Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

CARD petition against Broadway Village financing fails

3. August 2006 • Murph
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Laura Strowe, Treasurer for “Citizens Advocating Responsible Development”, announced yesterday that the group had fallen short in its effort to collect enough signatures to force a referendum on the financing package for the Broadway Village redevelopment. (See painfully drawn-out discussion here.)

Strowe states the failed petition drive shows that, “It is obvious that the majority of citizens want a public vote on this issue.”

(e-mail formatting cleaned up, e-mail addrs removed)

Date: Wed, 2 Aug 2006 08:03:07 -0700 (PDT)
From: Laura Strowe ****
Subject: Broadway Village Petition
To: Tom Gantert ****

Citizens Advocating Responsible Development (CARD) fell short of its goal of gathering enough petition signatures to force a referendum on the issuance of $40 million of bonds by the City for Broadway Village.

We decided early in the petition drive to rely only on volunteers and not to pay circulators. Unfortunately, our dozens of circulators, working throughout the City, were not able to reach enough voters to gather the needed signatures in the 45 days allowed by state law. We were also hampered by a late start, summer vacations and competition with the demands of the primaries.

Our circulators report that the overwhelming majority of registered voters who were offered the petition did sign it. It is obvious that the majority of citizens want a public vote on this issue. We hope that City Council will authorize such a vote, even though Council is not legally required to do so.

The petition drive had the positive effect of bringing this issue before the public. Most of the people who signed were appalled that the City would even consider this risky financial arrangement whereby the City becomes a debtor for the sake of a private development. We urge the City Council to reconsider its announced intention of issuing these bonds.

Laura Strowe, treasurer
Citizens Advocating Responsible Development



  1. I’m confused. If the petition drive was to force a referendum…and CARD didn’t get enough signatures…doesn’t it prove that voters don’t want a vote on the issue?

    Or am I just reading to quickly and missing some important point?


       —Matthew    Aug. 3 '06 - 12:58PM    #
  2. Matthew,

    What Strowe is saying is that the petition failed for reasons unrelated to the majority of voters’ view (reliance on volunteers, people out of town for the summer, competing for resources with primaries, etc.). Her statement that the majority of voters want a referendom is based on the claim that the majority of people that they talked to also agreed to sign the petition.

    Of course, it’s not like they’re talking to anything like a random sample of folks (e.g., if you see the sign they’re holding and you don’t want to sign, you’ll also probably skirt the petitioner)

    But taken in isolation, what’s before the jump to the Read More in the top level post makes Strowe seem, maybe a bit unfairly, nuts. So Read More is definitely in order on this one.


       —HD    Aug. 3 '06 - 01:46PM    #
  3. Nope, I would say Murph made the cut at just the right spot.

    Man, I feel like high-fiving someone! I wish the other people in my office gave a damn about this sort of thing.

    Have to go call Mrs. Structure-Dude….


       —Parking Structure Dude!    Aug. 3 '06 - 01:52PM    #
  4. Thank goodness. We now return to your regularly-scheduled representative democracy.


       —Brandon    Aug. 3 '06 - 03:09PM    #
  5. Or we await litigation.


       —Dale    Aug. 3 '06 - 03:23PM    #
  6. Or another pronouncement from Mr. Cahill purporting to be just passing along the news when in reality, he’s part of the organization that is making the announcement. Or maybe a rumor-filled attack on a political candidate based on third-hand innuendo and a basic misunderstanding of the law and legal responsibilities? David C., you have so many options!


       —John Q.    Aug. 3 '06 - 03:27PM    #
  7. Maybe they’ll retain that personal injury lawyer who works next to Kingsley Lane.


       —Brandon    Aug. 3 '06 - 08:39PM    #
  8. Thinly veiled editorializing? Moi? (Par for the course when discussing CARD, I think…)

    Yeah, it was a cheap shot, but I really couldn’t resist. (And, really, par for the course when discussing CARD, I think…)

    On the other hand, had the group’s petition really met as strong support as they might want to believe, they probably could have recruited enough additional petition signers to get it done.


       —Murph.    Aug. 4 '06 - 12:37AM    #
  9. Just a blast from the past from the AU archives.


       —Dale    Aug. 4 '06 - 02:32AM    #
  10. Also from the article:
    “City Council Member Wendy Woods, D-5th Ward, said she would have supported putting the $40 million request before voters if the group had gotten the required signatures.”

    As I understand it, Wendy Woods wouldn’t have had much of a choice if the petition went through. Her voiced support here is more for following legal protocol than supporting the referendum. Of course one must always leave room for mis-quotes in News articles, but Stroawe was not the only one who came off as foolish in this write-up.

    While I didn’t support the petition, I must say that CARD’s effort did bring a lot of new questions and inquiry to the surface. Beyond the secret meetings and campaign finance scandals, the CARD petition initiated some quality discussion on using TIF and the city’s role in promoting development.

    Without CARD, it is unlikely that much attention would have come to this issue at all. In that sense, the petition effort may have some lasting effect as council is more aware of the public’s concern as they make their decision on the TIF. Perhaps CARD was just over-shooting the whole time?


       —Scott TenBrink    Aug. 4 '06 - 02:42AM    #
  11. Strowe, not Stroawe.

    I’m not sure Wendy Woods is just saying she’d obey the law, it might be more about being comfortable with the referendum. At the July 8 debate, I believe I heard her say something of the sort.
       —David Boyle    Aug. 4 '06 - 03:10AM    #
  12. Lots of proposals which clearly have majority support and willing signers never translate into successful petition drives.

    I’m sure plenty of Michigan voters would be happy to sign petitions, say, to institute the death penalty, to ban handguns, to create a unicameral legislature, to abolish legislative salaries, to extend term limits and recall to judges, to fire all homosexual school teachers, to reduce the gas tax to zero, to impose a million-dollar tax on every piece of spam. And an infinity of others, from the sensible to the bizarre.

    No one has yet managed to submit petitions for these causes with half a million signatures, but that doesn’t mean these ideas don’t have widespread support.


       —Larry Kestenbaum    Aug. 4 '06 - 04:45AM    #
  13. Larry Kestenbaum wrote: “No one has yet managed to submit petitions for these causes with half a million signatures, but that doesn’t mean these ideas don’t have widespread support.”

    Well maybe you’re just trying to stem the tide of CARD-related schadenfreude here on AU, but that’s exactly what it means: these causes do not have widespread support, at least not in any relevant sense of ‘support’. Sure, on a widespread basis, people might express their ‘support’ for any number of causes (including the ones Larry mentioned) to their drinking buddy, on a blog, to their neighbor, in the office, etc. I’d reserve description of ‘sympathetic to’ for that kind of behavior. The kind of support that matters and that counts in a democratic society is the kind that can be measured.

    And the kind of support that can be measured is the kind that requires someone to assess the importance of the issue to be high enough that they’re willing to meet some minimum threshold of investment of effort to stand up and be literally be counted.

    In the case of the CARD petition drive, I would submit that if, after reading about it in the Ann Arbor News, the combination of a person’s sympathy with CARD’s cause and their assessment of the importance of that cause is not sufficient to meet the low threshold of seeking out a petitioner to sign that petition, I’m willing to claim: that person does not support CARD’s cause.

    Discussing whether CARD enjoyed widespread support or not fits nicely into the most unproductive aspect of current local political discourse. Specifically, in my view, local Ann Arbor politics is not well served by the sheer volume of rhetoric devoted to the question of how many voices people actually represent when they express their position. “I speak for 4000 people,” “Everyone in my neighborhood feels the same way I do,” and the reverse, “The person at the microphone represents a very loud minority,” and “Our Council is not as progressive as the people they represent.”

    So, Larry, if your point is that there are a wide range of causes that enjoy popular sympathy but that no one has successfully turned into popular support, I’m inclined to agree. My point is that I’d prefer to hear discourse focussed on the cause itself. How many people does someone think might be sympathetic to some cause? I don’t care. Tell me about the cause.


       —HD    Aug. 4 '06 - 02:05PM    #
  14. Just to explain myself a little: I meant that well over half a million Michigan voters would gladly sign petitions for any of the issues I mentioned. You’re right, the fact that no one has mounted an effective petition drive to gather those signatures means that this willingness is moot, at least for now.

    But this November’s ballot will feature a wacky constitutional amendment called “Stop Overspending”, which, among other things, will force a citywide or townshipwide vote on EVERY sidewalk special assessment, EVERY sewer rate increase, EVERY multi-year copy machine contract. Some group was willing to go out there and pay circulators for this crazy petition, and over half a million people signed.

    And who knows, maybe it will pass. I haven’t seen any polling yet, but I bet it starts out way ahead.

    So the electorate’s “sympathies” on specific issues are hardly irrelevant.


       —Larry Kestenbaum    Aug. 4 '06 - 02:50PM    #
  15. Just saw that this was featured at AAIO but didn’t see it here yet:

    http://www.lowertownwatch.org/


       —John Q.    Aug. 4 '06 - 03:03PM    #
  16. CARD didn’t do a very good job canvassing the immediate neighborhood around the proposed project. I live on Pontiac Trail about 4 blocks away from the old krogers and nobody ever stopped by to ask for a signature. I was planning on not signing it anyways, I’d like to see some development there.


       —JJDL    Aug. 4 '06 - 03:42PM    #
  17. Larry Kestenbaum wrote: “So the electorate’s ‘sympathies’ on specific issues are hardly irrelevant”

    Right, voter sympathies in the case of SOS (Stop OverSpending or Sink Our State depending on your perspective) have been translated into actual support, which is now what makes them relevant.

    Also, Larry, thanks for the clarification. I took your original observation, in the context of CARD’s failure to gather sufficient signatures (by how many, I wonder) and in the context of CARD’s appeal to Council to go ahead and submit the bonds to voter approval ANYWAY, as endorsing the idea that CARD’s claim of widespread support had sufficient relevance to merit those claims’ inclusion in a possible continuing discussion of voter referendum on the bond issue.

    Out of respect for Toqueville and others’ concept of the danger posed by the ‘tyranny of the majority’ I’m disinclined to say just in general: Hey, you lost, so your thoughts don’t matter anymore!

    However, in this case, the question that CARD lost on was: can you demonstrate enough support for your cause to meet the threshold for inclusion on the ballot? For Council to now say, “Well, even though CARD failed to meet the standard, we still feel there’s widespread enough sympathy in the community for wanting this to go to the voters, that we’re going to put this to the voters anyway,” is, I think, to ignore the relevant measure of how much support there is for having the referendom. If Council attaches any significance to the chronological ‘mitigating factors’ (it was summer, it’s a busy primary season, etc.), I would ask Council: did you not have a calendar to look at, when you voted to publish the intent to issue the bonds?

    This is a case where I would really like to see Council itself take the responsibility for the decision, as well as the political risk, up or down.

    On the question of the mechanics of the SOS (Stop OverSpending or Sink Our State depending on your point of view) Constitutional ammendment, does it really just boil down to a simple majority in November and then it’s part of the Constitution?! No confirmation by House, Senate, Governor’s office, somebody?

    Otherwise put, how scared should we be?


       —HD    Aug. 4 '06 - 03:54PM    #
  18. “On the question of the mechanics of the SOS (Stop OverSpending or Sink Our State depending on your point of view) Constitutional ammendment, does it really just boil down to a simple majority in November”

    Yes. If it’s approved by the voters, why would it need to any extra approval by the House, Governor, etc.? It’s our Constitution. If we screw it up, we only have ourselves to blame.


       —John Q.    Aug. 4 '06 - 04:39PM    #
  19. It’s too bad; I was actually thinking of signing the petition (despite my doubts about the ulterior motives of CARD). It started to seem like a lot of money after a while and I thought it would be a good idea to make absolutely sure the public was being represented in this. Well, if it happens, it happens, I guess.

    I do have to say that Laura Strowe is a very nice, sane person, with only the best interests of the community in mind, and has been treated rather harshly and unfairly (and occasionally immaturely) by the opponents of CARD.


       —Young Urban Amateur    Aug. 7 '06 - 03:32PM    #
  20. “I do have to say that Laura Strowe is a very nice, sane person, with only the best interests of the community in mind, and has been treated rather harshly and unfairly (and occasionally immaturely) by the opponents of CARD”

    Well, since I was one of the more vocal opponents of CARD, I’d like to respond to this.

    First, my criticism was almost (almost) completely directed at Dave Cahill’s behavior, as he was working on their behalf with his below board dealings on Arbor Update. I

    Second, all that CARD had to do was be honest as to why they wanted to kill the project, and they would have avoided the world’s longest thread. The cloak and dagger stuff was funny as hell, and completely uneccessary.

    Third, you’ll note that I thanked CARD and Ms. Strowe specifically for changing their M.O. at the Farmer’s Market, and acting in a more honest manner. I was sincere in my thanks. I’m sure she’s a nice person, but if she wants to avoid being treated ‘unfairly’, she should play fair herself, and avoid having guys like Cahill represent her positions. A little honesty goes a long, long way.

    Personally, I think that CARD would have obtained the exact same number of petition signatures that they got with all the bond nonsense, if they would have instead simply brought the artist’s rendition of the BV project and said “we want to kill this project. It’s too big, and we hate it. Saying ‘no’ to the bonds is our last chance to make it go away.”

    All this bond Sound and Fury was a complete waste of time and effort…


       —todd    Aug. 7 '06 - 04:18PM    #
  21. Sure, I don’t mean to accuse all CARD opponents of treating any one individual unfairly. Sorry if there were any other implications. I myself agree that CARD seemed to have unspoken ulterior motives.


       —Young Urban Amateur    Aug. 7 '06 - 10:28PM    #