Reality Politics

Apr 27, 2020 | City Council

I’m relieved to be living in Ann Arbor during this pandemic. Your local leaders and city staff are serious about listening to medical and public health experts, doing what we can to follow their advice. To the limited extent that we are able/empowered, we are intervening (and urging our governmental partners to intervene) to improve policies and services to support all residents, but most especially our most vulnerable residents.

In our community, we value informed leadership and reasoned discussion about the facts of any given situation. I believe this is a core principle of our very educated city. It’s something I heard from many people during my campaign: residents wanted access to information, they wanted to keep track of what was happening, and they wanted the opportunity to engage on the topics they cared about.

We are lucky to live in a City that has invested in an online system to track documents, background, and history of issues. In other places, such information has to be requested, but here (if you’re willing to search) it is available. I’ve done what I can to make those primary sources more accessible to people, particularly where those primary sources are relevant to issues City Council is about to vote on.

Facts and truth should matter to all of us. It has to be the starting point for every decision.

In our national government, we see the results when conversations (particularly about topics in the public interest) have nothing to do with the facts or the truth. We know exactly where it leads when such “political debate” is encouraged in social media and elsewhere. The question is: how strongly do we value the truth as the foundation for political discussion?

Social Media

Below are statements and descriptions found in social media, meant to be assessments of our local City government:

“a new majority [is] hostile to cyclists, hostile to pedestrians, hostile to children in need of safe routes to school”

“7 of our CMs believe fairy tales about the causes and remedies of global warming”

“Opposing things like these bike lanes is exactly the entire purpose of the “anti party” aka the “neighborhood party””

“the anti party is anti youth”

“a gang of NIMBYs who fight sustainability and instead celebrate municipal parking lots”

“their new plan is to destroy government from the inside by grinding it to a halt”

“six people are against everything that promotes affordable housing, denser greener communities and diversity”

“while the current council majority talks about climate action, they have sought to de-fund the Office of Sustainability repeatedly”

“Maybe they associate tall buildings with Chinese students and that they might just simply be a bunch of xenophobes”

“NIMBY party’s pet project: stop people from moving here”

“The new majority after the 2018 election finds reasons, if not cause, to block everything”

“completely unhinged NIMBY cabal of naysayers & fools”

All of these statements/descriptions are presented as legitimate, fact-based critique. However, all the quoted comments above are either demonstrably false, a wild mischaracterization, a falsehood combined with mischaracterization, or simple insults. None of this would be particularly interesting (there’s plenty of nonsense to be found online!) except that one of the statements above comes from a candidate for City Council and the last statement above was “liked” (i.e. approved and recommended, in a publicly visible way) by one of our elected leaders.

Below is analysis of two very important topics frequently discussed in social media: the City government’s commitment to sustainability and the City government’s approach to development/housing.


Since I was elected, City Council has voted on and approved more than $350,000 in budget items from our Sustainability department. Of that total, about $250,000 supported very specific equipment upgrades and infrastructure: electric vehicles for various city departments, an electric forklift for use in public works, and solar panels on city-owned buildings. An additional $100,000 was approved for various staffing requests: to support green rental and building efficiency initiatives and legal services to intervene in a case promoting access to green energy. Most recently, the City accepted and approved first steps in implementing the A2ZERO Carbon Neutrality Plan (with the caveat that we will receive a funding plan and prioritization framework).

Outside of the regular budget cycle, the current City Council also approved a budget amendment granting an additional $250,000 to the Sustainability department. It is factually accurate to say that the current City Council does not approve every budget request from the department of Sustainability. E.g. The $250,000 budget amendment was a reduction from the initial request for $313,000, which included money for “staff development” that would have sent someone to a conference shortly before his scheduled retirement.


Regarding development: in the last 18 months, the current City Council has approved 1,076 units of housing (nearly all in apartments, duplexes, or condos). Without a doubt, the city is growing and adding density. However, the amount of affordable housing leveraged through all of these market rate projects is not good: only 29 units at 80% AMI and 6 units at 60% AMI. The current Council responded to those facts and requested an analysis regarding the viability of affordable housing projects on eleven city-owned properties. Public engagement is beginning soon for several of them.

The grand total of “anti-development” and “anti-housing” decisions made by the current membership of City Council adds up to three:

  • Rejection of a site plan/rezoning that would have increased density to house senior citizens on top of the highest concentration of the Gelman Plume (and site of a monitoring well);
  • Rejection of a re-zoning and site plan that the City Planning Commission unanimously (7-0) recommended that Council deny;
  • Defeat of an ordinance that would have allowed accessory dwelling units on every residential property in the city without regard to minimum lot size.

All of the information above can be sourced directly from City documents on Legistar. I’ve compiled summaries of these decisions (and many others) on my website at (also available via, including Legistar links, voting charts, and relevant MLive stories. I urge anyone who cares about local politics to visit this website and make use of the Legistar links. I do not see these links to primary sources in any other local political commentary — the Legistar links are most important because it’s where you find the facts.

Nationally, we’ve seen what happens when facts don’t matter. We know exactly what it looks like when public figures regularly choose to be incendiary rather than engage in the serious work of assessing and debating policy. We see now (more than ever) the danger in those strategies. I appreciate that not everyone has the time to follow our local politics closely, much less parse through data. However, we know what happens when too many people get swept up in the repetition of misinformation and swallow mis-statements of fact. We can do better and I hope that we will all try!