Stories indexed with the term ‘ethics’

Planning Group Weighs Council Interactions

Ann Arbor planning commission working session (Feb. 4, 2014): Continuing a discussion that began last year, planning commissioners debated two aspects of their bylaws, in preparation for a vote on proposed revisions to those rules at their Feb. 20 meeting.

Eleanore Adenekan, Jeremy Peters, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Ann Arbor planning commissioners Eleanore Adenekan and Jeremy Peters at a Feb. 4, 2014 working session in the basement of city hall. (Photos by the writer.)

Most of their discussion at the Feb. 4 working session focused on how the city council interacts with the commission. The issue stems from an episode last year when councilmember Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) began to speak during a public hearing on a project in his neighborhood. He hadn’t been aware of the bylaws governing whether councilmembers can formally address the commission.

A similar situation occurred at an ordinance revisions committee meeting later in the year, when councilmember Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1) started to address the commissioners during public commentary. In both cases, the councilmembers were told that the commission’s bylaws prevented them from speaking.

The current bylaws state: “A member of the City Council shall not be heard before the Commission as a petitioner, representative of a petitioner or as a party interested in a petition during the Council member’s term of office.”

Jack Eaton (Ward 4) weighed in during the council’s Feb. 3 meeting, stating his view that if councilmembers are involved in a petition that would prevent them from voting on the item at the council meeting, they should be allowed to address the planning commission. “When we get elected, I don’t think we give up our right to petition government,” he said. Eaton asked Sabra Briere (Ward 1), who serves on the planning commission, to convey his point to commissioners as part of their discussion.

During the working session on Feb. 4, some commissioners expressed concern that any time a councilmember addresses the commission, it can be an undue influence on the process. Another concern is whether councilmembers, by forecasting their view in advance of a council vote, could put the city at legal risk. But at least one commissioner had a different view on the issue of constraining councilmembers from addressing the commission. Eleanore Adenekan told commissioners: “It’s like somebody telling me that ‘You can’t walk into this room because you’re black.’”

There seemed to be general consensus that the current bylaws are unclear, and a proposed revision is intended to simplify the issue: “A member of the City Council shall not be heard before the Commission during the Councilmember’s term in office.”

Briere advocated for additional training of councilmembers, regarding what’s appropriate in these contexts. When the council takes up ethics issues later this year, she said, the issue of communicating with city boards and commissions will be one of the topics. “I call it How to Behave in Public,” Briere said.

Commissioners also discussed revisions to the bylaws related to public hearings. Some of the changes relate to whether someone can speak more than once at the same public hearing, when it is continued over multiple meetings. This situation arose last year during a public hearing on the downtown zoning review. Bonnie Bona cautioned other commissioners against changing the bylaws in ways that are “just making ourselves look more closed.” Some commissioners countered that the bylaws also allow for a majority vote to modify or waive the limitations, if necessary. [.pdf of current planning commission bylaws] [.pdf of Feb. 20 staff memo and proposed revisions]

The commission’s Feb. 20 meeting – held on a Thursday, rather than the typical Tuesday, because of scheduling due to the Presidents Day holiday – has a light agenda. In addition to the bylaws, the only other action item is a proposed rezoning of 2.02 acres at 2225 Traverwood Drive, adjacent to the Stapp Nature Area. Developer Bill Martin is donating the land to the city, and the proposal would rezone it to public land. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Council OKs Ethics Education

An educational effort for local officials on conflict-of-interest and ethics issues has been given unanimous approval by the Ann Arbor city council. Action on the topic came at the council’s Nov. 18, 2013 meeting.

The resolution directs an educational effort on Public Act 317 of 1968, which is the state’s conflict-of-interest statute.

A final “resolved” clause directs the council’s rules committee to draft standards of conduct for local officials based on Public Act 196 of 1973, which applies to state employees of the executive branch and appointees of the governor. The final resolved clause – if the council adopts a standard that’s recommended by the council rules committee and it’s strictly followed – would end any unauthorized leaks of information … [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Council Ethics Education: Postponed

The Ann Arbor city council has postponed a resolution that would have directed the city attorney and city administrator to establish an educational effort on Public Act 317 of 1968, which is the state’s conflict-of-interest statute. The postponement came at the council’s Nov. 7, 2013 meeting.

A final “resolved” clause of the resolution would direct the council’s rules committee to draft standards of conduct for local officials based on Public Act 196 of 1973, which applies to state employees of the executive branch and appointees of the governor.

The final resolved clause – if it’s approved, and if the council adopts a standard for itself (the legislative branch) that’s recommended by the council rules committee, and it’s strictly followed – … [Full Story]

In it for the Money: Cockroach Thanksgiving

Editor’s note: Nelson’s “In it for the Money” opinion column appears regularly in The Chronicle, roughly around the third Wednesday of the month.

David Erik Nelson Column

David Erik Nelson

Come November, Ann Arbor’s own Backyard Brains will be shipping their educational RoboRoach kits. In just a few E-Z steps you (yes, you!) will upgrade a standard issue Blaberus discoidalis cockroach into your very own iPhone-controlled insectoid robo-slave – and just in time for the Non-Denominational Gift Giving Holiday Season!

I know, I know, you have questions – and almost certainly some objections – when it comes to icing a live cockroach, mutilating its antennae, drilling a hole in its back, and taking control of its brain – with a goddamn phone. [1]

Readers, I share your moral panic. But I have walked in the Valley of Death, have been prodded with the SpikerBox, have bought coffee and a cookie for the lead roach-roboticisizer, have met their techno-insectoid minions, and here, on the far side of the vale, I want to tell you this:

I am not worried about the kids who unwrap a Backyard Brains RoboRoach kit sometime between Thanksgiving and the end of the year; I’m worried about the kids who don’t. [Full Story]

UM: Consumer Sentiment Data

Writing in the New York Post, columnist Jonathon M. Trugman criticizes the University of Michigan for “cheating” individual investors. Trugman writes: “Last week the university admitted that it releases market-moving consumer-sentiment data to business partner Thomson Reuters’ high-paying clients five minutes before everyone else gets the information. And the data are given to higher-paying high-frequency trading clients two seconds earlier than that. It’s all quite legal, but it certainly isn’t fair. And if it isn’t fair, then it isn’t a free market – and that’s the point.” [Source]

A2: Ethics Slam has posted a 16-minute video of highlights from the nonprofit’s A2Ethics Big Ethical Question Slam, held on Feb. 7. As described on the A2Ethics website, the annual event is a “one-of-a-kind ethical dilemma competition [that] challenges teams of community organizations to respond to major ethical questions and have their answers evaluated by a panel of invited judges and the audience.” [Source]

Council and Caucus: Pedestrian Agenda

 Looking west crosswalk of Liberty at Crest

The crosswalk on Liberty Street, looking west at Crest. (Photo by the writer.)

Ann Arbor City Council Sunday caucus (Aug. 16, 2009): Sunday evening’s lightly attended city council caucus reflected a light agenda for Monday. But light as that agenda is, it had not been published in the newspaper – as one caucus attendee pointed out to the three councilmembers present: Mayor John Hieftje, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) and Mike Anglin (Ward 5).

Even though the agenda itself is dominated with items like perfunctory rezoning – pedestrian in the sense of “ordinary” –  there’s a presentation to be made at the start of the meeting by Sue McCormick, director of public services for the city, that should draw some community interest. She’ll be giving council an update on the East Stadium Bridge situation. The bridge needs to be repaired or replaced.

At caucus, then, residents and councilmembers were free to focus on some items not on Monday’s schedule. And one common theme cutting across two different resident concerns as well as council discussion were pedestrian issues – pedestrian in the sense of folks on foot.

In other brief discussion, councilmembers indicated, in response to a question, that they had not contemplated re-voting the issuance of bonds that would fund the underground parking garage. The legality of the council’s February vote authorizing the bonds has been challenged by a lawsuit filed last week, which contends that the council violated Michigan’s Open Meetings Act on the evening it approved the bonds.

Also at caucus, councilmembers gave a public indication that they were contemplating possible council rules changes that would affect how email communications are handled during council meetings. [Full Story]