Ann Arbor City Council Newsletter (May 19, 2024)

May 19, 2024 | Newsletter

Hello neighbors!

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, Ann Arbor City Council considers extensive amendments to Council rules, new amendments to the snow-removal ordinance, the issuance of capital improvement bonds for the Housing Commission, and final approval for a rezoning on Riverside Drive. The biggest item on the Council agenda is the annual budget for Fiscal Year 2025. For more on that, see my Additional Thoughts below.

GET INVOLVED: JOIN THE MOVEMENT

A community effort is under way to put two questions on the November ballot: 

  • Nonpartisan elections for local office, so that all candidates for Mayor and Council can be voted on in high turnout, November elections 
  • A “small donor matching” program to address how our local elections have been flooded with money from PACs, wealthy donors, and money from outside the City. 

To learn more about how Ann Arbor can follow the lead of other progressive communities in implementing these reforms, visit:
A2Nonpartisan.com
A2Future.com


Ann Arbor Democracy

In the 1970s, Democrats and Republicans were actively engaged in Ann Arbor City government. One of the leading Republicans of the era was Louis (Lou) Belcher. As chair of the Ann Arbor Republican Party, he ran unsuccessfully for Mayor in 1971, represented Ward 5 on City Council from 1974 to 1978, and served as Mayor from 1978-1985.

In the Mayoral race of 1977, then-Council Member Lou Belcher challenged incumbent Democratic Mayor Al Wheeler. In that tight election, Wheeler won by a single vote. The discovery of invalid ballots – cast by people ineligible to vote – resulted in court challenges. Wheeler’s term was extended by one year to allow for a “do-over” election in 1978, which Belcher won. Belcher won three subsequent elections for mayor in 1979, 1981, and 1983. 

In part 4, Lou Belcher talks about changes to mass transit during his term, the relationships he cultivated with leaders in our sister cities (Japan and Germany), and his regular work outside of public service. 


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 20, 2024 7:00PM

Community Television Network (CTN) Studios
2805 S. Industrial Highway, 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:
https://a2gov.legistar.com/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=1141274&GUID=F154CBCB-300C-4AA0-B298-9F0E9AA17F4B

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:
https://www.youtube.com/user/ctnannarbor

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 4:00 PM, all speakers that have signed up are randomly ordered in “priority groups”. After 4:00 PM, speakers are added to the end of the applicable priority group in the order received. 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”
https://www.a2gov.org/departments/city-clerk/Pages/Virtual-Meetings-.aspx

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 (24-0949) Agenda Response Memo and eComments – May 20, 2024
This agenda item has a PDF attachment with all questions raised by Council Members, and the answers provided by staff.

No Council Members asked questions to the agenda this week

Communications from Council

CC-1 (24-0923) Resolution to Appoint Erica Liu to the Independent Community Police Oversight Commission
This appointment is 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). This is being presented at this meeting, and will therefore be voted on at the next Council meeting.

  • Erica Liu – Independent Community Police Oversight Commission

Communications from the Mayor

MC-1 (24-0745) Appointments – Confirmations
These appointments from the Mayor were presented at the previous meeting, and will therefore be voted on at this Council meeting.

  • David Penland – Elizabeth Dean Fund Committee
  • Laurence O’Connell – Park Advisory Commission
  • Julie Weatherbee – Zoning Board of Appeals

MC-2 (24-0755) Nominations and Reappointments – Confirmations
These 35 re-appointments from the Mayor were presented at the previous meeting, and will therefore be voted on at this Council meeting.

Consent Agenda

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.

CA-1 (24-0853) Resolution to Close N. Fourth Avenue and E. Ann Street for the 27th Annual African-American Downtown Festival, Friday, May 31, 2024 to Saturday, June 1, 2024

CA-2 (24-0866) Resolution to Approve Street Closings for the Firecracker 5K – Thursday, July 4, 2024

CA-3 (24-0867) Resolution to Approve Street Closings for the 2024 Ann Arbor Jaycees Fourth of July Parade – Thursday, July 4, 2024

CA-4 (24-0802) Resolution to Approve Street Closings for the 2024 Rolling Sculpture Car Show – Friday, July 12, 2024

CA-5 (24-0852) Resolution to Close Streets for the Paint the Town Event on Tuesday, July 16, 2024 from 6:00 AM through 7:00 AM on Wednesday, July 17, 2024

CA-6 (24-0766) Resolution to Close Streets for the Ann Arbor Mile-Dart for Art on Tuesday, July 16, 2024 from 3:00 PM until 6:00 AM on Wednesday, July 17, 2024

CA-7 (24-0847) Resolution to Approve Street Closing for the Electricians NTI Block Party – Wednesday, July 31, 2024 from 10:00 A.M. until 1:00 A.M. on Thursday, August 1, 2024

CA-8 (24-0850) Resolution to Approve Street Closings for the UA Block on Monday, August 12, 2024 from 10:00 AM until 1:00 AM on Tuesday, August 13, 2024

CA-9 (24-0846) Resolution to Approve Street Closure of North University between Thayer and Fletcher for the University of Michigan Center for Campus Involvement’s Festifall Event on Wednesday, August 28, 2024 from 8:00 AM until 11:00 PM

CA-10 (24-0805) Resolution to Approve the First Amendment to the Ann Arbor Affordable Housing Millage Fund Grant Agreement Between the City of Ann Arbor, the Ann Arbor Housing Commission, and the Ann Arbor Housing Development Corporation

CA-11 (24-0817) Resolution to Adopt an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Transition Plan for Ann Arbor Parks

Public Hearings

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 (24-0458) An Ordinance to Amend Chapter 55 (Zoning), Rezoning of 0.65 Acre from TWP (Township District) to R1D (Single-Family District), 3701-3713 Riverside Drive, (CPC Recommendation: Approval – 9 Yeas and 0 Nays) (ORD-24-10)
Parcels totaling 0.74 acres at 3701 and 3713 Riverside Drive will be annexed and rezoned to R1D (Single Family Zoning District). The owner intends to sell them for “development opportunities” and requested R1A (Single Family Dwelling District) zoning. City staff recommended R1B (Single Family Dwelling District) zoning for consistency with surrounding land uses, and the opportunity to evaluate future zoning of the area comprehensively. The City’s Comprehensive Plan recommends single family residential and surrounding properties are zoned R1B and PL (Public Land).

The City Planning commission rejected both the property owner request (R1A) and City staff recommendation (R1B) and approved R1D (Single Family District) instead. Compared to staff-recommended R1B, a zoning of R1D has half the required lot area, reduced setback requirements, and may require a greater degree of services than the less dense Single-Family Zoning Districts. In answers to questions to the agenda at the April 15th meeting (link), staff explained: “There is no water or storm sewer service provided to this area.”

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.

B-1 (24-0458is the same as PH-1 above

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 (24-0826) An Ordinance to Amend Sections 4:60 and 4:61 of Chapter 49 (Sidewalks) of Title IV (Streets and Sidewalks) of the Code of the City of Ann Arbor
Amendments to the city ordinance that requires property owners to remove snow on sidewalks. Proposed amendments will adjust violation fine amounts and clarify different penalties depending on zoning district. Currently, the ordinance dictates fines of $60, $250, and $500 – $1,000 for first, second, and subsequent violations (respectively) in the same season, without regard to zoning district. 

This week’s amendment refers to lower density residential zoning districts – R1, R2, and R3 – where the penalties for multiple violations in a single season will be:

  • First violation: $60 – $100 
  • Second violation: $100 – $250
  • Subsequent violations: $200 – $400

As amended, the ordinance will apply different penalties to multi-family properties (R4), other non-residential, and properties adjacent to public land. In those areas, penalties for multiple violations in a single season will be:

  • First violation: $250 – $500
  • Second violation: $400 – $800
  • Subsequent violations: $500 – $1,000 

Language is added to all sections to make clear that the responsibilities assigned to property owners also apply to the “owner’s agent” as registered with the City under regular rental and short-term-rental (Airbnb) licensing procedures.

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 (24-0383) Resolution to Reappoint Sheila Schueller to the Greenbelt Advisory Commission
This re-appointment is from CM Radina, who serves on the Greenbelt Advisory Commission. This was presented at the previous meeting, and will therefore be voted on at this Council meeting.

DC-2 (24-0423) Resolution to Reappoint Maisie A Weyhing, Anya Dale, and Christopher Graham to the Environmental Commission (7 Votes Required)
These re-appointments are from CM Akmon, who serves on the Environmental Commission. These were presented at the previous meeting, and will therefore be voted on at this Council meeting. Seven votes are required because one the appointees “is not a registered elector of the City of Ann Arbor”.

DC-3 (24-0576) Resolution to Appoint Janet Haynes, Rodrick Green, Mohammad Othman and Nathaniel Graulich 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. Seven votes are required because two of the appointees “are not registered electors of the City of Ann Arbor”.

DC-4 (24-0753) Resolution to Appoint Michelle Liao to the Renters Commission as a Non-registered Elector (7 Votes Required)
This appointment from the Mayor was presented at the previous meeting, and will therefore be voted on at this Council meeting. Seven votes are required because “the appointee is not a registered elector of the City of Ann Arbor”.

DC-5 (24-0756) Resolution to Reappoint Non-registered Electors to Ann Arbor Boards and Commissions (7 Votes Required)
These 10 re-appointments from the Mayor were presented at the previous meeting, and will therefore be voted on at this Council meeting. Seven votes are required because “the appointees are not registered electors of the City of Ann Arbor”.

DC-6 (24-0898) Resolution to Approve Amendments to the Council Rules
Extensive amendments to Council Rules include multiple procedural changes

  • Rescheduling Council meetings at the written request of the Mayor with support from two Council Members
  • Scheduling work sessions, but not after holidays observed by the City
  • Adding late items to the agenda by a vote of Council
  • Empowering the City Administrator to add ordinances and resolutions to the Council agenda in response to communications
  • Reducing individual public comment times from 3 minutes to 2 minutes when more than 30 people have signed up to speak
  • Restricting use and positioning of signs by members of the public during meetings
  • Allowing use of electronic communication during a Council meeting “necessary to attend to immediate personal matters.”
  • Granting discretion to the City Administrator to include or not include the fiscal/administrative impact in the description of any resolution or ordinance
  • Any resolution that has been tabled for six months is considered abandoned
  • Requiring a 30 day delay to Council-proposed ordinances in order for the City Administrator and City Attorney to provide a report on fiscal, staffing, and other impacts anticipated.

DS-1 (24-0794) Resolution Authorizing Issuance of 2024 Capital Improvement Bonds for the 121 Catherine Street Affordable Housing Development (Not to Exceed $9,000,000.00)(Limited Tax General Obligation – Taxable)
Up to $9,000,000 in Capital Improvement Bonds will be issued to fund affordable housing at 121 Catherine. Sixty-three housing units will be developed for households with incomes at or below 60% of Area Median Income (AMI). Half of the units will be developed for households with incomes at or below 30% of AMI.

DS-2 (24-0849) Resolution to Approve the Creation of the Affordable Housing Capital Improvement Bonds fund and Appropriate Proceeds from the 2024 Capital Improvement Bond ($9,000,000) (8 Votes Required)
An Affordable Housing Capital Improvement Bonds fund will be established, to maintain and disburse up to $9,000,000 in proceeds from issued bonds.

DS-3 (24-0445) Resolution to Approve Fiscal Year 2025 Fee Adjustments of the Public Services Area – Engineering, Systems Planning, Public Works, Water Treatment, and Water Resource Recovery Units
Fees in the Public Services area will be adjusted in Fiscal Year 2025. This City department charges fees related to construction, solid waste, water service, and assessments/inspections for new development. The vast majority of Public Services fees will increase between 1% and 10%. A small number of fees related to new development will decrease by much more. 

E.g. In the Soil Erosion and Sedimentary Control category of fees, there are fee reductions for planning new developments:

  • Residential grading permit & Site plan review: -31.0%
  • Residential grading permit – New Residence: -38.8%
  • Grading Permit & site compliance for Planning petition process: -49.5%
  • Non-residential grading permit & plan review: -35.5%

DS-4 (24-0518) Resolution to Approve FY 2025 Fee Adjustments for the Community Services Area
Fees in the Community Services area will be adjusted in Fiscal Year 2025. This City department charges fees for activities at park facilities such as the ice rinks (hockey leagues), the senior center (bridge games), and swimming pools (lessons and teams). A two-tire fee schedule applies higher rates to nonresidents and nonmembers (senior center); proposed fee increases for FY2025 are higher for nonresidents/nonmembers. Additional charges are added for Fire Alarm and suppression system revisions, generator inspections associated with special events, as well as applications to the Housing Board of Appeals and a ‘records check’ for the rental housing inspector.

DS-5 (24-0647) Resolution to Adopt Ann Arbor City Budget and Related Property Tax Millage Rates for Fiscal Year 2025
The FY2025 Budget adds 20 FTEs and $9,476,760 (+7.6%) in recurring expenditures; it also includes $5,295,901 in nonrecurring expenditures. The budget is balanced by taking a total of $2,791,015 from the Fund Balance (savings).

The budget presentation can be found here:
https://a2gov.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=6610021&GUID=62199D56-014A-40F1-B207-370A3E9A32B5

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

This is a direct link to the proposed FY2025 budget:
https://www.a2gov.org/departments/finance-admin-services/financial-reporting/Documents/FY25%20-%20Draft%20Budget%20Book.pdf

Budget Amendments
As of the publication of this newsletter, there are six budget amendments proposed by Council Members.
https://a2gov.legistar.com/View.ashx?M=F&ID=12962451&GUID=FBFDBEF3-0377-4CE7-B8E9-3AE737A9C155

(1) $100,000 to fund consultants required for “extensive changes to City zoning and land use policy” as directed by Council resolutions approved on April 1, 2024.
One-time allocation from the General Fund fund balance.
Sponsors: Disch, Cornell
See: https://a2elnel.com/post/april-fools-day-gift-to-developers-office-of-economic-development/

(2) $20,812 to fund a more experienced City planner to design and implement changes pursuant to the Comprehensive Land Use update.
Allocated from the General Fund Planning Department anticipated revenue: site plan revenue ($10,000), zoning compliance permit revenue ($7,000), and planned unit development revenue ($3,812)
Sponsors: Disch, Cornell

(3) $500,000 to fund community based organizations addressing eviction prevention ($250,000) and low-income youth services ($250,000)
Allocated from Marijuana Excise Tax Rebate funds.
Sponsors: Cornell, Briggs, Ghazi Edwin, Watson, Akmon

(4) $500,000 to fund Rising Hope for Housing program.
Allocated from Marijuana Excise Tax Rebate funds to the Ann Arbor Housing Development Corporation for coordination and distribution (allowing use of up to 5% of funds to cover administration costs).
Sponsors: Harrison, Radina
See: https://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/2023/10/ann-arbor-puts-400k-behind-new-rising-hope-for-housing-program.html

(5) $100,000 to fund mailed communication that will direct residents on “how to contact their elected leaders”
Allocated from General Fund fund balance.
Sponsor: Eyer
See my “Additional Thoughts” section below.

(6) $250,000 to fund crosswalk upgrades (RRFBs) at the intersections of Stone School Road and Pheasant Run Circle and Stone School Road and Birch Hollow Drive. 
Allocated from the Street, Bridge and Sidewalk Millage.
Sponsor: Radina

MLive stories about the FY25 budget:


Additional Thoughts

I also published this on my website:
https://a2elnel.com/post/ann-arbor-budget-council-cashing-in/

Ann Arbor Budget: Council Cashing In

This week, City Council will consider the annual budget for Fiscal Year 2025, which will allocate public funds of $55,000 to subsidize travel for Council Members. A budget amendment proposes that the City spend $100,000 on mailers to promote current Council Members to City residents. 

Also this week: the Mayor and at least one Council Member voiced their opposition to two progressive election reforms. They oppose local elections that would engage more voters (including university students). They also oppose campaign finance reform to level the playing field for grassroots candidates who do not accept large donations and PAC money. You can find information about both of these reforms here:
A2Nonpartisan.com
A2Future.com

MONEY FOR POLITICIANS

Since the election of a unanimous Council in 2022, the rate of absenteeism at meetings has tripled. See https://a2elnel.com/post/insider-democracy-in-washtenaw-county/

Meanwhile, Council has eagerly reduced its own oversight responsibilities and eliminated opportunities for the public to engage with local decisions. See https://a2elnel.com/post/one-full-year-of-unanimous-government/

Local commitments and local representation are a low priority for the current City Council.

That is context for one allocation in the FY 2025 Budget proposed by the City Administrator:

“Beginning July 1 of FY 2025, each policymaker will have up to $5,000 available to attend conferences or take a city government related trip for fact finding or training. The intent of this funding is to support policymakers being able to gain additional knowledge and insight into subject matter that is relevant to the City of Ann Arbor.”

This allocation highlights a fact that is obvious to many: current elected representatives are less interested in serving City residents and more interested in expanding their own personal network of political contacts. The FY 2025 budget asks taxpayers to fund this preference, with an annual budget of up to $5,000 per Council member.

New this week: a budget amendment proposed by Council Member Jen Eyer would allocate yet more money to individual elected leaders. Eyer proposes that the city spend $100,000 to fund paper mailers to residents to facilitate “Council communications” and help residents “know how to contact their elected leaders.” This is framed as “critical” to reaching over the ‘digital divide’ for “low-income households, senior citizens, minority groups, and people with disabilities.”

This idea, also, has context. In years past, residents impacted by the “digital divide” often wrote letters to their elected representatives. Home addresses for City Council members have always been public, among elected representatives who understood and accepted the obligation and commitment of local public service. A new Council sees things differently. Shortly after elections in November 2022, the City website was quietly edited to remove home addresses for elected representatives. In just the last week, I received a letter in the mail from someone concerned about City Council decisions. Presumably, they could not find an address for their current Council Member.

MONEY FOR DEMOCRACY

This week, MLive reported on Mayor Taylor and Council Member Jen Eyer’s opposition to election reforms that would include more voters in local elections and potentially more candidates running for our local offices. Both Taylor and Eyer explained their opposition to a ballot question for public funding that would level the playing field for local grassroots candidates who refuse PAC money and agree to much lower contribution limits.

Programs for local “small donor matching” have already been implemented in progressive communities like Berkley (CA), Portland (OR), Denver (CO), and Evanston (IL). A proposal for Ann Arbor would invest a tiny portion of the City general fund (three tenths of one percent— less than $400,000 a year) towards addressing the explosion of PAC and out-of-town money flooding our local elections since 2020. 

Ryan Stanton of MLive quoted Mayor Taylor:

“Money doesn’t win elections — shoe leather, ideas and teamwork win elections,” he said. “I think using taxpayer money to support the campaigns of losing political candidates is not a good use of public funds.”

And Jen Eyer:

“Yes, funding is helpful for staff, signs and mailers, but candidates can literally knock every voter’s door in their ward and connect with folks directly,” she said. “In 2020, I wore out my shoes knocking doors, and I’ll do it again this year. Candidates with the best ideas are the ones who win.”

https://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/2024/05/should-city-funds-be-used-to-support-political-candidates-ann-arbor-voters-may-decide.html

HEADS I WIN, TAILS YOU LOSE

This week, Council Member Eyer proposes a budget amendment to fund $100,000 in mailers to help residents “connect” with current Council Members. She argues that this is necessary and important because “Printed materials are still a critical way to reach residents regardless of their Internet access or tech proficiency.” Also this week: Council Member Eyer argues that, in political campaigns, money to fund mailers is not necessary because anyone trying to win an election can “literally knock every voter’s door” and “connect with folks directly.” 

As an elected representative with influence over the City budget, Eyer argues that taxpayer dollars are necessary to help her “reach” residents. As a candidate who relied on PACs, wealthy donors, and money from outside the City to get elected, Eyer argues the opposite: candidates don’t need money because they can easily reach residents directly.

CONCLUSION

The FY 2025 budget asks taxpayers to fund up to $55,000 in travel for elected leaders who would rather network outside of our community than meet local responsibilities. By budget amendment, Council Member Eyer asks taxpayers to subsidize $100,000 in mailers to help her “connect” to the community. Anyone who cannot access networks of wealth and PAC money should, according to Eyer, simply reach the community “directly.” 

This is what democracy looks like when elected leaders are motivated by self-interest rather than public service. 


Thank you for taking the time to be informed about our local government!
Elizabeth Nelson