Archive for the ‘politics’ category

Moving Us Forward: The Urban Core Expansion Plan

October 26, 2013
Click on the thumbnail to see both sides of flyer. Similar flyers for other wards.

Click on the thumbnail to see both sides of flyer. Similar flyers for other wards.

The Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority is moving forward with a new Five-Year Plan for expanded services.  They describe this plan on their recently remodeled website and have been conducting public meetings all over Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. In the meeting I attended, emphasis was given to local (5th ward) routes and enhancements in detail.  The flyer at the right lists many specific route changes.  (There was a surprisingly vigorous discussion, with one current bus user objecting to some of the “enhancements”.)  Clearly, much planning and fine-tuning has gone into the proposal.

The map below shows detail about enhancements in the Ann Arbor area.  (Similar maps are available on the website for the Ypsilanti and Pittsfield areas.)  Here are a few quick points about the changes:

  • New routes are shown in blue, old ones green.  Express Routes purple.
  • Note that most of the new routes are on the west side of Ann Arbor.  (These have letter designations instead of numbers, but this is temporary.)
  • Routes “leak” outside the borders of the City of Ann Arbor, with excursions into Scio and Pittsfield Townships. Scio Township is not participating in the Urban Core plan but a bus would run along Jackson Avenue to Zeeb Road.
  • There is no expanded service into Ann Arbor Township on the northeast side, despite the complex of medical services and offices at Domino’s Farms in that area.
  • There are several Express Routes shown, including the present ones to Chelsea and Canton, and new ones to Belleville and the Walmart/Saline complex on Michigan Avenue.
Proposed enhancements for Ann Arbor area. Click for larger image.

Proposed enhancements for Ann Arbor area. Click for larger image.

In my judgment, there are many reasons to say this is a lovely plan on functional grounds.  For example, the plan allows people from Ann Arbor to seek employment at Meijer and presumably makes all the commercial and nonprofit  (like the family shelter) opportunities accessible.  Some of the commercial spots in Pittsfield, like Costco and Walmart, plus the Pittsfield library branch, are also made accessible.  It is rather concerning, however, that the northeast side of Ann Arbor and the WCC/St. Joe’s area appear to be receiving no enhancements.

So, as is always the question: how will this expanded system be paid for?  As we indicated in our previous post, the City of Ypsilanti has joined the authority and Ypsilanti Township has requested to join.  Pittsfield Township and Superior Township will apparently just maintain their current POSA contracts, while Scio Township and Ann Arbor Township have declined to play.  The City of Saline is also a nonparticipant.

As was explained at the meeting, a major cost of implementing the plan will be buying new buses.  Most of the buses in the existing fleet were purchased with Federal funds, but for a variety of technical reasons those won’t be available to expand service. improve and expandAll this will not happen without a major infusion of cash.  As we reported earlier, there was an informal consensus at the “Urban Core Meetings” that the “Improve & Expand” option was to be selected.  According to the description offered, that option will require an annual additional revenue of $5.4 million by 2019 (the last year of the Five-Year Plan). (Since Pittsfield and Saline are not participating, the actual figure is not clear.)  Much money is needed to start up. The planner, Michael Benham, stated, “We’re using every cent we’ve got right now.”   So where will the cash come from?

It is an open secret that AAATA hopes the answer will be a new authority-wide millage.  (The authority is expected to include Ypsilanti Township, along with Ann Arbor and the City of Ypsilanti, the two current members of AAATA.)  The number mentioned is 0.7 mills, to be approved by voters in May 2014.

So as explained in the public meeting, Year One of the Five-Year Plan will begin in August 2014, assuming that a millage passes through the entire authority in May 2014.  This was not obvious, since the assessment and tax cycle has various milestones.  A November millage vote would not provide revenue until the succeeding year.  However, since taxes are paid every July, the May vote will deliver the needed revenue in the same year as the ballot.

AAATA is currently on a charm offensive, with many meetings with local officials and the public meetings.  Although officials have been careful to say that the AAATA board has not yet authorized a millage vote, it is clear that that is in our future.  But the outcome is not certain.  Will voters endorse the plan with their dollars?

UPDATE: AAATA has now released electronic versions of flyers for all Ann Arbor wards.  Here they are.Ward 1 Ward 2  Ward 3  Ward 4  Ward 5

NOTE: A list of previous posts on this topic can be found on the Transportation Page.

The Tumultuous Politics of Ypsilanti Township

October 12, 2013

Before we add Ypsilanti Township to AAATA, Ann Arbor officials need to understand who they are dealing with.

One quality of local politics in Ann Arbor (and perhaps most places) is that we often live serenely unaware of what is happening in adjacent communities.  This has not won us a lot of love.  Serving on the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners for eight years was a tremendous learning experience, and one thing I learned is that Ann Arbor is often resented for its standoffish and better-than-you (as perceived) attitude.

Now our leaders have chosen to push us into a more regional perspective, notably by expanding our city transportation system (AATA, now AAATA) into neighboring communities.  It behooves us to understand them if we are to share services and tax base with them.

Washtenaw communities (census tracts) by median income. Dark green is highest, sand color is lowest.

Washtenaw communities (census tracts) by median income. Dark green is highest, sand color is lowest. (Click for bigger picture.)

Michigan government is structured along extremely local lines, with Michigan townships likely the most potent force.  These (usually) 36-square-mile entities are mostly “general law” townships, and a few are “charter” townships.  They have a somewhat different organization and tax structure.  Charter townships are somewhat more impervious to annexation by cities (though this process is never easy in Michigan) and can impose higher operating millages.  They typically have higher population densities than general law townships.  This is true of Ypsilanti Township, which is the second most populous municipality in Washtenaw County, after Ann Arbor.  It also shares with the City of Ypsilanti and portions of Ann Arbor itself the quality of having the lowest median incomes in the county.

The Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority has now expanded to include the City of Ypsilanti and the AAATA Board recently voted to add Ypsilanti Township as well.  Before our City Council votes on this measure, it is important to know a little more of the politics and history of the township.  It is good to understand people you are doing business with.

Brenda Stumbo

Brenda Stumbo

Karen Lovejoy Roe and Brenda Stumbo burst upon the Ypsilanti Township scene in 1996, when as a team they defeated well-respected Wesley Prater (Supervisor) and Ethel Howard (Clerk).  They remained in office (Roe as Supervisor, Stumbo as Clerk) until 2004, when a slate headed by former State Representative Ruth Ann Jamnick unseated them.  Roe then ran against Wes Prater to knock him out of his seat on the Board of Commissioners (Prater was the Chair of the BOC but was defeated by Roe in 2006).   In 2008, the pair ran again, this time with Stumbo taking the office of Supervisor and Roe the Clerk’s position.  (Analysis of the race by Mary Morgan, then on the editorial staff of the Ann Arbor News, is instructive.)  They have remained in those positions ever since, and in their nearly 20 years of leadership have shaped much of the way the township does business.

Karen Lovejoy Roe

Karen Lovejoy Roe

The single largest impact they have had, at least as viewed from the outside, has been the dispute with Washtenaw County in an effort to reduce the cost of contract Sheriff’s deputies.  As for many municipalities, the cost of “public safety”, especially policing, had become the largest fraction of the County budget in the 1990s.  The Sheriff had been providing this service both with “road patrol” (paid for by General Fund monies) and direct contracts with townships.  As the result of a study done in 1999, the County proposed in 2000 to institute a system of charging townships for policing services based on a “PSU” or police services unit, approximately the fully loaded cost of a single deputy.  County grants would pay 34% of the cost.

Proposed charges for deputies in 2000 report

Proposed charges for deputies in 2000 report

But this was very bad news for Ypsilanti Township, with the policing needs of an urbanized area.  While cities and most villages in the County, plus at least two townships (Northfield and Pittsfield) had their own police forces, Ypsilanti Township needed essentially a full police force composed of Sheriff’s deputies.  In 2000, the majority of Sheriff’s deputies were employed in the township, 44 in all compared to 25 for the entire rest of the county.  The bill would be over $3 million annually.  After years of disputes, they filed a lawsuit against the County in 2006 demanding a lower payment schedule.  The lawsuit lingered in court and through various appeals until a settlement was finally reached in 2011. As reported by the Ann Arbor Chronicle,

The bulk of the recommended payment – $732,927 – will come from Ypsilanti Township, which had contracted for 44 sheriff deputies in 2006…County representatives previously indicated they were seeking around $2 million. The county is not seeking payment for its legal expenses related to the lawsuit, which are estimated to be just over $1 million.

The township, according to  the Ann Arbor Observer,  had legal fees of $1.1 million.  But the new 4-year contract means that the County is still subsidizing Ypsilanti Townships’ police service by $1 million/year.  Since many of the County’s municipalities – including Ann Arbor – pay for their own police forces and only make incidental use of the Sheriff’s deputies, they are doubly subsidizing Ypsilanti Township, as they are paying for services they don’t use directly.

Were Ypsilanti Township officials justified in spending over $2 million of taxpayers’ money in court trying to get a better deal?  Most likely they still feel that they were, as the township had lost a good deal of taxable value with the closing of auto plants.  The township form of government dictates that officials will try to obtain the best services for their residents with the lowest taxes.  But this means that other municipalities (County, cities, other townships) must be aware that they are dealing with some very value-oriented folks in making arrangements for sharing services and tax base.  And – they are fighters.

The township’s website is , where much information may be found.

UPDATE: In response to Larry Krieg’s query (see comment below), I am providing some historical documents.  A memo to the BOC on May 17, 2000 laid out the premise and approach for a new police charges methodology.  (This is the document from which the illustration is drawn.) In a 2006  memo containing details of contract offers, the county explains all the different pricing strategies and references the lawsuit.  As it states, all townships other than the plaintiffs in the lawsuit (Ypsilanti Township, Salem Township, and Augusta Township) signed a four-year contract using the new methodology before the deadline of December 31, 2005.  “Representatives from each of these Townships publicly stated that they would not sign the four-year proposed contract because the specific prices for 2008-2009 would not be approved by the County Board of Commissioners before April, 2006.”  Thus,

the County proposed a four-month “bridge” contract to the Plaintiff Townships to cover January through April, 2006 at a cost of $100 per hour per PSU, which was less than the County’s actual full cost of $111 per hour per PSU to place a PSU on patrol. The purpose of the “bridge” contract was to provide a contractual means to continue police services to the Plaintiff Townships until such time as the Board of Commissioners would approve the price figures for 2008-2009. Once those figures were approved, these Townships would then be able to approve or reject the four-year proposed contract.

As the memo goes on to explain, the BOC approved the bridge contract, but the plaintiffs refused that contract and instead sued.  The complaint named several members of the BOC individually as well as the County itself.  The subsequent history is given in this memo describing settlement of the lawsuit. Courts found for the County at every level, including at the Appeals Court.  The question of the contract has literally been adjudicated in great detail and the County was found to be justified in the contractual approach that they took.

SECOND UPDATE:  Continuing the documentation in answer to Larry Krieg’s query, here are the history and supporting documentation of the County’s jail expansion.   My very first writing assignment for the Ann Arbor Observer was a comprehensive coverage of the issues leading up to a February 2005 ballot issue. Here is a proof copy of The Jail Millage (please note that the images are copyrighted by the photographers). Mary Morgan provides an excellent history and summary of outcomes in her account on the Ann Arbor Chronicle. As she indicates, the ballot issue was defeated by the voters.  That millage proposal was very large and complex with many moving parts.  After its defeat, the County still had a jail overcrowding problem, and the BOC considered the issuance of a $30 Million bond to pay for a new jail. From the Chronicle:

A citizens group objected to the $30 million bond, saying it was too similar to the ballot initiative defeated earlier that year. The group – called the Save Our Sheriff (SOS) Committee – collected more than 17,000 signatures aimed at forcing a countywide referendum on the issue. The protest came in the context of disputes between the county administration and the sheriff at the time, Dan Minzey, over funding for operations as well as the cost of sheriff deputy patrols in the townships. In early 2006, commissioners dropped plans to issue that bond.

Indeed, as seen in the August 2005 bonding resolution, the slightly revised Administrator’s recommendations were to be financed by this bond and there were expectations that the savings from the new police services model would assist in that.

transfer of funds clauseAgain according to the Chronicle account,

But in November 2006, the county board was ready to move ahead again, approving a $21.6 million bond issuance for the expansion. This time, no organized efforts were made against the proposal, and the bonds were sold in early 2007. Just over a year later, in March 2008, the board authorized another $12.6 million bond for the new 14A-1 District Court.

The resolution passed in November 2006 was this time not referencing the Administrator’s Public Safety recommendations, but rather a Space Plan funding resolution that nevertheless also references the General Fund savings from the changes in police contract methodology.

This memo requesting additional construction funding which dates from 2010 details the amount of the bond proceeds and the actual costs of construction.  It requests more funding, which is from a Facilities Operation & Maintenance fund (used for capital projects).  The memo makes it clear that all construction was paid for either with bond proceeds (including interest on bond balances) or the facilities fund.

However, staffing was also needed for the new jail. This  memo requesting more Corrections staff which also dates from 2010 indicates a considerable expansion of the Corrections budget.  There is no reference to including this in the cost of PSUs or contract personnel.  Historically, the Corrections budget has been separate from the police function.  Counties in Michigan are obliged by law to maintain a jail but not to provide policing.  The two should not demonstrate a cross-over in budgetary charges, though they are both under the Sheriff’s budget.

It must be noted that one complication to this story was the role of Sheriff Dan Minzey, who served from 2000 to 2008.  He was often at odds with the BOC and the County Administrator on these issues under his charge.  Note that the anti-bond committee was called Save Our Sheriff.  He doubtless helped to cause a conflation in the public mind between the changes in funding deputies and the cost of the jail.  Minzey came from the ranks of the deputies and was apparently not very interested in the Corrections responsibilities under his aegis.  The present Sheriff, Jerry Clayton, was elected in 2008.  To my estimation, he has had a calming effect and has brought a thoughtful managerial style to the job.  As an example, here is his overview of public safety issues facing Washtenaw County.

The overlap in timing of the two issues (jail and policing), together with the somewhat adversarial posture of the then Sheriff, may have naturally led to some of the confusion.

  • February 2005: Failure of the jail millage
  • August 2005: First bond measure passed, with many references to Administrator’s revision of items discussed in jail millage proposal
  • December 2005: Deadline for signing new police contracts
  • January 2006: Ypsilanti Township and two others file suit against County
  • January 2006: BOC rescinds bond resolution

Nevertheless, in my opinion, the changes in the way the County charged for contract deputies was going to happen regardless of what was happening with the jail.  When it all began in 1999, the aim was to curtail the rapid increase in the Sheriff’s draw on the general fund.  The fact that jail overcrowding created a crisis that also needed funding was coincidental.  When the millage failed, like any governmental body, the County looked to see where funds could be obtained to address the problem.

Partisan Labels and Ann Arbor Politics

October 6, 2013

As the Council Party fades, what do party labels mean to local politics?

We are nearing a November election that will possibly result in a major shift in direction on the Ann Arbor City Council.  For a time, John Hieftje enjoyed a nearly complete hold on power to command votes from the Council.  This coming election may lose him that, though it will by no means render him without major influence over the City’s fate.  This August’s primary saw the defeat of one of his longtime supporters (Jack Eaton defeated Marcia Higgins) and the failure of his effort to unseat one of his critics (Stephen Kunselman held his own over Julie Grand).  The November election will pit his chosen candidate, Kirk Westphal, against an old opponent, Jane Lumm.  Westphal is a Democrat running against an Independent, thus he has garnered endorsements not only from the Mayor, but from a number of prominent Democrats. (His endorsement list reads like an honor roll of the Council Party, including kingmaker Leah Gunn and vocal CP spokesperson Joan Lowenstein; many of the same names appeared on Grand’s and Higgins’ endorsement lists.)  Next weekend the Ann Arbor Democratic Party is having an “Endorsement Saturday” that will include Westphal’s endorsement.  And Lumm’s candidacy, along with the success of many of her political supporters, has brought out some shrill voices attempting to use party labels against her.

One of the most confusing aspects of recent Ann Arbor political history has been that traditional party labels have become very nearly meaningless as the balance of power has shifted.  The labels and issues that relate to the national and even state parties have receded into the background as we debate specifics of how Ann Arbor is to be governed.

Ann Arbor is one of very few Michigan cities that elect members of City Council on the basis of political party.  Here we hold primaries in August to win the nomination as a Democrat or a Republican.  (I don’t know whether technically a new or third party could qualify to have a primary ballot.) (But see the SECOND UPDATE below.)  Otherwise, one runs as an Independent, who appears on the ballot only in November.

At one time, control of Ann Arbor City Council shifted back and forth between the two dominant political parties, but two things happened to alter that.  One was the shift of city elections from April (low turnout, mostly of long-term residents) to November, when many state and national elections are also held.  (See our history of this.)  Another was the election of George W. Bush to the Presidency of the United States, which began the ruination of the Republican brand among Ann Arbor’s relatively liberal populace.  Coincidentally, Bush’s election was paired with the election of John Hieftje as Mayor of Ann Arbor.  As we noted in an earlier post,

The last time a Republican won a city office in Ann Arbor was 2003, when Marcia Higgins was re-elected to the Fourth Ward council seat and Mike Reid bested Amy Seetoo in the Second Ward by 54%. The last time the Republican Party put up a candidate for Mayor was in 2004, when Jane Lumm garnered only 31% of the citywide vote against a triumphant John Hieftje. There were no Republican council candidates on the ballot.  Marcia Higgins announced that she was joining the Democratic Party and won re-election as a Democrat in 2005, joined by the former Republican mayoral candidate, Stephen Rapundalo, who won as a Democrat in the Second Ward.

The (old) Ann Arbor News' concept of the Council Party leaders after an email scandal. L to R: Leigh Greden, Christopher Taylor, Carsten Hohnke, Margie Teall

The (old) Ann Arbor News’ concept of the Council Party leaders after an email scandal. L to R: Leigh Greden, Christopher Taylor, Carsten Hohnke, Margie Teall

The move to a monolithic Democratic council coincided with the rise of a dominant political faction which we dubbed “the Council Party”.  It was to some extent John Hieftje’s Council, but former Councilmember Leigh Greden was also a dominating force. (Here is our analysis of the impact of Greden’s defeat.)

It is difficult to characterize the Council Party’s agenda succinctly but it has principally been pro-development, pro-growth, nominally liberal on social and environmental issues, and relatively nonresponsive to actual Ann Arbor residents and taxpayers, showing a willingness to pare services in order to redirect those resources to favored initiatives.  Under the management of former City Administrator Roger Fraser (hired in the first year of John Hieftje’s tenure as Mayor), city staff have been pared severely and departments combined. (Here is an excellent overview of those dark days from the Ann Arbor Chronicle.)

The result of these resident-unfriendly policies has been a small revolution within Democratic ranks.  Beginning in 2006, there have been primary challenges, where Democratic challengers have run against incumbents.  There have also been strong contests for open seats. And notably, Jane Lumm, a former Republican council member and mayoral candidate, ran as an Independent in 2011 and trounced Stephen Rapundalo with the support of many Democrats. (In doing so, she bested another former Republican mayoral candidate.) This article from the Ann Arbor Chronicle has a table showing changes in the Council since 2007.

The dissidents have generally run against incumbents on the basis of fiscal issues (the redirection of tax dollars from services to such projects as the City Hall addition and the Fuller Road Station), the direction of development of the city (loss of neighborhood integrity, domination by the DDA and development interests in the downtown), and support for our park system.  An early review of the differences between this set of longer-term residents and taxpayers and the dominant majority on Council were highlighted in my article, Our Town vs. Big City.  Another reflection on these differences is in the post, The Council Party vs. The Ann Arbor Townies.  I don’t like the term “townies”, really, because it is often used to draw a distinction between town and gown (a different dichotomy, and many UM workers and faculty may be more sympathetic to the residents’ viewpoint).  Similarly, the Council Party no longer seems quite as descriptive as it was, diminished to the rump faction that it now is.  So let’s just call the factions Our Town and Big City for now.

So why are so many lifelong Democrats supporting Lumm for re-election?  Because she has our backs.  She has been a moderate Republican (not Tea Party or even particularly conservative) with liberal social views.  She supports the use of our city taxes for city services.  I am not representing her campaign so will not attempt to characterize her further. Westphal is the current chair of the Planning Commission and has supported most of the Big Development moves of recent years, such as the notorious 413 E. Huron project.  He generally follows what he refers to as the “progressive” party line, referring not to social convictions but rather to Big Picture and Bold Idea views.  In a Democratic candidate forum (Lumm was not, of course, invited) the Ann Arbor Chronicle reported his remarks as, “this is a really exciting time for Ann Arbor” The Chronicle goes on to say, “It seems that Ann Arbor is increasingly being mentioned in the same breath as some larger cities across the country – as a place that people who have other choices can locate their business and move to.” and further quotes him as saying “I think that we can set our sights even higher”.

In electoral contests between the two factions over the last seven years, success has visited both sides but Our Town has slowly increased its numbers to the point where it is a serious challenge to Big City.  This means it is time for name-calling and the use of partisan labels.  Recently a new political blog surfaced.  The “Middle of the Left” is anonymous and allows no comments, which considerably undercuts its credibility.  But it is a fair representation of the efforts to discredit Our Town on partisan grounds.  This continues the overall tenor of earlier attacks by Joan Lowenstein.  Now of course, Jane Lumm makes no claim to be a Democrat.  But the general theme is that anyone who supports her politically is also not a Real Democrat.  MOTL calls the Our Town faction “Teapublicans”  and even accuses them (us) of being “birthers” (a reference to the right-wing crazies who consider our President to be not really American).  He also manages to apply the DINO (Democrat in Name Only) label.

Partisan name-calling is, in my opinion, a refuge of the weak.  But there is no question that this is a partisan issue.  Don’t forget that the word “partisan” has a much broader meaning than the D/R split we often hear about.  According to Collins’ English Dictionary, the first meaning is “an adherent or devotee of a cause, party, etc”.  But that and other dictionaries draw attention to the use of the word in revolutionary or resistance movements, notably during World War II but in other conflicts.  There is no question that there are two “parties or causes” here, but the Democrat/Republican designations are not the point.  The point is the view of what the future of Ann Arbor should be, and what purpose city government should serve.  Is it to serve the citizens of Ann Arbor, or is it to transform Ann Arbor into a different community altogether?  The Big City folks clearly choose the latter.

The Democratic Party has had plenty of factions before.  There is no conflict like an intraparty conflict.  When I was the chair of a Democratic club in Southern California, we held a “unity dinner”.  I was a little bemused by the “unity” label but it was explained to me that plenty of folks were still angry with each other over the Vietnam War.  (This was 1982!)  The New Deal was constructed by Franklin Roosevelt using an ungainly collection of Southern segregationists and Northern union members.  And people still quote Will Rogers, “I am not a member of any organized political party.  I am a Democrat”.  The point is that insisting on some sort of Party purity is rather silly for Democrats.  We know who we are and there are some core beliefs that get us there.  Many times the details differ.

When does principle and objective overtake party identification?  As I have related, I’m a lifelong Democrat.  But there was a day I registered as a Republican.  It was to see that Winthrop Rockefeller was nominated to be Arkansas Governor, following the long reign of Orval Faubus.  (You may remember Faubus as the governor who resisted the integration of the Little Rock high school.)   Win Rockefeller was running against Justice Jim Johnson, an outspoken segregationist – but a Democrat.  I turned Republican to help get Rockefeller into the statehouse – and was rewarded by the image of the Governor of Arkansas linking hands with black Arkansans to sing “We shall overcome”.

No, our small issues in Ann Arbor do not rise to that heroic level.  But they are meaningful and many of us on both sides of the divide feel very strongly about them.  One reason the voices on the Big City side have gotten so shrill is that the Mayor has already lost the ability to push big money issues through.  Many of those require 8 votes on Council.  For most regular business, he needs 6 votes. (This would include his own, as he has the 11th vote.) Assuming that both Sabra Briere and Jane Lumm are re-elected (disclosure: I am supporting both of them), by my count there are 4 definite votes against most of the Mayor’s agenda, 3 sure votes he can count on at all times, and 3 council members who will vote very independently and can’t be counted on by either side.  So there are enough votes to block him on big money issues, but for all others he’ll need to win 2 of the three independents.  That gets serious.

UPDATE: Kirk Westphal’s endorsement page is linked above but I’ll repeat it here.  Jane Lumm’s endorsement page is here.  It includes many longtime Democrats.

SECOND UPDATE:  Washtenaw County Clerk Larry Kestenbaum responded to my inquiry about third-party primaries.  Here is his answer.

Unlike many other states, Michigan insists that all party qualification matters be handled statewide. There was an unsuccessful legal challenge to this about 15 years ago. Village elections used to be held with local parties like “Peoples” and “Citizens”, but those were wiped out in the 1960s when the state insisted that only parties with statewide ballot access, such as Democrats and Republicans, could appear on village ballots. Similar reasoning applies to whether a party nominates in primaries or at caucuses. The threshold for holding primaries is determined by the vote at the top of the ticket in the last statewide election. For example, following John Anderson’s presidential race in 1980, on the “Anderson Coalition” party ticket, there were Anderson Coalition primaries for all partisan offices in August 1982. Almost no one filed for those nominations, however. That being said, Ann Arbor had Human Rights Party primaries for city offices in the 1970s. There may be some wrinkle about the way parties are handled in the city charter. I’m guessing, though, that the state Bureau of Elections would be strenuously opposed to that today.

THIRD UPDATE: Jack Eaton’s comment reminded me that I failed to note a major influence and organizational force for the Our Town folks.  It is the Neighborhood Alliance, which just celebrated its fifth anniversary.  Jack has been the major maintainer of  the website for the Neighborhood Alliance. This site has many policy positions enunciated and resource listings.

FOURTH UPDATE: Mayor John Hieftje has announced that he will not run for re-election in 2014. He told the Ann Arbor News that the changing dynamics on Council were not a factor, but one can’t help but wonder.  After all, he has lost several of his council contingent despite his own personal involvement in their campaigns.  His influence will persist for years in the many board and committee appointments he has made. Not known: whether he is grooming a replacement.

FIFTH UPDATE: At the October 12, 2013 Ann Arbor Democratic Party meeting, numerous politicians sought an early endorsement.  Candidates who won Democratic primaries for Council were, of course, in essence already endorsed by the Democratic Party, since that is the point of the nomination process.  Apparently Kirk Westphal requested a special endorsement.  (Sabra Briere and Stephen Kunselman, who also have opponents in the General Election, did not request this extra endorsement.)  Rather than have the membership vote on an endorsement as they had for all other candidates present, the Executive Committee voted to endorse Westphal at an earlier meeting.  There was an attempt to rescind this action from the floor, but it failed.

SIXTH UPDATE: The Ann Arbor Chronicle’s coverage of the October 12 Dems meeting resulted in a rather comprehensive gallery of local Democrats.  Rather delicious, actually.

SEVENTH UPDATE: Westphal renewed the “Tea Party” label at a forum held on October 17.  As reported on MLive, he said Lumm was “Tea Party” because she has questioned spending city money on the Fuller Road Station. One commenter on that story made a very good comparison of this smear with the notorious “pinko” smear used by Richard Nixon in an early Congressional campaign.  It is true that in Ann Arbor and many other places now, “Tea Party” is every bit as inflammatory and damaging as “Communist” was in the 1950s.  Political smears are a tempting tactic, but the candidate should realize that it makes him appear venal.

EIGHTH UPDATE: In another gasp from the Big City folks, Charles “Chip” Smith announced a write-in campaign against Mike Anglin in the Fifth Ward. “He’s worried Anglin and others on council are more interested in building an Ann Arbor for now, and not an Ann Arbor for the future.”  Translation: not pro-development enough.  Smith works for a civil engineering firm, Wade Trim.

NINTH UPDATE: The Washtenaw Democratic Party has now weighed in to support the Democratic nominee in the Second Ward.   Lauren Coffman, campaign manager for Kirk Westphal, sent an email under the WDCP masthead calling for help with a GOTV (Get Out The Vote) effort in the next five days.  Jane Lumm’s name is not mentioned.  The title of the message is, “Let’s bring this victory home for the Democrat!”

TENTH UPDATE: Ypsilanti resident Mark Maynard posted a request on his Facebook to have his friends explain the appeal of Jane Lumm.  The results were quite nasty, with a lot of ageism and misrepresentation of political views.  What stands out is that a younger generation (the “Millennials”?) are beginning to show some political push behind the growth paradigm – evidently a wish to see a better future for themselves has made them buy the development meme.  Unfortunately they often do not look below the surface of the message.  Long-time Ann Arbor residents are going to have to embrace the question of what will happen for the generation that has just emerged into adulthood.

ELEVENTH UPDATE: I evidently stepped on some toes with the prior update.  See the comments on my old campaign blog which tell me that the generation causing the uproar is not the Millennials, but people in their late 40s (Gen X).  Apparently I fell into the popular preoccupation with Millennials (technically born after 1980).  But it still does seem that a new generation is starting to flex its muscles.  I probably overreacted to the comments on Maynard’s blog.  That is what partisan politics will do for you, especially on election day.

TWELFTH UPDATE: All incumbents won the election, except that Jack Eaton had already displaced Marcia Higgins in the August primary.  The Ann Arbor Chronicle and Ann Arbor News have details.  Of interest is the relatively strong showing for Chip Smith, who evidently received nearly a third of the 5th Ward votes in his write-in campaign.  As I have noted, that is indicative of some political winds that are blowing, perhaps generational.  The Our Town candidates will now have to demonstrate how their vision of the city’s future and approach to governance should prevail over the long term.

 THIRTEENTH UPDATE: The Middle of the Left blog has now been identified as the work of Diane Giannola. Recent posts have been thoughtful explorations of some general topics such as the recently defeated Michigan Proposal 15-1.

Topsy-Turvy Transit: Where Do We Go From Here? III

January 1, 2013

Continuing a retrospective of AATA’s countywide transit authority efforts, with a look ahead.

In the first post of this series, we described AATA’s decision to “catapult” the authority into its hoped-for transition to a countywide service by advance implementation of several services.   This meant that AATA passed a deficit budget for FY 2012 (which began in October 2011).  At the time, it was clearly expected that this bold leap would be for one year only.  As we reported at the time, it was evident that the intention was to ask voters to approve a property tax millage in the November 2012 election.  Assuming that was approved, there would have been a funding gap between September 2012 (the last month of that fiscal year) and July 2013 (when taxes for the next year would be collected).  We commented,

But the AATA, which uses the Federal tax year (October-October), would have to pass a new budget in September 2012 in advance of the millage vote.  So not only will the AATA have to pass a new year’s budget without a certainty that a countywide millage will pass, but three-quarters of a year will pass before revenue will be realized from a successful millage vote.

And indeed, September 2012 rolled around and a new budget was passed.   As the Ann Arbor Chronicle reported,  the AATA finished the year with a deficit of over $1 million.  (Note: the deficit is the difference between revenues and expenses; this does not reflect a negative fund balance overall.)

And so the AATA began another fiscal year with a deficit budget (this time the projected deficit is about $300,000).  That was partly because of a reduction in state formula support, as detailed in an expanded report by the Ann Arbor Chronicle.  But they had a bigger problem: the possibility of new revenue had been pushed much farther out toward the horizon than anticipated.  Instead of a November millage vote, they were instead only now preparing to incorporate the Washtenaw Ride (that request to Washtenaw County would take place October 2) and after an opt-out window, would ask countywide voters to pass a property tax millage, perhaps in a May 2013 election.

From the Chronicle’s first brief account:

At the board’s Sept. 27 meeting, board treasurer David Nacht was keen to stress that various initiatives in which the AATA has invested in the past year and in this next year’s budget could not be sustained without the kind of additional funding that could come from a countywide authority.

Of course, just the next month, as we have described, most communities in the county opted out, and the “countywide authority” vanished into a puff of smoke.

What could go wrong?

Reprinted with permission by S. Harris.  Copyright by

Reprinted with permission by S. Harris. Copyright by

From the beginning, the AATA’s quest for a countywide (Act 196) authority has been powered by magical thinking.  A number of assumptions were made, one of which is that no obstacle was insurmountable. But really, if only one of these assumptions was in error, they were in trouble.  The other items of faith:

Local governments will opt in (didn’t happen).

Voters will support a new millage (irrelevant at this point).

Required documents (4-party, Articles of Incorporation) passed by City of Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County, along with the City of Ypsilanti quickly, for a November 2012 millage vote (final sign-off by the BOC in September, much too late).

Changes in Federal transit funding would not affect them negatively (see the memo by Chris White; loss of discretionary funds; still some uncertainly with the Federal budget sequestration).

But if not the greatest miscalculation, certainly a major one was the mis-estimation of the effect of Washtenaw County’s inclusion in the Regional Transit Authority for SE Michigan.  As explained here, a package of bills passed in the lame-duck session of the Michigan Legislature and has been signed into law by Governor Snyder.  This is a succinct summary of the main package.    (The detailed discussion of the effects of Washtenaw County’s inclusion will be in a later post.)   We speculated a year ago that then-Board Chair Jesse Bernstein expected that a vehicle license fee associated with this package might serve instead of a millage to fund the AATA’s expanded authority.  He had made some cryptic remarks, like this one at the October 2011 u196 meeting:

“Everyone talks about a millage, but I’m hoping that the Governor will light a candle over the weekend.”

Earlier, there was this exchange at the September 2011 Planning and Development Committee meeting (discussing the deficit budget later voted in by the Board):

Rich Robben: We won’t be able to follow this mechanism (dipping into reserves) next year.  We’d better pull some rabbits out of a hat.

Michael Ford: I’m looking at finding some rabbits.

How SB 910 would have allowed a county vehicle fee (from illustration by Richard Murphy)

How SB 910 would have allowed a county vehicle fee (from illustration by Richard Murphy)

All this became clear once the package of bills was revealed in January 2012.   SB 910 provided for any county to assess a vehicle license fee, upon passage of a measure by the county BOC and approval by the voters.  The bill provides for up to $1.80 per $1,000 vehicle list price to be assessed in addition to all other vehicle license fees, and paid to the county treasurer for transportation purposes.  However, if the county were in the RTA, the amount of the fee would be reduced by the fees paid to the RTA.

Right up to the issuance of the final 5-year plan, AATA staff apparently had hoped that this source of revenue might replace the need for a millage.  But the plan acknowledges that the millage appears to be the only option.

From the September 2012 final 5 year plan

From the September 2012 final 5 year plan

Proposed BRT routes into Detroit. Graphic by Dave Askins of the Ann Arbor Chronicle, used with permission.  Pointer is Detroit Metro Airport.

Proposed BRT routes into Detroit. Graphic by Dave Askins of the Ann Arbor Chronicle, used with permission. Pointer is Detroit Metro Airport.

The RTA package was delayed past the initiation of Washtenaw Ride, so the vehicle license fee did not materialize in time–or ever.  When the RTA package was finally passed in the last days of the 2012 lame-duck session, SB 910 was not included.  The only vehicle license fee included in the final package is that which will support the RTA itself, most likely to initiate Governor Snyder’s dream of Bus Rapid Transit connector routes.

So – after 18 months of intense effort, the AATA finds itself highly leveraged, over-extended, and with no immediate source of new revenue.  And in addition, it has an extra layer of complication introduced with the inclusion of Washtenaw County in SB 909, establishing the SE Michigan Regional Authority.

Next: What now?


Topsy-Turvy Transit: Where Do We Go From Here? II

January 1, 2013

In our previous post, we listed five assumptions that AATA was operating under in its quest for a countywide transit authority.

  1. The elected officials of all the units of government in Washtenaw County would assent to being included in a new scheme that included a likely new tax and a governance model that left Ann Arbor mostly in charge.
  2. Ann Arbor, the city of Ypsilanti, and Washtenaw County would all sign off on a couple of fairly substantial legal documents.
  3. The Regional Transit Authority for SE Michigan either would not materialize or would not affect them significantly.
  4. The voters across the county would vote in a new property tax, including in both tax-adverse rural townships and the voters of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, who were expected to add this millage to one already existing.
  5. Changes in Federal transportation funding would not affect them negatively.

From AATA’s perspective, assumption #1 seemed pretty reasonable to begin with.  From the beginning, staff spent many hours meeting with local officials and holding local public meetings.  They were  assisted by the Executive Director of the Washtenaw Area Transit Study (WATS), Terri Blackmore.  (Blackmore is more or less the godmother of the countywide transit plan and knew many of these officials through her professional activity.)  They received generally a good reception.  A number of local officials allowed the use of their faces in promotional materials and ultimately signed on to serve on the “u196 board”.  The u196 board, who were recruited via the district governance scheme, were all either local officials or very solid citizens who were accustomed to accepting civic responsibility.  Meetings began in November 2011 and the u196 appointees sat solemnly through a number of excellent staff overviews of various topics concerning transit.

u196 BOD
(Note that the list circulated at the second meeting does not include any representatives from Ann Arbor.  According to the governance scheme, the u196 board was to have 15 members, 7 of whom would be the current AATA board, representing Ann Arbor.  However, it was decided by leadership that the entire AATA board could not sit on the u196 board, since that would make meetings essentially a meeting of the AATA board and thus come under all the legal requirements of the Open Meetings Act.  Therefore, three AATA board members (the actual individuals who served changed) sat on the u196 board.)

But the acquiescence of u196 board members to discussion was not a promise that the political environment at home in the township would be favorable to an agreement on new taxes.  As we detailed in this post about county politics, many townships have a long tradition of very low property tax millages, and a 1-mill tax would have been doubling tax rates for some townships, a very hard sell.  And AATA leadership ignored the results of their own survey data (results from March 2012).

Results by region: Would you vote for a 1 mill transit tax?

Results by region: Would you vote for a 1 mill transit tax?

Note that while 68% of respondents in the City of Ann Arbor said they would be likely to vote for a transit tax of 1 mill, and 56% of the urban core communities in Ypsilanti and Pittsfield were positive (combining “definitely” and “probably”), only 48% of those in the City of Saline and eastern townships, and 42% in Chelsea and western townships were positive.  Of those, the greatest proportion were only “probably”.  The overall percentages of respondents in 2011 who said they would be “definitely” vote for a tax was 18%, and 36% said “probably”, for a total of 54% positive responses.  But that overall positive number did not take willingness to participate on a regional basis into account. Further, was this really a very strong positive result, even overall?  Survey respondents are known to tailor responses to what they think the questioner wants to hear.  Who knows what that 36% of  “probable” voters would have done in the privacy of the ballot box?

Somewhat disastrously, AATA appeared to take the position that any negative implications were to be ignored or explained, and positive ones the only to be considered.  When six rural townships withdrew very early even from the planning exercises, AATA leaders like Jesse Bernstein began talking of population numbers and taxable value, in effect arguing that those townships didn’t matter.  But these withdrawals undercut the premise of a countywide authority and set a precedent for non-participation.

One move that AATA did make in the face of these negative indications was to reduce the target millage in an attempt to make a vote for a new tax more palatable.  As mentioned in the last post, the Financial Task Force was able to reduce the proposed millage amount to 0.5 mills by excluding a number of projects from the cost of the plan (though AATA kept them in the plan and continued to spend money on them).  But there was again a political miscalculation here.  It was not a matter of the amount of the millage.  It was the question of any new tax at all for the benefit being offered.

Remaining (green) and opted-out (red screen) communities in Washtenaw County as of October 30, 2012.  Dexter Village had not voted.

Remaining (green) and opted-out (red screen) communities in Washtenaw County as of October 30, 2012. Dexter Village had not voted.

Ultimately, AATA simply failed to make the sale.  As we attempted to explain in an earlier post, for most sections of the county, the plan didn’t pencil out.  Once AATA sent out letters to municipalities offering a 30-day window from October 3 for opting out (the date was later extended to December 10), there was a rush to the exits.  By October 30, all but four governmental units had formally opted out.

Faced with the likelihood that the new authority was likely to consist of Ann Arbor subsidizing transit for a couple of other nearby communities, the Ann Arbor City Council voted on November 8 to opt out of the Washtenaw Ride and also to cancel the city’s participation in the 4-party agreement.

With Ann Arbor out, remaining communities followed suit.  Dexter Village finally opted out, and Ypsilanti Township and the City of Saline reversed their earlier “opt-ins”.  (See our post,  Washtenaw County Transit – More Outs than Ins for a blow-by-blow account.)

Opt-outs as of December 5. Only Ypsilanti City remains.

Opt-outs as of December 5. Only Ypsilanti City remains.

By the deadline of December 10, only the City of Ypsilanti remained in the Washtenaw Ride.  As reported by the Ann Arbor Chronicle, the November 18 AATA Board meeting sought to put the best face on what was, in fact, a devastating rejection of their efforts to put together a countywide transit organization.

Next: It’s all about the money.

Topsy-Turvy Transit: Where Do We Go From Here?

December 27, 2012

This has been a tough year for AATA.  What was supposed to be a walk in the park has turned into something more like a ride on Space Mountain.  And The Ride hasn’t finished with the possible surprises and upsets.

As we documented early on, the AATA board settled on a plan to launch a countywide transit authority at a retreat in June 2011, and released its first version of the Transit Master Plan in August 2011.  The process laid out was complex. It required participation of all units of government in Washtenaw County to appoint a 15-member board that would serve as an “unincorporated 196 board” (u196), execution of a very complicated legal document that would result in the city of Ann Arbor dedicating its charter transit millage to the new authority, and approval by the voters countywide of a new transit millage.

Roadmap presented to Ann Arbor City Council, December 2011

Roadmap presented to Ann Arbor City Council, December 2011

In September the AATA board approved a deficit budget for the next year (FY2012 started in October 2011).  As the Ann Arbor Chronicle reported, Planning and Development committee chair Rich Robben

“led off deliberations by saying it’s not a sustainable budget. But he said it would catapult the AATA towards a transition to countywide service.”

The “catapult” consisted of advance implementation of a number of new services that were presented as part of the countywide plan.  The choice of term was perhaps unfortunate, since it did indeed “catapult” AATA into its first acceleration to the top of the mountain.

The first jolt was felt in October 2011, with Governor Snyder’s announcement of his new transportation initiative, which included a Regional Transit Authority for SE Michigan.  It would include Washtenaw County.  We reported on this in detail in a post that described the reaction of Albert Berriz, the chair of the Financial Task Force.   The FTF had been appointed by the AATA to come up with a financial plan for financing the TMP.  It had its first meeting on October 28.  Snyder had given his talk on October 26.  Berriz was clearly stunned by the implications of the RTA (especially its control of state and Federal funds) and rather summarily canceled most business of the FTF, postponing the next meeting for a couple of months.

But AATA staff and board seemed sanguine and pressed ahead with their plan despite this large dose of uncertainty delivered by the Governor. They came up with a reassuring interpretation of the effects of the RTA on Washtenaw County’s transit plans as being minimal. Apparently these were based on conversations (the text of the legislation was not yet public). Many details are now clearly understood to be mistaken.  And they pressed on with their original plan.

From a presentation to the Ann Arbor City Council, December 2011

From a presentation to the Ann Arbor City Council, December 2011

The FTF appointed a subcommittee of very knowledgeable people who did a very high-level job of analyzing finances needed for the TMP.  By considerable fudging (they simply omitted many facets of the plan from the financial estimates) and raising fares, they were able to recommend a county-wide millage of only 0.5 mills (this was later recalculated to 0.584). But just as they were poised to present this to the full FTF, Governor Snyder’s package of bills were made public and the roll-out was again postponed.   Finally, the FTF met on February 29 and released their recommendations.  A complete set of these reports and recommendations is available on our Transportation Page.   The chair, Albert Berriz, wrote a letter to the committee that was telling.

…we don’t know what the Governor’s plan will look like in its final form, and without that information it’s difficult to say that pursuing the track of a countywide millage is the right thing to do at this time.  Therefore, in my opinion, it’s premature to pursue any millage option at this time…as there are too many parts of the current economic model that we have been asked to review that may and likely will change once the final legislation comes into play.

Meanwhile, in the background, serious discussion was going on in Washington D.C. about the fate of Federal transportation funding.  The then-current transportation bill was on life support after many short-term renewals.  Finally, on July 6, 2012, MAP-21, the new transportation bill, was signed into law.  Regulations and funding schedules have been generated on an ongoing basis.  (For excellent coverage, see Transportation Issues Daily’s MAP-21 Learning Center.)  During much of 2012, AATA did not know how Federal funding (a very important component of their overall financial plan) was going to settle out.

So, let’s summarize.  The AATA was proceeding on a number of assumptions.

  1. The elected officials of all the units of government in Washtenaw County would assent to being included in a new scheme that included a likely new tax and a governance model that left Ann Arbor mostly in charge.
  2. Ann Arbor, the city of Ypsilanti, and Washtenaw County would all sign off on a couple of fairly substantial legal documents.
  3. The RTA either would not materialize or would not affect them significantly.
  4. The voters across the county would vote in a new property tax, including in both tax-adverse rural townships and the voters of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, who were expected to add this millage to one already existing.
  5. Changes in Federal transportation funding would not affect them negatively.

To all of these challenges, the response was to press ahead.  After all, what could go wrong?

In order to pursue the county-wide vision, the AATA invested big.  Over a three-year period, they spent $463,499.66 of Ann Arbor millage money.  The rest of the $1,418,890.15 cost for consultants, survey research, promotional materials and “outreach” was borne by Federal and state funds. See spreadsheet from AATA here.

The effort to get the cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti and Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners to sign off on both the four-party agreement and the Articles of Incorporation was longer and much more tedious than hoped.  But finally, on September 5, the BOC approved the AOI (account by the Ann Arbor Chronicle).  The AATA immediately (September 7) approved their 5-year plan and launched the countywide plan.  This would presumably lead to starting a 30-day clock for local units to opt out, after which the 196 board could be seated.

File directory of toolkit presented to AATA board on a flash drive

File directory of toolkit presented to AATA board on a flash drive

A very thorough campaign was conducted through the u196 members and their associated District Advisory Committees (staffed by u196 members and AATA staff) to convince communities to support the countywide effort.  It included postcards to be sent to elected officials and drafts of emails, letters to the editor, Facebook posts, and letters to officials.

The objective was to build a public pressure to get local governments to sign onto the countywide plan.

Postcards provided in a promotional packet handed to AATA board members and u196 members

Postcards provided in a promotional packet handed to AATA board members and u196 members

Next: So how did that work out?

Note: Posts on this subject and much reference material is on our Transportation Page.

The SE Michigan Regional Transit Authority in Progress

December 3, 2012

On November 27, 2012, the Michigan Senate passed a bundle of bills aimed at setting up a Southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority.  We previously reviewed this initiative.  The most recent discussion was Regional Transit in Ann Arbor and Beyond: A Matter of Governance.  The bill package languished through the summer, as was somewhat anticipated. As early as last January,  transportation consultants told the AATA Board that these bills were not likely to be taken up before the lame-duck session.  (See account by the Ann Arbor Chronicle.)

Before we get into any discussion about the political and functional implications of the passage of this package, let’s summarize the bills.  Note that serious study would be aided by consulting this authoritative overview of the major bills (SB 909, 911, 912, 967) and the analysis of SB 445 by the Senate Fiscal Agency.

Senate Bill House equivalent Link to text Summary
909 5309 SB 909 Creates a Regional Transit Authority with 4 counties, described by population.
911 5311 SB 911 Provides for Vehicle License Fee ($1.20/$1000)
912 5310 SB 912 Apparently overrides local zoning for transit purposes.  Little detail.
445 not known SB 445 Direct Comprehensive Transportation Funds to RTA; RTA would distribute. (Incl Federal funds)
967 not known SB 967 Operate dedicated public transit lanes on highways

Conspicuously missing from the bill package passed by the Senate was a bill introduced by Senator Rebekah Warren.  Senate Bill 910 and its House counterpart HB 5312 would have allowed counties to levy a vehicle license fee of $1.80 per $1000 of the vehicle’s list price. So, for example, the owner of a vehicle valued at $20,000 would pay an additional $36 a year. Oddly, this money would be paid to the county treasurer, not to a transit authority or any transportation agency.  The fee would be in addition to existing vehicle license fees and in addition to the vehicle license fee assessed on behalf of the RTA.  (That fee would be $1.20 per $1000 valuation, so our hypothetical vehicle owner would pay $24 for the RTA plus the county fee, a total of $60 in new vehicle license fees.)  There would have to be a majority vote on a countywide ballot before the fee could be enacted.

December 5, 2012:  The House Transportation Committee reported the entire package out to the House floor without amendment.

Preliminary reports indicate that the House adjourned without final action on the RTA (December 5).

Here is the story in the Detroit News in which the measure failed to gain enough votes and was withdrawn without a final vote.  Presumably it will be reintroduced. interviews Ann Arbor officials on the status of the RTA package and its likely effects on Ann Arbor.

December 6, 2012: The House of Representatives voted in two of the five-bill RTA package.  These can now go to the Governor for signing.

The two bills, SB 909 and SB 445, passed with bare majorities. There are 110 members, so 56 votes are required. The vote for SB 909 was 57 in favor, 50 opposed, and 3 not voting;  56 – 52 – 2 for SB 445.)  The other three bills appeared to have between 45-50 votes on the board before leadership cleared the board and suspended voting on them.   The two bills were also declared by voice vote to have immediate effect, meaning they will be law after the Governor signs them, rather than in the next legislative session.

Here are comments sent out today (Dec. 6) by Representative Rick Olson, who is retiring from the House at the end of the term.  (Emphasis added.)

If we had amended the Senate bills, they would need to go back to the Senate for concurrence with the amendments, and there are not enough Republican votes in the Senate to do so. So rather than risk losing the RTA opportunity once again, the committee approved the Senate bills as they had passed the Senate. As I am writing this, the main RTA bill (Senate Bill 909) has passed the House.  We are continuing to work on changes to some of the accompanying bills. 

As the bills stand, the bills only enable an RTA to be formed, they don’t form one. The region will need to put a plan together and then pass by a vote of the people of the region the funding mechanism. If the region cannot get its act together, there will not be a regional transit plan. If it can, then the region will be able to join the rest of the major cities in the US in providing convenient transportation to its non-motorized residents.

The Ann Arbor City Council has scheduled a special meeting to discuss the impact of the RTA billsHere is the Ann Arbor Chronicle’s description.

December 6, 2012: SB 911 has now been passed with 57 votes.  SB 912 was delayed again. According to MIRS, the House adjourned without action on SB 912 and SB 967. The chair of the Transportation Committee, Rep. Paul Opsommer of DeWitt, seemed to indicate that they will be brought back again.

December 7, 2012: The House is evidently not in session today, as no webcasts are scheduled.  Staff are keeping up with the action on bills.  See for example the page on SB 912, where actions are recorded in the box at the end.

December 10, 2012: The House is not in session until tomorrow.

Murph (aka Richard Murphy) has posted an analysis of why Ann Arborites should not be concerned about the RTA on his blog Common Monkeyflower.  Note that Murph is employed by the Michigan Suburbs Alliance.

The Ann Arbor City Council’s special session today at 4 p.m. has been moved to the City Council chambers from the Jury Room after a question raised about public access and also use of electronic devices (prohibited in the Justice Center).  CTN coverage still TBD.   This session is to consider a resolution asking Governor Snyder to veto the RTA package, or at least SB 909 which causes Washtenaw to be included in the RTA.

Conan Smith’s letter to the Ann Arbor City Council: Hours before the Council meets to consider a resolution calling for the Governor’s veto, Conan Smith, the mover behind Washtenaw County’s inclusion, has sent a letter imploring the Council to step back from the brink.  It had an attached document that explained aspects of the RTA at length.  Conan Smith letter to Ann Arbor City Council

The scope of Smith’s ambition with this measure can be guessed from this sentence:

Ending the balkanization of our transit systems is a fundamental reform if we are to create a system that serves the broadest set of the population and competes successfully against places like Boston, Chicago and San Francisco for federal investments.

Ann Arbor City Council, December 10, 2012 voted to pass the resolution, slightly amended. Discussion was somewhat subdued. According to the Ann Arbor Chronicle, the vote was unanimous. Ann Arbor Chronicle account of the special meeting

The story in quotes some officials who have a mixed view of the RTA.

December 11, 2012:

The Ann Arbor City Council’s final resolution regarding the RTA package is now available. DC-1 Protest SB 909 Certified Copy    The resolution removes the issue from the frenetic press of last-minute legislation and pushes it into next term.  It no longer calls on the Governor to veto the existing package.

council resolved

December 12, 2012: The Ann Arbor Chronicle has now published an article detailing the discussion at the December 10 City Council meeting.  According to the article, as of noon on December 12, Governor Snyder had not signed any of the RTA bills.

December 13, 2012: The final two bills, SB 0967 and SB 0912, have still not passed the House.  (By clicking on the links to the bills, it is possible to see their status.  According to the status update, neither bill has yet been taken up again since December 6.)

Today the Detroit News published an article that quotes Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood as saying that these two bills must pass in order for Detroit and Michigan to receive the $25 million hoped for the M-1 streetcar project on Woodward Avenue. “The legislation ‘is really one of the last pieces that has to be put in place in order for us to give the green light,’ LaHood said.”

What did we tell you?  (Regional Transit in Ann Arbor and Beyond: A Matter of Governance)  It is really all about that M-1 project.

December 14, 2012: SB 912 and SB 967 passed the House “early Friday morning”. According to MIRS, the vote was 57-48 and 56-49, respectively.
The entire package has thus been passed and is expected to be signed by the Governor, since it was his package of bills at the outset.  This completes the program for a Regional Transit Authority that he laid out in his transportation talk on October 26, 2011.  (See our summary with links here.)
There are many questions to be answered, especially for us in Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County who depend primarily on the AATA for our transit service.  See our early discussion of this.  Future posts will examine the effects on the AATA and its plans for a modestly expanded regional coverage in Washtenaw County.  Meanwhile, we’ll wait to see whether the plea from Ann Arbor’s City Council to remove Washtenaw from the RTA is effective (my best prediction is that it will be fruitless) and who is appointed to the RTA board, and when.
Some of the bills were passed with immediate impact.  However, Megan Owens of Transportation Riders United predicts that the RTA will take shape 90 days after signing, in March 2013. It will have fiscal authority as of October 2013 (the start of the Federal fiscal year).

Conan Smith to appoint Washtenaw County Board Members

Smith has informed the Board of Commissioners that he intends to move ahead with appointments to the Regional Transit Authority Board as soon as the RTA bills are signed.   Here is the text of his message:

Members of the Board(s) . . . next week the governor will sign SB 909 creating the Regional Transit Authority, which includes Washtenaw County.  The legislation authorizes the chair of our commission (sic) to make two appointments to the board.  I’ve discussed options with Curt and the incoming leadership team and with their support will be making these appointment before the end of the year.  The general terms are three years, but one of the initial appointment is for a single year, so that one will expire within the purview of the incoming board who can review and reappoint or replace my selection.

I’ve invited a small group of community leaders to serve as an advisory board in this process:
  • Rolland (Sizemore, Jr.) as the immediate past chair and Yousef (Rabhi) as the (presumed) incoming chair;
  • Michael Ford, CEO at AATA, to ensure our transit agency’s perspective is represented;
  • Bill Milliken, Jr., to represent the business community; Bill served as the chair of the Washtenaw Development Council for many years and continues on the SPARK board; and
  • Carolyn Grawi, Director of Advocacy and Education at the Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living, to represent the interests of transit users.

We will post notice today that applications will be accepted through the end of next week.  The advisory committee and I will review those applications and create a short list.  From that list I will select two preferred candidates and one or two alternates.  The advisory committee will interview those individuals on December 27 at a public meeting at LLRC, present their responses to me and I will make the final appointments at that point.

It is rare that statute specifically empowers the chair to make an appointment (typically it is the “commission [sic]”), so I recognize that appointing without board approval steps outside of our standard operating procedures — hence the engagement of the advisory board and a public interview process.   I will happily ensure that you all have as much information as you desire in this process as it moves forward.
I’ll be sending a press release out this afternoon and would greatly appreciate your support in distributing it and alerting community members to this opportunity to represent the county.

NB: The body that Smith chairs is the Board of Commissioners. It is often informally called the County Commission, but no such body exists in Michigan law. The RTA legislation correctly identifies the Chair of the BOC as the responsible party in this instance.

Governor Snyder signs RTA package of bills

Governor Snyder signed the RTA package and several other bills on December 19, 2012.  Here is a picture.

Note: Subjects in this category are listed on the Transportation Page.