Welcome to my Ann Arbor City Council newsletter, where you can connect with primary sources to understand the work of your local government. My goal is to provide clear explanations of all the issues your elected representatives will be discussing at their next meeting and alert you to local policy and decisions that have been assigned to unelected Mayoral appointees.
This week’s Ann Arbor City Council meeting includes approval of the FY2024 budget and first reading for a rezoning of 721 South Forest. Council will also approve City fee changes for public services and community services.
According to the City charter, an annual budget must be approved by the second Council meeting in May. In past years, discussion of the budget has taken place in multiple public meetings: “work sessions” that included public presentation of proposed allocations by department and open public comment. This year, City Council eliminated those work sessions; information about the budget was shared in YouTube videos. Those videos can be found here, along with questions submitted by Council Members.
Links to information about the budget:
- Mr Dohoney’s budget presentation can be found here: http://a2gov.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=6122664&GUID=6B3491D0-5C3A-45CC-90E4-3FFE304AA06B
- The whole of the proposed city budget can be viewed on the City’s Financial Reporting page (along with previously adopted annual budgets): https://www.a2gov.org/departments/finance-admin-services/financial-reporting/Pages/default.aspx#annualbudgets
- This is a direct link to the proposed FY2024 budget: https://www.a2gov.org/departments/finance-admin-services/financial-reporting/Documents/Draft%20Budget%20Book%20FY24.25.pdf
Ann Arbor City Council Meeting Agenda
Below is my summary of issues on the City Council Agenda this week, with links to more information about each of them. If you have comments about any of these issues, you can email all of Council at CityCouncil@a2gov.org
Ann Arbor City Council Meeting
Monday May 15, 2023 7:00PM
Ann Arbor City Hall (2nd Floor)
301 E Huron St, Ann Arbor 48104
The full agenda (including a link to the latest published PDF agenda, and instructions for dialing into the meeting) is on the A2Gov Legistar website:
City Council meetings are broadcast live by CTN on Comcast (channel 16) and AT&T (channel 99) and online at a2gov.org/watchCTN
Meetings are also streamed live on the CTN YouTube channel:
How to reserve public comment
People that wish to comment at a City Council meeting must sign up with the City Clerk’s office in advance. Speakers are allotted 3 minutes, with the first 15 speakers allowed to speak in a 45 minute session near the beginning of the meeting. Remaining speakers will speak at the end of the Council meeting. Public comment can be made either in person or remotely via phone/Zoom audio.
To sign up for public comment, please go to or call the City Clerk’s Office at 734-794-6140 on the day of the meeting between 8:00 AM and 5:00 PM. At 1:00 PM, all speakers that have signed up are randomly ordered in “priority groups”. After 1:00 PM, speaking times are granted on a first-come, first-served basis. No new speakers will be added to the list after 5:00 PM. For more information, visit the City Clerk’s webpage about electronic meetings, section “City Council Public Commentary Time”
Questions to the Agenda
In preparation for a Council meeting, Council members can ask questions of staff about scheduled agenda items. Questions must be submitted by noon on the Wednesday before a Council Meeting, and answers are returned the next day (Thursday) by 5pm.
AC-1 (23-0829) Agenda Response Memo and eComments – May 15, 2023
This agenda item has a PDF attachment with all questions raised by Council Members, and the answers provided by staff. No agenda questions were asked by Council members for this meeting.
Note: questions submitted by Council Members about the FY2024 budget are posted here:
Communications from the Mayor
MC-1 (23-0662) Appointments – Confirmations
These 29 appointments from the Mayor were presented at the previous meeting, and will therefore be voted on at this Council meeting. See the Legistar link for details.
MC-2 (23-0748) Appointments – Confirmations
These 4 appointments from the Mayor were presented at the previous meeting, and will therefore be voted on at this Council meeting. See the Legistar link for details.
MC-3 (23-0782) Appointments and Nominations for May 15, 2023
These appointments from the Mayor are being presented at this meeting, and will therefore be voted on at the next Council meeting.
- Julia Goode – Renters Commission
- Kimberly Pitts – Renters Commission
- Rosanita Ratcliff – Renters Commission
MC-4 (23-0783) Resolution to Reappoint Non-resident Electors to Ann Arbor Boards and Commissions (7 Votes Required)
This appointment from the Mayor is being presented at this meeting, and will therefore be voted on at the next Council meeting. 7 votes are required because the appointee is not a registered elector of the City.
- Arthur Thomas – Renters Commission
Below is the list of items included on the 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.
CA-1 (23-0755) Resolution to Close N. Fourth Avenue and E. Ann Street for the 26th Annual African-American Downtown Festival, Friday, June 2, 2023 to Saturday, June 3, 2023
CA-2 (23-0777) Resolution to Approve the 2023 Ann Arbor Jaycees Summer Carnival at Pioneer High School – June 19 to June 26, 2023
CA-3 (23-0603) Resolution to Close Streets for the Townie Street Party – Ann Arbor Mile-Dart for Art on Sunday, July 16, 2023 from 8:00 AM until 12:00 Noon
CA-4 (23-0713) Resolution to Close Washington Street for the Townie Street Party – Saturday, July 15, 2023 until Tuesday, July 18, 2023
CA-5 (23-0719) Resolution to Appropriate $115,000.00 from the Maintenance Facility Unobligated Fund Balance to the Maintenance Facility Construction Project Budget for Final Project and Fund Closure (8 Votes Required)
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.
There are no public hearings on the Agenda this week
Ordinances – Second Reading
In order to amend the city code, Council must vote to approve the change, via ordinance, at two Council meetings. The following proposed ordinances were approved at a previous Council meeting, and are also subject to a public hearing as listed above.
There are no ordinance second readings on the Agenda this week
Ordinances – First Reading
In order to amend the city code, Council must vote to approve the change, via ordinance, at two Council meetings. The following proposed ordinances are being introduced for “first reading”. If approved, the ordinance will be voted on at a subsequent Council meeting (“second reading”), where it will also be subject to a public hearing.
C-1 (23-0643) An Ordinance to Amend Chapter 55 (Zoning), Rezoning of 1.2 Acres from R4C (Multiple-Family Residential) to PUD (Planned Unit Development District), 721 South Forest PUD Zoning and Supplemental Regulations, 721 South Forest (CPC Recommendation: Approval – 6 Yeas and 2 Nays)
A 1.2 acre parcel at 721 South Forest will be rezoned from R4C (Multiple Family Residential) to Planned Unit Development (PUD) in order to permit a 166 foot tall structure of 228 residential units and 733 bedrooms with rooftop pool and 98 parking spaces. The developer will provide a cash in lieu payment of $4,700,000 to the Affordable Housing Fund.
Multiple City departments recommend denial of the rezoning. From their report:
Planning – Planning staff does not support the project as presented. While the site plan proposal does offer some positive aspects, the substantial increased height and massing over the Land Use Plan recommendation, the surrounding zoning district and the adjacent historic neighborhood is a significant hurdle to overcome.
Office of Sustainability & Innovations (OSI) – OSI Staff does not support approval of this project. While LEED Silver certification is welcome, LEED does not inherently meet the strategy goals of the A2 ZERO plan and in some instances falls short of what is needed to move Ann Arbor successfully toward carbon neutrality by 2030.
In a split vote (6-2), Mayoral appointees on the City Planning Commission recommended approval of this rezoning.
Motions and Resolutions
The following agenda items are motions and resolutions, which are approved or rejected in a single meeting. Agenda items marked “DC” are proposed by Council members, items marked “DB” are proposed by City boards and commissions, items marked “DS” are proposed by City staff.
DC-1 (23-0727) Resolution to Reappoint Maisie A Weyhing, Brooks Curtis, Sara M Nedrich, Rita L. Mitchell, and Bridget L Gruber to the Environmental Commission (7 Votes Required)
These re-appointments are from CM Akmon and CM Disch, who serve on the Environmental Commission. These were presented at the previous meeting, and will therefore be voted on at this Council meeting.
- Brooks Curtis
- Bridget Gruber
- Rita Mitchell
- Sara Nedrich
- Maisie Weyhing
DC-2 (23-0728) Resolution to Reappoint Elizabeth Riggs and Jason Boggs to the Greenbelt Advisory Commission
These re-appointments are from CM Radina, who serves on the Greenbelt Advisory Commission. These were presented at the previous meeting, and will therefore be voted on at this Council meeting.
- Jason Boggs
- Elizabeth Riggs
DC-3 (23-0753) Resolution to Appoint Kimmeka Pipkins and Stefani Carter to the Independent Community Police Oversight Commission (7 Votes Required)
These re-appointments are from CM Ghazi Edwin (who serves on the Human Rights Commission), CM Harrison (who serves on the Independent Community Police Oversight Commission) and CM Song (who serves on both the Human Rights Commission and Independent Community Police Oversight Commission). These were presented at the previous meeting, and will therefore be voted on at this Council meeting.
- Stefani Carter
- Kimmeka Pipkins
DC-4 (23-0661) Resolution to Reappoint Non-resident Electors to Ann Arbor Boards and Commissions (7 Votes Required)
These 12 appointments from the Mayor were presented at the previous meeting, and will therefore be voted on at this Council meeting. 7 votes are required because the appointees are not registered electors of the City. See the Legistar link for details.
DS-1 (23-0599) Resolution to Approve Fiscal Year 2024 Fee Adjustments for the Public Services Area – Engineering, Public Works, Systems Planning, Water Treatment Units and the Fleet and Facilities – Airport Unit of the City Administrator’s Office
Fees for the Public Services Area – Engineering, Public Works, Systems Planning, Water Treatment Units and the Fleet and Facilities – Airport Unit will be adjusted for FY 2024, effective July 1, 2023. Most fees will be increased, some reduced, some newly created, and some eliminated because those services are no longer provided. Changes are expected to increase revenue by $283,340.
DS-2 (23-0600) Resolution to Approve FY 2024 Fee Adjustments for the Community Services Area
Fees for the Community Services Area will be adjusted for FY 2024, effective July 1, 2023. Anticipated changes will increase fees for boat rentals at Argo and Gallup Liveries as well as various golf fees at Leslie Park and Huron Hills Golf Courses. In Planning Services, small fees are eliminated, e.g. Comprehensive Plan surcharge for planning petitions ($10), alternative stormwater management ($135), and revision of approved natural features protections ($200). Two new fees are introduced: $2800 for Planning Manager approval of a site plan and $3100 for Site Plan Revisions, Extensions, and Administrative Actions from the Planning Commission.
DS-3 (23-0706) Resolution to Adopt Ann Arbor City Budget and Related Property Tax Millage Rates for Fiscal Year 2024
General Fund recurring expenses have increased by $6,822,146 (+5.8%) compared to FY 2023’s adopted budget; recurring revenues have increased by $7,554,357 (+6.4%). The FY 2024 budget includes a total of 27 additional full time employees (FTE) in City departments: Parks & Rec (1), Planning (1), Public Services (6), Human Resources (1), City Administrator (3), Sustainability (8.5), Police (1.75), Housing Commission (4) and Downtown Development Authority (2). At the April 17 Council meeting, City Administrator Dohoney announced that he had set aside one million dollars for Council to allocate. City Council members have proposed three amendments which, coincidentally add up to exactly one million dollars.
$250,000 to eviction prevention
$250,000 to low-income youth services
Funds will be transferred to Ann Arbor Housing Development Corporation (AAHDC) to distribute. The AAHDC can retain up to 5% for administrative costs
$100,000 to Shelter Association of Washtenaw County (SAWC) to support the Delonis Center
$400,000 to the Housing Commission for case management services
The Housing Commission can retain up to 5% for administrative costs
A fourth amendment is approved every year with the general budget:
In order to comply with the “Parks Fairness Resolution,” the General Fund Parks and Recreation budget will be increased by the same percentage as the final overall budget.
DS-4 (23-0842) Resolution Directing the City Administrator to Designate Southeast Area Park as the 2024 Bicentennial Park
This resolution is a response to the 4/17/23 budget presentation from City Administrator Milton Dohoney, announcing plans to designate Fuller Park as “Bicentennial Park.” This resolution proposes that Southeast Park be designated Bicentennial Park instead.
On October 18, 2022, the Park Advisory Commission heard a presentation from staff, explaining the official City process for the re-naming of a City park. From that presentation under “Public Process for Renaming”:
- Parks and Rec will hold an open public comment period.
- City will engage public based on the park in question.
- Parks staff will collect public feedback during the engagement process and make a recommendation to PAC.
- If supported, PAC will recommend approval of naming to City Council who will then make the official decision regarding the renaming.
Link to the Oct 18, 2022 Park Advisory Commission meeting:
Link to the “Parks Renaming Policy” presentation:
I also published this on my website:
Council Administration Committee: Work Sessions, High End Housing At City Hall
This week, I recorded a meeting of the Council Administration Committee. Current members of the Committee are Christopher Taylor, Erica Briggs, Jen Eyer, Travis Radina, and Chris Watson. These meetings are public and theoretically accessible for anyone to attend, both in-person and via phone, My recording illustrates the poor quality of phone access – unlike other meetings held by boards and commissions via Zoom, the audio quality of phone-access is so poor that it is extremely difficult to hear what is said much of the time.
One of the topics on this Committee’s agenda was Council work sessions. Last November, a new City Council unanimously approved a calendar that included no work sessions for the budget or any other topic. I wrote about it at the time:
At last week’s Committee meeting, Council Member Radina introduced the idea of adding work sessions back to the calendar:
“I have been approached a couple of times by colleagues who would like to better understand what the process is for requesting a work session on a given topic. I know we’ve had these questions before about, not necessarily bringing back a standing work session and then trying to make up content for it but rather as topics might come up.”
The need to “better understand” is not surprising among this particular Council. Out of eleven members, five members were elected in November 2020 and another five members were elected six months ago. Ten members of the current Council have served an average of nine months. Only the Mayor has served a full term – he was first elected in 2008.
Council Member Eyer reiterated Radina’s comments and added:
“The way it was done in the past was a standing thing and, you know, just trying to make up something, some reason for meeting.”
Council Members Radina and Eyer’s characterization of work sessions is not accurate, but Mayor Taylor did not correct them. Council work sessions have historically originated with staff and the City Administrator in close collaboration with the Mayor and the Council Administration Committee. No staff or City Administrator has ever tried “make up” content to fill a calendar – in fact, many scheduled work sessions were cancelled.
At least one Committee member framed the value of work sessions in terms of public perception. Council Member Radina explained (emphasis added):
“Hearing some of the public comment at the last Council meeting, at the budget presentation around in years past it felt like there was a lot more discussion of the budget and it felt like there was a lot more questions, I think a lot of that is now being lost on the public.”
A City Council that has voted unanimously (and repeatedly) to reduce their own workload is now eager to address the public perception that they are not actually doing the work.
Last week, the Committee also contemplated the value of work sessions in terms of “engagement” within the body of Council. Deputy City Administrator John Fournier assessed work sessions of the past:
“Most of the work sessions were… they were all a lot of work, most of them didn’t have the kind of engaged discussion but some of them did and so, you know, roughly, two to four times a year there was really active, really important work session that was really valuable.”
Mayor Taylor re-iterated:
“I’m not sure I would have given, like John suggested, a 25% success rate. Maybe… I don’t know that I’d go that high.”
Work sessions have been the forum for Council to be informed about City issues, however tedious or dry. In theory, Council members have a basic obligation to be informed about work happening at City Hall, whether or not the topics are interesting or engaging. City government is just one part of a network of government entities and service providers in our community – many issues that impact the city are actually managed at the state and county level. I.e. Not all topics of community interest are under City control.
At last week’s meeting, City Administrator Dohoney explained that members of the current Council have requested a work session on a topic that is not actually handled by City government.
“The items that Council Member Briggs and others requested regarding homelessness, that’s more of us facilitating a meeting because we’re not going to be the presenters. We’re simply inviting other people from the community to come tell you what they’re doing. I’ll be there to maybe introduce people but there would be no City presenters.”
In years past, the City Administrator and staff would identify issues under City control and plan public work sessions in order to help elected leaders make informed decisions. That model was abandoned last November, when Council removed work sessions from the calendar. It appears that a new Council may pursue a different model: scheduling public work sessions on topics of public interest, whether or not those topics are directly relevant to work of City government. This is almost precisely the definition of political grandstanding.
The Committee reflected on the budget process of the last two months, during which Council members were invited to watch pre-recorded YouTube videos and submit questions; answers to their questions were posted in five batches on the City website. Unlike previous budget processes, when Council received presentations live (in-person or on Zoom) and could ask questions in a public meeting, this year’s process resulted in many similar and repetitive questions. Council Member Eyer proposed an alternative to public work sessions:
“There’s something lost with the Council Members not hearing each other’s questions in the work sessions… I wonder if there’s a way for Council Members to see in real time what our colleagues have asked.”
Council Member Watson described the value of this strategy as “knowing what’s floating around in other people’s heads.” Eyer re-stated the problem as “I don’t know until the questions come out what everyone else is asking.”
The problem described by Watson and Eyer would be valid in many situations. However, in the context of City Council, their wish – to track and anticipate the thoughts and opinions of colleagues – is exactly why the Open Meetings Act exists. Council Members are supposed to debate and exchange ideas in public meetings.
Link to Michigan Open Meetings Act: https://www.michigan.gov/ag/foia/open-meetings
Earlier in the meeting, Eyer wondered if work sessions could be scheduled without a Council vote.
“I don’t know if we vote on it as a body, you know, if enough people want to have one… maybe five, you know, just so it doesn’t have to be at Council?”
Adding a work session does actually require a vote of Council, just like the annual calendar. In recent years, Mayor Taylor sponsored two resolutions – one since Council Member Eyer’s election – for the whole of Council to vote on, amending the calendar in order to add work sessions.
- April 15, 2019 Amendment to the Council calendar, adding a work session “for budget purposes to discuss the topics of Ann Arbor Housing Commission and Downtown Development Authority (DDA).” https://a2gov.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=3909560&GUID=9B75751F-8AFE-4123-A396-103D72FA5D5E
- June 21, 2021 Revision to the calendar, adding two work sessions: July 12, 2021 for a presentation from John Tropman and November 8, 2021 for a presentation on pavement ratings. https://a2gov.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=4985694&GUID=A27E967B-9145-49EC-9ED4-7E28138913EA
Virtually all City meetings – with the exception of regular Council meetings – include open public comment at the end. At the end of this Committee meeting, a public commenter spoke in response to action taken at the most recent regular Council meeting. His remarks in part:
“At the May 1st Council meeting, at the very end of the meeting after closed session, you went back into open session, you amended the agenda to add a new agenda item instructing the City Attorney to write a public opinion in the California Restaurant Association versus the City of Berkeley case… it bothered me when it happened because there was no opportunity for public input into this resolution.”
Until very recently, the resolution in that May 1 meeting would have been subject to public input or at least public response at the end of the meeting. In November 2022, Mayor Taylor led a majority of Council in eliminating open public comment at regular Council meetings. Public comments at Council meetings now require registration hours in advance of the meeting. What this means is that any last minute change or addition to the agenda will never be subject to public comment/response afterwards. The Council Administration Committee was the first opportunity – since May 1 – for this commenter to offer feedback in a public meeting with multiple Council Members.
This Committee meeting revealed one other detail that seemed to be a surprise, even, to the Council Members in attendance: In his budget presentation on April 17, City Administrator Dohoney proposed a reimagining of City Hall that would include building market rate housing on the site. Dohoney explained that this will move forward unless a member of Council moves to amend the budget. In Dohoney’s words:
“Assuming there’s no categorical opposition to it, you begin with a structural analysis of the site, what is the load that the site can handle, that gives you a clue as to how vertical you can be. The “what” to me is a market rate transaction that can generate revenue that comes back to the City. In looking at the site, it’s not just the promenade area, its the parking area adjacent to it, you got to look at the whole footprint to determine what’s possible”
“Assuming that we get past the budget on Monday, and council doesn’t say ‘don’t do it’ starting May 16th, I’m off!”
Dohoney then clarified exactly what this would look like:
“It’s high end, market rate, high level finishes, you want to charge as much as possible, you want this thing to generate as much cash as possible, that’s why I did not say let’s use it for affordable housing.”
I suspect that most people have no idea that this idea will move forward without further public discussion from Council. However, if you have opinions about the City becoming landlords and using city resources to develop yet more luxury housing, now would be the time to reach out to City Council.
Thank you for taking the time to be informed about our local government!