Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

Pittsfield Recall

20. July 2006 • Bruce Fields
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Larry Kestenbaum writes:

A group in Pittsfield Township has gathered enough signatures to force a vote on whether to remove the top three township elected officials.

The marquee issues have to do with development—the officials’ failure to stop a proposed Wal-Mart store on Michigan Avenue, and the expenditure several years ago of $11 million to purchase 540 acres where a development was proposed. The reasons stated on the ballot (limited to actions during the current term of office) complain that the officials voted to increase their own salaries, made false statements, usurped the authority of the planning commission, failed to act to ensure safety, and undermined residents efforts to mitigate the impact of Wal-Mart.

The officials dispute all these claims. In particular, they argue there was no legal way to stop Wal-Mart from building on land fronting on U.S. 12, which has been zoned commercial since 1977. They also say that they’re being recalled by Republican activists aggrieved over the Democratic takeover of the formerly-Republican Pittsfield Township government in the 2000 and 2004 elections.

The three officials are Township Supervisor James Walter, Township Clerk Feliziana Meyer, and Township Treasurer Christina Lirones. All three are members of the township board. On each of the three, a “yes” vote favors removing them from office, and a “no” vote would favor keeping them.

See also Larry’s blog entry laying out his position on the recall.

  1. The irony is that while proponents of the recall seem largely to be the anti-Wal-Mart crowd, as Larry notes this effort, if successful will play into the hands of the Wal-Marts and other developers looking to get another crack at Pittsfield. While the current Board has been painted as pro-development on the Wal-Mart issue, they’re much more pro-environment and anti-development than the previous Republican boards which rubberstamped the sprawl that has marred the Pittsfield landscape. You can’t undo Wal-Mart and if a new board comes in and takes an attitude that they don’t have to follow the zoning, they’re just setting themselves up for a huge lawsuit that they probably won’t be able to win. Even worse would be a Board looking to sell off the Newmarket parkland. That would lead to a development feeding frenzy. I can understand why people would be upset about Wal-Mart but I haven’t heard them articulate any good reasons why the recall would be good for Pittsfield.

       —John Q.    Jul. 21 '06 - 12:27AM    #
  2. The recall is being executed by a bunch of people who live in Pittsfield subdivisions and do not understand how goverment and laws work. The land has been zoned for retail for years, it’s what the US12 (Michigan Ave) corridor is for. The owner has the township over a barrel and to refuse to let Walmart build there is would be a “taking”. This would result in lawsuit that the township would never win.

    Some people who are for this are stating that the Walmart is dangerous to their kids. The fact that Saline built their new schools in the township (rather than in the city) adjacent to the Walmart parcel, has these people mad at the township rather than Saline schools.

    In addition, I think that the folks living in developments along US12 don’t want the extra (above what they already produce) traffic or the folks from Ypsi comming their way (the Ypsi Walmart would be closed—think on that).

    If you live in the township I urge you to vote against the recall on August 8th.

    BTW, I live in the rural part of the township, am active in ag and would like to see it kept that way.


       —Greg Croasdill    Jul. 24 '06 - 04:28AM    #
  3. That’s a good point Greg. The schools chose to build next to property that was zoned and planned for commercial development. Interesting that the schools have escaped criticism on that point.

       —John Q.    Jul. 24 '06 - 04:40AM    #
  4. I think a superwalmart would awesome, because it would be nice to shop a t walmart in saline because i hate driving to ann arbor or ypsilanti or adrain to get what i need, this is the best place in the world shop because low income people can afford anything they want but only at walmart, it also bulids the ecomonomy ADDS JOBS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!so people can make a living!!!!!!!!!!!!!

       —Barbara Duff    Jul. 26 '06 - 04:12AM    #
  5. I think it is awesome to have a superwalmart close to my home,i cant wait when are you breaking ground,im ready to shop…

       —Juanita Wallen    Jul. 26 '06 - 04:21AM    #
  6. I suppose that if you’re a Pittsfield resident, you’ll be out opposing the recall. I have a feeling that Barbara and Juanita are the same person though!

       —John Q.    Jul. 26 '06 - 06:11PM    #
  7. I will love to have a super walmart near my house! I will be able to trade my current job, working for a manufacturer or local retailer for a job with the world’s largest business, selling things made in china through the beauty of the free market.

    You people are just jealous because you couldn’t compete, and now you are trying to stop the free market at work!

       —Astro McTurferson    Jul. 26 '06 - 07:10PM    #
  8. How about a $10-12/hour living wage for Pittsfield for any business over 25 employees? That will keep Wal-Mart out!

       —Chuck    Jul. 27 '06 - 03:14AM    #
  9. In that vein, check out the big-box ordinance just passed by the Chicago city council.

       —Dale    Jul. 27 '06 - 03:48AM    #
  10. About a week ago I posted a comment about the Pittsfield Recall, which strangely disappeared from this website although other comments remained and still others added. Please allow the following to appear:

    The Pittsfield Recall is totally phony if anyone compares the recallers complaints with actual recorded history. The recallers claim that they are trying to protect their children from the hazards of Wal-Mart’s traffic. They claim that the Pittsfield Supervisor, Treasurer, and Clerk arrogantly ignored their demands and approved Wal-Mart’s site plan, obfuscated their actions, broke laws, etc, etc.

    In fact, the Township Board of Trustees does not control the approval process—this is the domain of the Pittsfield Planning Commission. The Commission approved the Wal-Mart site plan in 2004—but the Recall activists offered no obstacles, raised no charges against the Planning Commission.

    The leaders of the Pittsfield Recall are predominantly Republicans. The Board of Trustees elected in 2004, all Democrats, are the targets of an attempt at premature regime change. Why can’t they wait for the end of the officials terms of office 2008 and fight a fair contest in the regular election cycle?

    —Abuelita Aug 1, 09:08 PM
       —Abuelita    Aug. 2 '06 - 05:13AM    #
  11. See this Ann Arbor News piece for a comprehensive depantsing of the case made by recall supporters. Reporter John Mulcahy deserves credit for presenting facts and presenting both sides’ arguments, while not heaping undue credibility on the anti-Wal-Mart crowd.

       —Jeff Dean    Aug. 2 '06 - 10:32PM    #
  12. Mulcahy’s piece was a complete hatchet job. Most of his “facts” were wrong, such as the Wal-Mart being under construction. He was scooped twice in the same day by the Saline Reporter, including an investigation of the tens of thousands of dollars pouring into the anti-recall campaign.

    The recall targets are now using their bankroll to swamp the township with mailers that accuse the recall proponents of being “bullys,” “sore losers,” “barnyard pigs,” and “creatures.”

    They are claiming that the recall is being led by those who lost the election in 2004 – demonstrably untrue, the recall is being led by disaffected democrats who supported these clowns in 2000 and 2004 but were then betrayed.

    They are touting their fiscall prowess in obtaining an A+ Bond rating, but that rating is halfway to junk bond status (AAA+ is the top rating, below BBB is junk).

    Learn the facts and vote YES on Tuesday.

       —not John Mulcahy    Aug. 6 '06 - 06:56PM    #
  13. “They are touting their fiscall prowess in obtaining an A+ Bond rating, but that rating is halfway to junk bond status”

    Sorry but that comment proves that your a hack and dishonest. An A+ bond rating is very respectful in municipal government. There’s only a handful of municipalities in the entire US that get AAA bond ratings so by your standard, almost every municipality in the US is mismanaged because of their lack of AAA bond rating.

    When you trot out claims like this, it tells us one of two things. Either your misinformed or uninformed about the issue and don’t know what you’re talking about. Or worse, you are informed but are deliberately spinning this in a way to the voters of Pittsfield as to create an impression that is false and dishonest. So you’re either a dupe or a liar. Which is it?

       —John Q.    Aug. 6 '06 - 09:09PM    #
  14. Or, third, I could be someone who spends their entire day working with municipal bonds and can readily compare the rating of the Pittsfield Bonds to other comparable townships. Our debt service coverage ratio is atrocious.

    Talk about spin, however, I did not say the Township should have a AAA rating (although I would venture that it’s bond rating would have been at least AA+ before the Newmarket debacle). All I did was give the range of investment grade muni debt.

    Nice try, John Q., but you and the triumvirate still lose on Tuesday (assuming that you are not one of the triumvirate yourself).

       —not John Mulcahy    Aug. 7 '06 - 12:50AM    #
  15. also, my main point was that they were touting the bond rating as if A+ were the highest possible rating. That IS dishonest.

    If the bond rating is A+, then it’s A+, but don’t try to tell people that that is the top rating.

       —not John Mulcahy    Aug. 7 '06 - 12:52AM    #
  16. Save your conspiracy theories for someone else, I’m not part of your Pittsfield power play.

    I find it interesting that you’re backpedaling already on your claims about the bond rating. When you state that A+ bond rating “is halfway to junk bond status”, without mentioning that A+ is considered a good rating for local governments and that most local governments will have an A+ rating or lower, you are deliberately trying to deceive voters, the vast majority who won’t know either fact and will only see the words “junk bond status” and assume that A+ is bad. If you are someone who works with municipal bonds, as you imply, then you’re dishonest and not just misinformed and in my book, that makes your spin evil and malicious. But that’s just me.

    Since you want to play the game, why don’t you bring some facts to the discussion.

    First, please direct us to where the Pittsfield officials claimed that the A+ bond rating is the highest possible rating.

    Second, although I know that no one “spends their entire day working with municipal bonds”, since you’ve made the claim, I’m sure it will be easy for you to provide the following:

    1) Pittsfield’s current outstanding debt

    2) Pittsfield’s legal debt margin

    3) Amount of debt applicable to limit

    4) Pittsfield’s debt millage (if any)

    5) Outstanding debt for comparable townships, their legal debt margins and debt millages – and please list the comparable townships

    Since you must have already gathered all of this information to make your claims, I’m sure you should be able to knock that out in a couple of minutes. I’ll be expecting a prompt response.

       —John Q.    Aug. 7 '06 - 07:06AM    #
  17. Was it that tough pulling together the information you already claimed to have?

       —John Q.    Aug. 8 '06 - 08:04AM    #
  18. Dear John Q,

    I don’t really want to “play the game” as you call it, but I was able to do a little googling to verify my suspicion that you are pedaling misinformation.

    I’m predisposed to believe the other guy, because I’m predisposed to want Wal-mart out. I’m naturally suspicious of the claims of anyone who is pro-Wal-mart.

    Nevertheless, I thought I could probably find out about municipal bond ratings because it seems like such info would have to be public.

    You, John Q, stated that only a handful of municipalities have a AAA rating. I found counterevidence on the first page of google results:

    From this, it appears that the majority of municipalities nationwide are AAA or AA.

    You said that A+ was a “respectful” rating. I assume you meant “respectable” since “respectful” is meaningless in this context. I looked at several sites describing what the ratings mean. An interesting fact is that there are four ratings above A+ and five ratings below A+ before you get to junk bond status. I looked at several sites, including

    so I conclude that the anti-Wal-mart guy is technically wrong. If the rating were one notch lower, it would be slightly more than halfway, whereas it is now slightly less than halfway.

    I expect political types to try to portray their causes in the best light. I think the other guy did not step over the line the way you did. Your assertion about a “handful of municipalities” appears to be SO FAR from the truth that I judge that it is you who must be a liar. Also, since you used terminology indicating you are familiar with this area, I assume that you are not uninformed, but rather that you assume that others are.

       —citizen    Aug. 9 '06 - 04:59PM    #
  19. citizen,

    First, I’m not pro-Wal-Mart so you can take off your blinders in that regard. Personally, I can think of a lot of other things I would like to see besides Wal-Mart. But I do care about people peddling misinformation about local government.

    Second, I’m glad to see that you found your “evidence” in your Googling. What you failed to note and what is in the report you linked to is this little fact:

    “Third-party credit enhancement in the form of bond insurance, letters of credit, and standby purchase agreements are frequently used by issuers to bolster credit ratings and make issues more attractive to investors.”

    What this means in plain English is that communities can “buy” a higher rating than the bond would actually get in the open market by spending more money on bond insurance, etc. That drives up the cost to the taxpayers and also increases the potential liability for the community. The reality is that communities that need to buy a AAA rating through insurance are typically those that would otherwise score very poorly in the market. The fact that Pittsfield does not buy insurance and doesn’t need to buy insurance is an indication of the strength of its credit rating. See this:

    “In effect, bond insurance transforms a potential lemon into lemonade. Instead of coming to market with a rating that may be barely investment grade, the bond comes to market with a AAA rating, based, however, on the rating of the insurance firm.”

    “An interesting fact is that there are four ratings above A+ and five ratings below A+ before you get to junk bond status. ”

    You and others keep coming to the incorrect conclusion that being in the middle on the bond rating chart means that there are equal numbers of communities garnering ratings above and below that point. That’s false. It’s an absolute scale and most communities fall at or below the middle rating. Also, as I noted above, a community that can garner an A+ rating without having to rely on bond insurance shows the strength of its fiscal position which is contrary to what the opponents of the Pittsfield officials were saying.

    I don’t expect people to be experts on municipal bonds. I don’t claim to be one myself. But a Google search doesn’t make you an expert and your assumptions based on your misunderstanding of how municipal bond ratings are arrived at doesn’t make me a liar. I’ll be looking forward to your apology.

       —John Q.    Aug. 9 '06 - 06:24PM    #
  20. Just a little more information. Looks like I understated the number of cities nationwide that have a AAA number by it’s still much closer to my original statement than what “citizen” claims:

    “Durham is one of less than 40 cities nationwide that has ‘AAA’ ratings from all three major bond rating agencies.”

       —John Q.    Aug. 9 '06 - 06:33PM    #
  21. Last one, I promise:

    “Over half of all municipal bonds are now backed by financial guarantees that confer AAA ratings, even when the cities, states or agencies that issue them are rated below AAA.”

    I think that proves the point.

       —John Q.    Aug. 9 '06 - 06:35PM    #
  22. John Q,

    Your efforts to calmly explicate the world of municipal finance, on Arbor Update and elsewhere, are very much appreciated.

       —Larry Kestenbaum    Aug. 9 '06 - 10:53PM    #
  23. Well, as usual, John Q. has outed the absurd financial MuppetMath™ of a malcontent.

    Strange that this guy didn’t have his “math” at the ready.

       —todd    Aug. 9 '06 - 10:59PM    #
  24. Larry and todd,

    Thanks and thanks. I’m not an “expert” on this but I know enough to know that I generally know what I’m talking about. If anyone can get something out of it, it’s worth the time and posts.

       —John Q.    Aug. 9 '06 - 11:57PM    #
  25. We recently moved from A2 to Pittsfield Twp. We weren’t here for all of the debates about whether the Wal-Mart should be built. We have noticed, however, that there is a lot of misinformation being provided by both camps. We’ve read nearly every comment, statement, article, recall, etc. that we could find online and in print. Our take: The people fighting this development either 1. Don’t like Wal-Mart in principle. Or, 2. Don’t like the people leading Pittsfield Twp.

    We were very surprised that the recall effort failed by such a wide margin. We were led to believe by all we read that most residents in the area were against the Wal-Mart. Perhaps this fight is really more about politics than about retailers.

       —A2 to Pittsfield Twp.    Sep. 28 '06 - 10:00PM    #