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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.

The Difference Is Clear

This week, residents of Ward 4 received a political mailer that illustrates a problem that motivated me to run for City Council in the first place. One of my opponents, Dharma Akmon, created a list of bullet points titled "The Difference is Clear" which summarized complicated issues into short phrases that grossly distort my record of service on Council. The mailer is full of over-simplifications, inaccurate statements presented as fact, and wildly misleading characterizations.


Political tactics like this mailer are based on one very big assumption: residents with limited access to facts will swallow whatever misinformation is marketed to them. The whole of our community should be offended that such practices have become the norm in our local politics.


FACT-CHECKING

Below is an opportunity to learn more about each of the issues listed in that mailer.


SANCTION OF COUNCIL MEMBER HAYNER

I was appalled by and denounced Council member Hayner’s use of homophobic and racially offensive words outside of Council. I have said so, repeatedly and publicly. In April 2021, I voted in favor of the resolution removing Hayner from all committee assignments for seven months. I did not support a subsequent resolution asking him to resign the seat to which Ward 1 voters had elected him because a democratic process of recall was underway. (That effort eventually failed.) I support a democratic process to choose or remove elected leaders. I wrote about that here:

https://www.a2elnel.com/post/illiberal-democracy


CITY ADMINISTRATOR

I voted to end the employment of City Administrator Howard Lazarus, who was already interviewing for other jobs. There continues to be some confusion around the concept of “without cause” and why the City would opt to end a contract this way, triggering payment of severance. According the City Administrator’s employment contract, any separation “with cause” required very specific and serious misconduct (e.g. fraud, felony, sexual misconduct), none of which had occurred. Dissatisfaction with his performance was a perfectly legitimate reason for Council to seek a replacement. I wrote about it at the time here:

https://www.a2elnel.com/post/additional-thoughts-feb-29-2020-city-administrator-and-police-chief


Meeting the terms of this City Administrator’s contract was a relatively small expense ($275,000) compared to other recent Council decisions. For example, Council recently spent nearly double that amount when it chose a more expensive contractor for just one construction project.


STANDING UP FOR A WHISTLEBLOWER

I stood up for a whistleblower at City Hall who asked for specific workplace protections. When he identified conduct that he felt was discriminatory, and a majority of Council refused to grant him those protections, I and another Council member agreed to meet with him. We revealed no confidential information that was discussed in a closed session. We did discuss something he already knew: that the then-City Attorney was not sympathetic to his concerns. It is my belief that this investigation report was used as a political weapon. I wrote about it at the time here:

https://www.a2elnel.com/post/investigation-reports-the-new-political-weapon


TRANSIT CORRIDOR DEVELOPMENT

In April 2020, one month into the lock-down of the pandemic, Council was asked to move forward with discussion of rezoning for denser development on transit corridors. At a time when public meetings and public engagement were most awkward and difficult, I did not believe it was appropriate to pursue an idea with such lasting implications. This resolution was tabled until the state emergency stay-at-home orders were lifted. I have consistently demanded careful consideration of policies that require more meaningful engagement of stakeholders. I wrote about it at the time here:

https://www.a2elnel.com/post/additional-thoughts-apr-5-2020-transit-oriented-development


When the same question came before City Council in November 2020, I voted in favor of it. In July 2021, I voted in support of the recommendation from the Planning Commission to establish the new TC1 Transit Corridor district zoning, but I also voted to refer it back to Planning in order to add affordability and sustainability requirements. Mayor Taylor and his majority on Council rejected consideration of any affordability or sustainability requirements.


In April 2022, I voted in support of establishing a TC1 zoning district for 68 parcels at the intersection of State and Eisenhower, which is in Ward 4:

https://www.a2elnel.com/post/selective-oversight-tc-1-zoning-and-city-contracts


LOCKWOOD

In March 2019, I opposed a rezoning to permit denser housing on top of monitoring wells for the 1,4-dioxane Gelman plume pollution. The Lockwood senior housing development was proposed at a location where some of the highest levels of pollution have been detected, on a slope above wetlands around First Sister Lake. I wrote about it at the time here:

https://www.a2elnel.com/post/additional-thoughts-feb-17-2019-lockwood-and-the-gelman-plume


In February 2021, I voted in favor of a larger version of the Lockwood development, at a location in the cIty that is not complicated by the presence of pollution. Last month, I attended the groundbreaking of Lockwood:

https://rejournals.com/lockwood-companies-celebrates-ground-breaking-of-seniors-community-in-ann-arbor


SAFE ROUTES TO SCHOOL

In May 2019, I voted against a sidewalk special assessment district near Northside STEAM. I consulted with residents who complained that a plan for sidewalks had significant problems, failed to include the needs and perspectives of the local neighborhood, and did not effectively meet the safety needs of school children. I opposed a plan that was extremely costly (both financially and environmentally), but more importantly did not address safety concerns. I have consistently supported investment in our pedestrian infrastructure while also demanding that such investments actually serve their avowed objectives and that they happen with the engagement and support of the local community it is meant to serve. I wrote about it at the time here:

https://www.a2elnel.com/post/working-together-building-bridges-to-move-forward



It is easy for me to share the facts, context, and primary sources for every issue mischaracterized on that mailer because all of that information already exists on my website. When each of these issues came before Council, I did the work of collecting all relevant facts, context, and links to primary sources so that residents could understand them thoroughly and provide feedback to me. An informed electorate helps me to be a better representative.


THE WHOLE STORY

Some facts are curiously missing from that most recent negative mailer:


Dharma Akmon is endorsed by and has been campaigning together with Mayor Taylor. The same treasurer oversees the campaign finances of Mayor Taylor, Dharma Akmon, Jenn Cornell, CM Jen Eyer, and CM Linh Song.


I have talked to multiple residents who have met my opponent and directly asked her about her association with Mayor Taylor. They tell me that she either denies it, avoids answering the question, or claims that I am actually the candidate most closely allied with the Mayor. Facts matter. When I am asked about my association with Mayor Taylor, I tell the truth: I vote with him a lot of the time, but I am also very disappointed in his leadership and he is endorsing my opponent.


Dharma Akmon is endorsed and supported by Council Member Jen Eyer and has received significant financial support from a shared set of donors, with most of her money (so far) coming from outside of Ward 4. Of the $15,000 in donations included on Dharma Akmon’s most recent campaign finance report (raised in the last seven weeks of 2021), around $10,000 came from the same donors who gave to CM Jen Eyer in 2020.


I believe that Ward 4 residents value an independent voice on City Council: someone who is committed to hearing residents and representing local concerns, not voting in lock-step with a faction of City Council.


MY VALUES

I want our community to have access to more information, not less. I don’t choose to distort or manipulate the public’s understanding of issues by oversimplifying or mischaracterizing complex topics — you should be able to judge your elected leaders based on facts, not distortions. I am proud of my voting record and of the work I have done in expanding our community’s access to information. Our democracy is stronger when your elected leaders are committed to representing you honestly and with integrity. The difference is clear.