Stories indexed with the term ‘city attorney’

FDD Lawsuit: Shelton Delays on Sanctions

At an Aug. 27, 2014 hearing, judge Donald Shelton has refused to grant two of three motions by plaintiffs in the footing drain disconnection lawsuit that was filed in February of this year.

On his last motion day before retirement, Shelton chose to deny a motion to disqualify the city attorney’s office in its representation of the city. He also declined to rule on the merits of a motion to reassign the case away from judge Timothy Connors – who will be taking over all of Shelton’s civil cases after Shelton’s retirement at the end of this week. On that motion, Shelton pointed out in denying it that he did not have the power to grant it and indicated that such … [Full Story]

Shelton to Hear Motions in FDD Case

The footing drain disconnection lawsuit filed against the city of Ann Arbor in late February has taken several procedural turns over the last six months, with virtually no issues on the merits of the case yet resolved.

Abigail Elias, Stephen Postema, Irv Mermelstein.

From left: Assistant city attorney Abigail Elias, city attorney Stephen Postema and co-counsel for the plaintiffs Irvin Mermelstein. The photo is from the July 2, 2014 hearing on a preliminary injunction in the Yu v. Ann Arbor case, which judge Donald Shelton denied.

The latest procedural issues now appear set to be decided on Aug. 27, 2014 – judge Donald Shelton’s final motion day before his retirement.

The case involves a claim of unconstitutional takings – inverse condemnation. Plaintiffs in the case, Yu v. City of Ann Arbor, are three Ann Arbor residents who had their footing drains disconnected under the city FDD program.

The procedural issues that could be decided next week include a motion to disqualify the city attorney’s office from representing the city due to conflicts; a motion to sanction city attorneys for filing documents with statements that plaintiffs allege are not well-grounded in fact; and a motion to reassign the case to a judge other than Timothy Connors. All three motions were filed with the court on Wednesday, Aug. 20.

A dispute about whether those Aug. 20 filings were properly served upon the city is one of the issues Shelton could decide at the start of the hearing.

By way of background, the case was originally filed in the Washtenaw County 22nd circuit court and assigned to Shelton in late February. The city then removed the case to federal court. However, the plaintiffs moved for remand from the federal court back to the circuit court – a motion that was granted by judge Avern Cohn in late May.

When the case returned to the circuit court, plaintiffs filed a motion for a preliminary injunction, which was heard and denied by Shelton in early July. The city had filed a motion for summary disposition on June 9, which was originally scheduled for July 30. It was subsequently rescheduled by the city for Aug. 13, and then shifted by the city again to Sept. 18 – which is after Shelton’s scheduled retirement.

According to the court administrator’s office, the case will not officially be reassigned to a different judge until Sept. 2. However, when The Chronicle inquired with the 22nd circuit court’s central scheduling office, the staff indicated that the plan was to reassign all of Shelton’s civil cases to Connors. So the city’s paperwork scheduling of the Sept. 18 hearing specifies Connors as the judge. [Full Story]

Opinion on Tax Assessment Now Public

Sixteen days after the Ann Arbor city council directed its city attorney to re-draft for a public audience a privileged memo on tax assessment procedures, the city attorney’s office has provided the document to the city clerk’s office, councilmembers and the city administrator.

The council voted at its March 17, 2014 meeting to direct the preparation of a new memo – instead of simply voting to waive privilege on an existing memo. [.pdf of public opinion on tax assessment]

Column: When Lawyers Fool with FOIA

Two weeks ago, the city of Ann Arbor took a deliberate step to remove a document that had been publicly available on its website for nearly half a decade. Why?

Redacted version of Library Lot RFP No. 743  from Aug. 14, 2009 produced by the city of Ann Arbor in response to a recent FOIA request. The un-redacted document had been disseminated on the website from Aug. 14, 2009 until sometime around March 20, 2014.

Redacted version of Library Lot RFP No. 743  from Aug. 14, 2009 produced by the city of Ann Arbor in response to a recent FOIA request. The un-redacted document had been disseminated on the website from Aug. 14, 2009 until sometime around March 20, 2014.

Allegedly, that document contains information that – if it were disclosed – would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of someone’s privacy. Never mind the fact that the context of the document itself makes clear that the information in question is clearly and deliberately intended to be publicly available.

To erase any possible doubt about that, I resorted to an advanced investigative technique: I asked the guy. And it turns out that current Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board member John Splitt had been content to have publicly disclosed as his email contact information in the document – the same as elsewhere on the Internet.

The document in question is RFP No. 743 – issued in 2009 by the city for development of the Library Lot. Why did it even occur to anyone at the city to delete RFP No. 743 from [Full Story]

Column: Making Sunshine with FOIA

National Sunshine Week started yesterday. That’s not a celebration of daylight saving time, which started the same day. But the two could be connected. Yesterday’s annual conversion to daylight saving time is supposed to give everyone some extra literal sunshine toward the end of the day. Sunshine Week is an occasion to remind ourselves of the extra figurative sunshine in our governance – ensured in many states through legislation enacted in the 1970s.

FOIA Sunshine Law

Assertion of the attorney-client privilege can, on occasion, inappropriately shield public records from view. This column shines a light on the subject by considering such a case.

Sunshine Week is an occasion to remind ourselves that open government is good government.

Michigan has two laws that are key to open government: the Open Meetings Act (OMA) and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Both of these laws rely crucially on good faith. For example, the FOIA allows a public body to deny access to certain public records – like those that are protected by the attorney-client privilege.

If a record is requested and then denied based on the attorney-client privilege, a requester has no way of judging whether the assertion of privilege is appropriate. A requester relies on the good faith of government officials that privilege is not inappropriately extended to records that are not in fact protected by privilege. A requester can resort to a lawsuit, which under Michigan case law can result in the review of the records by a judge to confirm – or refute – the public body’s assertion of privilege. But few requesters have the wherewithal to file a lawsuit over a FOIA denial.

Here at The Ann Arbor Chronicle, we’re celebrating Sunshine Week by laying out a recent occasion when we requested records under the FOIA, were denied the records, appealed to the city administrator, were denied under the appeal, but then were able to obtain some of the records by other means. The record in question is an email written by Ann Arbor city attorney Stephen Postema. This provides an opportunity to evaluate independently, without filing a lawsuit, whether the city inappropriately asserted attorney-client privilege in denying access to a record.

We consulted on the matter with an attorney, Marcia Proctor, who agreed to analyze the relevant factors in a hypothetical scenario. Proctor is former general counsel of the Michigan Bar Association, a specialist in legal ethics, whose practice specializes in professional responsibility for lawyers and judges.

We first present the hypothetical scenario, followed by a brief discussion of the relevant factors in the scenario identified by Proctor. We then present the text of the email and apply the various tests outlined by Proctor. We reach the conclusion that the city inappropriately asserted attorney-privilege to the document.

We then evaluate whether a different exemption provided by the FOIA might apply. That exemption allows a public body to withhold communications internal to the body – to the extent that they are non-factual and preliminary to a final decision by the body. In the balancing test prescribed by the state statute, we reach a different conclusion than the city did: We think the public interest in disclosure outweighed any interest the city had in shielding this frank internal communication from public view.

Finally, we urge the city council to weigh in on the city’s administrative policy on FOIA response, which is currently being revised. It’s important for councilmembers to set the overarching principle that guides the city’s FOIA responses. And we think that guidance should be biased in favor of disclosure. [Full Story]

City Council Receives Revised Auditor’s Note

A revised auditor’s letter to the city of Ann Arbor was attached to the city council’s Feb. 4, 2013 agenda, and has been formally received by the council as a written communication from the city administrator.

The original version of the letter had indicated three instances of an employee with a vehicle allowance also being reimbursed for mileage, and characterized those reimbursements as a “violation of city policy.” It was subsequently revealed that it was the mileage reimbursements of city attorney Stephen Postema that had caused the auditor to flag the issue.

But after further review – pushed by Postema and chief financial officer Tom Crawford – auditor Mark Kettner agreed that there was no written policy per se that disallowed the … [Full Story]

Column: How Many Daves of the Condor?

“I’m smarter than you.”

That’s an idea that defines the character of Ann Arbor better than anything you might read in a brochure, or see in a Pure Michigan video.

Likely a condor.

Photo by Ward 2 Ann Arbor councilmember Jane Lumm, taken in summer 2012. She reports that a ranger at the Grand Canyon identified the bird as a condor. The plausibility of this being a condor has also been checked by a guy I know who is way smarter about birds than I am.

If you didn’t already know that, well, I guess that makes me … an Ann Arbor resident.

Besides writing op-ed pieces adorned with footnotes [1], another way Ann Arbor residents prove they are smarter than you is to deploy extraordinary words you’ve never heard before, possibly from a dead language – with an ever-so-slightly aggressive nonchalance, calculated to elicit from their listeners some kind of concession like “I’m sorry, but I’m not familiar with that term.” [Alternatively, super-long, syntacticky sentences.]

And then the conversation may continue along the lines of, “Oh, I’m sorry – I thought that expression was so common. But there I go again, just assuming that everyone is as … much a resident of Ann Arbor as I am.”

And those of us who observe these interactions, which depend on a carefully scripted casualness, wonder smugly to ourselves, “Does he not realize everyone can see exactly what he’s doing? I mean, it’s like he thinks he’s the only … person who lives in Ann Arbor!”

Many elected officials in Ann Arbor have a variant on this gambit, which involves not extraordinary bits of vocabulary, but perfectly regular words – to which some special technical sense is given, outside of any reasonable expectation. By way of example, the word “regular” itself has (apparently) a technical sense that can transform a special meeting of the city council into a “regular meeting.” That technical sense  of “regular meeting” can be paraphrased roughly as: Any meeting the city council chooses to label as “regular” by voting to label it as such in a formal resolution. [2]

Given that we all live here in Ann Arbor – i.e., we are all smarter than each other – local governance leads to arguments about the meaning of words, even those that are perfectly ordinary. By way of additional examples (beyond “regular” and “special”) these pairs might sound familiar to some readers: “sell” versus “lease”; “opinion” versus “memo” [3]; “committee” versus “work group” [4].

But at the most recent meeting of the city council, on Aug. 20, 2012, part of the argument at the council table depended crucially on the meaning of the word “many.” I’m not making that up. Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) disputed a contention made by Jane Lumm (Ward 2) that began “Many Ann Arbor residents believe …” The nature of their disagreement can, I think, be analyzed in terms of a numerical understanding of “many” compared to a proportional one.

It’s actually a standard puzzle from the sub-field of linguistics called semantics, which I have studied at an institution of higher learning. Otherwise put, I live here in Ann Arbor even more than you do. And the standard example sentence used by semanticists to illustrate the meaning of “many” involves condors.

So let’s begin with a treatise on condors. The bird with the Latin name Gymnogyps californianus … Heh. I’m kidding.

By “kidding” I mean “not actually totally kidding.” See, you need to understand something about condors before you can understand the example. One thing you probably already know is that condors don’t live in Ann Arbor.  [Full Story]

Push to Make Art Commission More Accessible

Ann Arbor public art commission meeting (July 25, 2012): A push for greater public engagement was a theme throughout the July AAPAC meeting, with John Kotarski – one of the newer commissioners – proposing several ways to get more public input.

John Kotarski

Ann Arbor public art commissioner John Kotarski at AAPAC's July 25, 2012 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

At Kotarski’s suggestion, commissioners considered three items related to AAPAC meetings: (1) adding a second opportunity for public commentary; (2) changing its meeting times; and (3) alternating the locations of its meetings. Kotarski also raised the possibility of recording the proceedings to be broadcast on Community Television Network (CTN).

The additional public commentary – offering speakers a second three-minute slot at the end of each meeting – was ultimately approved. Less enthusiasm was expressed for pushing back meeting times to later in the day. AAPAC meetings currently start at 4:30 p.m. on the fourth Wednesday of each month, and are held in the basement conference room at city hall. Kotarski proposed moving the meetings to different locations throughout the city, such as schools or other public sites, to make it easier for more people to attend. Commissioners had reservations about that idea too, nor was there much support voiced for a suggestion to record the meetings for broadcast by CTN. Kotarski plans to bring a specific proposal on these items to an upcoming meeting.

Another proposal by Kotarski – to include support for local sourcing as part of AAPAC’s strategic plan – was rejected by other commissioners. Some commissioners felt the idea didn’t fit into a strategic plan, because it was not an action item. Others questioned whether local sourcing of art projects was within AAPAC’s purview, because the commission doesn’t have authority over the city’s purchasing policies. They’ve also been advised that they can’t put geographic constraints on their selection of artists, and felt this would apply to sourcing, too.

Ultimately a four-year strategic plan was approved without Kotarski’s revision. The plan’s goals, in summary form, are: (1) increasing the number of public art pieces throughout the city; (2) diversifying the public engagement and participation in selecting public art; (3) increasing the public’s support and appreciation for public art through PR efforts; and (5) pursuing private funding for public art. More detailed objectives are provided for each of the goals.

Kotarski also was unsuccessful in convincing other commissioners to support an endorsement policy for non-city-funded art projects. AAPAC passed a resolution stating that the commission would not make endorsements – and Kotarski cast the lone dissenting vote. In a separate item, Kotarski joined his colleagues in a unanimous vote to establish an SOQ (statement of qualifications) process that creates an artist registry/database. The intent is to streamline the selection of artists for future projects.

During the July 25 meeting, commissioners were updated on several ongoing projects, including a follow-up on concerns raised last month about the Dreiseitl installation in front of city hall, artwork at a planned rain garden at Kingsley & First, and the status of security checkpoints allowing access to a hanging sculpture in the Justice Center lobby.

There were no updates for some projects because those projects are still being reviewed by the city attorney’s office. Several commissioners expressed frustration at the length of time these reviews are taking. One commissioner wondered what tools AAPAC can use to influence the process, perhaps by appealing to another level within the city administration. AAPAC chair Marsha Chamberlin agreed to draft a letter on the issue, and to discuss it with city councilmember Tony Derezinski, who serves on the commission but has not attended its June or July monthly meetings.

Action was deferred on proposed projects for public art at two locations: (1) a plaza next to the Forest Avenue parking structure near South University; and (2) a future roundabout at Ellsworth and South State. Commissioners wanted more time to visit those sites. They also debated whether to postpone action until task forces are formed to represent four quadrants of the city – it’s part of a new approach they’re planning to take to help guide the selection of projects and ensure that all parts of the city are represented.

The commission is likely to get more advance notice of possible projects, as Aaron Seagraves – the city’s public art administrator – will now be attending meetings of the capital improvements plan (CIP) team. The CIP is relevant to the art commission because funding for the Percent for Art program comes from the city’s capital projects –  with 1% of each capital project, up to a cap of $250,000 per project, being set aside for public art. The CIP also indicates which major projects are on the horizon that might incorporate public art. By identifying such projects, AAPAC can start planning the public art component as early as possible, as part of the project’s design, rather than as an add-on. [Full Story]

Tension Grows in Medical Marijuana Debate

Ann Arbor city council meeting (April 2, 2012) Part 1: At a meeting that lasted until midnight, the Ann Arbor city council dealt with a full agenda, including several medical marijuana issues.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) Tony Derezinski (Ward 2)

Ann Arbor city councilmembers Sabra Briere (Ward 1) and Tony Derezinski (Ward 2). (Photo by the writer.)

Part 1 of this meeting report focuses just on the medical marijuana-related items. In a separate article, The Chronicle has analyzed some of the key issues at stake: “Ann Arbor Marijuana Licenses: Who Decides?

In front of the council for its consideration were three separate agenda items involving medical marijuana: (1) revisions to the city’s medical marijuana licensing ordinance as recommended by the licensing board; (2) direction to the city planning commission to make a recommendation on revisions to the city’s medical marijuana zoning ordinance; and (3) direction to the city attorney to delay enforcement action against dispensaries.

The council unanimously postponed consideration of the licensing ordinance revisions until June 18 – the council’s second meeting that month. During deliberations on the licensing ordinance, several councilmembers expressed concerns about the board-recommended revisions, in particular one that would allow the city council to waive requirements of the licensing ordinance for a dispensary.  In postponing, councilmembers wanted to give the planning commission enough time to act on its direction to review the medical marijuana zoning ordinance and give a recommendation to the city council. The intent is to bring forward any changes to the licensing and zoning at the same time.

The direction to the planning commission passed on a 9-1 vote, with dissent from the Tony Derezinski (Ward 2), who is the city council’s representative to the planning commission. [Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) was absent, leaving the 11-member council with 10 members present.]

The council tabled the resolution directing the city attorney to delay enforcement activities. The tabling was achieved on a 6-4 vote. Voting against the tabling were mayor John Hieftje, Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Margie Teall (Ward 4) and Mike Anglin (Ward 5). A tabled resolution will demise if it’s not brought back for consideration in six months.

The medical marijuana licensing board made recommendations on the award of licenses to 10 dispensaries at its  Jan. 31, 2012 meeting. Given remarks made at the council’s April 2 meeting by Sandi Smith (Ward 1), Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), there’s some sentiment in support of having the council go ahead and vote on those recommendations – before the council considers ordinance revisions in June. But it’s not clear whether the city attorney’s office would be prepared before June to provide advice on the license awards.

This report includes coverage of public commentary and council deliberations on the medical marijuana items, presented in detail. Other agenda items from the April 2 meeting will be included in a separate forthcoming report. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Marijuana Licenses: Who Decides?

At an April 2 meeting that lasted until midnight, the Ann Arbor city council handled several agenda items that could affect continued patient access to medical marijuana in Ann Arbor. The meeting also featured extensive public commentary on the topic of medical marijuana. In advance of publishing the full meeting report, The Chronicle offers this analysis of some of the medical marijuana-related issues that were discussed.

Most notably, the meeting featured remarks from city attorney Stephen Postema indicating that he believes medical marijuana dispensaries should not be in business now because they lack licenses: “… [dispensaries] can’t operate right now, they’re not allowed to operate at all – without a license.”

That contradicts the city’s ordinance, which allows dispensaries to operate while their license applications are still pending. (The city is still in the process of issuing its first licenses for dispensaries.) From the ordinance: “The medical marijuana dispensary may continue to operate pending final action on the application unless the Building Official determines that it must be closed for safety reasons.” When The Chronicle sent Postema an emailed query questioning the accuracy of his statement, he responded by insisting his statement was accurate. However, Postema declined to provide any foundation for his feeling that dispensaries lacking a license – even those with applications pending – are not allowed to operate by dint of having no license.

If dispensaries are assumed to be operating in violation of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act, then they would not be allowed to operate – whether they had a license or not. However, at the April 2 meeting Postema did not identify a basis for such an assumption. He stopped short of describing an interpretation of a recent Michigan court of appeals ruling (the McQueen case) as banning all dispensaries, but said the ruling presented “severe difficulties” for dispensaries.

The council’s deliberations on Monday night can be understood in the context of a struggle between the city attorney’s office on the one hand, and some members of council and the medical marijuana licensing board. The struggle relates to who has the decision-making authority for awarding licenses, and when those licensing awards should be decided. From a formal, procedural point of view, it’s not an open question: The licensing board makes recommendations to the city council, which has the ultimate decision-making authority. The board has already recommended that licenses be awarded to 10 different dispensaries.

However, from a practical point of view, the council will act only under the advice of the city attorney’s office. Since the licensing and zoning ordinances were enacted by the city council last year, Postema has proceeded in a way that reserves a role for city staff in the licensing process that has an uncertain basis in the actual ordinances approved by the council. Revisions to those ordinances, meant in part to address some of those uncertainties, were part of the council’s April 2 agenda.

Here’s a summary of the outcome on medical marijuana issues at the April 2 meeting: (1) the council unanimously postponed consideration of licensing ordinance revisions until June 18 – the council’s second meeting that month; (2) on a 9-1 vote, the council approved giving direction to the city planning commission to review the zoning ordinance; and (3) on a 6-4 vote, the council tabled a resolution directing the city attorney to delay enforcement activities against dispensaries. A tabled resolution will demise if it’s not brought back off the table in six months.

Deliberations suggested in sum that the current arrangement in Ann Arbor, under which patients are still able to get medical marijuana from dispensaries, will persist at least until the city council votes on licenses. But the timing of that vote appears fairly uncertain, given the mixed signals currently being sent by the city attorney.

Provided in this article is analysis of some of the local issues related to medical marijuana licensing and zoning. The analysis culminates by showing how the interpretation of a single requirement in the city’s zoning ordinance – that dispensaries adhere to the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act – makes a significant difference in who makes the practical decision on whether dispensaries receive a license and can legally operate, and where the burden of proof lies for MMMA conformance. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Council: Legal Opinion? No Thanks

At its April 2, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council rejected a resolution on a 3-7 vote that would have directed the city attorney to provide a written legal opinion on the transfer of funds from the dedicated street millage fund for use in the city’s public art program. The city’s Percent for Art ordinance stipulates that 1% of all capital project budgets be allocated for public art, up to a limit of $250,000 per project. The legal basis for the program, which relies on taking monies from dedicated millages and fees to serve the purpose of public art, has been sharply questioned.

Since being hired as city attorney, Stephen Postema has circumvented Ann Arbor’s city charter requirement that written legal opinions … [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Pauses on Marijuana Issues

At its April 2, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council considered three separate agenda items involving medical marijuana: (1) revisions to the city’s medical marijuana licensing ordinance; (2) direction to the city planning commission to make a recommendation on revisions to the city’s medical marijuana zoning ordinance; and (3) direction to the city attorney to delay enforcement action against those dispensaries for which the city’s medical marijuana licensing board has recommended licenses.

The council unanimously postponed consideration of the licensing ordinance revisions until the council’s second meeting in June – June 18.

The council approved the  resolution that gives direction to the planning commission to review the medical marijuana zoning ordinance, on a 9-1 vote.

The council tabled the resolution directing the … [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Delays Again on Medical Marijuana

At its March 19, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor city delayed for a second time a resolution that would direct the city attorney, Stephen Postema, to “delay all enforcement activities against medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivation facilities except for claims that they violate Section 5:50.1(3) of the City Code [zoning regulations], until the Council amends or rejects amendments to the zoning and licensing ordinances for medical marijuana.”

The part of the city code called out for continued enforcement in the resolution, Section 5:50.1(3), specifies the zones in the city where medical marijuana businesses may be located. From the code: “Medical marijuana dispensaries shall only be located in a district classified pursuant to this chapter as D, C, or M, or in … [Full Story]

City Council Delays Direction on Marijuana

At its March 5, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council postponed a resolution that would direct the city attorney, Stephen Postema, to “delay all enforcement activities against medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivation facilities except for claims that they violate Section 5:50.1(3) of the City Code [zoning regulations], until the Council amends or rejects amendments to the zoning and licensing ordinances for medical marijuana.”

The council did not reach the item on its agenda until around 12:30 a.m. and decided to postpone it, due to the late hour, without further deliberation.

The resolution reflects an ongoing tension between the city’s medical marijuana licensing board and the city attorney’s office.

That tension between the board and the city attorney’s office is reflected in a … [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Adds Flashers, Alters Traffic Law

Ann Arbor city council meeting (Dec. 19, 2011): At its last meeting of the year, the council ended the current round of discussion on the city’s pedestrian safety ordinance by finalizing changes that clarified conditions under which vehicles are required to stop for people who are trying to cross the street.

Jane Lumm crosswalk ordinance approaching air quotes

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) made air quotes around the word "approaching" as the council discussed the city's ordinance on crosswalks. (Photos by the writer.)

The current ordinance amendment maintains an existing requirement that motorists accommodate not just pedestrians who are “within” a crosswalk, but also those who are verging on entering a crosswalk. What’s different is the way the concept is expressed. In July 2010, the council chose to describe pedestrians who are about to enter a crosswalk as “approaching” the crosswalk. The version of the ordinance finalized on Dec. 19 requires motorists to accommodate “… a pedestrian stopped at the curb, curb line or ramp leading to a crosswalk and to every pedestrian within a crosswalk …”

As part of the previous amendments made in 2010, the council also had removed language that specified a half of the roadway where drivers needed to accommodate pedestrians. This time around, the council restored similar language, which reads, “… when the pedestrian is on the half of the roadway on which the vehicle is traveling or when the pedestrian is approaching so closely from the opposite half of the roadway as to be in danger.”

In other crosswalk-related business, the council approved an expenditure of $81,000 to install five rectangular rapid flashing beacons (RRFB) on existing pedestrian islands in the city. Four of the locations are along Plymouth Road, at Georgetown, Traver Village, Beal and Bishop. The fifth location is at Seventh and Washington.

Also at the Dec. 19 meeting, the council ended a long process of review by the city and negotiation with neighbors by approving a change to the zoning of the Hoover Mansion property on Washtenaw Avenue, which University Bank uses as its headquarters. The change will allow University Bank to build 13 new parking spaces on the east side – behind the main building, allowing the bank in accommodate expanded employment.

Towards the end of the council’s meeting, a relatively rare debate unfolded about a mayoral nomination to a city board. At issue was the nomination of a city employee – transportation program manager Eli Cooper – to the board of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. He’s replacing another city employee on the board, public services area administrator Sue McCormick, who left her position with the city in mid-December. In the end, Cooper’s nomination was confirmed with dissent from two councilmembers. A separate vote on a general policy opposing nominations of city employees to boards and commissions received only four votes of support.

The council considered two compensation-related issues – one for its city attorney, Stephen Postema, and another for election workers who staff the polls. After a closed session to discuss Postema’s performance review, the council voted with dissent from one councilmember to award Postema the ability to cash out 250 hours of banked time. The council delayed its vote on pay increases for election workers, on the possibility that their pay could be increased more than what’s proposed, to match the amount specified in the city’s living wage ordinance.

In other business, the council approved a bond re-funding, authorized reimbursement for a broken electromagnet at the materials recovery facility, accepted additional federal money for solar projects, and heard about a possible strategy for addressing vacant and dilapidated properties. [Full Story]

Postema Mulling Run for Circuit Court Judge?

In an email sent to The Ann Arbor Chronicle, city attorney Stephen Postema stated that he has not yet decided whether to seek the judgeship that will be open on Michigan’s 22nd Circuit Court when Melinda Morris leaves the bench. Her term ends in January 2013 and she will be retiring.

From Postema’s statement: “Finally, as to my future plans … [m]any persons have asked whether I will seek this position you mentioned or suggested that I run, but, for your information, I have made no decision on this.”

Terms for circuit court judges are six years. They’re chosen in non-partisan elections. Eligibility includes residing in the judicial circuit, being licensed to practice law for at least five years, and being … [Full Story]

Licensing or Zoning for Medical Marijuana?

At the Aug. 5, 2010 meeting of the Ann Arbor city council, councilmembers considered a resolution originally drafted by city attorney Stephen Postema to impose a temporary moratorium on the dispensing and growing of medical marijuana. The city council ultimately passed a modified version of the moratorium, with exemptions for patients and caregivers, a grandfathering-in of existing facilities in the city and a reduction in the length of the moratorium from 180 to 120 days. The moratorium ends Dec. 3.

Ann Arbor ordinance review committee

Ann Arbor planning staff and members of the planning commission's ordinance revisions committee discuss existing zoning areas and implications of ordinance changes at their Sept. 13 meeting. Clockwise from left: Wendy Rampson, Jill Thacher, Kirk Westphal, Jean Carlberg. (Photo by the writer.)

The resolution passed by the council also directed the city staff and planning commission to look at possible zoning ordinance changes, with the intent of regulating medical marijuana in Ann Arbor. The resolution does not mention other regulatory approaches, such as licensing.

Since then, the city’s planning staff and the ordinance revisions committee of the planning commission have been developing recommendations to change the city’s zoning code. The changes would regulate medical marijuana dispensaries as well as marijuana grown by registered caregivers as a “home occupation.”

At a Monday, Sept. 13 meeting of the ordinance revisions committee, the group mentioned a parallel track that’s being pursued by the city attorney’s office: licensing of medical marijuana dispensaries. Wendy Rampson, head of the city’s planning department, said that Postema has also been working with the Michigan Association of Municipal Attorneys regarding an approach to licensing medical marijuana. Postema is president of that group. [Full Story]

Column: Getting Smarter About City Charter

Recently the committee charged with reviewing the responses to the city’s RFP for development of the Library Lot met to discuss two days’ worth of public interviews with proposers. The “news” out of that meeting was that the committee set aside three of the five proposals, leaving just two – both of which are concepts for a hotel/conference center.

Nearly escaping notice at that meeting was an exchange between Stephen Rapundalo, who chairs the committee, and senior assistant city attorney Kevin McDonald. The brief interaction came towards the end of the meeting’s work, as the next set of tasks for specific committee members was formulated. Rapundalo asked that McDonald provide a legal opinion. McDonald replied politely, but pointedly, that he’d provide advice, not an opinion.

Why does McDonald care about the difference between providing advice versus an opinion?

McDonald’s concern is based on a fundamental misunderstanding on the part of the city attorney’s office, led by Stephen Postema, about what Ann Arbor’s city charter requires of its city attorney.  [Full Story]

Election 2008 Photos: View from the Backseat

First contact with Stephen Postema on Election Day standing outside Slauson Middle School.

Alert from someone in line who observed Stephen Postema inside on Election Day as I was standing outside Slauson Middle School.

City attorney Stephen Postema visited around 25 different polling places on Election Day in his capacity as election commissioner. First off, I’d like to thank Stephen for allowing me to tag along with him all day as he checked in on various polling places. One point we had addressed the previous day when discussing logistics was what kind of access I’d be afforded at the various precincts: I would at all times avail myself of exactly the privileges afforded the general public. Every polling place has a public viewing area.

From those public viewing spots there’d be no talking to people waiting in line, no photography, nothing to disrupt the ritual of democracy. (I don’t think lending my pen to Dave Boutette, who asked me for it to fill out his voter application, broke the spirit of the rules.)

Postema and I had agreed to meet at Slauson Middle School to start the day. I wasn’t sure where exactly he’d meant, and figured it would not be smart to just barge into the polls asking, “Anybody seen Stephen Postema?” At 6:58 a.m., two minutes before the polls opened, I received a text message clarifying the situation: “Postema is in here conducting the masses.” [Full Story]