Stories indexed with the term ‘regional transit authority’

AAATA Search Committee to Replace Ford

The Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority board has authorized board chair Charles Griffith to appoint an ad hoc subcommittee to conduct a search for a replacement for outgoing CEO Michael Ford.

Ford will depart the AAATA in mid-October to take the post as the first CEO of the southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority (RTA). Ford formally tendered his resignation on Aug. 21, 2014.

The resolution approved by the board at its Aug. 21 meeting also approves $50,000 for consulting services to help with the search. At the Aug. 21 meeting, Griffith said the committee will consist of himself, Anya Dale, Gillian Ream Gainsley and Eric Mahler. Griffith said he hoped that a search could be completed within three months, but allowed that might … [Full Story]

A2: Michael Ford

The Detroit News profiles Michael Ford, CEO of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority, who might become the first chief executive of the southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority (RTA). From the report: “Ford, 52, has the reputation at the AAATA of being meticulous, relentless and customer friendly as he oversaw improved services and the agency’s first millage. He is contemplating taking on what could be an even bigger challenge to help grow mass transit in Metro Detroit that has for years resisted implementing transit options beyond the ubiquitous car.” [Source]

AAATA Gives CEO Retroactive Raise

The board of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority has voted to approve a raise for CEO Michael Ford that extends retroactively to October 2012. The board’s vote – to award 3% increases for the previous and current years – came at a special meeting held before the board’s annual retreat on June 10, 2014.

The context of the salary increase includes Ford’s selection as the new CEO for the southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority, but it’s not clear at this point whether Ford will take the job. At the June 10 meeting Ford said, “Right now, I’m still the CEO here…”

The increase for the period from October 2012 through September 2013 raised Ford’s base salary from $164,800 to $169,744. The … [Full Story]

AAATA’s CEO Is Finalist for RTA Job

Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority CEO Michael Ford has been named as one of three finalists for CEO of the southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority (RTA).

AAATA CEO Michael Ford spoke with Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living director for advocacy and education Carolyn Grawi.

AAATA CEO Michael Ford spoke with Carolyn Grawi, Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living director for advocacy and education, after the May 15, 2014 meeting of the AAATA board.

The four-county area of the RTA includes the counties of Washtenaw, Wayne, Macomb and Oakland as well as the city of Detroit. It was established by the Michigan legislature in late 2012.

The RTA’s hiring of a CEO has been frustrated by a lack of state funding. John Hertel, general manager of SMART (Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation), was appointed CEO by the RTA board last year, but he eventually left the post in early 2014 because no funding was available for his salary.

Crain’s Detroit Business reported the Friday, May 16 vote by the RTA’s executive and policy committee to recommend Ford as well as two other finalists for the job. [Full Story]

County Board Handles Lawsuit, Art, Budget

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (March 5, 2014): A light agenda at the March 5 meeting was punctuated by a relatively rare closed session to discuss pending litigation. The specific litigation wasn’t cited.

Jim Casha, Mary Jo Callan, southeast Michigan regional transit authority, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Jim Casha shows Mary Jo Callan, director of Washtenaw County’s office of community & economic development, a map of the Michigan state fairgrounds. Casha is advocating for the southeast Michigan regional transit authority to develop the site as a regional transit hub. (Photos by the writer.)

However, in the previous week, a jury had awarded nearly $1.2 million to a former Washtenaw County employee, Ali Aboubaker, who had filed a discrimination lawsuit against the county in 2011. Responding to a query after the March 5 meeting, corporation counsel Curtis Hedger told The Chronicle that the county would be evaluating its options for appeal. The administration would also be meeting with the county’s insurance carrier to discuss the situation.

In other action, the board gave initial approval to hire a contract position that would support budget-related work for the board and administration. The item had been originally considered, but postponed, at the Feb. 5, 2014 meeting. The vote on March 5 was 7-1, over dissent from Dan Smith (R-District 2). Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-District 5) was absent.

Commissioners also voted to accept a grant from the Michigan Council of Arts and Cultural Affairs for the Youth Arts Alliance (YAA). Washtenaw County is the fiduciary for this five-county collaborative, which provides creative arts workshops to youth in the juvenile justice system. The county also provides office space for YAA.

The grant will pay local artists to install public art at each of the five county juvenile facilities, made with help from the youth at those facilities. The youth will also work with local musicians to create an original album. The alliance’s director, Heather Wilson, told commissioners: “We are seeing huge transformations with the kids experiencing creative arts as an outlet.”

During his communications to the board, chair Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) laid out the application process to fill the seat on the Washtenaw County road commission board left vacant by the recent death of long-time road commissioner Fred Veigel. The deadline for submitting applications is Sunday, March 16. Rabhi hopes to make a nomination at the board’s March 19 meeting. The appointment would be to fill the remainder of Veigel’s term, through Dec. 31, 2014. During the March 5 meeting, commissioners passed resolutions honoring Veigel as well as local activist Lois Mayfield, who died on Feb. 21.

Commissioners also scheduled a public hearing to give input for the Washtenaw Urban County 2014-15 action plan. The hearing will be held at the county boardroom in downtown Ann Arbor during the March 19 meeting, which begins at 6:30 p.m. It’s intended to solicit feedback about proposed projects and programs that the county intends to implement with federal funding – through community development block grant (CDBG), HOME and emergency shelter grant programs – from July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2015.

The March 5 meeting included an update from Diane Heidt, the county’s human resources and labor relations director, about a proposal to offer autism health care coverage for county employees. A formal resolution is expected to be on the March 19 agenda for the board’s consideration.

Public commentary included advocacy from Jim Casha, who has previously addressed the board regarding the southeast Michigan regional transit authority. Washtenaw County is a member of the RTA, and the county board appoints two representatives to the RTA board. Casha’s remarks focused on the benefits of using the former state fairgrounds as a regional transit hub, instead of private development. [Full Story]

County Makes Appointments to RTA, Other Groups

Appointments to three groups – the southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority (RTA); the Washtenaw County food policy council, and the Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission – were made at the Washtenaw County board’s Jan. 22, 2014 meeting. The board also made its annual appointments of county commissioners to various boards, committees and commissions.

Yousef Rabhi, chair of the board, appointed Alma Wheeler Smith to fill an opening in the RTA. Richard Murphy – one of two RTA board members from Washtenaw County – was not seeking reappointment. The deadline to apply for this opening had been extended, but there were only two applicants. The other applicant was Jim Casha, but as a Canadian resident he was ineligible to … [Full Story]

Countywide Energy Program in the Works

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Jan. 8, 2014): In addition to the organizational actions that typically occur during the county board’s first meeting of the year, commissioners also approved a notice of intent to form a countywide Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program.

Yousef Rabhi, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Yousef Rabhi was re-elected as chair of the Washtenaw County board of commissioners at the board’s Jan. 8, 2014 meeting. The following day, he publicly announced his intent not to run for mayor of Ann Arbor this year. (Photos by the writer.)

It’s the next step of several that are required before such a program can be created. The goal of PACE is to help owners of commercial (not residential) properties pay for energy improvements by securing financing from commercial lenders and repaying the loan through voluntary special assessments.

The county’s proposal entails joining the Lean & Green Michigan coalition and contracting with Levin Energy Partners to manage the PACE program.

A public hearing on this issue is set for the board’s meeting on Jan. 22. The board would also need to take another vote to actually create the PACE district. A date for that action has not been set.

Officer elections were also held on Jan. 8. As expected, the board officers who were first elected in January 2013 were re-elected. Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) will continue to serve as board chair. Also re-elected were Alicia Ping (R-District 3) as vice chair, Felicia Brabec (D-District 4) as chair of the board’s ways & means committee, and Andy LaBarre (D-District 7) as chair of the working sessions. There were no competing nominations and all votes were unanimous, although Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-District 5) was out of the room when the votes for Brabec and LaBarre were taken.

Regarding revisions to the board’s rules and regulations, corporation counsel Curtis Hedger made four recommended changes, including three that related to voting requirements. The fourth change inserted language to clarify that binding action may not be taken at a board working session.

The Jan. 8 meeting also included a public hearing on a proposed ordinance that would allow the county to issue municipal civil infractions for owning an unlicensed dog. The board had held a previous hearing at its meeting on Oct. 16, 2013, but it occurred after midnight and no one spoke. Some commissioners felt that a second hearing should be scheduled because the initial one was held so late in the evening. One person spoke on Jan. 8, urging the board to create a progressive scale of fees and to provide waivers for low-income families and individuals.

In other feedback from the public, Jim Casha spoke during public commentary to raise concerns over the southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority (RTA). “It just seems to me that it’s just going to be another waste of time and taxpayers’ money, and just another level of bureaucracy,” he told commissioners. Board chair Yousef Rabhi will be appointing a new Washtenaw County representative to the RTA soon to replace Richard Murphy, who did not seek reappointment. The county’s other board member on the RTA is University of Michigan professor Liz Gerber, whose term runs through 2015.

The extended deadline for applying was Jan. 12, and Casha was one of only two applicants for the RTA opening. As a Canadian resident, he is ineligible to be appointed for the seat to represent Washtenaw County. The other applicant is Alma Wheeler Smith, a former state legislator and the mother of county commissioner Conan Smith (D-District 9). [Full Story]

County Wraps Up 2013 with PACE Initiative

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Dec. 4, 2013): At their final meeting of 2013, commissioners spent most of the time discussing a proposal to create a countywide Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program.

Andy Levin, Felicia Brabec, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, Lean & Green Michigan, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Andy Levin of Lean & Green Michigan talks with Washtenaw County commissioner Felicia Brabec before the county board’s Dec. 4, 2013 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

They ultimately gave initial approval to a notice of intent to form a PACE program. If created, the program would allow commercial property owners in Washtenaw County to fund energy improvements by securing financing from lenders and repaying the loan through voluntary special assessments.

The county’s proposal entails joining the Lean & Green Michigan coalition and contracting with Levin Energy Partners to manage the PACE program. Andy Levin, who’s spearheading the PACE program statewide through Lean & Green, was on hand during the Dec. 4 meeting to field questions. Levin – son of U.S. Rep. Sandy Levin and nephew of U.S. Sen. Carl Levin – was head of the Michigan Dept. of Energy, Labor & Economic Growth (DELEG) during Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s administration, when the PACE legislation was enacted.

Also attending the Dec. 4 meeting was state Sen. Rebekah Warren (D-District 18), who spoke briefly during public commentary to support the county’s initiative. She was instrumental in passing the state enabling legislation to allow such programs in Michigan. Warren is married to county commissioner Conan Smith, a co-founder of the Southeast Michigan Regional Energy Office, which is a partner in Lean & Green Michigan.

A final vote on the notice of intent is now scheduled for the board’s first meeting next year – on Jan. 8, 2014. A public hearing on this issue has been set for the board’s Jan. 22 meeting. That’s because the board would need to take an additional vote to actually create the PACE district. No date for that vote to create the district has been set.

In other action, commissioners accepted a $150,000 state grant to establish the Washtenaw County Trial Court’s Peacemaking Court. Timothy Connors, a 22nd circuit court judge who’s leading this initiative, attended the Dec. 4 meeting and told the board that this project will explore and determine what, if any, tribal court philosophies or procedures might have applicability in Michigan’s courts. Participation in the peacemaking court will be voluntary.

The board also made a raft of appointments, including appointing the county’s water resources commissioner, Evan Pratt, as director of public works. That vote came over dissent from commissioner Rolland Sizemore Jr. The board of public works had raised a question about the appointment’s potential conflict-of-interest, given that Pratt holds an elected office as water resources commissioner. The county’s corporation counsel, Curtis Hedger, prepared a legal opinion on the issue, stating that the appointment would not be prohibited by the state’s Incompatible Public Offices Act.

No appointment was made to the southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority (RTA). Richard Murphy – one of two RTA board members from Washtenaw County – is not seeking reappointment. During the Dec. 4 meeting, board chair Yousef Rabhi indicated that there’s some uncertainty about when Murphy’s one-year term actually ends, and he was sorting that out with state and RTA officials. Because RTA board members weren’t sworn in until April of 2013, some state and RTA officials believe the term extends until April – even though appointments for Washtenaw County’s two slots were made by the previous county board chair, Conan Smith, in late 2012.

The application process is still open for the RTA, with a new deadline of Jan. 12. That same deadline applies to openings on the county’s food policy council and parks & recreation commission. Applicants can submit material online, or get more information by contacting the county clerk’s office at 734-222-6655 or [Full Story]

RTA Applications Accepted until Dec. 1, 2013

Applicants for one of two Washtenaw County seats on southeast Michigan’s Regional Transit Authority (RTA) will have until Dec. 1, 2013 to apply. Richard “Murph” Murphy was appointed last year for the seat on the newly established transit authority, which had only a one-year term associated with it.

However, Murphy is not seeking re-appointment to the seat – a point that was included in CEO Michael Ford’s report to the board of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority at its Nov. 21, 2013 meeting.

The RTA was established in a lame duck session of the Michigan legislature in late 2012, and includes a four-county region – Macomb, Oakland, Washtenaw and Wayne – with each county making two appointments to the … [Full Story]

Regional Transit: Where Does Ann Arbor Fit?

An Ann Arbor city council work session held Oct. 14, 2013 provided a roundup of several transportation initiatives.

Regions of Transportation

Sub-regions on the national (blue), state (red) and local (green) scales were highlighted at the Ann Arbor city council’s Oct. 14, 2013 work session on regional transportation.  (Image by The Chronicle.)

The projects all fit into the general rubric of regional transportation – relative to different scales of the concept of “region.” Eli Cooper, the city of Ann Arbor transportation program manager, led off the session with some introductory remarks that framed the session in those terms – regions defined on a national, state and more local scale.

Nationally, Amtrak provides rail service between major cities like Chicago and Detroit. And it’s to support that service that the city of Ann Arbor is currently planning for a new or reconstructed Amtrak station. A contract for a required planning study, 80% of which is funded with a federal grant, appears on the council’s Oct. 21 agenda. [Legistar file 13-1128]

On a smaller regional scale, SEMCOG (Southeast Michigan Council of Governments) is the lead organization for a possible new kind of future service on the same tracks as the Amtrak inter-city service: an Ann Arbor-Detroit commuter rail service. That would be at least two years out, partly because no operating funds for the service have yet been identified. Those funds could eventually come from the nascent southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority (RTA), which could ask voters in a four-county region – Macomb, Oakland, Washtenaw and Wayne – to approve either a transit property tax or a vehicle registration fee dedicated to supporting transit.

On the smallest regional level, voters in member jurisdictions of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority could be asked as soon as May 2014 to approve additional transportation funding. The AAATA currently includes the city of Ann Arbor, the city of Ypsilanti, and Ypsilanti Township – provided that the Ann Arbor city council approves the township’s membership at its Oct. 21 meeting. [Legistar file 13-1267]

As AAATA staff stressed at the Oct. 14 work session, the board of that organization has not yet made a decision to place a millage request in front of voters. If approved by voters, the additional funding – likely to be 0.7 mills – would be used to increase frequency and time of service in the local region.

Details about the service improvements are the subject of a series of public meetings, which is set to start this Thursday, Oct. 17 from 4-6 p.m. That first session takes place just before the AAATA board meeting at the Ann Arbor District Library’s downtown location. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Transit Board Weighs Funding

Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority special board meeting (July 23, 2013): No regular board meeting was scheduled for July, but the AAATA board called a special meeting toward the end of the month, to handle some unfinished business. That included: (1) authorization of a contract extension with Select Ride to provide required paratransit service under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA); and (2) authorization of a contract to move a fire hydrant at the AAATA’s headquarters at 2700 S. Industrial Highway.

Fire hydrant at the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority headquarters at 2700 S. Industrial Highway, which to be moved as a result of a garage expansion project.

Fire hydrant at the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority headquarters at 2700 S. Industrial Highway, which needs to be moved as a result of a garage expansion project. (Photos by the writer.)

The possibility of the special meeting was indicated at the AAATA’s June 20, 2013 board meeting, when CEO Michael Ford mentioned that a special session might be called to handle some routine matters – as well as issues related to the addition of the city of Ypsilanti as a member of the AAATA.

Those related issues could have included a vote to place a question on the November 2013 ballot, asking voters in the cities of Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor to approve a transit millage to be levied by the AAATA. However, at the July 23 special meeting, Ford pointed toward a May election as more likely: “Obviously we’re going to be looking for a millage at some point in the near future. November was one opportunity, but I don’t think that’s probably going to happen,” Ford told the board. “I think we’re probably looking at May, to be realistic. We’re gearing up for some potential there.”

The two cities currently levy millages that are dedicated to transit, which are then passed through to the AAATA. The ability for the renamed AAATA to levy such a millage with voter approval was a power also enjoyed by the AATA, but was never exercised. The request for additional funding – through a levy by the AAATA – is based on an AAATA plan to increase and expand service in the two cities and through establishing longer-term purchase-of-service agreements with some adjoining townships.

The authorization of a $109,000 contract with Blaze Contracting to relocate the fire hydrant was the second time the board has authorized such a contract. Last year, the board approved a deal with RBV Contracting for the work. However, the contract was not awarded, because the necessary agreements with the University of Michigan, which owns adjoining land involved in the hydrant relocation, were not in place.

The board’s action to approve the Select Ride contract – which is valued at $3,016,871 for the coming year – came under time pressure to ensure that the AAATA could continue its paratransit service. The provision of complementary paratransit service for people with disabilities – as an alternative to the fixed-route service – is a requirement of the Federal Transit Administration under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Under the negotiated terms, the third year of Select Ride’s contract includes a one-time “stabilization payment” to Select Ride of $100,000 to be paid by July 31, 2013. The contract also includes a 5% ($150,000) increase for this final year of the contract. The staff memo in the board’s information packet attributed the increases to the rising consumer price index (CPI) and to fuel costs.

The state’s local bus operating (LBO) assistance – money from Act 51 that’s allocated to transportation agencies statewide using a complex formula – was a topic that arose during the July 23 special meeting in two ways. As a result of state legislative action, the AAATA now expects $800,000 of previous decreased funding from the state’s LBO to be restored. When the Michigan Dept. of Transportation applied the distribution formula last year, it resulted in about $800,000 less funding to the AAATA – and that had an impact on the AAATA’s FY 2013 budget. The agency is currently operating on slightly less than the 3-month cash reserve required under board policy. At the July 23 meeting, it was reported that a bank transfer of $500,000 had taken place, with the remaining amount expected later.

The LBO is also a source of funding that the southeast Michigan regional transit authority (RTA) would like to use to cover administrative expenses. The RTA was created in late 2012 through a lame-duck legislative action. The RTA is supposed to coordinate transit in a four-county region (Washtenaw, Wayne, Macomb and Oakland) that includes the city of Detroit. AAATA board members expressed some disappointment during their July 23 meeting that Gov. Rick Snyder and the state legislature had created the RTA without providing for adequate initial funding. The RTA could eventual obtain voter-approved funding through a millage or a vehicle registration fee.

AAATA board members objected to the fact that LBO money was being used for the administrative overhead of the newly created RTA, instead of being used to provide transportation “on the street” by the transit agencies in the four-county region. Those include DDOT (Detroit Dept. of Transportation) and the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART). The negative impact on the AAATA for the next year of funding for the RTA – using the state’s LBO assistance – is estimated at about $68,000. [Full Story]

Michigan: RTA

The Regional Transit Authority (RTA) is seeking applications for its citizens advisory committee. The four-county authority – which includes Wayne, Macomb, Oakland, and Washtenaw counties was established through an act of the Michigan legislature and signed into law in late 2012. The application is available online. [Source]

Ypsilanti a Topic for AATA Planning Retreat

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (May 16, 2013): Possible membership for the city of Ypsilanti in the AATA was a main theme of the board’s monthly meeting.

Ypsilanti mayor Paul Schreiber addressed the board at its May 16 meeting.

Ypsilanti mayor Paul Schreiber addressed the AATA board at its May 16 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

Ypsilanti mayor Paul Schreiber attended the meeting in support of the city’s request for membership, and the board unanimously passed a resolution acknowledging the request. The resolution also directed staff to prepare for a detailed discussion on the issue at the board’s planning retreat, scheduled for May 22. Board members were positively inclined toward the request, but wanted to be sure that due diligence is done to ensure all the implications are understood.

Because the addition of the city of Ypsilanti would require revision to the AATA’s articles of incorporation, there’s some interest by some board members in approaching the changes in a way that could accommodate the addition of more members than just the city of Ypsilanti. It’s possible that Ypsilanti Township, Pittsfield Township or other jurisdictions might request membership in the near future. A more comprehensive approach to revising the articles, or delaying until all jurisdictions are admitted to the AATA at one time, could eliminate the need to revise the articles multiple times in quick succession.

The possible membership of Ypsilanti in the AATA is part of an effort to continue working with “urban core” communities in the immediate Ann Arbor area – after a more ambitious effort to extend AATA governance and services countywide in the summer of 2012 failed to gain traction.

A revision to the articles of incorporation would likely include a change in the AATA board membership structure. Ann Arbor mayor John Hieftje had indicated he’d support adding two seats to the current seven-member board, with one of the two additional seats to be appointed by the city of Ypsilanti.

Related to board membership, the May 16 meeting included a resolution of appreciation for the service of Jesse Bernstein on the board. He concluded a five-year term of service in April. Susan Baskett, currently an AAPS trustee, has been nominated as his replacement on the board. If she’s confirmed at the Ann Arbor city council’s May 20 meeting, she’ll join Eric Mahler as another new appointment. Mahler’s appointment to replace David Nacht was subjected to political wrangling at the council’s May 13 session, but he was confirmed on a 7-4 vote. [Full Story]

RTA Opt Out Legislation Introduced

A bill has been introduced to the Michigan state house of representatives that would allow Washtenaw County to opt out of the four-county regional transportation authority (RTA) – which was established by the lame duck legislature at the end of 2012. The proposed amendment to the RTA legislation, which applies to any county or municipality in the RTA region, would provide the possibility of an opt-out on a simple majority vote of the governing body within the first year after establishment of the authority. After more than a year, it would require a 2/3 majority vote. From the draft bill introduced on April 30, 2013 [HB 4637]:
Sec. 4A
(1) A county or a municipality may withdraw from an authority … [Full Story]

AirRide Talks OK’d, Ypsilanti to Join AATA?

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (April 18, 2013): Board member David Nacht’s final regular meeting after 10 years of service included action on a significant project he’d worked on during that time: bus service between downtown Ann Arbor and Detroit Metropolitan Airport.

AATA board member David Nacht

AATA board member David Nacht. (Photos by the writer.)

To provide the AirRide service, which was launched a year ago, the AATA is currently in negotiations with Michigan Flyer to revise terms of the second year of the contract. While the first year called for the AATA to pay Michigan Flyer an amount not to exceed $700,000 for the hourly service, the ridership – given the structure of the revenue-sharing deal – has resulted in a far lower cost.

So the board passed a resolution at its April 18 meeting reflecting the current status of negotiations, which are pointing toward a not-to-exceed amount of $300,000 for the contract’s second year. The board’s action rescinded a resolution it had passed at the previous month’s meeting, in favor of one that reflected the current status of negotiations between AATA and Michigan Flyer.

Besides the resolution on AirRide, the only other item requiring a vote was one honoring David Nacht’s decade of service on the board – which covered two full five-year terms. During his brief remarks, Nacht thanked the riders of the AATA’s service, the bus drivers and the mechanics. He also thanked his family – his two sons attended the meeting. In addition, Nacht thanked the Ann Arbor mayor and city council, which make the appointments to the AATA board. At the council’s April 15 meeting, mayor John Hieftje had announced the nomination of Eric Mahler, currently a city planning commissioner, to replace Nacht.

Discussion on non-voting items included the future of public transportation in the broader region – in two significant ways.

First, board members lamented the fact that no U.S. company, and more specifically no Michigan company, had bid on the AATA’s request for proposals to replace battery kits for its hybrid electric buses. But board sentiment was that a larger purchasing consortium for such kits might eventually be achieved through the newly-created southeast Michigan regional transit authority (RTA) – which includes the transit agencies in Washtenaw, Wayne, Macomb and Oakland Counties. And that larger consortium might make it worth the while of a Michigan company that’s a part of the state’s nascent battery industry to invest in the capability to produce bus battery kits.

Second, the board was paid a visit by Ypsilanti city councilmember Pete Murdock, who alerted the board to the likelihood that the city of Ypsilanti would make a formal request to join the AATA. The request would need approval from the AATA board and almost certainly the Ann Arbor city council, and could have implications for board membership. The goal of such a move would be to provide a more stable financial foundation for Ypsilanti bus service.

The city of Ypsilanti itself already levies its constitutional cap of 20 mills of property tax. If the AATA were to ask voters of member jurisdictions to approve a millage – an authority the AATA does not currently exercise – that additional amount would not count against Ypsilanti’s constitutional cap. [Full Story]

Washtenaw: Regional Transit

Several media outlets report on the first board meeting of the new Southeast Michigan Region Transit Authority (RTA), held April 10 in downtown Detroit. One of the two Washtenaw County board members – Liz Gerber – was appointed vice chair of the board. Richard Murphy is the other Washtenaw board member, although the board’s chair – Paul Hillegonds, a DTE Energy executive who was appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder – also is a Washtenaw County resident. The RTA is charged with coordinating public transit in Detroit and four counties: Macomb, Oakland, Wayne and Washtenaw. [Source] [Source] [Source]

County Board Briefed on Audit, Financials

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (April 3, 2013): With a third of the board absent, commissioners were briefed on the county’s 2012 audit – with a look toward changes that will impact future financial statements. The audit was clean.

Mark Kettner, Carla Sledge, Kelly Belknap, Pete Collinson, Rehmann, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Mark Kettner of the accounting firm Rehmann; Carla Sledge, Wayne County’s chief financial officer; Kelly Belknap, Washtenaw County’s finance director; and Pete Collinson, accounting manager for Washtenaw County. (Photos by the writer.)

The county’s finance staff, along with the auditor, Mark Kettner of Rehmann, highlighted several points, including a relatively dramatic increase in the general fund balance over the last few years – from $9.7 million in 2009 to $16.8 million at the end of 2012. Kettner also explained upcoming accounting changes that will require unfunded liabilities from the county’s pension and retirement healthcare plans – now totaling nearly $250 million – to be recorded in a different way, with more disclosure.

The new accounting changes – required by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) – won’t begin until 2015, but commissioner Dan Smith (R-District 2) wondered whether the county could implement the changes sooner. It might be possible, Kettner replied, but “I don’t know why you’d want to do it.” He suggested that the board hold a working session to go over the upcoming changes in more detail.

Kettner also pointed out that the changes will affect government entities in different ways. For example, it’s likely that there will be more impact on the city of Ann Arbor, because of how its many “enterprise” funds might be affected and the implications that would have on outstanding bonds. At minimum, the changes will mean more work for finance staff.

Also at the April 3 meeting, commissioners voted to add 39 new jobs in the community support and treatment service (CSTS) department, which provides mental health and substance abuse services to county residents. The work is primarily funded by the Washtenaw Community Health Organization, a partnership between the county and the University of Michigan Health System. Most of the new jobs are union positions. Dan Smith expressed concern about adding to the county’s payroll, but supported the resolution along with other commissioners in a unanimous vote.

The board also took an initial vote to dissolve The Washtenaw Ride. That Act 196 authority is a remnant of a failed attempt to create a countywide transit system last year. Efforts to expand the current reach of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority are still underway, but don’t require the structure that was put in place under Act 196.

The topic of public transportation was raised later in the meeting as well, as Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6) asked about the county’s role in the southeast regional transit authority (RTA). The RTA was formed by the state legislature last year to coordinate regional transit in the city of Detroit and counties of Wayne, Macomb, Oakland and Washtenaw. There was not uniform support for Washtenaw County to be part of this effort, and it’s not yet clear what the impact will be on the AATA.

In other discussion, Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) highlighted a proposal in front of the Ann Arbor city council regarding possible ordinance changes governing the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. Depending on what the council decides, there might be implications for the county, he said, so he wanted to put it on the board’s radar. For background on this issue, see Chronicle coverage: “DDA Tax Capture Change Gets Initial OK” and “DDA Ramps Up PR after First Council Vote.”

Also briefly mentioned was a discussion that occurred at a late March county pension commission meeting, raising questions about the new labor contracts that the board approved on March 20, 2013. At issue is whether the county complied with a state law requiring supplemental actuarial analysis before pension benefit changes are adopted. The county administration subsequently conferred with outside legal counsel, and confirmed their view that no new actuarial analysis was necessary.

And although it wasn’t discussed at the April 3 board meeting, the recent labor contracts resulted in another issue related to compliance with state law: Elimination of the county’s healthcare benefits for domestic partners. [Full Story]

New Labor Contracts Key to County Budget

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (March 20, 2013): In its main action, the county board approved new long-term contracts with 15 of Washtenaw County government’s 17 bargaining units – including annual wage increases, a cap on employee healthcare contributions, and the elimination of “banked leave” days. The precedent-setting move aimed to protect unions before Michigan’s right-to-work law takes effect on March 28, and cut legacy costs for the county.

Conan Smith, Dan Smith, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Conan Smith (D-District 9) and Dan Smith (R-District 2) at the Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting on March 20. Dan Smith cast the lone vote against new contracts with labor unions representing county employees, citing concerns over the length of the agreements. Most of the contracts run through Dec. 31, 2023. (Photos by the writer.)

About 85% of the nearly 1,300 county workers belong to a union. The board also approved similar wage and benefit changes for the county’s non-union employees.

The right-to-work law will make it illegal to require employees to support unions financially as a condition of their employment, but labor agreements in place prior to March 28 will not be affected until they expire. Most of the previous contracts with the county’s labor unions were set to expire on Dec. 31, 2013. All but one of the new deals will run for more than 10 years – through Dec. 31, 2023.

Dan Smith (R-District 2) cited the length of those contracts as a reason for casting his no vote – he was the only commissioner to vote against the union contracts, though he supported the agreement for non-union employees. The duration eliminates the flexibility to deal with different conditions that might face the county in the future, he said. There is no “re-opener” clause that would allow either side to renegotiate before 2023.

Despite his no vote, Smith praised the most significant changes that will impact employees hired after Jan. 1, 2014. Those employees will participate in a defined contribution retirement plan, instead of the current defined benefit plan – the Washtenaw County Employees’ Retirement System (WCERS). In defined benefit plans, retirees receive a set amount per month during their retirement. In defined contribution plans, employers pay a set amount into the retirement plan while a person is employed. The most common defined contribution plan is the 401(k). Similar changes in retiree healthcare plans will also affect new employees.

The shift in the county’s approach to retirement plans and retiree healthcare was a major concern for several other commissioners. While acknowledging the benefits of eliminating the county’s legacy costs, Conan Smith (D-District 9) cautioned that retirees could be put at risk without the predictable stability of a defined benefit plan. However, he also noted that the board can’t continue to put the institution at risk by “guaranteeing something that we don’t know we’re going to be able to afford in the long run.”

Those legacy costs were a factor alluded to during the March 20 discussion, linking to another major decision that is expected to come before the board: bonding to cover the county’s unfunded liabilities for employee pensions and retiree healthcare. The issue hasn’t been discussed directly at any of the board’s regular meetings, but commissioners have been informed that a proposal likely will be brought forward by administration.

Based on actuarial valuations at the end of 2011, the county had $101.27 million in unfunded liabilities for its defined benefit pension, and $148.46 million in unfunded liabilities for its retiree healthcare. Those amounts will be higher when the 2012 actuarial valuations are completed later this year. The new accounting standards of GASB 68 require that unfunded liabilities must be included in an organization’s financial statements for fiscal years beginning after June 15, 2014.

Commissioners also got a year-end 2012 financial update during the March 20 meeting – the final 2012 audit will be brought to the board in April. Total revenues exceeded total expenditures by $2.26 million. The county had planned for a surplus of $1.889 million to carry into 2013 – so the year ended with an excess of $327,607 above that targeted amount.

In other action items, the board voted to form a committee that will explore the feasibility of creating a land bank, and appointed three people to the committee: Commissioner Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6), county treasurer Catherine McClary, and Mary Jo Callan, director of the county’s office of community & economic development. The committee is directed to report back to the board by Aug. 7, 2013.

During communications from the board, Conan Smith reported that the southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority board has now been fully appointed, and will convene on March 28 for an orientation meeting. He suggested that the two Washtenaw County representatives – Richard “Murph” Murphy and Liz Gerber – come talk to commissioners about what the county’s interests and priorities are. “The earlier we weigh in, the more systemic the impact of our comments are going to be,” he said. “If we don’t talk to them until they’ve already made decisions, then it’s going to be too late.” [Full Story]

AATA OKs Labor, Agency Fee Accords

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (Jan. 17, 2013): Despite the passage of a right-to-work law by the Michigan legislature in late 2012, a new agreement between the AATA and Transport Workers Union Local 171 (TWU) maintains the same kind of agency fees that the legislation eliminated.

Charles Griffith, chair of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board

At right: Charles Griffith, chair of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board. On the left is board member David Nacht. (Photo by the writer.)

The AATA board ratified the 10-year agreement on agency fees in an accord that is separate from a 4.5-year agreement covering wages and benefits. The board approved both agreements at its Jan. 17 meeting. The agreement on agency fees takes advantage of the fact that the right-to-work law does not take effect until late March, and thus does not apply to agreements that are in place before then. It appears to be a strategy that employers statewide might use as a response to right-to-work, to the extent that they are willing to continue current agency fee arrangements. Agency fees are paid by non-union members based on the idea that they benefit from the union’s representation of their interests during collective bargaining.

The board’s vote on the two labor agreements was not unanimous. Eli Cooper dissented, based at least in part on the fact that the text of the two agreements was not available to all board members before they were asked to vote. David Nacht expressed support for Cooper’s point, but joined other board members in voting for the agreements.

Another vote that did not achieve unanimous support came on a resolution that expressed an intent to work with the board of the newly created southeast Michigan regional transportation authority (RTA) – which includes the counties of Washtenaw, Wayne, Macomb and Oakland, as well as the city of Detroit. The AATA board ultimately voted to table the resolution, with Jesse Bernstein and Anya Dale dissenting. Board members who were in favor of tabling felt that such a resolution was somewhat premature, pending the possible amendment of the RTA legislation, which passed late last year during the lame duck session of the state legislature.

The amendment desired by the AATA – which is supported by the Ann Arbor city council, the Washtenaw County board of commissioners, and the Michigan Public Transit Association – is for Washtenaw County to be excluded from the RTA at this time. AATA board discussion indicated that the window of opportunity for amending the legislation is likely to be the 90-day period for appointing RTA board members, which will close in mid-March.

In other business, the AATA board adopted a revised policy to be used in responding to requests made under the Freedom of Information Act. The board also adopted its categorical and capital grant program through fiscal 2017.

The treasurer’s report indicated a disparity between increasing ridership numbers and the amount of passenger fare revenue – a difference that is significant enough to warrant further inquiry.

Public commentary at the meeting featured a voice that was new to AATA board meetings but familiar as the film critic of the now defunct Ann Arbor News – Christopher Potter. Potter praised the quality of AATA’s service, but asked for weekend buses to run later than they do. [Full Story]

Gerber, Murphy Named to Transit Board

Liz Gerber and Richard “Murph” Murphy have been appointed to represent Washtenaw County on the new southeast Michigan regional transit authority board. Gerber lives in Ann Arbor and is a professor at the University of Michigan Ford School of Public Policy. Murphy is an Ypsilanti resident and programs director for the Michigan Suburbs Alliance.

The appointments were made by Conan Smith, chair of the Washtenaw County board of commissioners – who also serves as executive director of the Michigan Suburbs Alliance. Smith announced his decision in a Dec. 31 email time-stamped 4:45 p.m.

Dec. 31 is the final day of Smith’s term as chair of the county board, and as such is the last day that he would be able to … [Full Story]

Five Finalists To Be Interviewed for RTA Board

Five candidates will be interviewed on Thursday, Dec. 27, 2012 for two board positions to represent Washtenaw County on a new southeast Michigan regional transit authority (RTA). The finalists are: (1) David Nacht, a Scio Township resident, local attorney and board member of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority; (2) Richard “Murph” Murphy, an Ypsilanti resident and programs director for the Michigan Suburbs Alliance; (3) John Waterman, a Saline resident and founder of the nonprofit Programs to Educate All Cyclists (PEAC); (4) Liz Gerber, an Ann Arbor resident and professor at the University of Michigan Ford School of Public Policy; and (5) Wendy Woods, current Ann Arbor planning commissioner and former Ann Arbor city councilmember.

Seventeen people had submitted applications by the … [Full Story]

Regional Transit Authority Board: 17 Apply

Seventeen people have applied for two board positions to represent Washtenaw County on a new southeast Michigan regional transit authority (RTA). The deadline to apply was Dec. 21. The legislation enacting the RTA was signed by Gov. Rick Snyder on Dec. 19.

The Regional Transit Authority board will have two appointees from each of four counties, and one from the city of Detroit.

The Regional Transit Authority board will have two appointees from each of four counties, and one from the city of Detroit.

The authority – intended to coordinate regional public transportation initiatives – covers the city of Detroit and counties of Wayne, Macomb, Oakland and Washtenaw. The governing board will consist of two appointees from each county, one appointee from Detroit, and one non-voting member appointed by the governor. The Washtenaw County board members are required to be residents and registered electors of the county. County employees, elected officials or employees of a public transportation provider – like the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority – are not eligible.

Several high-profile community members have applied for the new board positions, including Republican legislator Rick Olson – who co-sponsored the RTA legislation in the state House – and David Nacht, a current Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board member. Also applying is Richard “Murph” Murphy, programs director for the Michigan Suburbs Alliance, an organization led by Conan Smith.

Smith will be making the RTA appointments. The legislation states that the county executive – or county board chair, in counties like Washtenaw where the executive is not an elected position – is authorized to make appointments to the RTA board. Smith, a Democrat representing one of the county commissioner districts in Ann Arbor, has served as chair for the past two years. It’s the county board’s custom to rotate that position, and elections will be held on Jan. 2, 2013 for the next board chair. There is no stipulation that the RTA appointments must be made in 2012, only that they be made within 90 days of the RTA’s creation. However, the county sent out a press release on Dec. 14 indicating Smith’s intent to make the appointments before his term ends. [Full Story]

County Seeks Applications for RTA Board

Washtenaw County issued a press release on Friday, Dec. 14 announcing the intent of Conan Smith, chair of the county board of commissioners, to appoint two representatives to a new 10-member regional transit authority (RTA) board. State legislation creating the RTA was passed earlier this month in a flurry of activity during the lame duck session, but has not yet been signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder. That action is anticipated to happen next week.

The authority would cover the city of Detroit and counties of Wayne, Macomb, Oakland and Washtenaw. The governing board would consist of two appointees from each county, one appointee from Detroit, and one non-voting member appointed by the governor. The move to engage in an … [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Wants Washtenaw Out of RTA

Ann Arbor city council special meeting (Dec. 10, 2012): On a unanimous vote, the council passed a resolution objecting to the inclusion of Washtenaw County in a regional transit authority (RTA), created with a bill passed by the state legislature on Dec. 6.

The counties of Wayne, Macomb, Oakland and Washtenaw are included in a regional transit authority created by state legislation passed on Dec. 6. The Ann Arbor city council wants Washtenaw County removed from the authority.

The city of Detroit and counties of Wayne, Macomb, Oakland and Washtenaw are included in a regional transit authority created by state legislation passed on Dec. 6. The Ann Arbor city council wants Washtenaw County removed from the authority.

The language of the resolution was changed at the meeting to eliminate a request that Gov. Rick Snyder veto the legislation. Instead, the council substituted a request that the RTA legislation be amended to exclude Washtenaw County, where Ann Arbor is located.

However, the resolution retained other parts of its strong wording, including a reference to a provision about rail transportation – which calls the bill’s requirements for implementation of rail-based transportation “onerous and offensive.” It’s a clause in the legislation that requires a unanimous vote of the 9-member RTA board to “acquire, construct, operate, or maintain any form of rail passenger service within a public transit region.”

The RTA legislation specifically mentions “rolling rapid transit” – a system based on buses, not trains – as a possibility for four major new regional corridors: along Woodward, along Gratiot, from Pontiac to Mt. Clemens, and from Detroit to Ann Arbor. Supporters of the RTA with Washtenaw County’s current inclusion have claimed that a rail-based east-west commuter line between Ann Arbor and Detroit is still achievable, or even likely, despite the requirement of unanimous board support.

The council’s resolution reflected the fact that an east-west rail connection has been an aspiration of Ann Arbor mayor John Hieftje and other local officials for several years – demonstrated in a current study being done with federal funds to determine a locally preferred alternative for the location of a new Amtrak station. But the “onerous and offensive” clause in the resolution was subjected to debate, as some councilmembers supported its removal for completely different reasons.

Councilmembers who’ve opposed Ann Arbor’s continued study of a new rail station seemed to perceive the clause to be an implicit endorsement of continued investments in that direction. But Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5), who could reasonably be described as the council’s strongest advocate for transit, argued also against the “onerous and offensive” clause. His argument was based on a belief that the legislation had a mechanism to allow the newly created RTA to implement rail-based services by creating yet another transit authority – thus circumventing the unanimous voting requirement. Ultimately, there were not sufficient votes on council to remove that clause.

Besides concern about the future of commuter rail, the council’s resolution indicates concern that the inclusion of Washtenaw County in the RTA would potentially risk the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority’s ability to continue its role to serve effectively as a transportation provider for Ann Arbor.

In the days leading up to the meeting, staffers with the Michigan Suburbs Alliance lobbied the council not to pass its resolution, in an effort that included a claim that the Ann Arbor city council’s resolution reflected a desire to determine unilaterally the county’s transportation future. In fact, the council’s action echoes the sentiments of a recent resolution approved by the Washtenaw County board. And a resolution of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board, approved in February 2012, supported the concept of an RTA, but conditioned that support on the coordination of new funding so that existing levels of transportation services provided by the AATA are maintained.

As of noon on Dec. 12, Snyder had not yet signed the legislation – it had not yet been presented to him for his signature, according to the governor’s office.

In this report, the council deliberations at its Dec. 10 special meeting are presented in detail. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Council Protests RTA

On an 11-0 vote taken during a special session, the Ann Arbor city council approved a resolution protesting the Michigan state legislature’s enactment of a bill last week establishing a regional transit authority (RTA) that includes Washtenaw County – where Ann Arbor is located. The RTA also includes the city of Detroit, and the counties of Wayne, Macomb and Oakland. [.pdf of state Senate Bill 909] The council vote took place on Dec. 10, 2012.

The original resolution approved by the city council called on Gov. Rick Snyder to “veto the bill and return it to the Legislature with an objection to the inclusion of Washtenaw County as a defined Qualified region in the RTA.” That language was softened to ask … [Full Story]

City Council Meeting Location: Chambers

The city of Ann Arbor has announced that a special session of the city council, scheduled for 4 p.m. today (Dec. 10) in the fourth floor jury room of the Justice Center, instead will take place in the regular second floor city council chambers inside city hall. The purpose of the special session is to consider a resolution asking Gov. Rick Snyder to veto recently passed regional transit legislation and send it back to the legislature for amendment – to exclude Washtenaw County from the four-county regional transit authority, which also includes the counties of Macomb, Wayne and Oakland, and the city of Detroit.

The change of location was motivated by a desire to make the meeting more accessible to … [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Council Agenda: Ask for RTA Veto

Four Ann Arbor councilmembers are currently listed as sponsors of a resolution that calls on Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder to veto legislation that establishes a four-county regional transit authority (RTA) for southeast Michigan. The area of the authority includes the city of Detroit and the counties of Washtenaw, Wayne, Oakland and Macomb. [.pdf of state Senate Bill 909]

The council has called a special meeting for Monday, Dec. 10 to consider the resolution.

A basic reason for the council’s possible request that Snyder veto the legislation is the inclusion of Washtenaw County in the RTA. The resolution indicates concern that the inclusion of Washtenaw County in the RTA would potentially risk the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority’s ability to continue its role to serve effectively as a transportation provider for Ann Arbor.

Among other additional reasons given in the draft resolution for the council’s objection is the characterization of the bill as containing “onerous and offensive provisions related to consideration of rail based transportation.” That’s a reference to part of the legislation that requires unanimous approval from the 9-member board of the new RTA to “acquire, construct, operate, or maintain any form of rail passenger service within a public transit region.” An east-west rail connection has been an aspiration of Ann Arbor mayor John Hieftje and other local officials for several years, and is reflected in a current study being done with federal funds to determine a locally preferred alternative for the location of a new Amtrak station.

The implications of the RTA legislation for federal and state funding of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority are not entirely clear. Both types of AATA funding appear to be impacted, although AATA staff were still sorting through the implications late Friday afternoon. AATA manager of community relations Mary Stasiak characterized the AATA’s position this way: “We support regional transportation but want to ensure that Washtenaw (Ann Arbor’s) interest and federal funding is not compromised in the process.” [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Council: Special Meeting on RTA

The city of Ann Arbor has announced a special meeting of the city council scheduled for Monday, Dec. 10, 2012 at 4 p.m., in the jury room on the fourth floor of the Justice Center at 301 E. Huron. [.pdf of special meeting announcement] Update: On the morning of Dec. 10, the city announced that the meeting location has been changed to the second-floor council chambers at city hall, next to the Justice Center.

The purpose of the meeting is to discuss a city position on state legislation regarding a regional transit authority (RTA), which has been passed by the state legislature – with the house of representatives giving it approval on Dec. 6, 2012. [.pdf of SB ... [Full Story]

2013 County Budget Includes Board Pay Bump

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Nov. 7, 2012): A long post-election meeting included several debates with an impact on county finances.

Barbara Bergman, Yousef Rabhi, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Washtenaw County commissioners Barbara Bergman and Yousef Rabhi at the Nov. 7 county board meeting. Rabhi usually wears his hair tied back, but he let it down at the beginning of the meeting to announce a plan to raise money for local shelters – he’s collecting pledges for each inch he cuts off. (Photos by the writer.)

Taking another step toward addressing a year-long controversy over how much to pay for animal control services, the board authorized contracting with the Humane Society of Huron Valley for $500,000 annually. The action enables the administration to negotiate a contract with HSHV for up to four years, with the option of adjusting the amount based on changes to the taxable value of property in the county. Voting against the resolution were Dan Smith, Wes Prater and Rolland Sizemore Jr. Ronnie Peterson was absent.

The county would not likely pay that entire amount. There are preliminary commitments from five municipalities with their own animal control ordinances, to help the offset the cost of the HSHV contract. Those entities are the cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, Ypsilanti Township, Pittsfield Township, and Superior Township.

Several commissioners expressed concern that the county is essentially in the same position as it was when this process began. Wes Prater objected to the fact that the county’s procurement policy wasn’t being followed, because a request for proposals (RFP) wasn’t issued.  Ultimately, a sufficient number of commissioners agreed to back the resolution, giving it final approval. The contract itself will not require authorization by the board.

In another move related to animal control services, the board gave final approval to a civil infractions ordinance, giving the county more flexibility to designate violations of other county ordinances as a civil infraction, rather than a criminal misdemeanor. [.pdf of proposed ordinance] In the context of animal control, enforcement of the county’s dog licensing ordinance is low because the current penalty – a criminal misdemeanor of 90 days in jail or a $500 fine – is relatively harsh. The idea is that enforcement would improve if a lesser civil infraction could be used.

Commissioners also debated options for changing their own compensation, ultimately giving initial approval to boost their base salaries from $15,500 to $15,750 annually and replacing per diem payments with stipends, effective Jan. 1, 2013. An amendment by Yousef Rabhi also increased the pay for chairs of the ways & means committee and the working session – bringing them to the same level as the board chair, at $3,000 more annually than the base salary of other commissioners. Voting against the changes as amended were Dan Smith and Rolland Sizemore Jr. A final vote is expected at the board’s Dec. 5 meeting, when a final vote on the overall 2013 budget will also occur.

In non-budget items, Dan Smith brought forward a resolution to rescind the board’s previous support for a regional transit authority (RTA) that’s being proposed in Lansing. The RTA would include the city of Detroit and the counties of Washtenaw, Wayne, Oakland and Macomb. Conan Smith has been an advocate for that effort, both as chair of the county board and in his role as executive director of the Michigan Suburbs Alliance. During deliberations on the item, some commissioners criticized Conan Smith for acting on behalf of the board and not keeping them fully informed. Wes Prater felt Conan Smith’s actions reflected disrespect for other commissioners – but Smith said he meant no disrespect.

A sense of disrespect was also felt by a resident who attended the Nov. 7 meeting to advocate for the county’s help in establishing a daytime warming center for the homeless. Alexandra Hoffman chastised the board because no commissioner responded to commentary about a warming center, and instead the remarks by advocates for the center had been followed by “disturbingly lighthearted talk about haircuts.”

Hoffman was referring to an announcement earlier in the meeting by Yousef Rabhi, whose hair is longer than any other commissioner, male or female. He hopes to get donations of $500 for every inch he cuts, to raise money for three local nonprofits: Shelter Association of Washtenaw County, Interfaith Hospitality Network, and SafeHouse Center. Rabhi told Hoffman that he was simply trying to raise awareness and money for the same issues that the warming center advocates supported.

The meeting fell the day after the Nov. 6 general election, which had resulted in the defeat of two of the nine commissioners who were running for re-election: Republican Rob Turner and Democrat Wes Prater. In District 1, Turner was outpolled by Democrat Kent Martinez-Kratz, decreasing the number of Republicans on the future nine-member board from three to two. Republican Alicia Ping won the District 3 seat over Prater – as the two incumbents faced each other due to redistricting that took effect with this election cycle. The last meeting for Turner and Prater – as well as for Democrats Leah Gunn and Barbara Bergman, who did not seek re-election – will be on Dec. 5.

It’s likely that the new board, which takes office in January, will eventually deal with a controversial topic that was raised during an appointments caucus on Nov. 7: Possible consolidation of the Washtenaw County road commission with county operations. During the caucus, held immediately prior to the regular meeting, Conan Smith suggested not yet reappointing the one road commissioner, Doug Fuller, whose term is expiring – though Fuller will continue to serve. Smith wanted to give the new county board some flexibility in discussing the future of the road commission. Some of the other issues emerging during the appointments caucus related to the role of the county’s historic district commission, economic development corporation, and the criminal justice community collaborative. [Full Story]

End of Road for County Transit Effort?

The expansion of transit services throughout Washtenaw County appears to be taking turn away from some specific approaches that have been intensively discussed for the last couple of years.

Act 196 Transit Authority

Possible action by the Ann Arbor city council this week could lead to dissolution of a newly incorporated Act 196 transit authority – called The Washtenaw Ride – just as it is emerging.

At its Nov. 8 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council is now scheduled to vote on the question of opting out of a newly incorporated countywide transit authority – an initiative that the city of Ann Arbor had been expected to help lead. With Ann Arbor’s withdrawal, this particular approach to expanding transportation services would be effectively ended.

Update: The Ann Arbor city council did decide to opt out of the transit authority, on a 10-0 vote taken at the Nov. 8 meeting.

And the topic of transit has already been raised at the post-election Nov. 7 meeting of the Washtenaw County board of commissioners. Dan Smith, a Republican who represents District 2 covering northern parts of the county, had been prepared to introduce two transit-related resolutions at the meeting, but wound up placing only one of them on the agenda. The one he brought forward was a proposal to rescind support for a metro Detroit regional transit authority (RTA) – which the board had given in September of 2011. Although board chair Conan Smith has been a champion of legislation to enable an RTA, Dan Smith’s resolution passed on a 6-4 vote.

More significantly, Smith had also considered bringing forward a resolution to dissolve The Washtenaw Ride, a new countywide transit authority created under Act 196 of 1986 when the county filed articles of incorporation last month with the state. [.pdf of resolution to dissolve The Washtenaw Ride]

The Oct. 3 filing was undertaken as part of a four-party transit agreement between the county, the cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, and the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, which is leading this initiative. Since then, all but five of the 28 municipalities in the county have voted to opt out of the new authority. However, those that are still participating include several of the county’s largest population centers: Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Ypsilanti Township, and Saline.

Dan Smith’s resolution indicated that because so few municipalities are participating, the Act 196 authority should be dissolved. He held off introducing it, however, in part because of pending action by the Ann Arbor city council the next day. As The Chronicle reported in mid-October, Ann Arbor city councilmember Stephen Kunselman had said he planned to pursue the possibility of Ann Arbor opting out – because he felt he’d have the required six-vote majority after the new city councilmembers are sworn in on Nov. 19.

But now the city council will take up the issue of withdrawing from the new transit authority at its Nov. 8 meeting. And that withdrawal will be accomplished with the support of at least some of those on the council who previously advocated to expand the AATA’s governance and service area through incorporation of the new authority. A resolution on withdrawal of Ann Arbor from the Act 196 authority was added to the Nov. 8, 2012 agenda the day before the meeting – sponsored by not just Kunselman, but also mayor John Hieftje, and councilmembers Sabra Briere, Christopher Taylor and Marcia Higgins. That indicates the city council’s resolution on withdrawal is almost certain to pass.

Under the terms of the four-party agreement, once the city of Ann Arbor withdraws from the Act 196 authority, the city can terminate the entire agreement. The council’s resolution indicates encouragement to the AATA to continue to work towards regional transportation, but not with the mechanism of this Act 196 authority.  [Full Story]