Stories indexed with the term ‘dams’

Short Council Meeting Hits Emotional Topics

Ann Arbor city council meeting (Aug. 19, 2013): An extraordinarily light agenda prompted Jane Lumm (Ward 2) on arrival in council chambers to remark that the meeting could be done in a half hour. The meeting actually stretched to about 90 minutes. But that still made it the shortest meeting in recent memory.

From right: Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5), mayor John Hieftje, Sabra Briere (Ward 1)

There was time for conversation after the council meeting. From right: Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5), mayor John Hieftje, and Sabra Briere (Ward 1) (Photos by the writer.)

The council didn’t engage in substantive deliberations on any of its regular business items, but did pull three items off the consent agenda for more scrutiny: (1) an Oktoberfest street closure in downtown; (2) a dam safety inspection contract for the city’s two hydroelectric dams; and (3) a renewal of the maintenance and support agreement for CityWorks software.

The CityWorks software drew public commentary from resident Kathy Griswold – because the web-based citizen request system that a third-party developed a few years ago using the CityWorks API (application programmer interface) does not have a good mobile interface. To the extent that a better mobile interface would allow residents more easily to report problems with traffic-related lines of sight (such as excessive vegetation), that could result in safety improvements.

Pedestrian safety was the second point raised by Griswold, as she weighed in against the city’s crosswalk ordinance, which requires motorists to stop for pedestrians who are in the crosswalk or standing at the crosswalk. It’s a position that Griswold has taken on several occasions in her remarks to the council over the last two years. Her contention is that the city’s ordinance should be identical to the language in the Michigan Uniform Traffic Code, which does not require stopping and does not extend to cover pedestrians who are standing at a crosswalk but not within it.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) picked up on the topic of pedestrian safety during communications time, and delivered remarks she’d prepared at the request of former city councilmember Leslie Morris. Morris had attended the previous day’s Sunday night caucus and had asked Briere to address the issue of a recent pedestrian fatality on Plymouth Road. Briere ticked through a number of statistics on traffic crashes involving a pedestrian.

The meeting featured two topics related to constitutionally protected speech – one raised during public commentary and the other raised less visibly, during a closed session on the settlement of a lawsuit.

During his turn at public commentary, James Rhodenhiser asked the council to consider expressing its view on a regular weekly anti-Israel protest that’s been held for nearly 10 years outside the Beth Israel Congregation. Rhodenhiser is rector at St. Clare of Assisi Episcopal Church, and conveyed a written document to the council indicating support from 31 other local clergy. The council has in the past approved two resolutions referring to the protests. The city has not been able to take any substantive action to compel the protesters to cease their activity, because the demonstration is constitutionally-protected free speech.

Another issue related to constitutionally-protected speech was the topic of a closed session held near the end of the meeting, which lasted about 15 minutes. When the council emerged from the closed session, a unanimous vote was taken to settle a lawsuit: Dobrowolski v. City of Ann Arbor. The lawsuit alleged that the city infringed on constitutionally-protected speech when it used its vehicle sign ordinance to prohibit anti-abortion signs. The city agreed to pay $7,000 in legal fees and $50 to the plaintiff, Paul Dobrowolski – to cover the tickets he was issued for his signs.

In some significant voting business, the council confirmed appointments to the boards of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority and the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority. Sally Petersen (Ward 2) offered positive remarks about both appointees – Rishi Narayan to the board of the Ann Arbor DDA and Jack Bernard to the board of the AAATA.

Petersen highlighted one other appointment – Alison Stroud to the city’s commission on disability issues, noting that Stroud is hearing impaired and used the CART (Communication Access Realtime Translation) to follow along at meetings. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor 2012 Budget: Trees, Trash, Streets

Editor’s note: The Ann Arbor city council has held two retreats to discuss the city’s FY 2012 budget – one in early December 2010 and another in early January 2011. A summary of the material covered in those retreats is provided in previous Chronicle coverage: “Ann Arbor: Engaging the FY 2012 Budget.”

Leading up to the city administrator delivering a proposed budget in April – for FY 2012, beginning July 1, 2011 – the city council is also holding a series of work sessions on the budget. Their typical scheduling pattern is for the weeks between council meetings. Previous work sessions have taken place on community services, as well as the 15th District Court and police and fire services. On Feb. 28, the council held its final budget work session of the season – on public services and the city attorney’s office. [.pdf of  combined public services budget impact sheets provided on the city of Ann Arbor's budget impact web page.]

Streets, sidewalks, trash collection, trees in the right-of-way, water and sewers are all included under the general label of “public services” in the city. At Monday’s budget work session on those kinds of activities, public services area administrator Sue McCormick did not present the council with any news more dramatic than Roger Fraser did when he announced at the conclusion of the session that he’d be leaving his job by the end of April.

But McCormick did present the council with options for meeting reduction targets that would, if enacted, have a significant impact on the range of services offered by the city. In at least one case, the range of service would expand – the city (instead of adjoining property owners) could assume responsibility for sidewalk repair and replacement.

In another case – which McCormick stressed was not a recommendation, but rather just an informational ballpark amount for potential annual savings to the city ($2.1 million) – the city would get out of the business of trash collection. In another month, the city expects to give the council a report that provides more detail on possible alternatives to having city workers perform that task, including some kind of franchised trash collection operation.

Many of the specific reduction target tactics presented on Monday evening involved assigning costs to a unit outside the general fund. While the city’s total budget includes around $340 million in expenses, the annual discussion typically spotlights the general fund, which gets revenue from the general operations millage [listed on tax bills as CITY OPER] – and is currently levied at a rate of roughly 6 mills. The widely reported projected deficit of $2.4 million for the city’s budget is for the general fund.

During the work session, the assignment of costs to other funds caused Sandi Smith (Ward 1) to wonder if it was just a matter of “shuffling” money from one bucket to another. The answer she heard was: No – it’s a matter of assigning costs appropriately to whatever fund should properly bear the cost of a particular activity.

One of the largest instances of such a cost reassignment would use the stormwater utility fund, instead of the general fund, to pay for forestry operations for trees in the right-of-way. That move would save the city’s general fund around $660,000 a year.

Another example of that kind of “shuffling,” albeit with a smaller dollar figure ($35,000), was a proposal from the city attorney’s office to charge capital projects part of the cost of a paralegal specializing in easements, instead of burdening the city attorney’s budget with that expense. The city attorney’s reduction strategy, which had originally been scheduled for a prior work session, was also part of Monday evening’s presentation. [Full Story]