuller Road Station. He said it seemed like the proposed process would actually consider alternate locations besides the Fuller Road site. He called for all the public process meetings to be videotaped. Some of the previous money that’s been spent was “foolishness,” he said. But he’d vote to support this. The public is tired of bad dialogue, he told Cooper. Cooper responded by saying the staff would do their best to facilitate good dialogue.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) posed a hypothetical question: If the site across the track, owned by Amtrak, turned out to be the preferred site, how would that work? Cooper explained that the federal dollars would come from the Federal Rail Administration. If the Amtrak property were the preferred location, there would be MOUs and legal instruments to bind the parties together.

Clark Charnetski was invited from the audience to explain that Amtrak owns the parking lot. The place where the tracks had been and were removed is now owned by MDOT. Amtrak owns the station, the property on which it sits and the metered parking lot, Charnetski said.

Lumm said that there’s no guarantee there’ll be federal money for eventual construction of a train station. She added that there’s no demonstrated need for a new train station. She’d reviewed the contract for the study. It’s an important study the community cares about, she said. It’s important that there be substantial public engagement. She then ticked through the elements of the public engagement process. She said it’s important to consider using the existing site as well as doing nothing at all. Given that those two primary concerns are addressed, she’d support the contract, but she called it a “tough” decision.

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) said that improvement to the train station is deeply important. He pointed to improvements in Amtrak service and possible commuter service – with railcars having been acquired. It won’t happen tomorrow, but it’s important to plan for the future, he said. He called the sewer reconstruction done at the Fuller Road site – which was in the city’s capital improvement plan (CIP) – as something necessary anyway. To suggest that it wasn’t necessary is “flat-out false,” he said.

Hieftje picked up on Taylor’s defense of the sewer work. It’s important not to create myths, he said. He was pleased to see planning for a new rail station moving forward, whatever the location. He noted that Gov. Rick Snyder and MDOT are very interested in commuter rail between Ann Arbor and Detroit. But commuter rail would only be funded through the regional transit authority (RTA), Hieftje said.

Briere also added her comments on the sewer work that was done at the Fuller Road site. She reviewed the reasons that she voted to support that sewer work. She said that part of the issue was the fact that the line runs under the river. If a sewer line is under the river, it would be difficult to notice if there were a problem. It was not the case that the only reason for the sewer work was to allow for the foundations of the demised Fuller Road Station to be put in, she said.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the URS contract.

Transportation: Sidewalks

The council considered a revision to the definition of “sidewalk” so that cross-lot walkways could be repaired using sidewalk repair millage funds, but not trigger the ordinary winter maintenance requirement for adjacent property owners. Cross-lot walkways include those that connect streets to parks or school property, or connect two parallel streets.

At the council’s July 1, 2013 meeting, councilmembers were set to give final approval to a different version of the ordinance revision, which would have still placed the responsibility of sidewalk shoveling in the winter on owners of property adjacent to cross-lot walkways. But the council took a different approach after hearing objections from the owners of adjoining property.

A companion resolution later on the agenda completed the necessary council action to allow the definitional change to have an actual impact: The definition makes a walkway a “sidewalk” if the council formally accepts the walkway for public use. So the companion resolution accepted 34 cross-lot walkways for public use.

Cross lot path described by John Ohanian as one for which he would become responsible if the city adopted the change in the definition of sidewalk.

This cross-lot path was described by John Ohanian at the city council’s July 1, 2013 meeting as one that he’d become responsible for shoveling if the city adopted the change in the definition of sidewalk that was being considered at that meeting.


This is the path – looking east from Frederick and Middleton into Greenbrier Park – that abuts Ohanian’s property.

No one spoke at the public hearing on the ordinance change.

Council deliberations were scant on both items, consisting of Jane Lumm acknowledging the hard work and responsiveness of city staff in working on the issue.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the change to the sidewalk ordinance and to accept the 34 cross-lot walkways for public use.

Transportation: Ice Control Salt

The Oct. 21 agenda included an item authorizing the purchase of bulk salt, for ice control, and seasonal back-up supplies to be sourced from the Detroit Salt Company for $245,143 (2,800 tons of “early fill” at $34.50 a ton and 4,100 tons of “seasonal backup” at $36.23 a ton).

Use of ice control salt by the city of Ann Arbor (in tons). Data from the city of Ann Arbor. Chart by The Chronicle. This year the council is being asked to authorize the purchase of 6,900 tons

Winter use of ice control salt on roadways by the city of Ann Arbor (in tons). Data from the city of Ann Arbor. Chart by The Chronicle. This year the council is being asked to authorize the purchase of a total of 6,900 tons of ice control salt.

Outcome: The council unanimously approved the purchase of ice control salt.

Ann Arbor DDA: Al McWilliams

On the council’s agenda was a reconsideration of the council’s previous vote that appointed Al McWilliams to the board of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. That original vote was taken on Sept. 16, and resulted in a 6-5 tally in favor.

Al McWilliams

Al McWilliams attended the Oct. 2, 2013 meeting of the DDA board and voted on the one agenda item. This photo is from Chronicle coverage of that meeting.

The Sept. 16 vote came after mayor John Hieftje stated during deliberations on Sept. 3 – as McWilliams’ confirmation that night appeared to have insufficient support on the short-handed council – that he was withdrawing the nomination.

That gave rise to a technical procedural issue – because Hieftje’s request for confirmation on Sept. 16 appeared to be a fresh nomination. So it should have been subjected to the council’s rule that applies when the vote comes at the same council meeting as the nomination – namely, that the confirmation achieve an eight-vote majority. For detailed analysis of the procedural issue, see “Column: How to Count to 8, Stopping at 6.

City attorney Stephen Postema was then directed by the council at its Oct. 7 meeting to produce a written opinion on the legal validity of the 6-5 vote, which he subsequently did. Later in the Oct. 7 meeting, Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) convinced his council colleagues to re-open the agenda to consider a motion to reconsider the Sept. 16 vote on McWilliams. Warpehoski could do that as someone who voted on the prevailing side.

That motion for reconsideration was immediately postponed until the Oct. 21 meeting. The first vote faced by the council was the motion to reconsider.

Ann Arbor DDA: Al McWilliams – Public Commentary

Drew Waller, director of sponsorship at the Michigan Theater, told the council he was excited about the prospect of Al McWilliams being appointed to the DDA. [A single hiss came from the audience when he made the remark.] We should focus on what McWilliams can do for the community, Waller said. [Russ Collins, executive director of the Michigan Theater, also serves on the DDA board.]

Ann Arbor DDA: Al McWilliams – Council Deliberations

The council did not engage in substantive deliberations on the question of reconsideration.

Outcome: The council voted 8-3 to reconsider the vote on McWilliams’ appointment. Voting against reconsideration were mayor John Hieftje, Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) and Margie Teall (Ward 4).

With the question of McWilliams’ appointment again in front of the council, Mike Anglin (Ward 5) recalled the possible conflict of interest issue. [The AAATA is a client of McWilliams' ad agency, Quack!Media, and the issue of conflict of interest could arise when the DDA considers its annual grant to the AAATA to support the go!pass program – at an amount totaling roughly a half million dollars a year. The go!pass allocation is not made under the terms of a contractual relationship, and DDA legal counsel Jerry Lax has opined in the past that the controlling statutory language does not apply in the event there's not a contract to be voted on.]

More important than the conflict of interest issue, Anglin said, was the reaction some of the female councilmembers had to the material on McWilliams’ website. McWilliams might be very talented, but Anglin feels that McWilliams erred in his judgment to post some of that material. It had been a 6-5 vote, Anglin noted, saying that it’s the first time he’s opposed a mayoral nomination. [Anglin actually also voted on May 13, 2013 against the appointment of Eric Mahler to the board of the AAATA.]

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) thanked Warpehoski for his action to move to reconsider the vote, saying it was honorable. She thanked city attorney Stephen Postema for writing the opinion that the council had requested. She said she’d vote against the appointment. It’s not hard to find qualified applicants for the DDA board, she said. She wanted someone who has the maturity to serve on the board. She characterized the issue as one of judgment and respect.

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) said he’d support the nomination, noting that the council had received many communications from people who know McWilliams well in a professional context. Business leaders are universal in their support of him, he said.

Warpehoski reviewed some of the objections to McWilliams’ appointment: (1) conflict of interest; (2) misogyny; and (3) judgment. He thought that (1) could be addressed with timely recusal. As far as the misogyny, he felt the material McWilliams had posted was a media critique, not an invitation to “Hey, check out this hottie!” He said he didn’t see any basis for the claim of misogyny. On (3) he echoed Taylor’s remarks.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) thanked Warpehoski for his effort to have the question reconsidered. But ultimately, “The man insulted me,” Kunselman said. And for that reason he’d be voting against McWilliams. Kunselman said he wouldn’t repeat the insult because it wouldn’t be appropriate decorum. Kunselman stated that “third-grade potty humor” is not appropriate for a public official. He cautioned that someone else at the table could be the next person that McWilliams insults.

Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1) said we all curse, but cursing with women’s body parts is unacceptable.

Margie Teall (Ward 4) stated that she wished the council wouldn’t spend time on this agenda item, but would “pipe up as well.” She said that someone who could bring great life to the DDA should be supported.

Sally Petersen (Ward 2) said she wasn’t planning on saying anything. But she felt the fact that the word “misogyny” was being used in the debate about the appointment indicates that the appointment isn’t appropriate. She recalled her interaction with McWilliams on the phone. She’d told him he’d watered down his message with his choice of images and language. He’d told her he disagreed – and said it was appropriate vernacular. The recommendations the council had received were from people she respected, Petersen said, but they did not know about the conversation she’d had with him. At this point, she was not ready to appoint him to the DDA. “We need the highest caliber people” on the DDA board, she said.

Lumm thanked Petersen for her remarks. Lumm said it was a core demonstration of poor judgment to defame her colleagues in the way that McWilliams did.

Outcome: After 20 minutes of deliberations, the council again voted 6-5 to appoint McWilliams to the DDA board. Voting against McWilliams’ appointment on Sept. 16 and on Oct. 21 were: Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1), Sally Petersen (Ward 2), Jane Lumm (Ward 2), Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Mike Anglin (Ward 5). Voting in favor were: Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), Margie Teall (Ward 4), Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) and mayor John Hieftje.

Ann Arbor DDA: DDA TIF Ordinance

On the council’s Oct. 21 agenda was final approval an ordinance revision to Chapter 7. The revision would clarify the existing language of the ordinance, which regulates the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority’s TIF (tax increment financing) capture.

The clarification would disallow the DDA’s preferred interpretation of a restriction on TIF revenue that’s already expressed in the ordinance language. It would essentially enforce the existing ordinance language. This ordinance revision was first considered by the council in February of this year. It received initial approval in April and has been in front of the council several times since then, but always postponed.

A joint committee of councilmembers and DDA board members has been meeting, most recently on Oct. 16, and appear headed toward an alternative that would enact a “cap” on DDA TIF revenue – that could be set at a high enough level that it might not have a substantive impact on actual TIF revenue. The idea is that a basis would be defined in terms of the taxable value of the increment in the TIF district on which the DDA could capture TIF. And the DDA would not be able to capture taxes on any amount in excess of that. An annual percentage increase would be applied to the basis, effectively raising the cap each year.

On that approach, the key questions are what number to choose as the basis and what percentage to choose as the escalator. The committee’s current conversation appears to be headed toward establishing the basis at a level that reflects all the new construction through the next year and a percentage increase somewhere around 5%.

The existing ordinance language already defines a cap, but is calibrated to the projections of the increase in taxable value in the DDA TIF plan. Mathematically, the alternative approach could be expressed in terms of changing the projections in the DDA TIF plan.

When that alternative proposal from the committee is finalized, it would be brought forward as a substitute proposal for the ordinance revision.

At its Oct. 21 meeting, the council didn’t deliberate beyond remarks offered by Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), who reported that a joint committee meeting of DDA board members and councilmembers, held on Oct. 16, had not yet settled on the details of an alternative approach to the ordinance revision. He ventured that the discussion about the amount of the escalator on the basis for the cap currently stood around 4.5%.

Kunselman moved that consideration of the ordinance be postponed again until Nov. 7, so that the council could weigh the current proposal and the alternative that the committee puts forward.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to postpone the DDA ordinance changes until its Nov. 7 meeting. That’s the last council meeting before the new composition of council is seated, following the Nov. 5 election.

Ann Arbor DDA: Main Street Light Poles

The city council considered approval of $280,000 to be spent replacing 81 light poles in downtown Ann Arbor. The resolution stated that the light poles would be purchased from Spring City Electrical Manufacturing at a cost of $173,307, with additional costs for installation and labor bringing the total to $280,000.

Downtown Ann Arbor Main Street light pole

Downtown Ann Arbor Main Street light pole on the northeast corner of Main & William. Photograph is from the city of Ann Arbor, taken in April 2012.

The potential expenditure amounted to the city’s portion of a $580,000 project to replace 81 light poles – with the other portion of the cost borne by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority.

The $280,000 for the city’s share would need to be allocated from the general fund to the field operation unit’s FY 2014 street lighting budget. As a budget amendment, the resolution needed eight votes under the city charter.

By way of additional background, in April 2013 when the council gave initial approval of the change to the city ordinance that regulates the DDA’s TIF capture, an argument against that move was that it would leave the DDA without sufficient revenue to pay for the roughly $580,000 cost of replacing the decorative light poles, which are described by some as an iconic feature of Main Street.

Replacement was characterized as an urgent public safety issue, because the bases of some of the poles are rusting. Various statements were made about the number of light poles that had failed, but responding to an emailed query from The Chronicle earlier this year, city of Ann Arbor staff indicated that in early 2012 two of the light poles fell – due to a structural failure at the base of the poles caused by rust. After inspection of all the poles, two additional light poles were deemed to be in immediate risk of falling and were also replaced. As a part of the council’s FY 2014 budget deliberations, the council altered the DDA’s budget and directed the DDA to allocate $300,000 toward the replacement of the Main Street light poles.

The council’s specific action on May 20, 2013 was to alter the DDA’s budget by recognizing additional TIF revenues of more than $568,000, and shifting $300,000 of that revenue from the DDA’s TIF fund to the DDA’s housing fund. The council’s budget resolution also recommended that the DDA spend $300,000 of its TIF fund on the Main Street light pole replacement. Earlier this year, in response to an emailed query from The Chronicle, city administrator Steve Powers indicated that the city council was expected to be asked to act on the matter either at its July 15 or Aug. 8 meeting. But the issue was not placed before the council until Oct. 21.

Ann Arbor DDA: Main Street Light Poles – Background

Most of the council’s deliberations focused on the council’s decision in May this year to alter the DDA’s budget when the council adopted the FY 2014 budget. That budget change was first to add $568,343 in TIF revenue to the amount the DDA itself had budgeted for FY 2014 and then to transfer $300,000 of that from the TIF fund to the DDA’s affordable housing fund. The council’s budget amendment earlier this year also included a request that the DDA allocate at least $300,000 to the light-pole replacement project.

The council’s budget deliberations featured an argument by some councilmembers that the $300,000 transfer to the housing fund would impair the DDA’s ability to undertake the light pole replacement project and that the city would need to absorb the cost differential.

However, the set of budget amendments approved by the council in May didn’t include an allocation for the city to pay for the light poles, nor did the council’s action include a commitment expressed in a resolution that the city would absorb the cost.

All of that came in the context of the council’s consideration of a change to the city ordinance that regulates the DDA’s TIF capture – Chapter 7. That Chapter 7 change was given initial approval on April 1, before the council deliberated on its budget in May and even before it received the proposed budget from the city administrator later in April. The Chapter 7 change – on which final action continues to be postponed by the council – would essentially enforce the limitations on TIF revenue that are already expressed in the ordinance language, and disallow the DDA’s preferred interpretation.

On the DDA’s current interpretation of Chapter 7, there’s no limitation on its TIF revenue as along as it has debt payments to make. Earlier in 2011, when the issue was first noticed, the DDA had agreed that there was a limitation, after analysis of the ordinance by its own legal counsel and the city attorney’s office. When it became apparent that the amounts that would need to be returned would recur and be more substantial than the DDA first calculated, the DDA adopted a different legal position – involving the debt clause.

The Main Street light pole issue surfaced during the deliberations on April 1 about the ordinance revision – as an example of a project the DDA might not be able to pay for, if the council enacted the Chapter 7 revision. At the council’s April 15 meeting, an amendment to the Chapter 7 revision proposed by Sally Petersen (Ward 2) and adopted by the council delayed application of the revised language until next year – FY 2015.

In timeline overview form:

    • April 1, 2013: Initial approval of DDA TIF capture ordinance revision (Chapter 7). Main Street light poles were cited as a project the DDA might not be able to pay for if the Chapter 7 revisions were approved.
    • April 15, 2013: City council approves the Petersen amendment to the Chapter 7 revision, which delayed application of the revised language until FY 2015.
    • May 20, 2013: City council approves FY 2014 budget amendment that affects DDA budget.

      Whereas, The DDA is forecasted to receive $568,343 more in TIF revenues than anticipated in the proposed FY14 budget;
      Whereas, Council desires to support the public housing program in the DDA area;
      RESOLVED, The DDA TIF fund revenue and expenditure budgets be increased by $568,343 for the purposes of creating a one-time transfer;
      RESOLVED, The DDA Housing fund revenue and expenditure budgets be increased by $300,000 to reflect Council’s desire for the DDA to support affordable housing in the DDA area; and
      RESOLVED, Ann Arbor City Council requests that the DDA allocate at least $300,000 for the replacement of the light poles on Main Street.

    • June 5, 2013: DDA board meets and executive director Susan Pollay reports the council’s action. She tells the board that she’s meeting with city staff to figure out how the light poles will be paid for.
    • July 3, 2013: DDA board allocates $300,000 for the light pole replacement project at the same meeting it allocates $250,000 for other capital projects, and $59,200 to support the creation of a business improvement zone in the South University area. One “whereas” clause characterized the council’s action in a way that is not based on the wording of the city council’s May 20 budget amendment.

      Whereas, Through the 2013/14 budget approval process it was determined that the City would undertake this street light replacement in calendar year 2013, with the DDA allocating $300,000 toward the cost of the project, and the City allocating $216,000; [.pdf of complete DDA light pole resolution]

Ann Arbor DDA: Main Street Light Poles – Council Deliberations

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) led off deliberations. She asked public services area administrator Craig Hupy to come to the podium. She wanted to know when the light poles were installed and by whom. Hupy explained that they were installed by the DDA in the late 1980s, so the poles are not quite 30 years old. They weren’t noticed to be rusting because their decorative base shields the rust from view, he explained. He said the bases might have contributed to water not draining away and that the replacement light poles would have a gap between the pole and the base, he explained.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) asked why the appropriation for the light poles was not included in the budget that the council was asked to approve in May. Hupy explained that at that time, the DDA was proposing to cover the entire cost. Based on that explanation, Kunselman wouldn’t support the resolution appropriating the money.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) pointed out that the council’s budget resolution was a request for the DDA to spend at least $300,000. She asked DDA executive director Susan Pollay if the DDA had considered making a greater contribution. Pollay reviewed the history of the council’s budget resolution.

Lumm inquired about the status of the city council’s resolution requesting the DDA to fund downtown police officers. Pollay told Lumm the DDA is looking at possibly hiring “ambassadors,” not police officers. She noted that some DDA board members would be traveling to Grand Rapids to learn more about that city’s ambassador program.

Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1) asked where the $300,000 came from that the DDA had granted to Washtenaw County for its Annex renovation. It was allocated from the DDA’s TIF fund.

Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) began his remarks with: “C’mon, we knew this was coming” – indicating a view that the council understood that the council’s action to alter the DDA’s budget back in May meant that the city would need to pay a portion of the light pole replacement cost. Mayor John Hieftje said he remembered it the same way as Warpehoski.

Petersen asked if there was other money besides general fund money that could be used to pay for the light poles. No, said Hupy.

Kunselman pressed Hupy on the question of the appropriation of the funds. The DDA had said that the DDA would step up and cover the expense, Hupy said. It was not put into the city’s budget after discussion with the DDA, he said. Kunselman said that the council had not made a commitment to pay for the light poles. The DDA had spent money for other things, like the Washtenaw County Annex building.

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3)

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3).

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) then claimed that Kunselman had made a “flat-out misrepresentation” of what had happened. The council had been told that the council would need to spend the general fund money to do it, Taylor contended. And it was the council’s ill-advised interference with the DDA’s budget earlier in the year that had caused this situation, Taylor said. The council had made the budget adjustments in May, “knowing full well that we’d be on the hook for the balance.” Taylor called the need to spend the money now a “self-inflicted wound.”

Briere said she appreciated what Taylor and Kunselman both said. Briere then told the council how she explained to a constituent the difference between the city’s and the DDA’s budgets. Briere said that the city council had told the DDA how to spend its money, and the DDA had done that. She was filled with regret that the council had done that, she said. When the DDA said it would step up and make that investment, she’d been relieved.

Petersen asked what the level of risk is for the light poles falling down. What kind of health and safety risk is posed? Hupy said those that were in immediate danger had been replaced. If the light poles were not all going to be replaced in the near term, the city would go out and replace a few more poles, he said.

Petersen said she sees the budgets of the DDA and the city as “fungible.” She’d like to see the DDA find the money to complete this project. Based on Pollay’s response to Lumm’s question, Petersen concluded the DDA would not be funding the police officers that the city council had requested. Responding to Briere’s remark, Petersen said she didn’t regret giving direction to the DDA. She said that she thought the DDA should find the money to pay for the light poles.

Lumm said that the resolution to allocate funds that night was consistent with the council’s budget resolution, so she’d support it. Warpehoski asked if the overall cost of replacement changes, if the poles are replaced in stages as compared to doing it all in one phase. Hupy explained that labor costs would go up. There would also be a mismatch between the globes for a time while the replacement was underway.

Kailasapathy related a vignette about a neighborhood where there’s no streetlight and no sidewalk – at the intersection of Dhu Varren and Birchwood. She’d met with city staff there early in the morning before it was light and they had seen children waiting for the bus to arrive. She compared the potential for mismatching light poles downtown to not having any streetlight at all at that Dhu Varren location. Like Petersen, Kailasapathy said she had no regrets about changing the DDA’s budget earlier in the year to allocate $300,000 for affordable housing.

Outcome: The council rejected the resolution on a 7-4 vote. It failed because it needed 8 votes to pass on the 11-member council. Voting against the resolution were Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1), Sally Petersen (Ward 2), Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Mike Anglin (Ward 5).

City Energy Commission: Fossil Fuel Divestment

A resolution on divestment from fossil fuel companies was back in front of the council for the third time. When it was initially considered on Sept. 3, 2013, the council voted it down. But on Sept. 16, 2013 the resolution was brought back for reconsideration, then postponed until Oct. 21.

It’s based on an energy commission resolution passed on July 9, 2013. The resolution 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 recommended by the energy commission 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.

Nancy Walker, executive director of the city’s employee retirement system, has reviewed for the council at its meetings the implications of fossil fuel divestment on 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.

City Energy Commission: Fossil Fuel Divestment – Public Commentary

Mike Shriberg, an energy commission member who’d addressed councilmembers the two previous times that the item had been on the agenda, conveyed some of the information orally that was included in the commission’s written response to the council’s questions. [Divestment: Response from Energy Commission] He asked that the council not be fixated on the question of fees. Rather, he urged the council to focus on what can be done now – by focusing on the investments that are not in indexed funds.

City Energy Commission: Fossil Fuel Divestment – Council Deliberations

Mayor John Hieftje said he hoped the discussion could be brief, because it’s already been discussed a lot. [The council's deliberations lasted a half hour.]

Ann Arbor city energy commissioner Michael Shriberg

Ann Arbor city energy commissioner Michael Shriberg.

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) said that his impression is that the council was eager to express its support for divestment, but concerned about interfering with the pension board. An earlier amendment had been made to try to address that tension, he said. [The amendment was proposed by Taylor at the council's Sept. 16, 2013 meeting, and adopted by the council before postponing a vote on the resolution until Oct. 21. The amendment acknowledges that compliance with the requests by the council had to be consistent with the pension board’s fiduciary responsibility.]

Taylor indicated that he’d be more comfortable with further amendments so that the resolution enumerated a set of requests to investigate and consider various topics, as opposed to “urging” the pension board to do something. But he didn’t move the amendments at that point.

Sally Petersen (Ward 2) said it makes sense to remove language that has to do with divestment. She would be more inclined to support something that is more proactive about directing investment in clean energy instead of divesting from anything.

Hieftje said the resolution as it reads doesn’t have any “teeth” that would direct the pension board to do anything. It would send a message, however, that the city wants to align its investment strategy with its sustainability plan. He ventured it could be watered down further by saying, “maybe please could you possibly do something.” But the resolution was already soft enough as it is, Hieftje said. He felt the council should give the resolution an up-or-down vote and if the council voted it down, the council could ask the energy commission to come up with something else. [Hieftje serves on the city's energy commission.]

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) thought the resolution did need to be watered down further. He didn’t want to “urge” another body to do something over which the council has no control. Some of the other cities that have been referenced as having a similar policy simply had mayoral directives, he pointed out. Kunselman said the resolution should just be very simple. The list of things that are in the resolution as it’s written aren’t “neighborly,” he said. Kunselman felt that a resolution could be crafted that could be just enough to put the city of Ann Arbor on a list of cities that support the idea of divestment and that no one would check in detail to see what the resolved clauses actually say.

At that point Taylor proposed the amendments he’d alluded to earlier. The word “urges” would be replaced with “requests” throughout. Also the word “immediately” would be deleted from the first resolved clause. Another piece of language from Taylor’s amendments: “… to investigate whether it can reasonably divest …” The phrase “consider ensuring” would be used instead of just “ensuring.” [.pdf of fossil fuel resolution as amended]

Outcome: The council approved Taylor’s amendments with dissent from John Hieftje.

Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) indicated he’d support the resolution. Jane Lumm (Ward 2) said she supported the elimination of the word “urge” and the substitution of “request.” But she didn’t know what this resolution will accomplish. She thanked the retirement board for its work. She pointed to the fees that would be incurred as a result of withdrawing investments from indexed funds.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) said that she couldn’t match Lumm’s rhetoric when it comes to investments because it’s not in her skill set. She relies on other people to guide her. There’s a concern that the staff of the pension board might not be able to distinguish between looking into things versus implementing something, she said. So Taylor’s amendments, she said, are reasonable. They provide guidance without imposing restriction.

Margie Teall (Ward 4) indicated she’d support the amended resolution. Petersen allowed the amendments do water down the resolution, but she doesn’t want to support something that doesn’t have teeth. The council would be asking the pension board to take its eye off the ball for a while, she said. A resolution about investment as opposed to divestment would have teeth, she said.

Kunselman wanted to make sure that the title of the resolution had the word “urges” replaced with “requests,” along with the body of the resolution. Kunselman said he’d support the resolution, but made some remarks about what he wants the energy commission to focus its efforts on – energy efficiency projects, not investment strategy. Kunselman ventured that some members of the pension board were present and made a brief gambit to have them come to the podium.

Instead, city administrator Steve Powers gave some brief background on the work the pension board had done to give a preliminary assessment to the council’s requests. CFO Tom Crawford came to the podium and explained that the pension board had taken the council’s questions and deliberations seriously. The time it would take the board’s investment committee to investigate further was a concern, he said. The volunteer board has a professional investment advisor, and the advice from that advisor was there’s no way to very simply address the issue.

Outcome: The council voted to approve the amended fossil fuel resolution on a 9-2 vote. Dissenting were Ward 2 councilmembers Sally Petersen and Jane Lumm.

City Energy Commission: Appleyard Appointment

On the council’s agenda was just one appointment – that of Wayne Appleyard to the city’s energy commission.

Wayne Appleyard, Bonnie Bona.

Wayne Appleyard at an April 2010 joint meeting of the city’s energy, environmental and planning commissions. Next to Appleyard is Bonnie Bona, who at that time chaired the planning commission. (Chronicle file photo.)

Appleyard’s nomination was put forward at the council’s Sept. 16 meeting, but his confirmation was not requested at the council’s following meeting on Oct. 7. Even though the nomination was not put forward at the Oct. 7 meeting, Mike Anglin (Ward 5) registered his concerns then about the nomination.

So the confirmation request was pending clarification of some concerns that Anglin and other councilmembers had raised about Appleyard’s status as a non-city resident and his long tenure on the commission – since 2002.

As a non-city resident, Appleyard’s confirmation needed seven votes, which it would likely not have received on Oct. 7 given the short-handed council that night. [Only eight out of 11 councilmembers attended.]

The seven-vote majority, instead of the typical six, is required by the city charter for non-city residents: [emphasis added]:

Section 12.2. Except as otherwise provided in this charter, a person is eligible to hold a City office if the person has been a registered elector of the City, or of territory annexed to the City or both, and, in the case of a Council Member, a resident of the ward from which elected, for at least one year immediately preceding election or appointment. This requirement may be waived as to appointive officers by resolution concurred in by not less than seven members of the Council.

Appleyard lives in Grass Lake, Mich. With respect to Appleyard’s long tenure, a city charter requirement on city boards and commissions has been analyzed as not applicable to the city’s energy commission. The charter requirement limits continuous service on some kinds of boards and commissions to six years, after which a three-year lapse is required:

Boards and Commissions SECTION 5.17.
(a) The Council may create citizen boards for each of the following departments: Police Department, Fire Department, Department of Public Works, Utilities Department, Department of Parks and Recreation, and Department of Building and Safety Engineering. It may, in addition, create such a board for any department established pursuant to this charter. The Council shall prescribe the number of persons on each such board, the terms of office, the method of appointment of members, the board officers and the method of their selection, and provisions concerning the holding of regular and special meetings. No person serving on such board continuously for six years shall be eligible to reappointment, until the lapse of three years. …

The city energy commission was established in 1985 by a council resolution to “oversee City policies and regulations in areas of energy efficiency concerns and make periodic public reports and recommendations to the City Council.” So it’s not analyzed as corresponding to any particular city department. Under special qualifications, the online Legistar description states: “wide spread representation; interest in energy.” Terms of appointment for energy commissioners are three years.

When Appleyard was up for reappointment in 2010, no objections were raised. On that occasion, mayor John Hieftje pulled out Appleyard’s confirmation for a separate vote to ensure it was clear that he’d specifically received adequate support from the council, despite not being a city resident.

Appleyard is principal with Sunstructures Architects, with a focus in renewable energy and sustainable architecture. Appleyard designed the house of Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3).

City Energy Commission: Appleyard Appointment – Council Deliberations

Mayor John Hieftje led off by saying he couldn’t imagine anyone who’s more knowledgeable or qualified to serve on the energy commission.

Mayor John Hieftje and Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1)

Mayor John Hieftje and Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1). They were looking at the mayoral proclamation recognizing Diwali in Ann Arbor.

Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1) acknowledged that Appleyard is highly qualified, and thanked him for his service. But local government is about local governance, she said. Her objection to the appointment was not personal, she said, and she valued Appleyard’s service. She thought, however, that among the 115,000 residents of Ann Arbor, other qualified commissioners could be found. If the energy commission recommends measures that could have an effect on the city’s financial well-being (like the fossil fuel divestment resolution), then the recommendations should be made by people who will live with the consequences, she said – that is, city residents.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) noted that Appleyard is abundantly qualified. But she’s concerned about the length of his service – as a non-city resident. Reasonable term limits are a good government practice, she said. So Lumm wouldn’t support the appointment.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) said that service in the community leads to even more service in the community. There needs to be a kind of welcome mat put out to residents encouraging them to serve. Anglin offered his view that the energy commission should be focusing more on residential solar and geothermal initiatives. Going outside the community to fill the seat shouldn’t be necessary, he concluded.

Sally Petersen (Ward 2) stated that it’s not Appleyard’s fault that there are no term limits on the energy commission, so she’d support the appointment. She reminded the council that non-city resident Alison Stroud was unanimously approved by the council as an appointee to the city’s commission on disability issues, because of her unique qualifications.

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) stated that he was delighted to support Appleyard, who exemplifies excellence. Hieftje reiterated that Appleyard has tremendous expertise. Sabra Briere (Ward 1) pointed out that Appleyard also serves on the environmental commission as the energy commission’s representative. Based on her experience serving on the environmental commission as one of two city council appointees to that group, Briere said Appleyard represents a valuable background and voice that would be otherwise unrepresented. She called his explanations cogent and patient. She characterized his style as non-aggressive but firm. So she supported his appointment.

Hieftje pointed out that Appleyard is a taxpayer as the owner of a business within the city limits. [Added after initial publication: According to Appleyard, he has moved his business address to his home in Grass Lake after maintaining it in Ann Ann Arbor for 35 years. The address listed on his website in downtown Ann Arbor is no longer current.]

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) recalled his relationship with Appleyard: Appleyard designed Kunselman’s house and Kunselman served on the energy commission back when Kunselman was the planning commission’s representative to that body. Kunselman said he’d support Appleyard’s appointment.

Outcome: The council voted 8-3 to approve the reappointment of Wayne Appleyard to the city energy commission. Dissenting were Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1), Jane Lumm (Ward 2), Mike Anglin (Ward 5).

Upcoming Business

Several specific initiatives were announced by councilmembers at the Oct. 21 meeting, one of which grew out of the Wayne Appleyard appointment. Councilmembers will also be asked to vote on some nominations, which were made at the Oct. 21 meeting.

Upcoming Business: Board/Commission Term Limits

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) announced during the final communications time of the evening – which took place well after midnight – that she’d consulted with the city attorney to bring forward a resolution to apply the term limit restriction of the city charter to all boards and commissions. [The city charter provides term limits for a particular subset of boards and commissions. Lumm's proposal would likely be to incorporate the city charter limit of two terms (unless there's a one-term lapse) into the city's ordinance about boards and commissions.]

Upcoming Business: Nominations

Nominated to fill the remaining vacancy on the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board – due to the resignation of Nader Nassif – was Cyndi Clark, owner of Lily Grace. The business is described on its website as a luxury cosmetics boutique in downtown Ann Arbor.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) perused the pink appointments and nomination list before the meeting started.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) perused the pink appointments and nomination list before the meeting started.

To fill a vacancy left by Leigh Greden on the Ann Arbor housing commission board, Tim Colenback was nominated on Oct. 21. Greden’s nomination had been made, but was never put forward for a confirmation vote. Colenback also serves on the city’s housing and human services advisory board. Colenback has told mayor John Hieftje that he won’t be able to serve on both bodies.

A replacement for Julie Grand on the park advisory commission was nominated at the Oct. 21 meeting – David Santacroce. He’s a professor of law at the University of Michigan, and chaired the North Main Huron River corridor task force, which worked for a year and delivered its report recently to the council on recommendations to the corridor. Grand attended her last meeting of PAC on Oct. 15, 2013, after completing the maximum two terms of service.

Amy Shepherd was nominated to serve on the city’s commission on disability issues. On the energy commission, Shoshannah Lenski was nominated to replace Mike Delaney, and Mike Shriberg was nominated for reappointment.

Upcoming Business – Ethics Policy?

Sally Petersen (Ward 2) noted there’s been a lot of conversation about the notion of a conflict of interest. And she’s been meeting with constituents about the possibility of implementing a city ethics policy. So she’s preparing a resolution for the next meeting to instruct the city attorney to provide education and professional training for city councilmembers and appointees on Act 196 of 1973, which outlines standards of conduct. The city administrator would be directed to provide information on the city’s website about standards of conduct. She invited other councilmembers to co-sponsor the resolution.

Upcoming Business – Outdoor Smoking

Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) announced that he’s working with staff on an outdoor smoking ordinance that would mirror an ordinance enacted by Washtenaw County. He’s looking to empower the city administrator to designate some areas of parkland as non-smoking areas, he said. Warpehoski said that at least the playgrounds should be non-smoking. He reported that he’d be asking the park advisory commission for input, as well.

Upcoming Business – Pedestrian Safety

Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) announced that he and Sabra Briere (Ward 1) were working on a framework to establish a pedestrian safety citizens advisory committee.

Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5)

Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5).

The Federal Highway Authority has a framework, he said, for developing a pedestrian safety action plan. He said that city staff is moving forward with a plan to implement that framework. It would take a little money and the council’s approval, he said. One of the components of that framework is a citizens advisory committee. He thought the committee would be seated at or after the second council meeting in November, on Nov. 18. And the process of coming up with recommendations would last six to nine months, he thought.

The effort is not designed to determine or preempt the outcome of the effort to repeal the pedestrian crosswalk ordinance, Warpehoski said.

Briere followed up on Warpehoski’s remarks by saying they want first to identify the broad categories of people or groups who might serve on such a pedestrian safety committee. As examples she gave representatives from the disability community, or school groups. But the idea would not be to identify individuals. Instead, people who were interested in serving would be asked to submit an application. At this point, she and Warpehoski hadn’t “been foolish enough to say, ‘Oh, one person from each ward.’” She hoped that the mayor’s office would work with the representation from each ward to ensure good representation on the committee.

Upcoming Business – UM Billboard

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) announced that he’s working with Margie Teall (Ward 4) and Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) on a resolution asking that the University of Michigan decommission the large digital billboard outside the Michigan football stadium on East Stadium Boulevard. The background of that resolution given by Taylor was the council’s relatively recent action, on June 17, 2013, to limit digital billboards in the city.

Taylor contended that the UM billboard creates the kind of harms that the council’s action in revising its ordinance sought to avoid. If it won’t be decommissioned, he said, the resolution will ask that the university operate the billboard only just before events at Michigan Stadium or at Crisler Center.

Upcoming Business – Downtown Parks

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), who serves as one of two ex officio council appointees to the city’s park advisory commission, alerted the council to the recommendations of the park advisory commission‘s subcommittee on downtown parks. That will be on the next meeting’s agenda for formal acceptance, he said.

Communications and Comment

Every city council agenda contains multiple slots for city councilmembers and the city administrator to give updates or make announcements about important issues that are coming before the city council. And every meeting typically includes public commentary on subjects not necessarily on the agenda. Here are some highlights.

Comm/Comm: Thomas Partridge

Thomas Partridge introduced himself as an advocate for all members of the community, including the middle class. He was there as a candidate for city council, and asked voters in Ward 5 to write in his name when they vote. He called for the ending of homelessness, and more access to affordable transportation, and health care. He recalled the demonstration several years ago at city hall by the KKK, which he claimed mayor John Hieftje authorized. [Hieftje was not mayor at the time, as demonstrations took place in 1996 and 1998. This was a point that Sabra Briere (Ward 1) made several hours later at the end of the meeting. Jane Lumm (Ward 2), whose previous tenure on the council included that era, noted that the KKK had not been invited to Ann Arbor. Hieftje, for his part, said he was glad he was not mayor at the time.]

Partridge complained that the planned redesign of the city’s website doesn’t go far enough. [The redesign of templates for the city's website was on the consent agenda – a contract with Keystone Media for $26,900.]

Comm/Comm: Jeff Hayner

Jeff Hayner is running for Ward 1 city council as an independent. He had just arrived from the PTO Council launch party, he told councilmembers. He drew an analogy to the trust we have in educators and the trust we have in elected representatives. He thought community engagement is the key – in improving schools as well as in local government. He said the redesign of the city webpages that was on the agenda was long overdue. He was glad to see that one of the tabs will be “Democracy in Ann Arbor.” He disagreed with Tom Partridge, when Partridge had said that it’s difficult to get to the website.

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

Next council meeting: Due to the Nov. 5 general election, the next council meeting will be on Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013 at 7 p.m. in the council chambers at 301 E. Huron. [Check Chronicle event listings to confirm date]

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  1. October 29, 2013 at 10:27 am | permalink

    I appreciate what CM Petersen said, that “governance and funding are inextricable linked.” So true. And also the point made, especially by CM Lumm, that Ypsilanti City’s dedicated millage sets that community apart from Ypsilanti Township. In the one case, a separate funding stream, voted in by City residents, already existed. In the other case, money is coming out of the Township’s general fund.

    It is important for our council to understand that township politics and funding policies (even laws) are entirely different from city processes. I have attempted to lay some of that out in a post [link] and I commend to interested readers the article in an update to that post on legal constraints to township governments. It is difficult for me to imagine that a township would continue to contribute general funds to a transit authority if it were not absolutely required to. But without a contract prior to joining the authority, how can the township continue to put such a charge into its annual budget, especially if being part of the authority implies a right to service?

    I like the officials whom I know from Ypsilanti Township personally. But it must be acknowledged that they are fighters and will defend their township’s finances to the best of their ability. I wrote a history [link] of Ypsilanti Township’s lawsuit against Washtenaw County over the charges for sheriff’s deputies. I believe that this is pertinent because it indicates both the lengths to which the Township will go in order to defend their budgetary imperatives and their willingness to use the resources of the rest of the region to supplement their own.

    I’m grateful to Chuck Warpehoski and other supporters of the expanded authority in postponing the matter so that a fuller discussion is possible.

  2. October 29, 2013 at 10:53 am | permalink

    Re: Main Street light poles

    Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) has stated on Facebook that: “… DDA bought the poles at the City’s request in the early 1980s. At the time there were standard issue. Now of course, all poles come on fingers, if you will, to prevent pooling.”

    That account seems to be at odds with the recollection of Jim Rees, whose 1993 photographs of the lampposts he recalled in a Chronicle comment as being taken no more than a year or two after the poles were installed.

    And Jim’s recollection is supported by city of Ann Arbor public services area administrator Craig Hupy, who looked into the city’s archives, responding to a Chronicle request. On Oct. 29, 2013 he wrote in an email:

    The dates on the drawing indicate a 1988 start or initiation for the project, with intermediate plan review dates in 1989. The drawing shows a date of 1999 being scanned in and entered into Project Management’s drawing file. This is what I would expect to find for a project of this time period done by the DDA. While I have no direct evidence of the date the DDA constructed the lights, I would guess spring/summer of 1990 was likely the time frame. During this period of time, DDA undertook projects independently.

  3. By Rod Johnson
    October 29, 2013 at 3:22 pm | permalink

    CM Lumm says reasonable term limits are a good government practice… I would have thought that recent history has proven how questionable that assumption is (the amateur hour in the Michigan legislature is a case in point). In Wayne Appleyard’s case, they would deprive the city of a truly knowledgeable, committed person in order to give us… who? CM Kailasapathy’s confidence notwithstanding, I haven’t heard anyone offer a name. And even though Wayne isn’t a city resident, he’s still a city business owner, so it’s not like he’s really an outsider.

  4. By Brad Cook
    October 30, 2013 at 8:30 am | permalink

    Love the animated gif of the Fuller Park site! Who else remembers the old “Rock Pile” golf course down there?

  5. By Alan Goldsmith
    October 30, 2013 at 9:56 am | permalink

    @3 If appointments by The Mayor were more inclusive of the City at large and the range of views and opinions as opposed to his current process of appointing rubber stamps, there would be no need for term limits. Until that happens, Ms. Kailasapathy and other on Council are correct in looking at term limits. Mr. Appleyard can’t be the only person who can effectively serve in this position. His reappointment, when taken with past appointments and reappointments and reappointments makes term limits an issue. Perhaps this won’t be needed with the next Mayor, but for now the safeguards need to be approved.

  6. By Peter Zetlin
    October 30, 2013 at 10:31 am | permalink

    When government functions well with less regulation, so much the better. In Ann Arbor, multi-term officials have grown an administration which does not do a good job of representing the population.

    If term limits swing the pendulum a bit too far in the opposite direction, they are still a worthwhile remedy for an unbalanced regime. Perhaps limits could be proposed with a sunset provision. Implement limits for 5 years or so.

    Now that term limits are in the air, it would be a good idea to include city council seats in the conversation.

  7. By Steve Bean
    October 30, 2013 at 12:04 pm | permalink

    As I’ve noted before, term limits for elective office are anti-democratic (along with a lot of other things, but those are separate matters). Term limits for appointed positions are more appropriate, though certainly debatable, since inclusiveness and citizen participation are valid objectives. Experts like Wayne (who I consider a friend—it’s not about him) can always contribute as non-voting participants or perhaps consultants in the process. Personally, I served for 20+ years on city commissions, and it was at least 10 years too long. Someone would have done me a favor to force me to at least take a break and reconsider how (in)effective our efforts were.

    Then again, this might be much ado about nothing with regard to commissions, since little of consequence comes from their work absent a desire on the part of city council. (Or am I just ignorant of concrete examples? Let’s hear about ‘em.) Perhaps eliminating them in favor of reactive ad hoc task forces would be a better approach. Now there’s a question: is the commission system actually helping us be proactive as a community?

  8. October 30, 2013 at 12:32 pm | permalink

    Some city boards and commissions have a 6-year term limit. I think that may be a single reappointment or maybe 2 (I haven’t done the research on this.)

    I’m against term limits for elected officials because they have automatic term limiters – elections. The example of the Michigan legislature is not a recommendation for this either. I’d rather the voters make the decision.

    However, I do think that term limits (generous ones) for appointed boards are a good idea. These often do the heavy lifting on various topics for Council or other elected body. They provide the expertise and close attention that the multitasking councilmember can’t. The solution is to rotate terms so that there are always some experienced members. But when someone is allowed to stay on too long, they experience a sense of ownership of the issue and you can have development of a little fiefdom, which is not subject to that oversight by the voters.

  9. By Tom Whitaker
    October 31, 2013 at 2:48 pm | permalink

    ‘[Christopher Taylor] called the sewer reconstruction done at the Fuller Road site – which was in the city’s capital improvement plan (CIP) – as something necessary anyway. To suggest that it wasn’t necessary is “flat-out false,” he said.’

    The sewer relocation project that took place in Fuller Park was put out for bid as the “Fuller Road Station Northside Interceptor Sanitary Sewer Relocation and Site Utility Project.”

    Per the cover sheet for the bid set of plans issued by the City, rerouting around the proposed Fuller Road Station was the primary (if not only) reason for the sanitary sewer relocation: “Sanitary Sewer Basis of Design: 1. This sanitary sewer relocation is required to reroute the City of Ann Arbor’s Northside Interceptor Sewer around the site of the proposed Fuller Road Intermodal Transit Center.”

    Link: [link]

    This sewer relocation work actually resulted in a DECREASE in “..the pipe-full sewer capacity by approximately 1.7%…”

    After bids were received questions came up from the public, such as, “Why is the City proceeding with site work for the station before the environmental study is complete?” and, “Should the firm that is doing the environmental study also be getting paid to do design work related to the construction of the station?”

    Before the project came to Council for a vote, the words “Fuller Road Station” were removed and some tortuous justifications were made for why the City would need to dig up a functioning 30-year-old concrete sewer and move it north about 100 feet, adding new bends and additional length and even slightly reducing its capacity in the process.

    The project also included storm water detention and other utility improvements that increased their capacity to serve a future building on the site.

  10. By Alan Goldsmith
    November 1, 2013 at 1:17 pm | permalink

    Mr. Taylor needs to work on his selective memory, especially if he plans to run for Mayor next year.

  11. By Rod Johnson
    November 5, 2013 at 9:48 pm | permalink

    Some good arguments against the position I took in #3. Thanks for an interesting discussion.