Art Money Back to Original Funds: Initial OK

Additional money set aside under the city of Ann Arbor’s Percent for Art program in previous years could eventually be returned to the money’s funds of origin, based on a first step the city council has taken. At its Feb. 3, 2014 meeting, the council gave initial approval to an amendment of the city’s public art ordinance that would allow the eventual return of art money to funds like the sanitary sewer fund, the stormwater fund, and the street millage fund.

Margie Teall (Ward 4) cast the sole vote of dissent on the ordinance amendment.

In other action related to public art, the council rejected approval of a six-month contract extension for Ann Arbor’s part-time public art administrator, Aaron Seagraves. The proposed extension was through June 30, 2014. That move came after a failed motion to postpone. The immediate result of the vote is that Seagraves can’t be paid – the same result that would have come from postponement. It prompted an outburst of “Shame on you!” from Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5), telling those who’d voted against the contract extension that they’d thrown Seagraves out of a job.

Voting to postpone action on the extension of the public art administrator’s contract were Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1), Jane Lumm (Ward 2), Jack Eaton (Ward 4), Mike Anglin (Ward 5) and mayor John Hieftje. Voting against postponement were Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Sally Petersen (Ward 2), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), Margie Teall (Ward 4), and Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5). Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) was absent and the vote on postponement failed 5-5.

The vote on the contract extension itself got support from Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Sally Petersen (Ward 2), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), Margie Teall (Ward 4), Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) and mayor John Hieftje. Voting against the extension were Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1), Jane Lumm (Ward 2), Jack Eaton (Ward 4), and Mike Anglin (Ward 5). The 6-4 tally fell short of the eight-vote majority it needed.

The ordinance amendment will need a second and final vote – at the council’s Feb. 18 meeting – to be enacted. A transfer of the money out of the public art fund would require a separate council action. The ballpark amount that Jane Lumm described at the meeting as wanting to return was about $840,000.

Budget actions – to allocate money for the public art administrator’s salary or to transfer money out of the public art fund back to its funds of origin – require an eight-vote majority on the 11-member council. The requirement of an eight-vote majority for either budget action played a role in the parliamentary dynamic leading to the rejection of the administrator’s contract. The contract could be brought back for reconsideration at the council’s Feb. 18 meeting – something discussed at the end of the Feb. 3 meeting.

By way of additional background, the public art fund has a current balance of $839,507 available for public art, as of Jan. 14, 2014. An additional $535,853 is earmarked for three projects that are underway: artwork at East Stadium bridges ($385,709), a rain garden at Kingsley and First ($7,009), and at Argo Cascades ($143,134). [.pdf of financial summary]

The money in question accumulated in the years after the city council enacted a public art ordinance in late 2007, setting up a Percent for Art program as a funding mechanism. For each of the city’s capital projects, 1% of the budget – up to a cap of $250,000 – was set aside for public art. The Ann Arbor public art commission oversaw the expenditures. However, the approach proved controversial. At its June 3, 2013 meeting, the city council changed the ordinance to eliminate the Percent for Art funding mechanism. That ordinance change came after a public art millage was defeated by voters in the November 2012 election.

The council debate at that June 3, 2013 meeting included wrangling about what to do with the public art fund balance, with Jane Lumm (Ward 2) arguing unsuccessfully that $845,029 should be returned to the funds of origin. The council voted to return only the money that had accrued to the fund in the most recent budget year – $326,464.

Lumm wound up withdrawing her proposal at that meeting – because the council had declined at that same meeting to amend the ordinance in a way that allowed the return of public art money that had accrued in previous years. The amendment given initial approval by the council at its Feb. 3, 2014 meeting is essentially the ordinance amendment that Lumm had wanted the council to enact eight months ago. If the council gives final approval to the amendment, it will provide the council with an opportunity to make transfers out of the public art fund – but that would require separate action by the council.

In the other Feb. 3 action related to public art, the council rejected the six-month contract extension for the city’s part-time public art administrator, Aaron Seagraves – through June 30, 2014. Seagraves is contracted to work an average of 20 hours a week. The money for the extension was to have been appropriated from the public art fund balance. Before the final vote at the Feb. 3 meeting, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) proposed an amendment that would have changed the source of funding from the public art fund to the general fund. But that amendment failed.

The need for a public art administrator is based on projects still in the works, leftover from the Percent for Art program, as well as the new public art program established by the council. When councilmembers ended the Percent for Art program eight months ago, they replaced it with a new approach – where city staff and the public art commission will work to determine whether specific capital improvements should have enhanced design features “baked in” to the projects. Those features can include enhanced architectural work or specific public art. The funding for any of the enhanced features would be included in the project’s budget and incorporated into the RFP (request for proposals) process for the capital project. [See recent Chronicle coverage of the public art commission: "Commission Works on Public Art Planning"]

The contract extension had previously been on the council’s Jan. 21, 2014 agenda, but had been postponed at that meeting.

The vote on the contract at the Jan. 21 meeting took place in the context of a political horse trade offered by Jack Eaton (Ward 4) at the council table. Eaton indicated on that occasion that he’d support the public art administrator’s contract extension – but only if the council would move at the same time toward returning as-yet-unallocated money set aside during the now defunct Percent for Art program to the money’s funds of origin. The vote had a credible possibility of failing because of the eight-vote majority requirement.

The bid to postpone the contract extension at the Feb. 3 meeting could be analyzed as an attempt to take out a political “insurance policy” by councilmembers who want to return public art money to its funds of origin. Specifically, support for the contract extension would be withheld unless other councilmembers supported the return of public art money to its funds of origin. The customary ordering of the agenda, however, would work against the ability of councilmembers to use the administrator’s contract as an “insurance policy” – if the matter had been postponed. Had the contract been postponed until the Feb. 18 meeting, the customary ordering would have been: (1) second reading of public art ordinance; (2) public art administrator’s contract (unfinished business); and (3) return of public art money to the funds of origin (new business).

The dynamic that could now be set up at the Feb. 18 meeting is this: A vote to return money from the public art fund to its funds of origin might be rewarded by a subsequent move to reconsider the funding of the contract extension.

At the conclusion of the Feb. 3 meeting, during communications time, Hieftje queried Eaton about his intentions, and Eaton clarified it was his intent to bring back the contract extension for reconsideration at the Feb. 18 meeting. Briere noted that in the meantime, Seagraves might elect not to continue working for the city.

Details on council deliberations for both the public art ordinance amendment and the contract extension are included in The Chronicle’s live updates from the Feb. 3 meeting. Several supporters of public art funding spoke during public commentary on Feb. 3, including Bob Miller, chair of the city’s public art commission.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron.