Surveys, Studies, and Commissions

We wrestled with a lot of issues at City Council on Monday night (December 17, 2018) and I’d like to offer explanation about some of them…


Millage rebate survey

At the request of staff, CM Lumm recommended specific language and structure for a community survey intended to gather resident input about the use of our Community Mental Health and Public Safety Millage rebate. The choice of how to use this rebate money remains a legitimate question, because resolutions of intent made by a previous council do not bind the actions of a future council. I should add: some advocates (as well as Council itself) knew at the time that these resolutions of intent were not binding. I supported CM Lumm’s survey as one last data point to be considered before we must make a decision about how to allocate the millage rebate funds. For me, other data points to be considered:

  • City Council offered its non-binding resolutions of intent regarding rebate millage funds prior to the vote and these resolutions were publicized on MLive. Some voters did support this millage with expectations related to the City Council resolutions.

  • The county-wide ballot language offered no specific indication to voters re: rebate allocations proposed by our local City Council. There is evidence of significant voter misunderstanding around the rebate funds and their future use.

  • Because this rebate millage is legally untethered as to purpose, City Council has full discretion to allocate them to whatever purpose seems most appropriate.

On Monday night, I supported an amendment from CM Ackerman, who proposed that this community survey include information about current budget allocations. I appreciate that the prior City Council intended to support under-funded public interests, so I believe that the budget numbers are important context to include in the survey.


Water rate re-structure alternatives

A majority of City Council (including me) directed staff to offer feasible alternatives to the recent re-structuring of water rates. I believe that many of the arguments offered in support of the recent re-structuring are also arguments that justify a second look. It is true that a great deal of data led to the re-structuring of the water rates. However, the sheer quantity of data already collected actually offers more opportunity to consider alternatives. As a new member of council, I’ve been able to ask many questions of staff re: how we arrived at the current structure and where we are constrained, legally. I look forward to more discussion about feasible options and alternatives for our water rates, particularly now that we have billing cycle history to study the real impact on the customer categories.


Re-consideration of board and commission appointments

CM Eaton moved to re-consider the board and commission appointments made two weeks ago at the last meeting. I requested one change, due to a legitimate scheduling conflict. Council approved that change, so that CM Griswold will now take my place as the Council liaison to the Airport Advisory Commission. At the request of members of the community, CM Eaton proposed another change: to replace CM Lumm with me on the Independent Community Police Oversight Commission (ICPOC). That second change was not approved.


The task of assigning board and commission appointments was not easy. I appreciate that Mayor Taylor and CM Lumm, particularly, invested a lot of time in balancing council member requests. For me, as a new council member, the process was not easy because I wanted to respect the tenure and experience of others. In terms of advocating for myself and my own values, I regret that I did not express myself more clearly (and in a more public way) two weeks ago.


I mentioned last night at the City Council meeting: before I ran for City Council, I applied to be a citizen participant on the Civilian Police Oversight Task Force. After my primary election, I attended the task force meetings to observe. Since I was first made aware of it, I have been keenly interested in seeing independent, civilian police oversight efforts move forward with purpose. I believe it is important and it matters, for the benefit of our whole community. I also believe that I would have been the right appointment to be the City Council liaison to the commission. For several reasons, I did not feel free to communicate this widely prior to the first vote on these appointments.


Before the last council meeting (and after a lot of soul-searching), I decided against starting a public conversation about the ICPOC appointments. I tried to rationalize that the choice of City Council liaison was perhaps not so significant and my own influence was so limited that perhaps it was not worth a confrontation. In the last week, I was persuaded otherwise. Conversations with members of the community helped me understand that these appointments were noticed, they caused concern, and it was worth starting a public conversation about them. I appreciate the support of CM Eaton, CM Bannister, and many others in the community who encouraged me to raise the issue.


I very much respect the experience and tenure of my colleagues on City Council. I concede that my own inexperience and lack of tenure made recent conversations more difficult and awkward. Moving forward, I am hopeful that through more collaborative and cooperative work, we build stronger relationships. I also hope that, in the future, we all find it easier to pursue difficult (but necessary) public conversations.

Elizabeth NELSON

DEMOCRAT for Ann Arbor City Council Ward 4

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PO Box 2243. Ann Arbor. MI 48106-2243