This week on City Council, we have a fairly short agenda up for discussion that includes one public hearing, and some new/unfinished business that considers allocation of the millage rebate, use of city owned properties for affordable housing, and increased public engagement for traffic calming measures (road diets).
Before I jump into my summary of items on the agenda, I’d like to invite you to my coffee hours today (Sunday) from 3-4:30 p.m. at RoosRoast on Rosewood. I hope this is a convenient opportunity for us to meet in person and hear perspectives.
Some of us on City Council have decided to resume a tradition of “Council Caucus” on Sunday nights. I am looking forward to this opportunity for additional open, public conversation around the issues that matter to you!
The public is invited to a Council Caucus this Sunday, March 31st. Directions will be posted on the exterior doors of City Hall.
Council Caucus Sunday Mar 31st (7:00-9:00 PM) City Hall 2nd Floor 301 E Huron St
Public comment general time. (Three minutes, no need to signup in advance and speakers will be assigned in the order of arrival.)
Discussion, primarily topics on the next day's Council agenda.
One or more council members will be present for each caucus.
Children are welcome. (Books and crayons provided)
If there is public interest, then the caucus sessions will continue every Sunday before regular Council meetings.
For more information about Council Caucus, see the city website at: https://www.a2gov.org/departments/city-council/Pages/CityCouncilMeetings.aspx
I spent the last week on a Spring Break road trip with my family. For anyone who shares my enthusiasm for road trips: I highly recommend travel on the Natchez Trace (a 444 mile scenic route from Nashville, Tennessee to Natchez, Mississippi). It was lovely! https://www.nps.gov/natr/index.htm
We also visited three state capitals (Jackson, Baton Rouge, Tallahassee), rounding out our family total to thirty-two. On our way home we looped back through Plains, Georgia, the home town of President Jimmy Carter. Carter’s presidential library in Atlanta is fabulous and the exhibits in Plains were great, too.
In addition to writing this newsletter, I post regular updates to my website with my perspectives on how issues were resolved at City Council and details on how Council voted at each meeting. I also post information about meetings and issues that affect Ward 4 residents, along with news that affects all city residents. I occasionally .
Below are links to items I posted since the previous newsletter, and posts about meetings coming up in the next two weeks. You can see a listing of all my posts here: https://www.a2elnel.com/blog/
City Council News
Council Caucus on Sunday nights https://www.a2elnel.com/blog/council-caucus-on-sunday-nights
City Council Voting Chart for Mar 18, 2019 https://www.a2elnel.com/blog/city-council-voting-chart-for-mar-18-2019
Ward 4 News/City News
Compost Collection resumes April 1st https://www.a2elnel.com/blog/compost-collection-resumes-april-1st
April 4th meeting for 2019 Street Resurfacing/Restoration https://www.a2elnel.com/blog/april-4th-meeting-for-2019-street-resurfacing-restoration
April 8th Citizen Participation Meeting for Valhalla Glen development (Scio Church & S Main) https://www.a2elnel.com/blog/april-8th-citizen-participation-meeting-for-valhalla-glen-development-scio-church-s-main
April 8th meeting about Water Treatment Plant UV Disinfection System Project https://www.a2elnel.com/blog/april-8th-meeting-about-water-treatment-plant-uv-disinfection-system-project
Village Oaks/Chaucer Court storm sewer overflow project starts early April https://www.a2elnel.com/blog/village-oaks-chaucer-court-storm-sewer-overflow-project-starts-early-april
A reminder about a few city resources:
A2 Fix It This is an online system for alerting the city to problems in your neighborhood (e.g. potholes, graffiti, garbage pickup). This is the city’s preferred method for hearing your complaint so they can direct appropriate staff to address it. I’m happy to hear from you, too, but city staff tell me that the online A2FixIt system is actually the quickest and fastest way to get a response to the problem. Information about A2FixIt (and explanation of more urgent issues and appropriate numbers to call) is here: https://www.a2gov.org/services/pages/report-a-problem.aspx
City News and Announcements This is a helpful link to updates on events and opportunities in Ann Arbor through City Hall: https://www.a2gov.org/news/pages/default.aspx
City Department Updates If you have specific interests related to the city’s work, e.g. construction projects, deer management, recycling, you can subscribe to receive emailed updates on various topics found here: https://www.a2gov.org/services/Pages/E-mailAlertSubscription.aspx
Volunteer Boards and Commissions Membership on these Boards and Commissions is constantly changing as terms end and appointees step down. We need you! You can find openings at the following link (or contact me directly) https://a2gov.granicus.com/boards/w/fe6c5e22e6f4a331/vacancies
HIGHLIGHTS Council Meeting Agenda 4/1/19
Below is my summary of some issues on the City Council Agenda this week, with links to more information about each of them.
The full agenda in PDF format (along with links to each proposed ordinance/resolution) can be found on the A2Gov Legistar website here: https://a2gov.legistar.com/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=656002&GUID=1325CD25-1A1C-4213-BA36-3F60F77AC9EF&Options=info&Search=
If you have comments about any of these issues, feel free to email me at my official City email: ENelson@A2gov.org
Anyone wanting to comment on these issues may speak for 3 minutes, without having specifically reserved time. Issues subject to public hearing will also be up for a vote by Council later in the meeting
PH-1/B-1 (19-0465) An Ordinance to Amend Title VI (Food and Health) of the Code of the City of Ann Arbor by Adding a New Chapter 73 (Two-Cycle Power Equipment) (ORD-19-08) The use of two-cycle power equipment would be banned within the Downtown Development Authority area of the city. This refers mostly to landscaping equipment that is used to blow leaves and debris, collect leaves and debris, and trim hedges and bushes.
B-1 (19-0465) An Ordinance to Amend Title VI (Food and Health) of the Code of the City of Ann Arbor by Adding a New Chapter 73 (Two-Cycle Power Equipment) (ORD-19-08) text This is the same as PH-1 above
DC-1 (19-0494) Resolution to Appoint Jonathan Overpeck to the Environmental Commission (7 Votes Required) Jonathan Overpeck is filling an empty seat left by Joshua Rego. Seven votes are required for this appointment because Overpeck is technically not a resident (i.e. he lives within the city limits, but in a township island). He is the dean of the University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability.
DC-2 (19-0284) Resolution Establishing Center of the City Task Force Consistent with the approval of Proposal A (City Charter amendment) last November, this resolution anticipates the beginning stages of development for a public park. A citizen task force would be established for visioning, long-term planning, and intermittent uses. Nine people of specified various backgrounds would be appointed by City Council and the City Administrator would support their work. A report of recommendations is to be presented to Council on or before February 28, 2020.
DC-3 (19-0565) Resolution Directing the City Administrator to Provide Additional Funding in the FY20/21 Budget and Financial Plan to Address Affordable Housing, Climate Action, and Pedestrian Safety and Provide SMART Performance Outcomes This resolution addresses the controversy around the millage rebate funds, without directing use of those specific rebate funds. Funding would be guaranteed toward the goals (Affordable Housing, Climate Action, and Pedestrian Safety) and in the same amounts (the equivalent of 40/40/20 percentages) previously committed by City Council in 2017, but “does not ratify, void, modify, or have any bearing whatsoever” on that previous commitment. Funding levels promised in 2017 would be included in the FY2020 budget as a baseline, with appropriate increases for inflation in FY2021.
DC-4 (19-0581) Resolution Providing FY20 Budget Policy Direction Consistent with the Results of the Community Survey on the Recommended Allocation of the 2017 Washtenaw County Mental Health and Public Safety Millage Proceeds of $2.2M Annually This resolution also addresses the controversy around the millage rebate fund. It references the recent community survey and directs the city administrator to allocate the millage rebate funds according to the results of that community survey. Eight purposes would be funded, at approximate percentages (rounded up): 1) Mental health services (16%); 2) Street re-surfacing/repair (16%); 3) Safe drinking water initiatives (15%); 4) Affordable housing (13%); 5) Water and sewer infrastructure improvements (11%); 6) Public safety funding to police (10%); 7) Climate Action Plan (10%); 8) Pedestrian safety projects (8%)
DC-5 (19-0605) Resolution Directing the City Administrator to Collaborate with the Ann Arbor Housing Commission to Provide Coordinated Analysis on the Feasibility of City-Owned Properties as Potential Locations for Affordable Housing The City Administrator would collaborate with the Executive Director of the Ann Arbor Housing Commission to assess nine publicly owned properties to create the optimal number of affordable housing units. This resolution expands on previous resolutions that singled out three properties. This proposes that all nine properties be prioritized as to which would be best used and face the least obstacles to redevelopment in a holistic approach. Properties named: 350 S. Fifth Avenue (Y lot), W. William Street/S. Ashley (Kline lot), 415 W. Washington, 404/406 N. Ashley Street, 3400 block of Platt Road, 721 N. Main, 2000 S. Industrial, 1501 E. Stadium Blvd.
DC-6 (19-0610) Resolution Regarding Community Engagement and Approval Processes for City Related Improvement Projects This resolution defines lane reductions (“road diets”) as policy decisions which should be subject to approval by City Council. Consistent with other City efforts to increase public engagement re: permanent street improvements, this resolution expands the category of such improvements to include lane reductions on major streets/corridors. The city would apply the “Community Engagement Toolkit” to proposed lane reductions and seek council approval prior to implementation. The resolution lists current road diet proposals: Earhart Rd., Green Rd., Liberty St., Oakbrook Dr., South Industrial, and Traverwood Drive.
Below is the list of items included on tomorrow’s Consent Agenda. If no one on Council specifically requests that an item be pulled for discussion, the whole of this list will be approved in a single vote. I encourage you to look at this list and offer suggestions to me about anything you would like to see pulled for discussion.
Since the last meeting, I have mostly received emails about use of the millage rebate and the two resolutions re: budget allocations. I’ve heard some people characterize the two resolutions (DC-3 & DC-4) as contradictory, that one negates the other. Another person suggested to me that we could approve both, assuring both a baseline of funding toward the three goals (affordable housing, climate change, and pedestrian safety) from the general budget, while also directing the rebate money toward the priorities identified in the survey.
I have questions about CM Lumm’s proposal to allocate the rebate money according to the results of the community survey. First of all, while I supported the community survey, I did not expect it to be translated directly into a list of allocations. Second, I wonder about allocations toward goals that might not yet exist as line items in any budget. E.g. If we plan to dedicate 15% of funding toward Safe Drinking Water initiatives, what would those be? Do we have unfunded Safe Drinking Water initiatives just waiting for that money?
I appreciate Mayor Taylor and CM Griswold’s effort to create a baseline of funding, particularly for affordable housing. Progress toward developing affordable housing very much depends on a reliable source of funding in order to get grants and piece together projects (some current projects already anticipate the allocations promised in 2017). I have written at length already about my frustration re: how that millage rebate was promised, but we need to move forward and settle it.
I appreciate everyone’s emails, sharing your perspectives on this issue. I read all of your messages and they help me.
Thank you for helping me represent Ward 4!
PS: If you would like to receive this newsletter via email, please click here to signup: https://eepurl.com/dGDKXf
Personal Interest vs Public Interest
I originally published this on my website on March 30th: https://www.a2elnel.com/blog/personal-interest-vs-public-interest
This Monday, April 1, will be City Council’s first meeting since we learned that one of our colleagues, CM Zach Ackerman, was arrested for drunk driving almost three months ago. He was arrested in the late afternoon of January 2nd, after colliding with another car. At the scene, he refused to take a breathalyzer test; at the police station, he recorded a blood alcohol level more than double the legal limit. According to news reports, he is suffering from “severe alcohol dependency.” He describes recent events as a health problem which he was trying to keep “private.”
I learned all of this for the first time on Wednesday, from an MLive article. Later, I read an email from CM Ackerman — sent to Council a few hours before the MLive story — telling us that the article was coming. That email offered no more information or reflection than what was included in the article.
I have done significant advocacy work around the issue of mental health, particularly its impact on families. I recognize these challenges as profoundly serious, every bit as worthy of compassion as physical illness. I do not believe that CM Ackerman or anyone else should be penalized for circumstances related to an addiction or mental health issue. Treatment is a positive thing. Anyone seeking help should feel supported, not attacked.
The story of CM Ackerman is about much more than a health issue.
Our elected officials are required to be transparent about potential conflicts of interest. There is a reason why one of our council members recuses himself whenever we vote on a contract for service from his employer. Our elected officials are required to be honest about who supports them and how. There is a reason why political candidates must submit campaign finance reports both before elections and between election cycles. Our whole political process is transparent by design, through published minutes and recorded meetings. There is a reason why we have discussions at the council table. Our debate at public meetings allows everyone to observe our thinking and motives, to understand exactly what priorities and ideas influenced our votes.
Since January 2nd, City Council has debated and discussed the issue of how to select a representative group of community members for an independent police oversight commission. CM Ackerman was one of four council members designated to play a special role in that process, choosing individuals among a group that included lawyers (one of them a prosecutor), community leaders, and others with relevant insights and connections to police and our justice system. Meanwhile, in private, CM Ackerman was negotiating with police and prosecutors, pleading guilty to a lesser charge than the crime he actually committed, and accepting a more lenient sentence for that much lesser charge. He has chosen not to reveal any of the people involved in helping him achieve this outcome. He claims now that his desire to keep it private was “not malicious.”
I do not have a problem with a member of council seeking treatment for addiction or other mental health concerns. I am not surprised by news that addictive behavior can lead to very poor judgement on a specific day. Our community is full of residents who are working hard to maintain health and sobriety on a daily basis; they deserve our support and respect, even (or maybe especially) when they slip up. My concern: we have a member of city council who was comfortable — for a period of months — concealing serious conflicts of interest that were highly relevant to issues we were discussing.
The conversation we must have now is very different from the conversation we would have had in January. Almost three months have passed since CM Ackerman began missing city meetings without explanation. Almost three months have passed since we should have been informed. We only know what we know now because MLive was able to discover it. I thank Darcie Moran for her diligence in reporting.
On Thursday, I emailed my concerns to our city attorney, Stephen Postema. The body of my email is below. (Note: I have not yet received a substantive response.)
I have concerns about the almost-three-months long concealment of a serious and dangerous crime. I appreciate that any reasonable person would be highly motivated to keep this particular news “secret”, but I am bothered by the fact that these motives (while reasonable) actually make an elected official extremely vulnerable.
During the last three months, a member of council was trying to maintain “privacy” around a crime, actively negotiating a plea deal for that crime, while also conducting city business (to the extent he could attend to it). Those three activities should not be happening all at once, without some degree of transparency. I know how little was revealed when I pursued conversation on this topic (in response to direct questions, I was only told “outpatient treatment”… dialysis? physical therapy? Allergy shots? None of these would implicate a crime). Mayor Taylor claims to MLive that he knew nothing before yesterday.
I cannot fathom how stressful it must have been for anyone to function for three months hoping that this huge bomb wouldn’t drop. It must have been awful. However, it is also awful that for three months, council functioned - and the public observed our functioning - without any knowledge of these significant personal motives and interests. Someone was facing possible and/or variable jail time, financial penalties, community service requirements, and other consequences (obviously working to avoid them). I would argue that those motives and interests were every bit as significant as the motives and interests council regularly observes as reason for recusal (e.g. when we consider a contract with CM Smith’s employer, Wade Trim, CM Smith does not participate in voting).
Moving forward re: resolution of this specific incident, I believe we have a right to know WHO was involved, WHAT was required, and specific details around HOW this criminal charge was settled, particularly and especially: how a charge was negotiated down so aggressively and successfully. These details are specifically what my colleague “declined” to reveal publicly to the media. It happens that there is considerable overlap in council work of the last three months and community members working in our criminal justice system. A certain irony is not lost on the public: a young white man seems to have privately enjoyed advantages in our justice system, while publicly acting with authority to theoretically correct that unfair advantage. This situation and all of its players should have been subject to scrutiny from the beginning.
I appreciate that the ordinance from 2017 doesn’t address my concerns, which is why I’m wondering what concerns it WAS meant to address. I have questions about how we might prevent the current situation from happening in the future, what protections already exist (if any). Can we amend the 2017 ordinance? I am interested in taking steps that would better anticipate circumstances like this. NO ONE on council should spend three months under this kind of pressure: highly motivated to hide the fact that they have committed a crime, highly motivated to hide the fact that they are navigating our criminal justice system, and highly motivated to hide the fact that they are subject to criminal penalties. No elected official should be that vulnerable.