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Elizabeth Nelson's City Council Blog

I write a City Council newsletter with my summary of agenda items coming before City Council. Sign up to receive it first via email, or read it here later on this blog.

Additional Thoughts (Jan 16, 2022) - ARP, Decriminalizing Sex Work, Resolution Against Protests

The following was originally published in my January 16, 2022 Newsletter in the "Additional Thoughts" section.

 

Since our last meeting, most of my email has been on three topics: the allocation of American Rescue Plan funds, the suggestion that Ann Arbor decriminalize sex work, and resolution DC-1 on this week’s agenda.



ARP FUNDING RECOMMENDATIONS

The City hosted four public engagement meetings this past week and four more are planned for this coming week (see links above in this newsletter). I attended the overview session last Tuesday night, where many participants in the ZOOM chat box questioned the current list of recommendations, what was missing from it, and who had participated in making it. I have received a number of emails this week communicating similar concerns about the current process for public engagement.


The public engagement happening now is a result of my urging that we make time for more community conversation about these recommendations. In October, I wrote about the original, accelerated plan for final approval (and my reservations about it):

https://www.a2elnel.com/post/prioritizing-american-rescue-plan-funds



DECRIMINALIZING SEX WORK

At our last meeting, Council approved amendments to a city ordinance that defines and sets penalties for “disorderly conduct.” That approval was “first reading” and so the amendments return to our agenda this week for a public hearing and final approval at “second reading” (PH-2/B-2). Approval of B-2 will (among other things) retain the specific section of our city ordinance that includes participation in acts of prostitution as “disorderly conduct” subject to a penalty. At our last Council meeting, local advocates for the legalization of sex work called in with public comment. MLive wrote about it:

https://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/2022/01/sex-worker-group-urges-ann-arbor-officials-to-strike-down-local-prostitution-law.html


You can learn more about a local movement for decriminalization here:

https://answerdetroit.org/


This week, I have received many emails expressing alarm that the City might consider changing local ordinances in order to remove all reference to and penalties for participation in acts of prostitution. All of Council has heard from local and national organizations who work to rescue victims of human trafficking. Advocates have urged us to consider the value of local ordinances in addressing the problem of human trafficking.


You can learn more about work against human trafficking here:

https://michiganabolitionistproject.org/

https://sanctumhouse.org/

https://polarisproject.org/


Our City attorney spoke to MLive in defense of our local ordinance:

“Having this charge available allows police to investigate those cases of involuntary sex work, like human trafficking and child abuse,” he said. “Decriminalizing something does not make all related problems suddenly disappear. The city of Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County are not immune from the tragedies of human trafficking and pandering. Sex trafficking is one of the most under-reported crimes and can result in one of the most traumatic of life experiences for the victims.”

https://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/2022/01/ann-arbor-city-attorney-defends-prostitution-law-amid-calls-to-decriminalize-sex-work.html



RESOLUTION AGAINST PROTESTS

Events in Texas this weekend are a reminder of the broad, national context of resolution DC-1. There is no denying that rising antisemitism around the country is a real and considerable threat to members of the Jewish faith. There is also local context to the resolution in DC-1.


The resolution in DC-1 references specific protest activities at a local synagogue, which have taken place weekly for eighteen years. In 2004, City Council passed a resolution in response to these protests. You can find that resolution embedded in Council meeting minutes from Oct 18, 2004 (this is a "pre-Legistar" meeting, so you will need to search the meeting minutes for 'R-446-10-04' to find the wording of the legislation)

https://a2gov.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=264721&GUID=6C5F55F0-49B6-4E35-86BD-43BE1AFC0CD5&Options=Advanced&Search=&FullText=1


These protests are now the subject of litigation brought by members of the synagogue against the protesters and against the City itself. In the context of that litigation, the City’s legal department has recently argued that these protests are protected political speech, that they "are not directed at the plaintiffs or any specific person, nor do they advocate or incite direct violence against the plaintiffs, their fellow congregants, the synagogue, Israel, or Jews.”


I look forward to substantive discussion of this resolution on Tuesday night, based on advice and information received. The nature of these local protests - targeting members of our community who are simply practicing their religion in peace - is abhorrent and I agree with everyone who denounces them as hostile, offensive, and inappropriate. However, the City itself has defended the legality of these protests as protected political speech. While I can vote in support of a resolution like DC-1, I fear that it mostly attracts more attention to the protesters, which is exactly what they want.


For anyone interested in reading more about the local protests referenced in resolution DC-1 (as well as the ongoing litigation surrounding them), below are links that might be informative:

https://thejewishnews.com/2020/08/21/judge-dismisses-lawsuit-against-protesters-at-ann-arbor-synagogue/

https://www.courthousenews.com/michigan-jewish-community-argues-for-ban-on-protests-outside-synagogue/

https://www.aclumich.org/en/cases/synagogue-protesters