Stories indexed with the term ‘city charter’

Final City Tally for Dascola Lawsuit: $35,431

The final tally of costs to the city of Ann Arbor in connection with the Bob Dascola election lawsuit is $35,431.75. According to Tom Wieder, attorney for Dascola, the settlement agreed to on Aug. 20, 2014 for the second phase of the lawsuit was $9,400 – to be split between the city and the state of Michigan.

The city lost both phases of the litigation, which began when the city sought to enforce city charter eligibility requirements against Dascola to prevent him from being a candidate in the Ward 3 city council Democratic primary race. The election was won by Julie Grand in a three-person field that included Samuel McMullen.

The $35,431.75 amount is the total agreed to for the initial … [Full Story]

Amended Complaint: More Dascola Filings

More briefs have now been submitted in the Dascola election lawsuit late last week and over the weekend – after the final supplemental briefs were submitted earlier last week.

On May 6, 2014, the final court-ordered supplemental briefs were submitted by both sides in the lawsuit, filed by Bob Dascola against the city of Ann Arbor. Dascola contends he’s an eligible candidate and wants the court to order that he be placed on the ballot in the Ward 3 city council Democratic primary. He would join Julie Grand and Samuel McMullen in that election, which will be held on Aug. 5, 2014.

But as the electorate awaits a ruling from federal judge Lawrence Zatkoff, the two sides have continued to lather up. Late last … [Full Story]

Column: Ann Arbor’s Dumb Old Charter

Are you bored by baseball? Of course you are. And you’re bored even more by the inside baseball of Ann Arbor city politics.

So this is not really a column about city politics or baseball. Instead, it’s a column based on a saying that baseball Hall of Famer Casey Stengel loved to repeat: “You can look it up.”

A standard football-themed bit of joke advice on Ann Arbor politics goes like this: "Fake left, run right." But football season is long since over and baseball season has started. This is a variant of that joke – a spoof of the Ann Arbor city charter language projected onto a baseball. ("Art" by The Chronicle).

A standard football-themed bit of joke advice on Ann Arbor politics goes like this: “Fake left, run right.” But football season is long since over and baseball season has started. This is a variant of that football joke – a spoof of the Ann Arbor city charter language projected onto a baseball. (“Art” by The Chronicle).

Yes, we can look stuff up. And we do look stuff up. Because looking stuff up and writing it down is part of The Job of a journalist. It’s just as much a part of The Job as showing up to a place and writing down what you see there.

Where does a local journalist look stuff up? When the past actions of the Ann Arbor city council are of interest, one place I check is the set of official minutes of city council meetings. When basic law is of interest, one place I check is the Ann Arbor city charter.

Now, the city charter has been the subject of some recent community conversation because of the eligibility requirements it appears to impose on city officers. That conversation has been prompted by Bob Dascola’s attempt to run for a seat on the Ann Arbor city council representing Ward 3.

Fair warning: This is going to be a long windup.

According the city clerk, Dascola doesn’t meet the city charter’s requirements on eligibility for office. Those requirements include two separate one-year durational requirements dating from the time of election: residency in the ward and voter registration in the city. Dascola contends he does meet the requirement on residency. But he concedes he doesn’t meet the requirement on voter registration.

But Dascola is represented by local attorney Tom Wieder, who’s arguing that both charter requirements are null and void as a result of two court decisions in the early 1970s. The city’s position is that court decisions after those from the 1970s have re-established the validity of the charter requirements.

That lawsuit is currently in the U.S. District Court, slated to be handled on an expedited schedule. So the matter is likely to be resolved before ballots are finalized sometime in early June for the Aug. 5, 2014 Democratic primary election. A key question of law in the case is whether subsequent court rulings in other jurisdictions can be interpreted in a way that restores Ann Arbor’s charter provisions, which had previously been ruled null and void.

In a recent blog post on the topic of Dascola’s lawsuit, local attorney and Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board member Joan Lowenstein argues that the Ann Arbor city charter’s eligibility requirements have, in fact, been revived by subsequent court cases. She further argues that Ann Arbor voters themselves also “revived” the charter requirements – by citing a failed 2003 voter referendum on a proposed charter amendment.

About that referendum question, which the city council voted to place on the ballot, Lowenstein had this to say: “After Wieder lost the Wojack case in 2002, he convinced the city council to put the residency requirement to a vote, which it did.”

In her blog post, Lowenstein does not quote out the language the council voted to place on the ballot, though she does include in its entirety a post-election Ann Arbor News article from 2003.

Had Lowenstein included the council-approved ballot language from the 2003 city council minutes, it would have been clear that the vote was about much more than just durational residency requirements for city councilmembers.

And had Lowenstein included the council minutes from March 3, 2003 in their entirety, it would have been clear that she herself was part of the council to which she refers. And it would have been clear that she herself co-sponsored the resolution, which includes the following statement in a “whereas” clause: “Fewer restrictions on holding office are more consistent with open and democratic government;”

How do I know this? I took a dead baseball player’s advice: I looked it up.

Now here comes the pitch: I think it’s about time to establish a charter commission – to review a document that is nearly 60 years old and no longer can be interpreted without studying the state’s history of legislation and jurisprudence. [Full Story]

Dascola to Assert Right to Run in Ward 3

Earlier this year, longtime downtown barbershop owner Bob Dascola announced his intent to compete for the Democratic nomination to represent Ward 3 on the Ann Arbor city council. And on March 12, 2014, Dascola took out nominating petitions from the city clerk’s office.

Bob Dascola sitting in the audience of the April 19, 2011 city council meeting. He addressed the council during public commentary on the topic of panhandling in the State Street area, where his downtown barbershop is located.

Bob Dascola sitting in the audience of the April 19, 2011 Ann Arbor city council meeting. On that occasion, he addressed the council during public commentary on the topic of panhandling in the State Street area, where his downtown barbershop is located. (Image links to Chronicle report of that council meeting.)

But Dascola was subsequently notified by the city clerk that he did not meet city charter eligibility requirements to represent Ward 3 on city council for this election cycle.

Dascola will be challenging the city clerk’s conclusion based on court cases from the early 1970s.

The Ann Arbor city charter includes two time-based eligibility requirements for city office: (1) a requirement that any local elected official must have been registered to vote in the city for a year before election to office; and (2) a requirement that a city councilmember must have been a resident of the ward they’re elected to represent for at least a year before being elected.

Dascola has lived on Baldwin Avenue in Ward 3 for about a year and a half, he told The Chronicle, but he did not register to vote in the city until Jan. 15, 2014. So he appears to meet the residency requirement, but not the voter registration requirement.

However, both of those Ann Arbor city charter provisions were explicitly ruled unconstitutional in federal court cases dating from the early 1970s.

So Dascola will be asserting his right to compete in the Ward 3 primary. He is represented in the matter by attorney Tom Wieder.

In a telephone interview on March 15, Wieder indicated that if “friendly persuasion” does not result in a change to the city’s position, then he’s prepared to move forward to file a lawsuit to ensure that Dascola can run.

And in the meantime, Wieder told The Chronicle, Dascola will be collecting signatures and submitting them to the city clerk as soon as possible. Dascola confirmed by phone that he was collecting signatures on the afternoon of March 15 – a change from an earlier strategy of waiting until the matter is sorted out.

Wieder ventured it is possible that based only on the charter language, someone might in good faith think that Dascola would not be eligible to represent Ward 3 if he were elected this year. But two separate federal court orders – one from Jan. 12, 1972 and the other from March 29, 1972 – struck down as unconstitutional the Ann Arbor city charter residency requirement and voter registration requirement, respectively.

It does not appear likely that a July 30, 2002 ruling by 22nd circuit court judge Timothy Connors might play any role in the resolution to Dascola’s case. The Wojack case – also handled by Wieder – involved the 2001 candidacy of Republican Scott Wojack to run in Ward 1. Wojack was told he could not run based on the in-ward residency requirement. He was allowed to run. But after the 2001 election, Connors issued an opinion upholding the charter residency requirement.

However, according to Wieder: “A state court cannot overturn an existing, binding decision of a federal court on the same subject.” Further, the Wojack case involved the residency requirement, not the voter registration requirement. And it is the voter registration requirement that appears to be the basis of the city’s conclusion on Dascola’s ineligibility. [Full Story]

City Council Special Meeting: Dec. 9, 2013

A special meeting of the Ann Arbor city council will be held starting at 4 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 9, 2013 in the council chambers at city hall, 301 E. Huron St. The special meeting is being called for the purpose of holding a closed session under Michigan’s Open Meetings Act. In the call for a special meeting, two exceptions to the OMA are cited as the purposes for holding the closed session: discussion of attorney-client privileged communication, and discussion of land acquisition issues.

The land acquisition component of the closed session likely relates to the pending sale of the Edwards Brothers property on South State Street to the University of Michigan for $12.8 million, which was announced in a press release … [Full Story]

Ballot Questions: Parks, Public Art Funding

Ann Arbor city council meeting (Aug. 9, 2012) Part 1: Three questions were considered by the council for possible inclusion on the Nov. 6 general election ballot – two about parks and one about public art. The two parks questions were included on the council’s online agenda, which was available on Aug. 1. Details of their content had been publicly aired well in advance of that. The same was not true for the public art millage proposal.

Charter Amendment graphic

At its Aug. 9 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council considered three different charter amendments for inclusion on the Nov. 6 ballot. Two were for millages, and a third was for a restriction on the contractual powers of the city with respect to parkland.

The council voted unanimously to place on the ballot a renewal of the city’s parks maintenance and capital improvements millage at the rate of 1.1 mills. One mill is $1 for every $1,000 of taxable value on a property. So for a house worth $200,000, with a state-equalized value of $100,000, a 1.1 mill tax would cost that property owner $110 per year. A renewal would run from 2013-2018 and raise about $5 million next year.

Examples of park maintenance activities include forestry and horticulture, natural area preservation, park operations, recreation facilities, and targets of opportunity. Capital improvement projects would cover parks, forestry and horticulture, historic preservation, neighborhood parks and urban plazas, park operations, pathways, trails, boardwalks, greenways and watersheds, and recreation facilities. The city’s park advisory commission (PAC) had voted unanimously nearly two months ago at its June 19, 2012 meeting to recommend placing that millage renewal before voters.

But one day before the council’s Aug. 9 meeting, PAC had voted unanimously against recommending that another park-related question be placed on the ballot – one that would have asked voters if they wanted to amend the city charter to require a referendum to lease parkland for non-park or non-recreational use for longer than five years. PAC was able to consider a recommendation only because the council had postponed the measure at its July 16, 2012 meeting.

And at its Aug. 9 meeting, the city council did not meet the 7-vote threshold on the 11-member body to place that charter amendment on the ballot. It got just four votes – from Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), Mike Anglin (Ward 5), Jane Lumm (Ward 2) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3). Sabra Briere (Ward 1), who had co-sponsored the original resolution, did not vote for it, after modifications to the wording had failed to win the council’s approval.

Not originally on the council’s Aug. 9 agenda, but added at the start of the meeting, was a resolution to place a ballot question before voters in November that would ask them if they want – at least temporarily – to change the way that funds are accumulated to pay for public art in the city. Currently, funds must be set aside as part of most capital improvement project budgets – 1% up to a limit of $250,000 per project.

The ballot proposal on public art would levy a 0.1 mill tax for a four-year period – which translates roughly to $450,000 per year. In its current version, the wording of the proposal would suspend the collection of Percent for Art funds under the city’s ordinance just for the four-year period of the millage. So if voters approved the public art millage this year, and then failed to approve a millage renewal four years from now – either because the council did not place a renewal on the ballot, or voters rejected the renewal – the Percent for Art ordinance would again require that funds from capital project budgets be set aside for public art.

The reaction from councilmembers to the proposal from Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) was generally positive; however, there was considerable dissatisfaction expressed – at the meeting and subsequently – with the secretive nature of the work that had produced it. Taylor’s apparent goal in placing it on the agenda at all was to reveal the content of the proposal, without asking his colleagues to vote on it. Taylor asked for postponement of the resolution after reading aloud a speech about it. The council agreed unanimously to postpone action until its next meeting, on Aug. 20.

Voting on Aug. 20 to place the question on the ballot would allow for some public discussion before taking action on that issue, while still meeting the statutory deadline for delivering ballot language to the Washtenaw County clerk.

The public art commission has called a special meeting for Aug. 15 in order to weigh in on the subject.

Part 1 of this council meeting report deals just with these ballot questions. Part 2 will handle other business items at the Aug. 9 meeting. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Faces Possible Budget Delay

At an Ann Arbor city council work session held May 9, 2011, mayor John Hieftje raised the possibility that the council’s approval of the city’s budget could be delayed this year. According to the city charter, the city administrator’s proposed budget must be adopted with any amendments no later than the council’s second meeting in May. Hieftje suggested that the council’s second meeting in May, which is now scheduled to start on May 16, might be recessed and continued until the last Friday of the month (May 27).

The additional time would allow for greater clarity on an issue related to the tax increment finance (TIF) capture for the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. The city brought to light last week … [Full Story]

Running for Mayor of Ann Arbor: Steve Bean

Running for mayor as an independent candidate starts pretty easy.

Steve Bean City Clerk Office

Steve Bean obtains nominating petitions as an independent candidate for mayor of the city of Ann Arbor. Behind the glass in the city clerk's office is Lyn Badalamenti. (Photos by the writer.)

It’s a five-minute session at the city clerk’s office.

This brief background piece covers some of the nuts and bolts of that process, based on Steve Bean’s Tuesday afternoon appearance on the second floor of city hall at the city clerk’s office. As a bonus, there’s a bit of city history thrown in.

After Bean told Lyn Badalamenti in the city clerk’s office that he was there to pick up nominating petitions, she set to work assembling a sheaf of papers. The spelling of Bean’s family name was the first order of business: “Like the vegetable,” he offered. Next up: A choice between “Steve” versus “Steven.”

The name that potential signatories of Bean’s petitions will see – as well as voters looking at November’s ballot – is “Steve.”

His name will be recognizable to some readers from his service on the city’s environmental commission. He now chairs that body. Before that, he served for nine years on the city’s energy commission. Some city records, especially older documents like city council minutes from April 9, 1992 – which contain the record of his appointment to the energy commission – show Bean’s name as “Steven.”

But the choice for the shortened variant was one he’d thought through before Badalamenti asked him: “That’s how people know me,” Bean explained to The Chronicle. [Full Story]

Column: Chartering a Course Through Data

At the Ann Arbor city council’s Feb. 16 budget committee meeting, committee members were introduced to the city’s new data catalog. Even though it is only February, I think this will be the most significant project undertaken by the city in all of 2010.

Ann Arbor police service calls for Jan. 3, 2010. This map was built by The Chronicle in about 15 minutes using data from the city's online catalog. (Image links to fully interactive map hosted at

At the same meeting, the budget committee also continued its discussion about the content of the monthly financial reports that the city charter requires the city administrator to provide to the council.

What ties these issues together is the idea that there’s information the city will be routinely pushing out, without anyone needing to make a special request for it.

In the case of the data catalog, it appears at first glance that the project is a kind of bonus for the citizens of Ann Arbor. That is, it could be thought of as something the city is not required by law to do, but which it’s doing anyway in the interest of transparent government.

That’s different from the monthly financial statement, which the charter explicitly requires. That issue came to the surface during the budget committee meeting, during a verbal exchange between Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) and the city’s chief financial officer, Tom Crawford. The exchange found Taylor appealing to an English word only rarely deployed as a verb: “I guess I’d stickle.” [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]