Stories indexed with the term ‘legal opinion’

Opinion on McWilliams Vote Released

Ann Arbor city attorney Stephen Postema has complied with the city council’s direction to produce a written opinion on the question of the legal validity of the council’s 6-5 vote taken on Sept. 16, 2013 – to appoint Al McWilliams to the board of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. [.pdf of Oct. 16, 2013 opinion]

In reaching the conclusion that the vote is legally valid, Postema relies on the city charter, the council’s rules and Robert’s Rules of Order. The opinion relies on the basic principle that objections to a conclusion that a motion has passed must be made in a timely way.

Postema’s opinion does not attempt to settle the question of whether an 8-vote majority should have been … [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Council to Weigh Privilege Waiver

A resolution that’s been added to the Ann Arbor city council’s Monday, Oct. 7, 2013 agenda would, if approved, result in the waiver of attorney-client privilege with respect to a specific advice memo that has already been written by the city attorney’s office.

The memo responds to questions that were raised about the procedure used to appoint Al McWilliams to the board of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority at the council’s Sept. 16, 2013 meeting. Mayor John Hieftje asked the council to vote on McWilliams’ appointment after saying at a previous meeting that he was withdrawing the nomination. Under the council’s rules, an 8-vote majority is required for confirmation of an appointment when the nomination is made at … [Full Story]

Human Services Group Ponders Living Wage

The city of Ann Arbor’s living wage ordinance was the topic of a special session of the city’s housing and human services advisory board (HHSAB) held on Dec. 18. The current levels for Ann Arbor’s living wage are $12.17/hour for employers that offer benefits and $13.57/hour for those that don’t. It’s adjusted every year based on federal poverty guidelines.

Jim Mogensen, David Blanchard

Left to right: Jim Mogensen addressed the city’s housing and human services advisory board (HHSAB), including board chair David Blanchard, during its Dec. 18, 2012 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

HHSAB members as a group displayed little enthusiasm for a possible revision to the city’s living wage ordinance – a change that would exempt some nonprofits from compliance. The nonprofits that would not have to pay their workers a living wage are those that provide human services under contract with the city.

However, the group formed a consensus around the idea that their board was, in fact, an appropriate body to review the possible change to the ordinance. Some members felt their attitude toward the possible exemption depended in part on whether they construed the responsibility of the HHSAB narrowly, to focus exclusively on those who receive human services, or broadly, to include humans generally.

The HHSAB review of a possible change to the living wage ordinance will be informed in part by work done by a class of University of Michigan students, to be taught in the winter 2013 term by Ian Robinson, a lecturer in the department of sociology. Robinson attended the Dec. 18 meeting of the HHSAB, and sketched out the range of work he thought his students might be able to do to assist the board. The original timeline for the board to deliver a recommendation to the Ann Arbor city council was mid-February. But it appears now that will be pushed at least to March and possibly April.

The HHSAB is reviewing the living wage ordinance at the direction of the Ann Arbor city council, which had considered an ordinance revision at its Nov. 19, 2012 meeting. The council postponed the matter until mid-February, pending advice from HHSAB.

But discussion of the city’s living wage ordinance had begun at meetings of the HHSAB two months before that. At its Sept. 13 meeting, HHSAB board members were addressed by Joan Doughty, executive director of Community Action Network (CAN), on the topic of the city’s living wage ordinance. She indicated that CAN hired many part-time work/study students for its after-school programs – and her organization had to pay them $13.57 an hour under the city’s living wage ordinance. That detracted from CAN’s ability to pay its full-time staff, who depend on wages paid by CAN to earn a livelihood. HHSAB discussed the idea of forming a subcommittee to study the issue.

City councilmembers Sandi Smith and Jane Lumm, who then served as council liaisons to HHSAB, had introduced a resolution at the council’s Sept. 17, 2012 meeting on the topic. Their resolution would have waived the living wage requirement for those nonprofits that provide human services under contract with the city – which include CAN, although CAN was not mentioned in the resolution or the council’s discussion. That resolution was withdrawn, because it amounted to an ordinance change, which can’t be accomplished with a simple resolution. Councilmembers were told to expect a proposal for an ordinance change in the future.

HHSAB discussed the living wage again at its Oct. 16 meeting, determining that additional study was needed before making a recommendation. But at the city council’s Nov. 8, 2012 meeting, Lumm introduced a resolution to grant a waiver to CAN. Her resolution invoked the ordinance provision that allows the council to grant such a waiver for a specific nonprofit. The council granted the waiver, but on just a 9-2 vote. That relieved some of the immediate pressure – because it meant that CAN could receive its grant under contract with the city. The city had been withholding CAN’s allocation, because CAN could not sign an attestation that it was complying with the living wage ordinance.

So when the city council subsequently considered the proposed change to the living wage ordinance, at its Nov. 19 meeting, it did so without the sense of urgency that came with the earlier context of CAN’s financial difficulties. [.pdf of marked up proposed changes to living wage ordinance] The council’s postponement included a referral to HHSAB for its input.

The well-attended special meeting of HHSAB on Dec. 18 included some who were involved in the push to establish Ann Arbor’s living wage ordinance back in 2001. It was clear from the discussion that the situation of nonprofits that deliver human services had been consciously considered when the local law was first enacted over a decade ago. And because of that previous consideration, it seems unlikely – based on the board’s conversations on Dec. 18 – that HHSAB would make a recommendation in support of an ordinance change.  [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]

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]