Stories indexed with the term ‘state legislation’

County Considers Road Funding Options

Washtenaw County board of commissioners working session (April 17, 2014): For more than two hours, county commissioners discussed the future of the road commission and appeared to reach consensus that no major structural changes will be made at this time.

Gene DeRossett, Manchester Township, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Several Washtenaw County road commission employees attended the county board’s April 17 working session, as did some township officials. In the foreground is Manchester Township supervisor Gene DeRossett. (Photos by the writer.)

More likely, though not yet determined, are efforts to find additional funding sources for road maintenance – including a possible countywide road millage on the Nov. 5, 2014 ballot.

Keeping the road commission unchanged had been the recommendation of a board subcommittee that met for several months to discuss available options, including the possibility of dissolving the road commission and making it part of county operations, rather than operate as an independent entity. Most county commissioners oppose that approach. The board’s May 7 agenda includes a resolution accepting the subcommittee recommendations, which also rejects making the job of road commissioner an elected position. The three road commissioners are currently appointed by the county board.

State legislation enacted in 2012 allowed for: (1) a county board of commissioners to exercise the powers and duties of a road commission; and (2) the functions of a road commission to be transferred to the county board. A sunset clause means that the laws expire on Jan. 1, 2015. That deadline prompted the county board to examine these options.

The board’s May 7 agenda includes a letter to the state House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, urging passage of HB 5117 and 5118 – bills that would eliminate the current sunset clause and extend the options for changing the road commission functions.

Much of the focus of the April 17 working session was on funding options and long-term strategy for maintaining the county’s road network. Several township representatives who attended the session voiced support for special assessment districts, known as SADs, which are being used in Scio Township to pay for road maintenance.

But Conan Smith, an Ann Arbor Democrat who’s been vocal in urging the county board to take responsibility for the road commission, argued that SADs shouldn’t be a long-term approach. The road network is an asset to the entire county’s economy, he said, and the burden of maintaining it shouldn’t rest on the smaller communities.

Smith also noted that the economy is changing. Telecommuting, for example, might change the way people use the roads, he said. Later in the meeting, road commissioner Barb Fuller noted that other infrastructure needs are important to achieve the vision that Smith had described. “I would suggest that you folks look at making broadband ubiquitous across the county,” she said. For those commissioners who take access to broadband as a given, she said, “trust me – there are parts of the county where they can’t get a signal at all.”

Yousef Rabhi, another Ann Arbor commissioner, also spoke of the need for a broader vision. Roads should serve not just drivers, but also bicyclists and pedestrians. Potholes are a serious safety issue for cyclists, he noted. “We have to keep in mind that not every taxpayer drives a car.”

Regarding funding for roads, Rabhi wanted the discussion to be about the structure of a millage – not whether there should be a new road tax. “I think it’s pretty obvious that we need more money,” he said.

The May 7 agenda includes a discussion item on options for road funding. A draft resolution was circulated at the April 17 working session to put a countywide road millage on the Nov. 5, 2014 ballot. The draft resolution calls for a four-year, 0.5 mill tax – from 2014-2017 – that would raise $7.15 million in its first year. It would earmark 50% of the gross revenues to be used in the municipality in which the revenue was generated. Beyond that, 10% would be used for non-motorized transportation needs – like bike lanes and pedestrian paths – with the remainder to be allocated “based on use, need, and impact to the traveling public.”

Another possibility is for the county board to levy a millage under Act 283. The law allows the county board to levy a millage to cover those costs, without voter approval. A draft resolution that’s been circulated among commissioners calls for levying a 1 mill tax in December 2014, which would generate $14.34 million “to repair 2013–14 winter damage to the roads, streets and paths in Washtenaw County.”

On April 17, commissioners also discussed the possibility of expanding the road commission board from three to five members. That discussion will be continued at a May 8 working session agenda.

For additional background on this process, see Chronicle coverage: “No Major Change Likely for Road Commission” and “Group Explores Road Commission’s Future.[Full Story]

A2: Marriage Equality

State Sen. Rebekah Warren of Ann Arbor (D-District 18) co-authored a column published by the Detroit Free Press about proposed legislation that would let Michigan voters overturn the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. Warren is a co-sponsor of the legislation. “Michigan would become more business-friendly by embracing marriage equality. By upholding discriminatory state policies, we are undermining our state’s ability to attract talent in the 21st Century. Denying two people the right to get married based solely on their gender violates the principles of equality our country was founded on and defies the values of fairness and freedom.” [Source]

A2: Marijuana

State Rep. Jeff Irwin (D-District 53) participated in a recent segment of the Fox 2 News talk show “Let It Rip,” focused on decriminalizing marijuana. Irwin, an Ann Arbor Democrat, has proposed legislation – House Bill 4623 – to significantly reduce the penalties for recreational use of the drug. [Source]

County Votes to Renegotiate Union Contracts

On a 6-1 vote, Washtenaw County commissioners passed a resolution at their Feb. 6, 2013 meeting related to Michigan’s new right-to-work legislation – including direction to renegotiate union contracts. The resolution was brought forward by Andy LaBarre (D-District 7), one of three Ann Arbor commissioners on the nine-member board. [.pdf of LaBarre's resolution] Voting against the resolution was Dan Smith (R-District 2). Two commissioners – Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6) and Alicia Ping (R-District 3) – were absent.

In addition to condemning the right-to-work law and urging the state legislature to pass SB 95 and SB 96 – bills that would repeal the law – LaBarre’s resolution also “directs the county administrator and the director of human resources to engage in … [Full Story]

County Board to Revisit Right-to-Work Issue

Washtenaw County commissioner Andy LaBarre intends to bring forward a resolution at the county board’s Feb. 6, 2013 meeting related to Michigan’s new right-to-work legislation – including direction to renegotiate union contracts. He emailed a copy of his resolution to fellow commissioners and the media on Jan. 30. [.pdf of LaBarre's resolution]

In addition to formally condemning the right-to-work law and urging the state legislature to pass SB 95 and SB 96 – bills that would repeal the law – LaBarre’s resolution also “directs the County Administrator and the Director of Human Resources to engage in expedited negotiations, as requested by the Unions, with the goal of reaching four (4) year agreements to protect and extend each bargaining unit’s union … [Full Story]

County Board Weighs Right-to-Work Response

Washtenaw County board of commissioners special working session (Jan. 3, 2013): In a wide-ranging discussion – driven in large part by Ann Arbor Democrat Conan Smith – county commissioners addressed how the recent state right-to-work legislation might impact Washtenaw County’s economy as well as the employees of county government.

right-to-work, Nancy Heine, Caryette Fenner, labor unions, AFSCME Local 2733, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Nancy Heine, president of AFSCME Local 3052, Caryette Fenner, president of AFSCME Local 2733, the county government’s largest union. (Photos by the writer.)

The working session included presentations by one of the county’s Lansing lobbyists; labor attorney Paul Gallagher; and Mary Kerr – president of the Ann Arbor Convention & Visitors Bureau. Kerr told commissioners that Washtenaw County brings in an estimated $12 million annually from the training conferences held here by three major unions. She said the CVB – which is funded through an accommodations tax levied by the county – will work to ensure that the unions feel welcome, but she has not had any conversations yet to gauge their reactions to the new right-to-work law.

Gallagher was less circumspect, saying he’s concerned about the potential loss of business if unions decide to move their training to a state that doesn’t have right-to-work laws.

The Michigan legislation – supported by the Republican-controlled House and Senate and Republican Gov. Rick Snyder – made it illegal to require employees to support unions financially as a condition of their employment. It’s viewed by Democrats as a way to undercut support for labor organizations that have historically backed the Democratic Party. On the Washtenaw County board of commissioners, seven of the nine commissioners are Democrats.

The legislation, which will take effect in March of 2013, received national attention and followed a failed ballot initiative by labor to protect collective bargaining rights in the state Constitution. That effort – Proposal 12-2 – was not supported by a majority of voters in the Nov. 6 election.

At the Jan. 3 working session, Conan Smith questioned Gallagher about details of state and federal labor laws, exploring the latitude that the county might have in supporting unions that represent 85% of the 1,321 employees in county government. He floated several ideas that commissioners might consider pursuing.

For example, most current union contracts expire on Dec. 31, 2013. Because the right-to-work law doesn’t take effect until March of this year, the county has until then to work with the unions and possibly extend their contracts beyond the end of 2013. If that happens before March, then the unions could continue to collect “agency fees” from employees who don’t want to join the union but who are still part of the bargaining unit that the union represents. Though the practice would be illegal for future contracts, it could remain in place for the duration of the extended agreements.

Additionally, Smith said there are items in the union contracts that might set the stage for a division of employees into three distinct groups. Two of those groups exist now: (1) unionized employees, and (2) non-union management employees. There’s the potential for a third group, Smith said: Non-union, non-management workers who have made the choice to opt-out of the union and the benefits that the union provides, be it economic, social, protective or anything else. Those benefits, in his opinion, shouldn’t accrue “to those people who don’t pay to play.”

Smith told commissioners: “I hope we are comparatively aggressive in our stance of supporting our labor partners and finding innovative ways that we can test this new world.” He hopes to make sure that the benefits of union membership are clear before people make the decision about whether to join. The point is not to coerce them to join or discourage them from joining, he said, but just to make sure they understand very clearly what opportunities they have as union members.

Smith said there are a number of places in the current union contracts where the county can make that “imminently clear.” And there are a number of places in the county’s practices where they can make that clear, too, he said. “I think if we do that through practice, undoubtedly we’ll be challenged – and I for one am quite comfortable taking that challenge forward and being the test case to determine the extent to which this law applies to our public employees.”

Smith – who is married to state Sen. Rebekah Warren – does not believe the majority of legislators would be willing to amend the right-to-work law, and that lobbying them to do so would probably be a waste of time.

Commissioners also heard from two labor leaders on Jan. 3: Caryette Fenner, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO (AFSCME) Local 2733, the county government’s largest union with about 700 members; and Nancy Heine, president of AFSCME Local 3052, which represents about 50 supervisors. Both Fenner and Heine expressed concerns amid an uncertain future. “What could potentially happen with this law is that it will render us useless,” Heine said. “We will have no resources to defend any of our members.”

It’s unclear how far the majority of commissioners would be willing to go in challenging the right-to-work law. At the Jan. 2 board meeting, the two Republican commissioners – Dan Smith and Alicia Ping – indicated they did not want to debate the issue. However, there was more clear support for sending a signal to the labor unions that do their training in Washtenaw County that they are welcome here. Andy LaBarre, who led his first meeting as chair of the working session, offered to draft a resolution to that effect for the board to consider. [Full Story]

County Board to Discuss “Right to Work”

The Washtenaw County board of commissioners will hold a special working session on Thursday, Jan. 3 to discuss how “right to work” legislation – passed by the lame duck state legislature and signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder in mid-December – will affect the county. The special session was set during the board’s first meeting of the year, on Jan. 2, 2013.

In an email sent to commissioners and commissioners-elect on Dec. 30, Yousef Rabhi – who was elected chair earlier at the Jan. 2 meeting – announced the intent to call a special session: “Second, there is a group of Commissioners (myself included) that wish to call a Special Working Session on January 3rd at 6:00 pm. Technically, this … [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]

AAPS Board Lambastes Education Legislation

Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education regular meeting (Dec. 5, 2012): At its regular meeting last Wednesday, the Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS) board of education passed a strongly-worded resolution opposing current education legislation under consideration by the state legislature, and arguing for adequate state funding of public education.

From left: AAPS superintendent Patricia Green, board chair Deb Mexicotte, vice chair Christine Stead and trustee Irene Patalan.

From left: AAPS superintendent Patricia Green, board chair Deb Mexicotte, vice chair Christine Stead and trustee Irene Patalan.

The resolution was written by trustee Christine Stead, and targets a handful of state senate and house bills, as well as the governor’s proposed rewrite of the School Aid Act.

On a long list of statements objecting to various pieces of legislation is one opposing ”the lack of local funding control so that communities might be able to break free from the state’s efforts to demolish public education …”

At the meeting, the board also approved an upgrade to the Argus/IMRA planetarium theater system, the appointment of Cameron Frost to the Recreation Advisory Commission (RAC), two sets of grants, and a set of financial reports brought as second briefing items.

As part of a comprehensive schedule of regular reports to the board, AAPS superintendent Patricia Green also asked three top members of her staff to report on enrollment, facilities, and all-day kindergarten.

The board held brief discussions on each topic following the presentations. [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]

Council Supports 25-by-25 Ballot Question

The Ann Arbor city council has passed a resolution in support of a statewide Michigan ballot proposal that would require electric utilities to provide at least 25% of their annual retail sales of electricity from renewable energy sources by the year 2025. The action was taken at council’s Oct. 1, 2012 meeting.

Renewable energy sources are defined as wind, solar, biomass, and hydropower. Although it would change the state’s constitution, the proposal includes provisions that could extend the 2025 deadline into the indefinite future. An annual extension could be granted if it would prevent rate increases of more than 1% per year. The proposal would limit rate increases required to achieve the 25% standard to no more than 1% per year.

This brief was filed … [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Marijuana Licenses: Who Decides?

At an April 2 meeting that lasted until midnight, the Ann Arbor city council handled several agenda items that could affect continued patient access to medical marijuana in Ann Arbor. The meeting also featured extensive public commentary on the topic of medical marijuana. In advance of publishing the full meeting report, The Chronicle offers this analysis of some of the medical marijuana-related issues that were discussed.

Most notably, the meeting featured remarks from city attorney Stephen Postema indicating that he believes medical marijuana dispensaries should not be in business now because they lack licenses: “… [dispensaries] can’t operate right now, they’re not allowed to operate at all – without a license.”

That contradicts the city’s ordinance, which allows dispensaries to operate while their license applications are still pending. (The city is still in the process of issuing its first licenses for dispensaries.) From the ordinance: “The medical marijuana dispensary may continue to operate pending final action on the application unless the Building Official determines that it must be closed for safety reasons.” When The Chronicle sent Postema an emailed query questioning the accuracy of his statement, he responded by insisting his statement was accurate. However, Postema declined to provide any foundation for his feeling that dispensaries lacking a license – even those with applications pending – are not allowed to operate by dint of having no license.

If dispensaries are assumed to be operating in violation of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act, then they would not be allowed to operate – whether they had a license or not. However, at the April 2 meeting Postema did not identify a basis for such an assumption. He stopped short of describing an interpretation of a recent Michigan court of appeals ruling (the McQueen case) as banning all dispensaries, but said the ruling presented “severe difficulties” for dispensaries.

The council’s deliberations on Monday night can be understood in the context of a struggle between the city attorney’s office on the one hand, and some members of council and the medical marijuana licensing board. The struggle relates to who has the decision-making authority for awarding licenses, and when those licensing awards should be decided. From a formal, procedural point of view, it’s not an open question: The licensing board makes recommendations to the city council, which has the ultimate decision-making authority. The board has already recommended that licenses be awarded to 10 different dispensaries.

However, from a practical point of view, the council will act only under the advice of the city attorney’s office. Since the licensing and zoning ordinances were enacted by the city council last year, Postema has proceeded in a way that reserves a role for city staff in the licensing process that has an uncertain basis in the actual ordinances approved by the council. Revisions to those ordinances, meant in part to address some of those uncertainties, were part of the council’s April 2 agenda.

Here’s a summary of the outcome on medical marijuana issues at the April 2 meeting: (1) the council unanimously postponed consideration of licensing ordinance revisions until June 18 – the council’s second meeting that month; (2) on a 9-1 vote, the council approved giving direction to the city planning commission to review the zoning ordinance; and (3) on a 6-4 vote, the council tabled a resolution directing the city attorney to delay enforcement activities against dispensaries. A tabled resolution will demise if it’s not brought back off the table in six months.

Deliberations suggested in sum that the current arrangement in Ann Arbor, under which patients are still able to get medical marijuana from dispensaries, will persist at least until the city council votes on licenses. But the timing of that vote appears fairly uncertain, given the mixed signals currently being sent by the city attorney.

Provided in this article is analysis of some of the local issues related to medical marijuana licensing and zoning. The analysis culminates by showing how the interpretation of a single requirement in the city’s zoning ordinance – that dispensaries adhere to the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act – makes a significant difference in who makes the practical decision on whether dispensaries receive a license and can legally operate, and where the burden of proof lies for MMMA conformance. [Full Story]

County Board Sends Message to Lansing

Washtenaw County commissioners passed a resolution at their April 4, 2012 meeting asking state legislators to halt any bills that would eliminate the state’s personal property tax, unless 100% replacement revenues are guaranteed. More than $40 million in PPT revenues are received by local units of government within Washtenaw County.

The resolution calls the potential loss of PPT revenue “devastating,” and states that such a loss would ”severely reduce the level of services by the local governments, including but not limited to public safety, transportation, libraries, schools, and local infrastructure.”

Dan Smith abstained from the vote. Rob Turner was absent.

This brief was filed from the boardroom of the county administration building, 220 N. Main in Ann Arbor. A more detailed report will follow: … [Full Story]

UM Regents Split on State House Lawsuit

University of Michigan board of regents special meeting (April 2, 2012): At a special meeting held on Monday afternoon that lasted less than 30 minutes, the board passed a resolution directing UM administrators to file an amicus brief in support of a lawsuit filed by Michigan House Democrats against the GOP majority. The lawsuit indirectly related to recent legislation regarding graduate student research assistants (GSRAs), which had been given “immediate effect” by a voice vote of the legislature.

Julia Darlow, Mary Sue Coleman

From left: University of Michigan regent Julia Darlow talks with UM president Mary Sue Coleman after the April 2 special meeting of the board. Darlow was the only regent physically present for the meeting. All other regents participated via conference call. (Photos by the writer.)

Dissenting in the 5-3 vote were the board’s two Republican regents – Andy Richner and Andrea Fischer Newman – as well as Democrat Libby Maynard. Richner and Newman objected vigorously to the action. Richner said it was inappropriate to intervene in a “political spat,” and worried that the vote could have long-term implications that the regents may regret. Newman said the issue involved House procedural rules that Democrats and Republicans have both used in the past.

Denise Ilitch, who voted with the Democratic majority, said the view of Richner and Newman was hypocritical. She said that they had testified at legislative hearings in support of legislation that had the effect of preventing GSRAs from unionizing. Maynard said her opposition was for very different reasons than those given by Richner and Newman, and indicated that she wasn’t comfortable in general with the university filing amicus briefs.

Except for Julia Darlow, all other regents participated in the meeting via conference call.

A hearing on the lawsuit took place earlier in the day at Ingham County Circuit Court, where judge Clinton Canady III ruled in favor of the Democrats and issued a stay on legislation that had been given immediate effect, including the GSRA legislation. That law – which regents had voted to oppose at a Feb. 21 special meeting – made explicit that GSRAs are not entitled to collective bargaining rights under Michigan’s Act 336 of 1947. There are more than 2,000 GSRAs at the university.

Republicans are expected to appeal Canady’s ruling. The motion that was passed by a majority of regents on Monday directed UM administrators to file an amicus “friend of the court” brief in any appeal as well. Jeff Irwin, a Democrat from Ann Arbor’s District 53, is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. [Full Story]

Regents Direct UM to File Amicus Brief

By a 5-3 vote, the University of Michigan board of regents directed UM administrators to prepare and file an amicus brief in support of a lawsuit filed by Michigan House Democrats against the GOP majority, indirectly related to recent legislation regarding graduate student research assistants (GSRAs). The regents’ vote was taken during a brief special meeting held on the afternoon of April 2, with all but one regent  participating via conference call. Julia Darlow was the lone regent who was physically present in the room. Dissenting were Republican regents Andrea Fischer Newman and Andrew Richner, and Democrat Libby Maynard.

By way of background, last month state House Democrats sued Republicans over the refusal by the GOP majority to hold recorded roll-call votes when super-majorities are … [Full Story]

Ann Arbor: Keep Grass Out of Landfills

At its March 19, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council passed a resolution supporting the continued maintenance and enforcement of a 1990 statewide ban on adding yard waste, like lawn grass clippings, to landfills.

The city council’s action came in opposition to two bills, HB 4265 and HB 4266, passed by the Michigan state house of representatives on March 15 on a 67-40 and 66-41 vote, respectively. Together the bills would allow for yard waste to be added to landfills under certain conditions – when the landfill has a gas collection system and that gas is used in the production of electricity. Ann Arbor’s now-closed landfill uses such a gas collection system, which has produced around 3,000 MWh of … [Full Story]

Regents Take Action on Security Investigation

University of Michigan board of regents meeting (Feb. 16, 2012): In the wake of a mishandled incident involving child pornography allegedly viewed on a UM health system computer, regents voted last week to start an external investigation into the matter.

Student groups at UM regents meeting

Members of student groups at the Feb. 16 UM regents meeting stood in support of a speaker during public commentary who was advocating for tuition equality for students who are undocumented immigrants. (Photos by the writer.)

Martin Taylor, who introduced the resolution at the start of the meeting, described the situation as “one that is unacceptable to the regents and that we, the regents, feel we must do everything within our power to ensure that it is not repeated.” There had been a six-month lag between the time the incident was initially reported in May of 2011, and action taken by university officials to investigate. A former medical resident, Stephen Jenson, was arrested in mid-December. [.pdf of Taylor's statement]

The university administration had issued its own report on an internal audit earlier this month, with recommendations to improve security and communications. [.pdf of UM report] But regents felt more needed to be done, and have asked UM president Mary Sue Coleman to work with board chair Denise Ilitch to make recommendations for outside consultants who could be hired to carry out an additional investigation.

During public commentary at the meeting, Coleman was sharply criticized for her handling of the situation. One speaker accused her of a repeated pattern of attacking whistleblowers. The remarks prompted some regents to come to Coleman’s defense, calling the accusations unfair.

The ongoing debate about whether to allow graduate student research assistants (GSRAs) to unionize also emerged during the Feb. 16 meeting, when three students spoke about the topic during public commentary. The same issue was the focus of an unusual special meeting that regents held the following week, on Feb. 21. At that meeting – which included heated debate among regents over whether the meeting had been called in conformity with the state’s Open Meetings Act – the board voted 6-2 to oppose Michigan senate bill 197. The bill would prohibit GSRAs from collective bargaining. It was subsequently passed by the Republican-controlled state senate on a 26-12 party-line vote.

Regents acted on a range of other issues during their Feb. 16 meeting. There was no mention of the Feb. 8 special meeting that had been called to approve the use of Michigan Stadium for the National Hockey League’s Winter Classic, scheduled for Jan. 1, 2013. However, one item on the Feb. 16 agenda did relate to UM athletics: a vote to rename the basketball player development center at Crisler in honor of William Davidson, who died in 2009. His family, via the William Davidson Foundation, recently donated $7.5 million to the University of Michigan athletics department.

Another renaming was also approved – for the Computer Science and Engineering Building, in honor of Bob and Betty Beyster. Bob Beyster, who received multiple degrees from UM and founded Science Applications International Corp., recently gave a $15 million gift to the College of Engineering.

In other business, regents voted to revise the board’s bylaws, including a change that eliminated a previous requirement that executives retire after their 70th birthday. Coleman will be 70 when her current contract expires in 2014, but regent Martin Taylor said the change wasn’t being made to accommodate her – it’s to comply with the law, he said. Regents also authorized the appointment of six Thurnau professorships, and took votes that moved forward several previously approved projects, including major renovations at East Quad and the residences in the Lawyers’ Club.

Two presentations were given during the meeting – by Martin Philbert, dean of the School of Public Health, and Doug Engel, chair and professor of cell and developmental biology. Engel’s presentation highlighted recent news that the U.S. National Institutes of Health has authorized an embryonic stem cell line developed by UM researchers to be eligible for federally funded research.

The meeting concluded with public commentary on a variety of issues, including (1) better access to a childcare subsidy available to parents who are UM students; (2) equity for students who are charged out-of-state tuition because they are undocumented immigrants; and (3) criticism of the university’s relationship with China. [Full Story]

UM Regents Oppose GSRA Senate Bill

At a special meeting convened at 8 a.m. on Feb. 21, University of Michigan regents voted 6-2 to formally oppose Senate Bill 971, which would make explicit that graduate student research assistants (GSRAs) are not entitled to collective bargaining rights under Michigan’s Act 336 of 1947.

Opposing the resolution were the board’s two Republican regents, Andrea Fischer Newman and Andrew Richner. The meeting was held via conference call. None of the regents – nor UM president Mary Sue Coleman, who chaired the proceedings – were physically in the boardroom at the Fleming administration building, though several staff and members of the media attended to listen in to the call.

The bill, which was introduced on Feb. 15 by state Senate majority leader Randy … [Full Story]

Michigan Regional Transit Bills Unveiled

Following an early morning announcement on Jan. 26 from state representative Rick Olson (District 55) – that a transportation improvement package for Michigan would be introduced in both houses of the legislature today – the text of the 17 bills is now available.

Southeast Michigan Transit Authority

Four-county region the regional transit authority (RTA) counterclockwise from Washtenaw County (orange): Wayne, Macomb, Oakland. Pushpin A is the location of the Detroit Metro airport. Major corridors on which rolling rapid transit would be provided include Gratiot (red), M-59 (yellow), Woodward (purple) and Michigan Avenue (green). (Map is by The Ann Arbor Chronicle. Routes are approximate, intended to illustrate the concept. Image links to dynamic Google Map with .kml file)

Much of the package deals with road funding, but some of the bills establish a regional transit authority (RTA) for southeast Michigan and its funding. Here’s a brief initial glance at some of the possible legislation.

HB 5309 establishes the region of the RTA as Washtenaw, Wayne, Macomb and Oakland counties. The counties are not mentioned by name, but rather are described in terms of their population – a move likely used to avoid the 2/3 majority vote required under Michigan’s constitution (Article IV Section 29) for the legislature to enact local or special acts.

The legislation specifically calls for rolling rapid transit (aka bus rapid transit) along four corridors: (1) a Woodward corridor, (2) a Gratiot corridor, (3) a northern cross-county line to operate between the city of Troy and the city of Mt. Clemens, and (4) a western cross-county 47-mile route between downtown Detroit and the downtown Ann Arbor Blake Transit Center. The Ann Arbor line is described as including stations in Ypsilanti, the Detroit Metro airport, and Dearborn. [Full Story]