Stories indexed with the term ‘term limits’

Late-Night Bitter Politics Set Stage for May 6

The Ann Arbor city council meeting that started on Monday evening, April 15, 2013 did not end until after 3 a.m. the following day. This was due in part to a stream of about 100 citizens who took the podium for general public commentary and two significant public hearings. The three-minute allocation of time per speaker translated into about five hours of public speaking time.

Mayor John Hieftje

Mayor John Hieftje at the April 15 Ann Arbor city council meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

Conversation amongst audience members at the meeting – as well as subsequently in the community – described the effort as a “citizens filibuster.” The result of all the commentary: Two significant items on the agenda were postponed until the council’s May 6 meeting.

One of those items was the site plan approval for 413 E. Huron. Postponement of a decision on that project was lumped in with the general motion to postpone all remaining action items on the agenda until May 6. It was not necessarily expected that the council would postpone the 413 E. Huron site plan that evening, even if it was hoped by opponents that councilmembers would put off the decision – for a third time.

But there was a reasonable expectation that another significant item would be postponed – the council’s final action on a proposed revision to the city ordinance governing the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. It was during the often acrimonious debate on that decision that the council ultimately opted to postpone all of its remaining action items until May 6.

The acrimony stemmed in part from the fact that the stated intention of Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) at the start of the meeting was to postpone a final decision – and that was the expected outcome. The fact that this expected outcome was called into question heightened the tension in an already emotional debate. The tension was heightened by the fact that deviation from the anticipated postponement was made possible mainly by the absence of two councilmembers – Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) and Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1).

By the time the council reached the DDA ordinance on its agenda, the hour was approaching 2 a.m. And by then Higgins and Kailasapathy had needed to leave the council meeting. Both of them had supported the ordinance changes in the 7-3 vote taken at the council’s April 1, 2013 meeting. But for the final reading on April 15, neither of them were at the table when the debate on the DDA ordinance began.

Kailasapathy described herself to The Chronicle as on the verge of physical exhaustion when she left – having had little sleep over the several days leading up to the meeting. She earns her livelihood as a certified public accountant, and tax season is a time of peak workload.

So apparently recognizing that the absence of Kailasapathy and Higgins would mean defeat for the ordinance change – if it were voted up or down, instead of being postponed – mayor John Hieftje led an effort to force an up-or-down vote on the issue. And councilmembers who were willing to put off the issue were not unified in their view about the parliamentary procedure to use to achieve that delay. So the council voted on two different options – postponing until a date certain (June 17) or tabling the issue. Sabra Briere (Ward 1) provided a crucial vote against postponement, but voted in favor of tabling.

Kunselman argued for the postponement by pointing out that because the sequence of the roll-call vote that evening allowed him to vote last, he could simply assess how the tally stood, and vote accordingly with the prevailing side. That would give him the right to bring back the vote for reconsideration at the council’s subsequent meeting. But Kunselman’s argument was not persuasive to a six-vote majority.

Without a six-vote majority in favor of either tabling or postponing, the council was left to deliberate on the actual ordinance amendments. As some attempted amendments failed – clearly due to the dynamic that had resulted from the absence of two councilmembers – Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) eventually proposed adjourning the meeting until the following Monday, when the meeting could continue. However, after a brief recess it was decided that the council would simply postpone all remaining voting items until its May 6 meeting, and put an end to the April 15 meeting.

After approving the motion to postpone the action items, councilmembers ticked through the remaining “housekeeping” items on the agenda, which largely included various reports and communications. Of those, one highlight worth noting was the nomination by Hieftje of Eric Mahler to replace David Nacht on the board of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority.

The public commentary at the April 15 meeting exceeds The Chronicle’s capacity to report in its customary way. Still, some accounting of the meeting is important for the archives.

This report provides: (1) a summary of votes taken; and (2) a summary of actions that will now appear on the May 6 agenda as a result of the April 15 postponement. In addition, this report begins with details of the deliberations on the proposed DDA ordinance revisions. [Full Story]

Greenbelt Commission Wraps Up 2012

Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission meeting (Dec. 6, 2012): Commissioners ended the year with a relatively brief meeting, which included a vote to smooth the way for land preservation in 2013.

Christopher Taylor, Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission, Ann Arbor city council, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Christopher Taylor, a Ward 3 Ann Arbor city councilmember, was recently appointed to the city’s greenbelt advisory commission and attended his first meeting on Dec. 6. (Photos by the writer.)

GAC members authorized staff to proceed with property appraisals, as needed, to prepare for possible grant applications to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm and Ranchland Protection Program (FRPP). There’s some uncertainty about how much grant funding will be available, but Ginny Trocchio – who provides staff support for the greenbelt program – anticipates the deadline to apply will be in early March. She is seeking landowners who might be willing to sell their property’s development rights in deals that would be eligible for FRPP grants.

Trocchio also noted that the city hopes to close on five pending deals by the end of 2012. If that happens, it would bring the total amount of land protected through the greenbelt to about 4,200 acres. The program is funded by a 30-year millage approved by Ann Arbor voters in 2003, and organizers at that time hoped to preserve between 3,500 to 4,500 over the life of the millage. Land prices have fallen since that time because of the economic downturn, allowing the program to protect more land than originally anticipated. The land is protected primarily through the purchase of development rights.

The Dec. 6 meeting also included some housekeeping tasks: the election of officers, and approval of GAC’s 2013 calendar. Current officers were re-elected – Dan Ezekiel as chair, and Catherine Riseng as vice chair. Ezekiel noted that his term ends in mid-2013 and he’ll be term-limited at that point, so a new chair will be needed then. Laura Rubin will also be cycling off GAC next summer . She and Ezekiel are the last of the original commissioners who were appointed in 2004, when the greenbelt program was formed.

The meeting was the first for Ann Arbor city councilmember Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), who was appointed to GAC at the council’s Dec. 3 meeting. Taylor also serves as one of the council representatives on the city’s park advisory commission. Ezekiel noted that it will be good to have a “direct pipeline” between the two groups. At least a couple of greenbelt commissioners also commented to Taylor that they were glad to have a city councilmember again on GAC. The previous city council appointee, Carsten Hohnke, attended only one GAC meeting in 2012. Hohnke did not run for re-election to the council and ended his council service in early November. [Full Story]

Greenbelt Commission Terms Revised

Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission meeting (May 11, 2011): Wednesday was the last regular meeting for two greenbelt commissioners – terms end on June 30 for chair Jennifer S. Hall and Gil Omenn, who were both active in efforts to launch the program. Both have reached the term limits for serving on GAC.

Jennifer S. Hall

Jennifer S. Hall, chair of the Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission, presided over her last regular meeting on May 11. Her term ends on June 30; GAC's June meeting will be a joint session with the city's park advisory commission.

Instead of holding their regular meetings in June, the greenbelt and park advisory commissions have scheduled a joint working session to discuss common goals and priorities – they last met jointly in April 2010.

Term limits were raised in another context during Wednesday’s meeting, when commissioners were asked to recommend that city council restate current GAC membership terms. Mary Fales of the city attorney’s office has been working on the revisions, after inconsistencies were discovered for current appointments. For example, a term for Ecology Center director Mike Garfield ended on June 30, 2009. Though he continued to serve, he was not officially reappointed to another three-year term until Sept. 21, 2010. Under the resolution recommended by GAC, all terms would end on June 30, over staggered years.

Also at Wednesday’s meeting, commissioners got an update about Michigan budget-related legislation that would cut tax credits for farmers. They were also briefed by staff about changes to the federal Farm and Ranchland Protection Program – the city has received millions of dollars worth of FRPP grants over the years to offset the cost of development rights purchased in the greenbelt.

Ginny Trocchio, support staff for the greenbelt program, told commissioners that June 16 is the date for a greenbelt celebration, starting at 5:30 p.m. at the Braun farm in Ann Arbor Township, which was added to the greenbelt in 2010. The event will be open to the public, and will include a presentation to highlight the program’s accomplishments.

Dan Ezekiel, GAC’s vice chair, reported that the subcommittee he’s leading to look at possible changes in the greenbelt boundary will be making a proposal at the commission’s July 13 meeting.

And in its final action of the meeting, commissioners emerged from a closed session and voted to recommend that Ann Arbor city council make a $127,200 offer for the purchase of development rights on a property within the greenbelt. Before appearing on the city council’s agenda, details of these greenbelt acquisitions are not made public – parcels are identified only by their application number. [Full Story]

State Legislative Candidates Lining Up

Rebekah Warren

Rebekah Warren, current state representative from Ann Arbor, plans to officially announce her candidacy for Liz Brater's state senate seat on Sept. 19.

The year was 1992. Hecklers in Hamtramck threw broccoli at George H.W. Bush. Ross Perot got almost 19% of the presidential vote. And Michigan voters enacted term limits.

Fast forward to the present: Perot and Bush 41’s broccoli problem are largely forgotten, but term limits now shape elections for state office. Except in districts evenly enough divided between Democrats or Republicans that they might swing either way, it’s rare for an incumbent to face a serious challenge. Instead, political hopefuls wait for term limits to open the right slot.

That’s happening this election cycle with districts representing the Ann Arbor area. And jockeying is under way.

Next weekend, state Rep. Rebekah Warren (D-53rd District) will launch a campaign to succeed fellow Ann Arbor Democrat Liz Brater (D-18th District) in the Michigan Senate. A former state rep and former Ann Arbor mayor, Brater is term-limited and ineligible to run again for that seat.

Warren’s move will, in turn, trigger announcements from the Democrats who’ve politely waited for the two-term lawmaker to make her plans public before lining up to try and take her spot in the state House of Representatives. [Full Story]