Ann Arbor City Council Newsletter (May 5, 2024)

May 5, 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’s agenda (both consent and regular) is extremely long and includes nine public hearings. There will be public hearings for increases to water/stormwater/sewer rates (B-3, B-4, B-5), a rezoning at 711 Church Street (B-2) and ordinance changes to how traffic impacts are measured for new developments (B-1). Three public hearings (PH-7, PH-8, and PH-9) are related to the FY2025 Budget, but will not be voted on until the next Council meeting. A rezoning at 732 Packard (Five Corners) will be voted on at First Reading (C-1). Council will also approve a ballot question to facilitate a Sustainable Energy Utility (DS-1).

See my “Additional Thoughts” section at the bottom of this newsletter about recent filings for Democratic candidates in Washtenaw county.

Note that due to renovation work in City Hall Council chambers, the meeting this week is being held at CTN studios.

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. The contested election of 1977 prompted debates and discussion among college students around the country– as coordinated by the national republican party, Lou travelled to these college exercises as the “mystery mayor.”

In part 3, Lou Belcher talks about how he advocated for hydropower at the City dams, helped establish the Hands On museum in the former City fire station, negotiated annexation policies with neighboring townships, and promoted City funding for the Ann Arbor Summer Festival.

In Case You Missed It…

On my YouTube channel, you can find recordings of public meetings that are open to attend live (online or in-person) but are not made available by the City to view later. Please reach out if you have suggestions about public meetings that should be recorded. Subscribe to my YouTube channel if you would like to be alerted to new content as it gets added.

1329/1333 Jones Drive Resident Participation Meeting: May 1, 2024

This is my recording of a resident participation meeting held on May 1, 2024 at 6:00pm for a proposed development at 1329/1333 Jones Drive in Ann Arbor.

From the meeting announcement:

We ask for your input as a resident of Northside Ann Arbor regarding the potential development of 1329 Jones Drive and 1333 Jones Drive (also known as 1440 Plymouth Road). The proposal explores transforming the former Arbor Springs Water Company site and the adjoining vacant property into a single development of multifamily residences. The development would require demolishing current structures on the Arbor Springs Water Company parcel and rezoning the site from its current PUD for water bottling facilities to R4E.

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

Ann Arbor City Council Meeting
Monday May 6, 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:

City Council meetings are broadcast live by CTN on Comcast (channel 16) and AT&T (channel 99) and online at
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 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”

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 (24-0810) Agenda Response Memo and eComments – May 6, 2024
This agenda item has a PDF attachment with all questions raised by Council Members, and the answers provided by staff. 

Communications from Council

CC-1 (24-0383) Resolution to Reappoint Sheila Schueller to the Greenbelt Advisory Commission
This re-appointment are from CM Radina, who serves on the Greenbelt Advisory Commission. This is being presented at this meeting, and will therefore be voted on at the next Council meeting.

CC-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 are being presented at this meeting, and will therefore be voted on at the next Council meeting.

CC-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 are being presented at this meeting, and will therefore be voted on at the next Council meeting.

Communications from the Mayor

MC-1 (24-0745) Appointments and Nominations for May 6, 2024
These appointments from the Mayor are being presented at this meeting, and will therefore be voted on at the next 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 for May 6, 2024
These 35 re-appointments from the Mayor are being presented at this meeting, and will therefore be voted on at the next Council meeting.

MC-3 (24-0753) Resolution to Appoint Michelle Liao to the Renters Commission as a Non-registered Elector (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. Seven votes are required because “the appointee is not a registered elector of the City of Ann Arbor”

  • Michelle Liao – Renters Commission

MC-4 (24-0756) Resolution to Reappoint Non-registered Electors to Ann Arbor Boards and Commissions (7 Votes Required)
These 10 re-appointments from the Mayor are being presented at this meeting, and will therefore be voted on at the next Council meeting. Seven votes are required because “the appointees are not registered electors of the City of Ann Arbor”

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 (24-0775) Resolution to Approve Street Closure of E. Liberty between S. Division Street and S. Fifth Avenue on Saturday, May 25, 2024 for the Ann Arbor Bicentennial Birthday Celebration from 9:00 AM until 3:00 PM

CA-2 (24-0762) Resolution to Approve Street Closings for the 2024 Ann Arbor Summer Festival’s “Top of the Park” – June 8, 2024 through July 3, 2024

CA-3 (24-0765) Resolution to Close West Washington Street for the Ann Arbor YMCA Community Block Party on Saturday, June 15, 2024 from 9:00 AM until 4:00 PM

CA-4 (24-0763) Resolution to Approve Street Closings for Sonic Lunch – Thursdays, June 27, August 22 and August 29, 2024

CA-5 (24-0740) Resolution to Approve a Construction Phase Agreement with the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak) for $136,912.00 for the Barton/Bandemer Pedestrian Tunnel Project

CA-6 (24-0493) Resolution to Approve a Purchase Order to Infrastructure Solutions Group, Inc. for Pacific Tek Water Gate Valve Exercising Equipment (North Carolina Sheriffs Association – $87,821.00)

CA-7 (24-0733) Resolution to Approve a Purchase Order to KV Painting, LLC for the Wheeler Service Center Painting Project (ITB 4742, $88,015.00), and to Appropriate $230,000.00 from the Wheeler Service Center Unobligated Fund Balance (8 Votes Required)

CA-8 (24-0502) Resolution to Approve Amendment No. 2 to the General Services Agreement with The Davey Tree Expert Company for Routine Street Tree Pruning & General Forestry Services ($295,050.00 Amendment, $837,281.00 Contract Total, RFP #23-30)

CA-9 (24-0528) Resolution to Approve a Construction Contract with E.T. MacKenzie Company for the Yorkshire, Independence, and Medford Water Main Replacement Project (RFP 24-17; $2,799,900.00) and to Appropriate $1,616,584.00 in Contributing Funds (8 Votes Required)

After review, assessment, scoring of submitted bids for the Yorkshire, Independence, and Medford Water Main replacement Project, City staff recommend awarding a $2,799,900.00 contract to E.T. MacKenzie Co. 

All the bids that were submitted for this project can be found here:

City staff scoring of these bids can be found here:

This contract is notable because Bailey Excavating and DiPonio Contracting are the other two companies who bid on the project. Since a new majority was elected in 2020, City Council now exercises discretion in setting aside City staff assessment, scoring, and recommendations in order to award public contracts to its own favored companies. For example: 

March 15, 2021
REJECTED: $1,311,467.00 Staff-recommended contract with DiPonio Contracting
APPROVED: $1,393,088.95 contract with Bailey Excavating, sponsored by Council Member Jen Eyer

March 7, 2022
REJECTED: $1,299,999.25 Staff-recommended contract with E.T. MacKenzie
APPROVED: $1,360,502.72 contract with Bailey Excavating, moved by Council Member Radina

February 5, 2024
REJECTED: $8,483,440 Staff-recommended contract with Pamar Enterprises
APPROVED: $8,528,195.50 contract with Major Contracting Group, moved by Council Member Radina

This week’s staff-recommended contract with E.T. MacKenzie may very well be set aside to benefit Bailey Excavating, which has previously been favored by current City Council members over both E.T. MacKenzie Co and DiPonio Contracting. If this contract is swapped, it will be interesting to hear explanation as to why.

CA-10 (24-0302) Resolution to Approve a 5-Year Contract with the Huron River Watershed Council to Support Stormwater Permit Requirements ($417,063.88 total, for 5 years)

CA-11 (24-0594) Resolution to Approve a Construction Contract with Doan Construction Co. for the 2024 Sidewalk Gap Elimination Project ($230,660.00) and to Appropriate $124,161.00 from the Metro Expansion Fund (8 Votes Required)

CA-12 (24-0726) Resolution No. 4 – Confirming the Special Assessment Roll for the Stone School Road Sidewalk Gap Elimination Project Special Assessment District No. 64 (Eisenhower to Packard) (8 Votes Required)

CA-13 (24-0460) Resolution to Amend a Purchase Order with Cummins Sales and Services of New Hudson, MI for Repair and Maintenance Service ($185,000.00)

CA-14 (24-0619) Resolution to Authorize the Purchase of Four 2024 Ford F-150 Lightnings from Lunghamer Ford and Appropriate Capital Contributions to the FY2024 Fleet Services Fund Operations and Maintenance Budget ($101,002.00) (State of Michigan MiDeal – $194,316.00) (8 Votes Required)

CA-15 (24-0628) Resolution to Amend the Purchase Order for the Rental of Refuse Trucks from Premier Truck Sales & Rental Inc. (Sourcewell – NTE $260,100.00)

CA-16 (24-0563) Resolution to Approve a Professional Services Work Statement Agreement with Access Michigan, LLC for the Wheeler Data Center Roof Top Cooling Units Replacement ($220,000.00) (8 Votes Required)

CA-17 (24-0713) Resolution to Approve a Purchase Order to Midtown Ann Arbor, LLC for Reimbursement of Water Supply System Work ($96,143.00)

CA-18 (24-0620) Resolution to Accept a Storm Water Easement at North Oaks Condominium from Toll MI VI Limited Partnership (8 Votes Required)

CA-19 (24-0621) Resolution to Accept a Public Access Easement at North Oaks Condominium from Toll MI VI Limited Partnership (8 Votes Required)

CA-20 (24-0622) Resolution to Accept a Solid Waste Collection Easement at North Oaks Condominium from Toll MI VI Limited Partnership (8 Votes Required)

CA-21 (24-0623) Resolution to Accept an Easement for Public Utilities at North Oaks Condominium from Toll MI VI Limited Partnership (8 Votes Required)

CA-22 (24-0695) Resolution to Approve an Agreement with MDOT for a Mural on the West Huron Street Railroad Bridge (Contract No. 24-5153)

CA-23 (24-0651) Resolution to Assess Certain Delinquent Municipal Utility Charges as a Tax and Order Collection Thereof

CA-24 (24-0654) Resolution to Levy Certain Delinquent Municipal Solid Waste, Board Up, Clean Up, Vacant Property Inspection Fees, Housing Inspection Fees, False Alarm Fees, and Fire Inspection Fees as Special Assessments and Order Collection Thereof

CA-25 (24-0727) Resolution to Approve a Professional Services Agreement with 4 LEADERS, LLC ($180,000.00) and to Appoint Sue McCormick as Interim Public Services Area Administrator

CA-26 (24-0739) Resolution to Approve a Professional Services Agreement with Gallagher Benefit Services, Inc. for a Non-Union Compensation Study, RFP No. 23-43 ($183,700.00)

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 (24-0280) An Ordinance to Amend Sections 5.28.1.B, 5.29.8.A, 5.29.6 and 5.29.8 of Chapter 55 (Unified Development Code) of Title V of the Code of the City of Ann Arbor (Multimodal Transportation Impact Analysis [MTIA]) CPC Recommendation: Approval (6 yes, 0 no) (ORD-24-06)
Ordinance amendments will change the criteria for assessing the impact of new developments, removing a requirement to provide traffic studies and substituting a “multimodal transportation impact assessment” that includes transit, pedestrian, and bicycle.

A version of these amendments were originally proposed by the City’s Transportation department. In December 2023, the City’s Planning Staff issued a memo reviewing them

From that memo: “Planning staff find the conceptual amendments inadequate to address how multimodal transportation impact analyses should be reviewed…neither the current nor the proposed criteria for review offer meaningful measures to assess a MTIA. Ideally, the review criteria should outline how to determine the effects of a proposed development on the transportation system, along with requesting and evaluating adequacy of mitigation measures.”

Also from that memo: “The standard could be formatted similarly to the current standard for disturbance to natural features, and might read as follows: The Development shall maintain or improve the safety of the transportation system and maintain or reduce vehicle miles traveled, applying the criteria for reviewing a multimodal transportation impact analysis as provided in Section __.”

This week’s amendments include this language: “Site plans that propose to generate more than three trips per unit per peak hour or 50 trips per peak hour shall provide a multimodal transportation impact analysis following the methodology of the Institute of Transportation Engineers’ Multimodal Transportation Impact Analyses for Site Development, or the latest revision thereof”

This week’s amendments also includes this language: “Area plans that propose to generate more than three trips per unit per peak hour or 50 trips per peak hour shall provide information on trip generation, trip distribution, modal split, and areas of impact so the magnitude of the rezoning or proposed development can be understood.”

More information about the new methodology can be found here:

The ordinance will amend the term “traffic study” to “transportation studies.”

PH-2/B-2 (24-0362) An Ordinance to Amend the Zoning Map, Being a Part of Section 5.10.2 of Chapter 55 of Title V of the Code of the City of Ann Arbor, Rezoning of 1.06 Acres from R4C (Multiple-Family Residential District) to PUD (Planned Unit Development), 711 Church PUD Zoning and Supplemental Regulations (CPC Recommendation: Denial – 2 Yeas and 5 Nays) (ORD-24-05)
A parcel of 1.06 acres at 711 Church St would be rezoned to Planned Unit Development (PUD). Six lots would be combined and rezoned to allow the building of a high-rise building (17 stories) with 273 apartments and storage for 400 bicycles. It is currently zoned R4C and the proposed PUD requests a dwelling unit density ten times greater than what is permitted in R4C in exchange for providing 17% affordable units or payment in lieu.

The developers held a citizen participation meeting about this project in May 2023:

In a split vote, the Planning Commission recommended denial of the project in February 2024:

The Planning staff report explains that the terms requested by the developer most closely conform to (but actually exceed) D1/D2 zoning.

From that staff report: “The applicant has failed to offer sufficient justification as to why an area that is currently outside of the downtown core and zoned R4C should skip over the downtown interface zone (D2) and exceed the downtown core (D1) established parameters managing height and setbacks.”

In the same report, Planning staff recommended denial because: “The proposal fails to meet the standards of approval for beneficial effects and does not provide unique benefits which could not be achieved through other zoning classifications. Additionally, inadequate justification is given for inconsistency with the Comprehensive Plan.”

At first reading, Council unanimously approved five amendments to the PUD supplemental regulations:

  • Lowering the standard for LEED certification
  • Eliminating specification of materials
  • Clarifying allowable height to permit a double story
  • Adding geothermal technology for a “modest proportion of the buildings energy use” (8%)
  • Reducing the developer’s obligation to fund public art. The contribution will be $50,000 rather than a percentage of project cost (as is required by ordinance)

PH-3/DS-1 (24-0473) Resolution to Approve 711 Church PUD Site Plan and Development Agreement (CPC Recommendation: Denial – 2 Yeas and 5 Nays)
A site plan and development agreement for 711 Church will allow a high-rise building varying from 12 to 17 stories with 273 apartments. The project redevelops six lots at the southeast corner of Willard Street and Church Street with a combined total of 46,302-square feet. There will be parking for 52 vehicles, including six electric vehicle chargers and 492 bicycle parking places. The developer will contribute $250,000 to the Downtown Development Authority, $169,260 to the parks department and contribute $7,251,098.40 toward affordable housing.

PH-4/B-3 (24-0438) An Ordinance to Amend Section 2:63 of Chapter 29 (Water Rates) of Title II of the Code of the City of Ann Arbor (ORD-24-07)
Water rates will be increased. City staff estimate that the average residential customer will see an increase of 6%. Changes will take effect on July 1, 2024.

PH-5/B-4 (24-0439) An Ordinance to Amend Section 2:69 of Chapter 29 (Stormwater Rates) of Title II of the Code of the City of Ann Arbor (ORD-24-08)
Stormwater rates will be increased by3% of the stormwater discharge fee based on impervious surface and 2% for the customer charge. City staff estimate that the average residential customer will see an increase of 4%. Changes will take effect on July 1, 2024.

PH-6/B-5 (24-0442) An Ordinance to Amend Section 2:64 of Chapter 29 (Sewer Rates) of Title II of the Code of the City of Ann Arbor (ORD-24-09)
Sewer rates will be increased, City staff estimate that the average residential customer will see an increase of 3%. Changes will take effect on July 1, 2024.

The public hearings below will not be voted on at this week’s meeting but are part of the FY2025 Budget that will be voted on at the next meeting.

PH-7 (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%

PH-8 (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.

PH-9 (24-0647) Resolution to Adopt Ann Arbor City Budget and Related Property Tax Millage Rates for Fiscal Year 2025
A public hearing for the Fiscal Year 2025 Budget is an opportunity for the public to speak out ahead of its approval at the next Council meeting. 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:

The whole of the proposed city budget can be viewed on the City’s Financial Reporting page (along with previously adopted annual budgets):

This is a direct link to the proposed FY2025 budget:

MLive stories about the budget presentation:

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 (24-0280) is the same as PH-1 above
B-2 (24-0362) is the same as PH-2 above
B-3 (24-0438) is the same as PH-4 above
B-4 (24-0439) is the same as PH-5 above
B-5 (24-0442) is the same as PH-6 above

New Business – Staff

DS-1 (24-0473is the same as PH-3 above

DS-2 (24-0282) Resolution Authorizing Summary Publication of Ordinance 24-06 – An Ordinance to Amend Sections 5.28.1.B, 5.29.8.A, 5.29.6 and 5.29.8 of Chapter 55 (Unified Development Code) of Title V of the Code of the City of Ann Arbor (Multimodal Transportation Impact Analysis [MTIA])
The ordinance amendments in PH-1/B-1 will be summarized to spare expense in meeting legal requirements for publication.

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 (24-0425) An Ordinance to Amend the Zoning Map, Being a Part of Section 5.10.2 of Chapter 55 of Title V of the Code of the City of Ann Arbor, of 1.3 Acres from R4C (Multiple-Family Residential District) to PUD (Planned Unit Development), 732 Packard PUD Zoning and Supplemental Regulations (CPC Recommendation: Approval – 8 Yeas and 0 Nays)
Twelve lots totaling 1.3 acres at 732 Packard will be combined and rezoned from C1AR (Campus Business Residential District) to PUD (Planned Unit Development). This area between Packard and State (north of Arch) is currently the site of eleven buildings built between 1901 and 1963. The PUD zoning will allow a high-rise, multiple-family building including sustainability features and required (16%) affordable housing. The planned building will have 14 stories, 376 apartments, 82 vehicle parking spaces, 329 bicycle parking spaces, and potential for ground floor retail and restaurant. 

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 (24-0825) Resolution to Order Election and to Determine Ballot Question for Charter Amendment for Creation of a Sustainable Energy Utility (7 Votes Required)
A charter amendment will be placed on the November ballot in order to establish a Sustainable Energy Utility (“SEU”). This charter amendment will allow the City to create a limited opt-in fee-based program for the generation, transmission, and distribution of 100% sustainable energy where it is possible to develop microgrids. The City would continue to rely on DTE. 

In 2021, the City’s Energy Commission discussed the feasibility of a comprehensive municipal utility that would replace DTE; the commission discussed the need for a feasibility study with legal experts and local advocates State Senator Jeff Irwin and then State Representative (now County Commissioner) Yousef Rabhi. You can read more about that here:

In September 2021, City Council considered a resolution for a feasibility study on a comprehensive municipal power utility that would replace DTE. That request was delayed for three months. You can read more about that here:

In October 2021, the City launched a public campaign promoting a Sustainable Energy Utility to supplement continued reliance on DTE.

The FY 2025 budget includes $1 million toward a feasibility study for a comprehensive municipal utility, but the terms of this week’s charter amendment will not permit the potential development of a comprehensive municipal utility. As currently worded, the charter amendment will facilitate only a limited SEU program, permitting City ownership of a small scale opt-in program with capacity to generate energy through microgrids. The Ann Arbor for Public Power organization explains the difference between a DTE-dependent SEU and a traditional publicly-owned municipal utility:

“Only a quarter to half of buildings are candidates for microgrids, and only 10-20% optimally suited for them. Community solar opportunities are limited by available open space. An SEU can help, but it cannot generate enough clean electricity to even bring us close to our goal. An SEU won’t have the infrastructure to purchase clean electricity from generation facilities outside of the city. By comparison, a municipal electric utility owns the electrical distribution infrastructure. It can acquire, generate, and distribute its own electricity, offering a clear path to 100% renewable generation through a combination of local generation and purchased power.”

Promotional information about a Sustainable Energy Utility is on the City’s website here:’s-Sustainable-Energy-Utility-(SEU).aspx

Additional Thoughts

I also published this on my website:

Insider Democracy in Washtenaw County

Last week was the deadline for filing to run as a partisan candidate for local offices in Washtenaw County. Our County is now overwhelmingly “blue,” so democratic party primaries have become the decisive election that chooses who will fill these elected positions. Some of last week’s filings were surprising and some were expected.


Last week, two democratic incumbents effectively ‘passed the baton’ in a way that blocked any meaningful contest for the seat they now hold. Evan Pratt, who had filed for re-election as County Drain Commissioner, withdrew his filing at the last minute so that Gretchen Driskell (former Mayor of Saline) could file in his place. Driskell will now be the only candidate on the democratic primary ballot for County Drain Commission. Similarly, Catherine McClary had also filed for re-election as County Treasurer, but withdrew her filing at the last minute; Letitia Sharpe filed in her place, and will now be the only candidate on the democratic primary ballot for County Treasurer. You can read MLive reporting on it here:

The maneuvers of Pratt and McClary frustrated many people. Local democrats who might have been interested in the positions of County Drain Commissioner or County Treasurer were unwilling to challenge an incumbent but would have considered competing for an open seat. It’s unknown if anyone else coordinated with Pratt or McClary in choosing Driskell and Sharpe.


Last week, four City Council incumbents were pleased to see that no one dared file as a candidate to challenge them. A fifth incumbent will be challenged by someone who has run unsuccessfully twice, earning fewer than 500 votes. The whole of Council is effectively unopposed.

This is an expected result for anyone paying any attention to our local elections and how they now happen: a fortress has been built from big donor/PAC/out of town money, coordinated campaigns, and reciprocal endorsements among Democrats across the county. The lowest level of elected office in Ann Arbor now has a $40,000 price of admission. Residents who care about our community see that there is no path to participation unless you are willing to join the ‘team’ that controls large sums of money and endorsements. Ryan Stanton from MLive reported on these uncontested seats:

A handful of people pulled petitions to challenge incumbents this year but ultimately realized that they could not scale the walls that have been built to keep new people out.


This week, I talked to someone who is running for political office in Washtenaw County. She has been endorsed by an outgoing incumbent and will compete against another candidate who filed earlier. The earlier candidate filed to run for this office before the incumbent announced her plan to vacate the seat, i.e. entering the race as a direct challenge to the incumbent.

In discussing this election, the incumbent-endorsed candidate told me that what her opponent had done – challenging an incumbent – was “not allowed.” When I suggested that these elections are open to anyone and that everyone has a right to compete (even against an incumbent), her response was interesting: “Well, not if the incumbent is doing a good job!” My reply to that: according to who?

A small local network of money and influence now promotes a very limited model of “democracy”: elected offices will be distributed by and among the people who are currently in power. Power will be transferred agreeably within a closed network so that there are fewer candidates and fewer contested elections. A challenge to this system is offensive and “not allowed.”


The strategic candidate filings for County Water Resource Commissioner and County Treasurer highlight a problem much bigger than the four people involved. It’s true that the community has been deprived of choice in democratic candidates for these offices. Perhaps more shocking: a small network of party insiders was deprived of choice in who would benefit from their considerable money and coordinated endorsements.

I wonder: if anyone had filed to challenge incumbents Evan Pratt and Catherine McClary three months ago — when everyone still expected that they were running for re-election— would party insiders have cried foul and said that the challenge was “not allowed”?

Our City offices now mirror the clubby sense of entitlement that exists at higher levels of county and state government. This year, when a few brave souls pulled petitions to run for City Council, one person was tracked down at work by the incumbent who was desperate to run unopposed. Residents will have no choice in another uncontested race: an outgoing Council Member has endorsed someone whose local connection is his marriage to another politician. People with deep roots in our community or strong support from regular residents cannot compete against the concentration of money and power that now ‘owns’ these seats.

Democracy is meant to provide opportunity for participation— most people participate as voters but some people might hope to participate as candidates. Ideally, those who aspire to be candidates are motivated to serve the public. The best candidates for public office understand their responsibility and obligation to the broader community, not just the power brokers.


There is something special about the lowest level of elected office— policy and decisions are more visible to the people who are directly impacted by them. Elected representatives are accountable and accessible in a way that is more challenging at higher levels. E.g. When I served on Ann Arbor City Council, our home addresses were published on the City’s website. (Note: his information was quietly removed shortly after the election of new Council members in 2022.)

This week, there is a public hearing on the Fiscal Year 2025 budget. If approved as currently written, this budget will grant every single Council Member an annual expense account of $5,000 to fund personal travel:

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.

For anyone who has not served on City Council: this expenditure is bizarre.

Since the introduction of a new, unanimous City Council in November 2022, absenteeism has tripled. The illustration below shows that for a few recent meetings, both representatives from a given Ward were absent— one fifth of the City had no representation at these meetings. (Note that these charts do not include multiple other board and commission meetings that Council Members have failed to attend as liaisons).

Ann Arbor City Council absences from Nov 2022 through April 2024

In response to criticism about poor attendance, one Council Member declared that she and colleagues had more important personal responsibilities. She casually dismissed previous representatives as old and retired and cheerfully explained that the current Council simply had “a lot going on.”


I know the work of serving on City Council. For four years, my Council email was a fairly even split between people advocating for local policy and requests for help in navigating City process to solve problems in neighborhoods. I regularly biked to places in Ward 4 and across the city to connect with residents and better understand the local impact of Council decisions. Understanding local policy requires “fact-finding” in Ann Arbor. Considerable “knowledge and insight” comes from showing up to meetings and hearing from local residents.

Our elected City Council is no longer focused on the community it serves. At public meetings, Council Members now regularly boast about the networking activities they’ve engaged in outside of the City. Meanwhile, residents notice frequent absences and complain about unanswered emails. If the FY2025 budget is approved as is, residents will subsidize up to $55,000 in travel for City Council members to network outside of the City— residents will pay for local leaders to be even less accountable to and engaged with the local community.

This financial benefit is in addition to pay raises that Council will receive this July and again in July 2025. See here:

Elected leaders who already do not prioritize local responsibilities now expect taxpayers to fund personal travel outside of our community. If history is any guide, this budget will be approved unanimously.

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