Stories indexed with the term ‘lawsuit’

AATA Lawsuit Update: Motion Hearing

U.S District judge Mark Goldsmith heard motions today, April 19, 2012, at the Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse, in Flint, Michigan, on a lawsuit filed last year against the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. At the AATA board meeting on April 19, board chair Jesse Bernstein reported that Goldsmith did not rule on anything from the bench; his written ruling is expected at some unspecified future time.

The initial lawsuit was filed by the ACLU on Nov. 28, 2011 on behalf of activist Blaine Coleman, who had sought to purchase an advertisement for the sides of AATA buses. The AATA refused to run the ad. The proposed ad includes the text, “Boycott ‘Israel’ Boycott Apartheid,” and an image depicting a scorpion-like creature with a … [Full Story]

AAPS Mulls Suing State over School Aid Fund

Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS) Annual Organizational Meeting (Jan. 18, 2012): A report about state revenues from AAPS deputy superintendent of operations Robert Allen prompted the school board to start contemplating a possible lawsuit against the state of Michigan.  The suit would be based on the state’s use of the School Aid Fund.

Andy Thomas and Simone Lightfoot are sworn in as re-elected board members

Simone Lightfoot and Andy Thomas raise their right hands as they're sworn in at the Jan. 18, 2012 AAPS board meeting. They were both re-elected to the board last November. Sitting between them is board member Glenn Nelson. (Photo by the writer.)

Also at the meeting, the board handled myriad internal board organizational issues, typical for the board’s first meeting after the start of the term for newly elected members.

After a 15-minute delay coming out of an executive session, the AAPS board launched into its first meeting of the new year, beginning with trustees Simone Lightfoot and Andy Thomas taking their oaths of office after winning re-election this past November. Though elected to four-year terms, both trustees will likely serve the board through 2016 – in five-year terms – due to recent state legislation mandating that school board elections take place only in even-numbered Novembers.

The board’s first order of business was to elect its officers. Three of the four board officer positions were uncontested re-elections, and were approved unanimously – Deb Mexicotte as president, Irene Patalan as treasurer, and Andy Thomas as secretary. But Christine Stead was elected vice-president by a 5-2 vote over Susan Baskett, who had previously held the position. Baskett and trustee Simone Lightfoot dissented. The four officers took their oaths of office, and Mexicotte appointed Lightfoot as board parliamentarian.

AAPS deputy superintendent of operations Robert Allen gave the board a summary of the state revenue consensus conference held last week, including his assessment that nothing he heard indicated that the district’s per-pupil funding would increase, despite a surplus in the state School Aid Fund.

Allen’s report prompted the board to direct AAPS superintendent Patricia Green and her staff to explore taking legal action against the state for misapplying School Aid Fund revenue.

Also at the meeting, the board reviewed and made some minor adjustments to its internal administration, including: a list of designated board associations; representation on administrative committees; time limits; meeting schedule; voting order; communication procedures; and committee structure.

Receiving an initial discussion by the board was the length of board terms,  as new state law governing board of education elections takes effect.  The board also gave initial discussion to the possibility of using BoardDocs, an electronic system of board document management, to organize board informational materials. Both of those items will return to the board for more discussion and a decision at the next regular board meeting. [Full Story]

ACLU Files Motion in AATA Bus Ad Lawsuit

On Nov. 29, 2011, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan filed with the U.S. District Court (Eastern District of Michigan) a motion for a preliminary injunction or temporary restraining order, to compel the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority to accept an advertisement it had previously rejected. [.pdf of Nov. 29 ACLU motion]

The previous day, on Nov. 28, the ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of activist Blaine Coleman, who had sought to purchase an advertisement for the sides of AATA buses. The AATA refused to run the ad. The proposed ad includes the text, “Boycott ‘Israel’ Boycott Apartheid,” and an image depicting a scorpion-like creature with a skull for a head. [.pdf of image and text of proposed ... [Full Story]

Lawsuit Filed Over Rejected AATA Bus Ad

On Nov. 28, 2011, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan filed a lawsuit against the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority in U.S. District Court over an advertisement the transit agency refused to accept for the sides of its buses. [.pdf of complaint] ACLU of Michigan staff attorney Dan Korobkin told The Chronicle by phone that on Nov. 29 a motion will be filed with the court asking for a preliminary injunction, to compel AATA to run the ad.

The ad features the text “Boycott Israel” and “Boycott Apartheid,” with an image depicting a scorpion-like creature with a skull for a head. At its Nov. 17 meeting, the AATA board voted to affirm the rejection of the ad, inviting Blaine Coleman … [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Library Board Briefed on Tax Issue

Ann Arbor District Library board meeting (Sept. 19, 2011): Much of Monday’s 20-minute public meeting was spent discussing the possible repeal of the state’s personal property tax – a move that would take an estimated $637,000 out of the library’s roughly $12 million annual budget.

Ed Surovell, Rebecca Head

Ann Arbor District Library trustees Ed Surovell and Rebecca Head. (Photo by the writer.)

Josie Parker briefed the board during her director’s report, saying she wanted trustees to be aware of the issue and of its potential impact on the library’s finances. Legislation has been introduced, but it’s not yet clear whether lawmakers will decided to eliminate the tax completely or simply reduce it. Also unclear is what – if any – options would be available to taxing authorities to replace that lost revenue. Parker noted that when Pfizer closed its Ann Arbor operation several years ago, the library also took a hit. Pfizer had been the city’s largest taxpayer.

Parker’s report also included news about a lawsuit brought by Herrick District Library against the Library of Michigan. The state library has decided not to appeal an August court of appeals decision, which ruled in favor of Herrick’s position. Herrick had challenged new rules that would have changed how public libraries qualify for state aid. The changes were seen as a threat to local control, by taking away certain decision-making authority from local libraries. AADL was the only individual library in the state to file an amicus curiae brief in support of Herrick.

There was no board discussion about a potential response to the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority’s excess tax capture decision. At issue is the interpretation of a city ordinance about tax increment finance (TIF) capture in the DDA’s downtown district. In July, the DDA board passed a resolution stating its opinion that the city’s ordinance does not require the DDA to return any money to taxing authorities in its TIF district – despite the fact that the DDA had already returned excess TIF revenue earlier this year.

The AADL is a taxing authority in the DDA’s TIF district and has been consulting with its legal counsel over the implications of that decision, as well as a possible response. Queried by The Chronicle after Monday’s meeting, Parker said the AADL has made no decision yet on the issue. [For background and analysis of the excess tax capture, see Chronicle columns: “Taxing Math Needs Another Look” and “TIF Capture is a Varsity Sport.”] [Full Story]

County Board OKs Police Services Lawsuit Deal

In a step that could lead to ending a lawsuit filed against the county in 2006, the Washtenaw County board of commissioners voted to approve the recommendation of a court-ordered facilitator. The recommendation sets $749,427 as the amount owed by Ypsilanti Township and August Township to the county for police services provided in 2006. That was the year those townships, along with Salem Township, filed a lawsuit against the county over the price of contract deputies. Salem Township reached a settlement with the county in 2010.

The bulk of the recommended payment – $732,927 – will come from Ypsilanti Township, which had contracted for 44 sheriff deputies in 2006. In addition to approval from the county board, the recommendation would also need to be voted … [Full Story]

Vote Coming on Police Services Lawsuit

The outcome of a vote at tonight’s Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting could mean another step toward ending a years-long legal battle over the cost of sheriff deputy patrols.

A resolution is expected to be added as a supplemental agenda item at Wednesday night’s meeting, asking commissioners to approve the recommendation of a court-ordered facilitator. At issue is how much is owed by Ypsilanti Township and August Township to the county for police services that were provided by the county in 2006. That was the year those townships, along with Salem Township, filed a lawsuit against the county over the price of contract deputies.

While county representatives previously indicated they were seeking around $2 million, the recommendation calls for payment to the county of $749,427 – the bulk of that from Ypsilanti Township. In addition to approval from the county board, the recommendation would also need to be voted on by the boards of both townships. Those meetings are expected to occur next week.

On a related note, the county board is also expected to take a final vote at Wednesday’s meeting to set the price that municipalities will pay for a contract sheriff’s deputy through 2015. [Full Story]

Column: Lawsuit Aftermath – 6 Months Clean

At a Jan. 18, 2011 hearing, the 22nd Circuit Court judge Melinda Morris entertained two motions by the city of Ann Arbor in response to a lawsuit filed by The Ann Arbor Chronicle.

The lawsuit alleged that during a July 19, 2010 session held by the city council, the council had violated the Michigan Open Meetings Act – by voting to enter into a closed session to discuss written attorney-client privileged communication, but instead straying from that narrow purpose to reach a public policy decision about medical marijuana businesses.

It’s uncontroversial that the council did make a decision in an open session on Aug. 5, 2010 to develop an ordinance that would ensconce medical marijuana businesses in local zoning regulations, by first establishing a moratorium on establishing additional medical marijuana businesses. What The Chronicle essentially alleged was that the Aug. 5 decision to develop local legislation on medical marijuana businesses had already been determined at the July 19 closed session.

The first motion by the city of Ann Arbor was rejected by Judge Morris. The city had asked her to find that The Chronicle’s suit was frivolous, not managing even to state a claim, and further asked that sanctions and fines be imposed.

However, on the city’s second motion – which asked Morris to find that there was insufficient evidence of an OMA violation to warrant subjecting councilmembers and the city attorney to depositions, and that she should dismiss the claim – Morris ruled in favor of the city of Ann Arbor.

In reaching the conclusion that additional discovery of facts should not be allowed, Morris appeared to give significant weight to councilmember depositions affidavits, which they all signed, asserting that they had voted to go into the closed session on July 19, 2010 in part to discuss a May 28, 2010 legal advice memo written by the city attorney, Stephen Postema. All the affidavits further asserted that the council had not made any decision during the July 19 closed session. Morris also appeared to give significant weight to the idea that even if an OMA violation occurred on July 19, then it would have been “cured” by the council’s deliberations and decision made during their open session at the Aug. 5, 2010 meeting.

In this report, we will review some points of legal interpretation on which we disagree with Judge Morris, including the significance of a surprising omission in the affidavits signed by the city attorney and the mayor.

But we begin with the observation that since being served The Chronicle’s lawsuit six months ago – about a closed session conducted on the claimed basis of attorney-client privilege – the city council has not held a single closed session of that kind. That’s easily the longest closed-session-free span the council has achieved for attorney-client privileged-based sessions in more than two years.

That seems to reflect an implicit acknowledgment by the city attorney and the council that they’d been holding more of these kinds of closed sessions than were actually warranted. We gave serious consideration to filing an appeal in this case. The council’s apparent change in behavior has convinced us that our decision not to allocate additional financial resources to an appeal was the right one. Part of our goal was to rectify a specific pattern of inappropriate behavior on the council’s part, and we appear to have achieved that.

Compared to the possibility of establishing new case law on a specific point, we think a more general approach to reform of the Michigan Open Meetings Act and the Freedom of Information Act, through legislative efforts, is likely to yield stronger and longer-lasting improvements in these open government laws. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Library Weighs In On Lawsuit

Ann Arbor District Library board meeting (Dec. 20, 2010): The AADL board spent much of their December meeting focused on a statewide issue with local implications: New rules issued by the Library of Michigan are being challenged in court. The board ultimately voted to file an amicus curiae – or “friend of the court” – brief in support of the Herrick District Library in Holland, which filed suit against the state library. At stake are broader issues of local control, which officials at local public libraries believe would be eroded if the new rules are allowed. The new rules change how libraries qualify for state aid.

The board also got brief updates on plans to deal with the downtown library building and with the parking deal being negotiated between the city of Ann Arbor and the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority.

Monday’s meeting wrapped up with a farewell to Carola Stearns, the outgoing board member whose term concludes at the end of the year. [Full Story]

Column: Upholding the Open Meetings Act

On Friday, Sept. 17, 2010, The Ann Arbor Chronicle filed suit against the city of Ann Arbor alleging that a violation of the Michigan Open Meetings Act occurred on July 19. The allegations are based in part on remarks made by councilmember Stephen Rapundalo during open session of the Aug. 5 city council meeting – remarks that referred to the July 19 closed session. The subject of both the open and closed session discussions was medical marijuana.

We don’t take this decision lightly, and in this column we lay out the circumstances that led us to file this lawsuit. Our decision was prompted by more than this one clear violation. More broadly, we’re concerned about a culture of closed city government that goes beyond a laxity about conformance with the state’s Open Meetings Act and Freedom of Information Act.

This culture isn’t uniform – many city staff and elected officials are committed to doing the public’s work in public view. However, the prevailing culture is one of closed government – in which city officials assume that they can do their work in a way that’s shielded from public view. It’s a culture we’ve observed in the thousands of hours we’ve spent covering city council and other city commissions and committees over the past two years.

We believe the culture of closed government that exists in the city of Ann Arbor will not change until a lawsuit is filed and won – and that’s why we’ve chosen to litigate.

We’re being represented by East Lansing attorney Jeffrey Hank of Hank Law PLLC, who also believes this is an important case: “Open and transparent government is important for a multitude of reasons. In this case, advocating for open government on behalf of a citizen-based news organization, which is covering the reawakening of our liberty as it relates to marijuana prohibition in one of Michigan’s greatest intellectual cities, is as American as apple pie. This case is the perfect nexus of what our society needs to reinvigorate our democratic spirit.” [Full Story]

Settlement Reached in Fair Housing Case

Pam Kisch has a vivid, and unpleasant, memory of what happened when a federal civil-rights suit was filed against the owners and managers of a south Ann Arbor apartment complex this past March.

Ivanhoe Apartments office sign

The Fair Housing Center of Southeastern Michigan found that potential renters of Ivanhoe Apartments in Ann Arbor sometimes had different experiences, depending on their race. (Photos by the writer.)

“Channel 7 came in and did a story that had these sound bytes from residents,” says Kisch, executive director of the Fair Housing Center of Southeast Michigan. ”People got on camera and said ‘No, there’s no discrimination here.’

“They might live there,” says Kisch, “but they don’t know.”

By then, Kisch was sure she did know.

Between 2006 and 2009, the Ann Arbor-based Fair Housing Center sent 18 men and women to the Ivanhoe Apartments to present themselves as prospective tenants. Some were African-American; some were white. The very different experiences they described prompted the U.S. Justice Department to file a race discrimination suit.

Although they deny any wrongdoing, the owners and operators of the apartment complex have now agreed to pay $82,500 to settle the case. The details of a settlement were announced this week by the Justice Department. The agreement must still be approved by U.S. District Court Judge Sean F. Cox. [Full Story]

County Settles Lawsuit with Salem Twp.

Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners meeting (June 2, 2010): In the first meeting on a scaled-back summer schedule, county commissioners passed a resolution to settle a police services lawsuit with one of three townships that sued the county in 2006.

David Trent, Salem Township clerk

At right: David Trent, Salem Township clerk, attended Wednesday's meeting and thanked commissioners for approving a settlement over the police services lawsuit between the county and township. (Photos by the writer.)

Under terms of the settlement, Salem Township will pay the county nearly $48,000 to cover the costs of sheriff deputy patrols provided by the county in 2006. The townships of Salem, Augusta and Ypsilanti sued the county that year, disputing the amount that was charged for police services. The county and the other two townships are awaiting a judgment to resolve the issue – the county is asking for $2.1 million from Ypsilanti Township and nearly $96,000 from Augusta Township.

David Trent, Salem Township clerk, attended Wednesday’s board meeting and spoke during public commentary, thanking the board for the settlement and saying he was coming forward on behalf of the township board in hopes of starting the healing process between the township and the county. Several commissioners thanked township officials for ending the dispute.

In other agenda items, only one person spoke at a public hearing on the county millage rate, which was set later in the meeting. Commissioners also approved $1.35 million in additional funding to complete the expanded jail and new 14A-1 District Court, with some discussion about issues related to parking and a new Washtenaw Avenue entrance.

And although last month commissioner Ronnie Peterson had vowed to bring a resolution to the June 2 meeting that would reestablish a county land bank, on Wednesday he told commissioners he’d been asked by board chair Rolland Sizemore Jr. to defer that action until their July 7 meeting. Saying he was respectful of that request, Peterson added, “On July 7th, I’ll be aggressive.”

The upcoming elections were mentioned, too. Commissioner Barbara Bergman chastised the Washtenaw County Road Commission for charging Scio Township $2,000 to locate a polling station for the August primary and November general election in the road commission’s Zeeb Road facility. Scio officials say they’ll find another venue, calling the road commission’s decision “disappointing at best.” [Full Story]

City Settles Lawsuit: Must Conduct Study

On March 15, the Ann Arbor city council voted to direct its city attorney to settle a lawsuit filed in August 2009 over the construction of an underground parking garage on the city-owned Library Lot site along Fifth Avenue. The lawsuit addressed environmental concerns, open meetings and freedom of information issues, as well as nuisance allegations by neighboring property owners.

Now the city of Ann Arbor has settled that lawsuit, accepting a range of requirements under the agreement.

Under terms of the settlement signed on Monday, the city has agreed to comply substantively with a request that one of the plaintiffs – The Great Lakes Environmental Law Center – had originally made over two months before the lawsuit was filed. That request was to conduct a study of environmental impacts associated with construction of the new underground parking structure, which is being built by the Downtown Development Authority.

The lawsuit settlement does not resolve the question of whether city councilmembers committed violations of the Open Meetings Act, when they communicated during their meetings via email about an agenda item related to approval of bonds for the parking structure.

However, the Ann Arbor city council is required by the settlement terms to discuss publicly, at one of their April 2010 meetings, the possibility of establishing a council rule that addresses which email accounts they use to conduct city business. [Full Story]

County Counts on Census 2010

Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners meeting (March 3, 2010): A light agenda, coupled with virtually no discussion on any of the items under consideration, resulted in a brief meeting for county commissioners on Wednesday.

Census 2010 T-shirt

This T-shirt was among several promotional items given to commissioners on Wednesday by local representatives of the 2010 Census.

Agenda items that were discussed in more detail at last week’s administrative briefing – including health screenings for refugees, funding for services to low-income families, and a bond refunding for Sylvan Township – were approved with no comment on Wednesday.

Also during the meeting, commissioners got an update on Census 2010 efforts from two representatives who are helping oversee the local count. Commissioner Conan Smith issued a statement of disclosure related to a potential conflict of interest, an advocate for the homeless urged the county to support a rotating outdoor shelter, and commissioners went into executive session to discuss a lawsuit settlement – possibly related to a recent Supreme Court action in the legal battle with the townships of Augusta, Salem and Ypsilanti.

And ending several months of speculation, board chair Rolland Sizemore Jr. told The Chronicle that he plans to run for re-election as a commissioner – not as a candidate for state representative. [Full Story]

Dispute over Superior Township Settlement

There’s broad consensus on open space and farmland preservation among Superior Township’s roughly 13,000 residents.

A sign opposing property rezoning in Superior Township

A sign opposing property rezoning in Superior Township. (Photos by the writer.)

It’s evident in words like those on a banner in the township hall touting a commitment to preservation. It’s evident in actions like voter approval of a special tax to defend the community’s growth-management plan.

But for all the agreement, there’s discord over the means to that end.

Rather than fighting a lawsuit they say they expected to win, township officials have struck a deal with a development group that sued after a zoning change was denied.

Disappointed residents say the settlement bails out the developers, and is a retreat from a strategy of enacting and defending a strong master plan and zoning. Township officials say buying land and development rights – as the $400,000 settlement deal will do – is the only sure way to end the battle for good.

The real goal isn’t a legal victory, but the conservation of the community’s rural character, says township supervisor Bill McFarlane. “I feel we would have won the lawsuit this time, but land values will eventually go up again and we could be fighting this again in a year, or two years or five years.” [Full Story]

DDA Hires Christman, Bonds Delivered

Downtown Development Authority board meeting (Aug. 19, 2009): As expected, the DDA board approved spending $226,000 to replace 6-inch water mains with 12-inch pipes, and authorized hiring The Christman Company for $40,000 worth of construction management services – which are for now limited to the pre-construction phase of the Fifth Avenue underground parking garage.

The same day, the city of Ann Arbor delivered the roughly $49 million worth of bonds that had previously been sold to pay for the project, and received the funds. In response to the obvious Chronicle question, the city’s CFO, Tom Crawford told The Chronicle over the phone, “Yes, we have the money.” So far, then, the lawsuit that was filed last week by the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, has not had a material effect on the forward progress of the underground parking garage project.

Wednesday’s special meeting of the DDA board – called to consider authorization of expenditures on water mains and to hire a pre-construction manager – was also John Splitt’s first opportunity to chair  a meeting since his somewhat controversial July 1 election as board president.

As Splitt caught sight of his place at the board table, he observed cheerfully, “It’s not pink!” [Full Story]

First & William to Become Greenway?

Coverage of Ann Arbor city council’s Sunday night caucus is The Chronicle’s mechanism for previewing council meetings for the following Monday. In light of another cancellation of council’s Sunday caucus this week, we’re previewing a “Chronicle’s Choice” item from Monday night’s agenda.

Parking lot at First and William streets in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

The parking lot at First and William streets in Ann Arbor – behind the split-rail fence and in front of the tree line. This shot is taken from Liberty, looking southeast with First Street in the foreground. (Photo by the writer.)

This week we focus on a resolution that’s being proposed by Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) and Mayor John Hieftje, calling for the preservation of a city-owned parcel on the northeast corner of First & William – the parcel would become “open space” and be rezoned as public land. The site currently serves as a surface parking lot with 108 spaces, administered by the Downtown Development Authority.

The idea of establishing the parcel as a green area is not at all new, but the specific timing of the move warrants analysis. Why now? [Full Story]

Senior Center Could Be Cut as Population Ages

Ann Arbor City Council Sunday caucus (May 17, 2009): At its Sunday night caucus, city council heard from several residents, many of them opposed to the closing of the senior center in FY 2011. They also heard from the chair of the city’s market advisory commission, expressing that body’s opposition to proposed fee increases for farmers market stall rental. Opposition to the plan to introduce parking meters in residential areas close to the downtown was also well represented.

Also related to parking, the author of a recent letter from the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, which raised the possibility of an environmental lawsuit based on the planned underground parking structure, came to caucus to respond to any questions councilmembers might have. And the developer for City Apartments, a residential and parking project approved for the First and Washington site, attended caucus to ask for an extension to the option agreement.

In the course of the evening’s conversation, council heard again the criticism from a resident that the focus on smaller budget items costing as little as $7,000 distracted from the focus on the bigger picture.

Councilmembers had no issues among themselves they wanted to discuss publicly at caucus. [Full Story]

Police Services Lawsuit: On It Goes

At Saturday’s budget retreat for Washtenaw County commissioners, a discussion on public safety issues included mention of  the lawsuit that three townships filed against the county in 2006, disputing the cost of sheriff deputy patrols. That prompted us to ask for an update: Just what’s the status of that legal wrangling?

The last time we checked in, the state Court of Appeals had just handed the county a victory, and it appeared that the years-long courtroom battle might be ending. Not so. The three townships – Augusta, Salem and Ypsilanti – have appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court, and just last week the county filed its response, according to Curtis Hedger, the county’s corporate counsel. Now, the groups will have to wait until the court decides whether or not to hear the appeal. Hedger said the process could take several more months. [Full Story]