Stories indexed with the term ‘public commentary’

Rules Change Delayed, But Public Comment OK’d

The Ann Arbor city council has postponed a vote on changes to its internal rules until its Sept. 16 meeting. The council’s action came at its Sept. 3, 2013 meeting. However, as part of its decision to postpone the vote, the council indicated that it will in some sense enact one of the proposed rules changes in advance of a vote on all of them – by providing an opportunity for public comment at its Sept. 9 work session.

This revision to the set of council rules was first presented to the council on June 17, 2013. However, a vote was postponed at that meeting.

The revisions were prompted by a desire to allow for public commentary at council work sessions … [Full Story]

Sept. 3, 2013 Ann Arbor Council: Final

The council’s post-holiday meeting agenda signals the end of summer and a reminder of work the council left unfinished several weeks earlier. Two items on the agenda were postponed until the Sept. 3, 2013 meeting at least seven weeks ago. The first is a revision to the ordinance regulating the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. The second is a revision to the council’s own internal rules, which could have an immediate impact on the way conversations between the council and the DDA take place.

New sign on door to Ann Arbor city council chamber

The sign on the door to the Ann Arbor city council chamber, installed in the summer of 2013, includes Braille.

For both agenda items, the expectation was that council committees would work during the interim period to hammer out a clarified proposal and recommendation for the full council to consider on Sept. 3. In neither case was that committee work accomplished.

After voting at its May 6, 2013 session to postpone a final vote on DDA ordinance revisions until Sept. 3, the council attempted to ensure that the deliberations at the first meeting of the fall would be productive. The council voted on July 1, 2013 to establish a joint council-DDA committee to work out a recommendation on possible legislation. The main point of controversy involves the definition of the DDA’s tax increment finance (TIF) capture.

Already given initial approval by the council is a proposal that would essentially enforce the existing ordinance language. The revision to the ordinance would have an arguably inconsequential impact on TIF revenue received by the DDA – when compared to its most recent 10-year planning document. What makes that comparison controversial, and unwelcome to the DDA staff and board, is the fact that its most recent planning document doesn’t include tax revenue from very recent new downtown construction. The revised ordinance would have a roughly $1 million per year negative impact on DDA TIF revenues – when compared to the amount the DDA would receive if the DDA were allowed to give the existing ordinance language its preferred interpretation.

The charge to the joint committee on July 1 was to begin meeting immediately, but the group did not convene until eight weeks later, on Aug. 26 – after the Aug. 6 Democratic primary election. The outcome of that election left a key vote in place for an ordinance revision that doesn’t favor the DDA – that of Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), who defeated challenger Julie Grand. Still, DDA board members at the Aug. 26 meeting seemed keen to continue a delaying gambit. That’s because a failure by Jane Lumm (Ward 2) to win re-election in November could tip the balance in the DDA’s favor – even factoring in the addition of Jack Eaton in Ward 4. Eaton, who prevailed on Aug. 6 over incumbent Marcia Higgins, supports the idea of constraining the DDA’s TIF capture.

At the one committee meeting held so far, the only substantive concept that was batted around briefly was the idea of defining some kind of fixed cap on TIF revenue. This approach would replace the existing ordinance language, which calibrates the DDA’s TIF capture with the projections in the TIF plan. But the discussion never went as far as to include dollar amounts for the fixed cap. After about an hour and a half of political squabbling and sometimes inaccurate recitation of historical facts, the general mood among councilmembers seemed to be reflected in a remark by Sally Petersen (Ward 2): “I don’t think we can be there by next week.” So the item looks likely be postponed on Sept. 3. However, the council is free to vote the proposal up or down at this meeting.

The one session of the joint DDA-council committee still exceeded, by one meeting, the council rules committee’s effort over the summer. The rules committee did not meet at all between July 15, 2013 and Sept. 3. On July 15, the council had postponed a vote on new rules, but not before rejecting one of the proposed rule changes, which the committee had first presented on June 17, 2013. The council as a whole was not keen to shorten public commentary speaking turns. So the proposal currently in front of the council would maintain the existing three-minute time limit.

But as the council’s July 15 deliberations on other proposed rules changes threatened to bog down that meeting, Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), chair of the rules committee, encouraged a postponement until Sept. 3. In the interim, the committee – consisting of Higgins, Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), and mayor John Hieftje – was supposed to meet to consolidate input from other councilmembers and perhaps present a clean slate of proposed revisions.

Even though the rules committee didn’t meet, based on comments by Briere and Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1) at the Sunday night caucus on Sept. 1, they might push to eliminate all proposed revisions to the rules except for the one that had prompted the rules committee to consider some changes in the first place. The rules changes were prompted by a desire to allow for public commentary at council work sessions – to eliminate any question about whether councilmembers were engaged in deliberative interactions at those sessions. By allowing for public commentary at work sessions, the council would ensure compliance with Michigan’s Open Meetings Act. By enacting that rule change on Sept. 3, the council would be set for a fully deliberative work session on Sept. 9 – which is scheduled to be a joint session with the board of the DDA.

Three other significant items on the Sept. 3 agenda are tied together with an environmental thread. The council will be considering a resolution directing city staff to explore options with the Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality and with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to help to set the clean-up requirements for 1,4-dioxane so that the Pall-Gelman plume is cleaned up to appropriate standards. The council will also be asked to act on a resolution urging the city’s employee retirement system to divest from fossil fuel companies. And finally, the council will consider a resolution directing staff to work with DTE on a pilot program for a “community solar” initiative.

More detail on other meeting agenda items is available on the city’s Legistar system. Readers can also follow the live meeting proceedings on Channel 16, streamed online by Community Television Network. The Chronicle will be filing live updates from city council chambers during the meeting, published in this article “below the fold.” The meeting is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Council Delays New Rules

The Ann Arbor city council has again delayed the adoption of amendments to its own rules. The council’s action to postpone the changes to its rules until Sept. 3 came at its July 15, 2013 meeting.

Highlights of the proposed rules changes include adding public commentary to council work sessions. But on the original proposal, public speaking time would be reduced from three minutes to two minutes across all types of public speaking – general commentary, public hearings, and reserved time. During the July 15 meeting, the council agreed to keep the public speaking time at three minutes.

The council then displayed a clear lack of consensus on how to deal with other proposed changes. Prompting a great deal of discussion was … [Full Story]

New Rules for City Council: Postponed

New rules on speaking times and agenda setting will need to wait another meeting until they apply to meetings of the Ann Arbor city council. At its July 1, 2013 meeting, the council decided to postpone a vote on the new rules until its next meeting, on July 15.

Highlights of the proposed rules changes include adding public commentary to council work sessions. But public speaking time would be reduced from three minutes to two minutes across all types of public speaking – general commentary, public hearings, and reserved time. A “frequent flyer” rule would prevent people from signing up for reserved time at the start of a meeting two meetings in a row.

The total time that each councilmember could speak … [Full Story]

Push to Make Art Commission More Accessible

Ann Arbor public art commission meeting (July 25, 2012): A push for greater public engagement was a theme throughout the July AAPAC meeting, with John Kotarski – one of the newer commissioners – proposing several ways to get more public input.

John Kotarski

Ann Arbor public art commissioner John Kotarski at AAPAC's July 25, 2012 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

At Kotarski’s suggestion, commissioners considered three items related to AAPAC meetings: (1) adding a second opportunity for public commentary; (2) changing its meeting times; and (3) alternating the locations of its meetings. Kotarski also raised the possibility of recording the proceedings to be broadcast on Community Television Network (CTN).

The additional public commentary – offering speakers a second three-minute slot at the end of each meeting – was ultimately approved. Less enthusiasm was expressed for pushing back meeting times to later in the day. AAPAC meetings currently start at 4:30 p.m. on the fourth Wednesday of each month, and are held in the basement conference room at city hall. Kotarski proposed moving the meetings to different locations throughout the city, such as schools or other public sites, to make it easier for more people to attend. Commissioners had reservations about that idea too, nor was there much support voiced for a suggestion to record the meetings for broadcast by CTN. Kotarski plans to bring a specific proposal on these items to an upcoming meeting.

Another proposal by Kotarski – to include support for local sourcing as part of AAPAC’s strategic plan – was rejected by other commissioners. Some commissioners felt the idea didn’t fit into a strategic plan, because it was not an action item. Others questioned whether local sourcing of art projects was within AAPAC’s purview, because the commission doesn’t have authority over the city’s purchasing policies. They’ve also been advised that they can’t put geographic constraints on their selection of artists, and felt this would apply to sourcing, too.

Ultimately a four-year strategic plan was approved without Kotarski’s revision. The plan’s goals, in summary form, are: (1) increasing the number of public art pieces throughout the city; (2) diversifying the public engagement and participation in selecting public art; (3) increasing the public’s support and appreciation for public art through PR efforts; and (5) pursuing private funding for public art. More detailed objectives are provided for each of the goals.

Kotarski also was unsuccessful in convincing other commissioners to support an endorsement policy for non-city-funded art projects. AAPAC passed a resolution stating that the commission would not make endorsements – and Kotarski cast the lone dissenting vote. In a separate item, Kotarski joined his colleagues in a unanimous vote to establish an SOQ (statement of qualifications) process that creates an artist registry/database. The intent is to streamline the selection of artists for future projects.

During the July 25 meeting, commissioners were updated on several ongoing projects, including a follow-up on concerns raised last month about the Dreiseitl installation in front of city hall, artwork at a planned rain garden at Kingsley & First, and the status of security checkpoints allowing access to a hanging sculpture in the Justice Center lobby.

There were no updates for some projects because those projects are still being reviewed by the city attorney’s office. Several commissioners expressed frustration at the length of time these reviews are taking. One commissioner wondered what tools AAPAC can use to influence the process, perhaps by appealing to another level within the city administration. AAPAC chair Marsha Chamberlin agreed to draft a letter on the issue, and to discuss it with city councilmember Tony Derezinski, who serves on the commission but has not attended its June or July monthly meetings.

Action was deferred on proposed projects for public art at two locations: (1) a plaza next to the Forest Avenue parking structure near South University; and (2) a future roundabout at Ellsworth and South State. Commissioners wanted more time to visit those sites. They also debated whether to postpone action until task forces are formed to represent four quadrants of the city – it’s part of a new approach they’re planning to take to help guide the selection of projects and ensure that all parts of the city are represented.

The commission is likely to get more advance notice of possible projects, as Aaron Seagraves – the city’s public art administrator – will now be attending meetings of the capital improvements plan (CIP) team. The CIP is relevant to the art commission because funding for the Percent for Art program comes from the city’s capital projects –  with 1% of each capital project, up to a cap of $250,000 per project, being set aside for public art. The CIP also indicates which major projects are on the horizon that might incorporate public art. By identifying such projects, AAPAC can start planning the public art component as early as possible, as part of the project’s design, rather than as an add-on. [Full Story]

Art Commission Adds Public Commentary

The monthly meetings of the Ann Arbor public art commission will now include another opportunity for public commentary, following action at AAPAC’s July 25, 2012 meeting. Commissioners voted to add a second three-minute public commentary slot at the end of its meetings. Previously, members of the public could formally address AAPAC only at the beginning of each meeting.

The issue of adding another public commentary slot was raised at AAPAC’s June 27, 2012 meeting by commissioner John Kotarski. The intent would be for people to have the opportunity to give before a decision by AAPAC, then provide feedback after that decision is made, he said. Before AAPAC made a decision about public commentary, the commission last month directed Aaron Seagraves, … [Full Story]

County Board Trims Public Commentary

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Jan. 4, 2012): The county board’s first meeting of the year was a combination of stasis and change.

Yousef Rabhi

County commissioner Yousef Rabhi, who was re-elected chair of the working session and successfully lobbied to keep public commentary time unchanged at those sessions. (Photos by the writer.)

Unchanged were the board officers – as is its custom, the board re-elected the same leaders from the previous year. Conan Smith retained his position as board chair, but did not use the meeting to continue the discussion he’d started in December regarding strategic planning for the county. Smith has proposed focusing county efforts on shoring up the county’s east side, an area that he has said is facing a “perfect storm of despair,” including high unemployment, low graduation rates and poor health.

Rather, the main action of the Jan. 4 meeting focused on significant changes regarding public commentary, as part of revisions to the board’s rules and regulations. The majority of commissioners voted to shorten the time available per speaking turn – from five to three minutes – and to eliminate one of two agenda slots for public commentary at its bi-monthly meetings. Commissioners Rolland Sizemore Jr., Ronnie Peterson and Felicia Brabec voted against the changes, but were in the minority.

Yousef Rabhi, who was re-elected chair of the working session, proposed an amendment to keep both public commentary slots in place at the working sessions. His amendment – which was supported unanimously by the board – also kept the five minutes alloted per speaker for public commentary at the working sessions.

An amendment to the rules proposed by Dan Smith was tabled. The change would give commissioners the option of abstaining from a vote. Wes Prater questioned the amendment, arguing that state law requires commissioners to vote on resolutions unless there’s a conflict of interest. It was eventually tabled until the second meeting in February, allowing the county attorney to research the legality of the proposed rule. In a follow-up query from The Chronicle, Smith indicated that he doesn’t intend to pursue the amendment.

Dan Smith was successful in another effort, however – an amendment he proposed to the board’s 2012 calendar. Commissioners voted to change the start time of working sessions to 6 p.m. and add the administrative briefing as the first agenda item. Previously, administrative briefings – held to review the board’s upcoming agenda – were held at 4 p.m. the week prior to a regular board meeting. It had been a difficult time of day for some commissioners, including Smith, to attend.

An issue not addressed at the Jan. 4 meeting was the status of the county’s negotiations with the Humane Society of Huron Valley. After the meeting, deputy county administrator Kelly Belknap told The Chronicle that the county had signed a one-month extension – at $29,000 – for HSHV to continue providing mandated animal control services for the county through January. The county’s previous contract with HSHV expired Dec. 31, and Belknap said negotiations continue to try to reach a longer-term agreement. Belknap said she was optimistic the two sides could reach a resolution, even if it required another temporary extension. Reached by email later in the week, HSHV executive director Tanya Hilgendorf indicated that she shared that optimism.

The Jan. 4 meeting was initially officiated by the Washtenaw County clerk, Larry Kestenbaum, who presided until the election of the board chair. Kestenbaum took the opportunity to give some tips on campaign finance reporting to commissioners and other potential candidates in the upcoming 2012 election.  [Full Story]

County Board Reduces Public Comment Time

At its Jan. 4, 2012 meeting, the Washtenaw County board of commissioners modified its rules related to public commentary, shortening the time available per speaking turn and eliminating one of two agenda slots for public commentary. [.pdf of revised board rules & regulations]

The board’s rules and regulations, adopted at the beginning of each year, were modified in three ways. Most significantly, the second of two opportunities for public commentary was eliminated at both the board meeting and the ways & means committee meeting. The times slated for commissioner response to public commentary at the end of those two meetings was also eliminated. Previously, public commentary and commissioner response were provided near the start and end of each board meeting … [Full Story]

Greenbelt Group Weighs Gordon Hall Issue

Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission meeting (Dec. 14, 2011): The main discussion at December’s GAC meeting focused on land falling outside of Ann Arbor’s greenbelt boundaries – but with possible broader implications for all regional land preservation efforts.

Dan Ezekiel, Tom Bloomer

From left: Dan Ezekiel, chair of the Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission, talks with commissioner Tom Bloomer. (Photos by the writer.)

The land in question, outside the greenbelt boundaries, is owned by The Dexter Area Historical Society. The society is seeking a change to the conservation easement for a parcel that includes the historic Gordon Hall – a change that would allow parking for several hundred vehicles on the land for spectators of Civil War re-enactments that the society intends to hold. Webster Township trustees will ultimately vote on the request, but the township’s land preservation board – which includes Tom Bloomer, who also serves on GAC – has recommended denying it.

Bloomer told GAC commissioners that altering the agreement in this way would set a bad precedent, and call into question the trustworthiness of regional land preservation efforts. Bloomer asked for GAC to weigh in with support for the land preservation board’s position, prior to the trustees’ vote. GAC will likely take up the issue again at its Jan. 5 meeting.

Other action at GAC’s Dec. 14 meeting included passing a resolution of appreciation for Tom Freeman, deputy director of Washtenaw County parks & recreation, who is retiring at the end of the year. GAC chair Dan Ezekiel said Freeman has been “absolutely indispensable” to land preservation efforts in the county, including deals in which Ann Arbor’s greenbelt program has participated.

Ezekiel also presented a letter to the editor that he drafted, in response to misinformation expressed by commenters on articles regarding the greenbelt boundary expansion. He plans to send the letter sometime next week, pending feedback from other commissioners. [.pdf of draft letter to the editor]

During Wednesday’s meeting, commissioners also welcomed the newest commissioner, Shannon Brines, to his first meeting of GAC. Brines, who’s active in the local food movement, was appointed by the city council at its Nov. 21 meeting. [Full Story]

Monthly Milestone: To Address a Meeting

Editor’s note: The monthly milestone column, which appears on the second day of each month – the anniversary of The Ann Arbor Chronicle’s launch – is an opportunity for either the publisher or the editor of The Chronicle to touch base with readers on topics related to this publication. It’s also a time that we highlight, with gratitude, our local advertisers, and ask readers to consider making a voluntary subscription to support our work.

submit comment button

For regular attendees of Ann Arbor city council meetings, this piece of art is easily recognizable as a "photo-illustration" – there's no "submit comment" button for the public commentary slot on the paper agenda.

I’m fond of using the milestone column as an occasion to highlight some of the work our readers do when they write comments about material we publish.

So I’d like to begin this month’s column with a request: Stop reading the words on this page and fetch yourself a stopwatch.

Now go read some different words – all 972 of them – assembled into a coherent comment by a reader, Richard Murphy, about a recent Chronicle column: Murph’s comment on the purpose of downtown development authorities.

How long did that take you? [Full Story]