Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

City Council: Unplugged

17. March 2008 • Juliew
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Monday, March 17 at 7:00 pm.
Ann Arbor City HallCity Council Agenda

NOTE: Due to CTN’s office move, this Council meeting will not be shown on TV Monday night. CTN said they expect to broadcast this meeting next Friday, March 21. The tentative start date is 7:30 pm.

Highlights:

  • Resolution to Approve Liberty Place Condominiums Planned Project Site Plan.
  • Resolution to approve the transfer of ownership and location of a 2007 Class C Liquor license from Sze-Chaun on W. Stadium to Ayse’s Cafe on Plymouth Road.
  • Chicken ordinance!
  • Resolution to request Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners negotiate with City for Courthouse Lease Extension for 15th District Court.
  • Resolution to restart the 2008 Sidewalk Improvement Program (added after newspaper deadline).
  • Resolution appointing Golf Courses Advisory Task Force Members (added after newspaper deadline).
  • Resolution to approve an extension to the agreement with Village Green Residential Properties LLC (First and Washington site).



  1. If anyone is going to the City Council meeting, let us know what happens. The chicken ordinance should be interesting. With all this talk about liquor licenses, I would like to know how much Ayse’s Cafe paid for theirs.

    Although road improvement charges are not usually very interesting unless it is your property, one in particular caught my eye: 3093 Glazier Way is being charged $98,168.85 for an empty lot (which I think is actually 5 sites, but still!). The same owners have an additional $19, 633 charge for the lot with their house on it. Yikes!


       —Juliew    Mar. 17 '08 - 02:51PM    #
  2. The chicken thing is awesome. Here’s hoping AA residents can soon have chickens!


       —OWSider    Mar. 17 '08 - 03:09PM    #
  3. AA News article about the chicken thing

    Hm. “Permits would be granted only to residents of single- or two-family homes.”

    Why no coops for co-ops?


       —Bruce Fields    Mar. 17 '08 - 03:54PM    #
  4. This is Steve Kunselman’s proposal? Isn’t he the guy that wants to ban hot dog vendors? Both hot dogs and chickens are as American as baseball and apple pie. Next thing you know the City Council will be discussing banning couscous!


       —OWBanker    Mar. 17 '08 - 04:30PM    #
  5. There are three billion chickens in America. If they were given the right to vote they would have the political clout to not only pass this proposed ordinance but to make the entire nation chicken-friendly and eclipsing the political influence wielded by the National Rifle Association or AIPAC.


       —Poultry Power !    Mar. 17 '08 - 04:37PM    #
  6. Free Bercilla!


       —David Cahill    Mar. 17 '08 - 10:50PM    #
  7. The chicken ordinance was postponed until April 21.

    The Village Green item was voted down, as was the variance for Liberty Place.

    The Glazier Way items were postponed.


       —Vivienne Armentrout    Mar. 18 '08 - 03:57AM    #
  8. Wait, wait, what’s happening to Szechuan West?


       —Larry Kestenbaum    Mar. 18 '08 - 01:48PM    #
  9. There was no discussion last night. It was approved as part of the consent agenda.


       —Vivienne Armentrout    Mar. 18 '08 - 02:07PM    #
  10. “Wait, wait, what’s happening to Szechuan West?”

    As of last weekend, when I was thinking I’d wash down some spicy organge beef with a Tsing Dao—and was told they’d just sold their liquor license so I couldn’t get any—they’re still open for business. And plan to continue to be. But I was talking to a server, not an owner.


       —HD    Mar. 18 '08 - 03:29PM    #
  11. The fact that Village Green (also known as First and Washington) was voted down is really important. The money from the sale of this project is part of the financing plan for the Courts/Police Facility. It takes 8 votes to sell land. So if there are not 8 votes for First and Washington in the future, the Courts/Police Facility will either have to be dropped or financed in another way.

    Considering the vigor of the Council remarks yesterday evening on this project, I do not think there will ever be 8 votes for the sale of land that will go toward this project.


       —David Cahill    Mar. 18 '08 - 04:02PM    #
  12. I just finished reading an update about the financing in the Ann Arbor News.

    Money to pay off the $27.8 million in principle and the $27.8 million in interest over 30 years….Guru Crawford has cobbled together a payment plan from unpaid rents, DDA, antennas rent, etc…

    One of the sources of income to repay the bonds and interest was $735,000 a year from discontinued leases for off-site office space. Were those 30 year leases?!? Have DDA leaders signed on to contribute $520K for the duration?


       —SR    Mar. 18 '08 - 05:23PM    #
  13. $400,000 of the $735,000 in lease savings is from leasing court space from the county. The rest is mostly from leases at city center building. All leases expire in a few years. The $400,000 county lease includes all utility and operating costs, including court security. The city center building lease includes utilities.

    The financing plan does not explain where estimated operating costs of about $500,000 per year will come from. Fraser’s response to a question about this was that he could easily find this much in the general fund budget. Maybe Fraser can also find an extra $500,000 for all the human service agencies that are struggling to keep up with demands for service.

    The DDA has not officially signed on to anything because they were just presented with their “share” of the cost. DDA 10 year projections show they will run out of money if they agree to the 520k per year payment. That’s because DDA tax revenues will drop by about one third because they can no longer capture school taxes.

    The Crawford/Fraser financing plan also includes $350k from cell tower leases. This money used to go to the DDA parking fund and the water fund because the antennae were on parking structures and water towers. Moving this revenue to the general fund means parking fees and water bills will have to be higher to make up the difference.


       —karen sidney    Mar. 18 '08 - 07:15PM    #
  14. Thanks for the info.


       —SR    Mar. 18 '08 - 08:36PM    #
  15. Why lease for the next century as opposed to build. Could someone explain why this makes any economic sense. What are lease rates for the next 50 years or 100 years? While financial times are difficult, isn’t this the best time for bond rates? As to post 11, are you saying that the opponents of the Court facility are simply stalling other projects simply because they oppose the Courts and they want to prevent the City from getting funds? And why is that a good way to govern?


       —builder    Mar. 18 '08 - 08:53PM    #
  16. There is no objective reason to build new courthouse facilities at all, with caseloads flat. The subjective reason for that part of the project is that the district judges and circuit judges, presently both doing business in the County Courthouse, dislike each other.

    There is an objective reason to remodel the police department facilities. However, doing so would only cost a couple million dollars, not the
    sixty million dollars (minimum) that this new project would cost.

    Oh, yes – I must mention that the key votes on this big project were cast by Council members Chris Easthope and Joan Lowenstein. Both are running for district judge. Whoever wins will be housed in this new facility. So they are voting to build themselves a new courthouse a public expense. Can you say “conflict of interest?” I knew you could.

    Not a pretty picture.


       —David Cahill    Mar. 18 '08 - 09:57PM    #
  17. What constitutes a ‘key’ vote? Should CE and JL have recused themselves? Should all of the council members recuse themselves during deliberations about renovating and adding onto the city hall building; after all they will be “housed in th[e] new facility”


       —abc    Mar. 19 '08 - 05:17PM    #
  18. How about:

    1. Close Huron Hills golf course to save a half-million dollars? a year.
    2. Suspend the million dollar development management software for Planning & Development, as there are no large subdivision projects occurring in the current economy that need the software. Worry about that when the economy is better.
    3. Renovate the current City Hall building, as it is cheaper than the new building, and design it to hold Police and Courts – and possibly City Council (Attorneys and Mayor, too?).
    4. Building a new building on the Huron Hills golf course property to house everyone else that is displaced from City Hall and leased properties – plenty of room for parking, and maybe even plan a conference building with the extra money that is left over. The per square foot cost to build at Huron Hills would be much less than downtown, and the building(s) could be less stories tall, with solar panels on the roof areas, and maybe an open loop geothermal system that discharges to a storm water management wetland system that drains directly to the Huron River (water would keep the wetland wet in the dry seasons).
    5. The city lacks a good conference center. I’ve heard companies like Arbortext have conferences in Chicago, as there are no good places here. It is a missed opportunity for bringing companies to Ann Arbor.


       —me    Mar. 19 '08 - 05:26PM    #
  19. Mr. Cahill, you state regarding Councilpersons Easthope and Lowenstein and the new court building: “...whoever wins will be housed in this new facility.” In actuality, the winner could be Margaret Connors, it could be Magistrate Gatti should he decide to run, or it could be an unannounced candidate who will submit the requisite number of valid signatures to the Secretary of State by the deadline. It could even be you, leaving your wife with a conflict of interest in voting on the facility. Secondly, you allege “caseloads are flat”; my experience is that there has been a spike in collection suits, tenant evictions and land contract forfeitures due to the sagging economy. I however have heard what you had alluded to in this post and more specifically in a prior post – that certain circuit court and district court judges dislike each other. This is no reason to build a new courthouse; all would have to be done is administer anger management classes to the judges and save taxpayers millions!


       —Mark Koroi    Mar. 21 '08 - 02:03AM    #
  20. What is the rent the City will pay over the next 30 years, and really the life of the building? Is it more or less than the building costs? How does leasing save the taxpayers money?


       —builder    Mar. 21 '08 - 09:47AM    #
  21. I received a copy of a paper called “Costing Out The Courts/Police Facility” dated March 8. It was prepared for Council member Briere by a group familiar with municipal finance. It is based on leaks from City Hall. Its assumptions are slightly off: construction cost of $46 million instead of $47 million, slightly less in cash than the City now plans to use, and different assumptions on bonding (a bit less will be borrowed, but at a higher interest rate). So I don’t want to post this paper because the detailed calculations are not correct, but they are at least in the ball park.

    The authors conclude that the total extra cost of the project to the taxpayers over 30 years, after deducting the cost savings due to no longer leasing space and adding the interest payments on the bonds, is a bit over $59 million.

    The net additional annual cost to the City, after deducting the savings, would be about $1.5 million.

    I hope the authors will do another version of this paper based on what we now know are the City’s plans. If so, I will post it here.


       —David Cahill    Mar. 21 '08 - 01:47PM    #
  22. What is this group and is it prepared by anyone who knows anything about municipal finance?

    So under this analysis, the City’s cost is 1.5 per year for 30 years.

    What are the assumptions for saved lease payments under this document?

    But at the end of 30 years you have a building.

    What is the cost of lease payments for years 30 to the end of the life of the building?

    My point is that it is stll cheaper to build. This group would probably concede the point if asked.


       —builder    Mar. 21 '08 - 02:23PM    #
  23. As I said, I don’t want to post the details because they have changed. Sabra respects this group, and has agreed to preserve its anonymity. I’m sure, “builder”, that you understand the value of anonymity, since you are using a screen name.


       —David Cahill    Mar. 21 '08 - 06:32PM    #
  24. Here is Judy McGovern’s AA News article in today’s paper linking the Village Green failure to the courts/police facility.

    The article says Mayor Hieftje has attempted to “straddle the divide” over the courts/police project. He has said repeatedly that he opposes the project, but that it is gong to proceed because it has 6 votes on Council.

    Of course, the mayor has the veto power. It takes 8 votes to override. Even before last November’s election, his veto could not have been overriden. So he could have stopped this project at any time – and he still can.

    So Hieftje either really wants the project and has been deceiving the public by claiming he is opposed to it, or he doesn’t have the courage to use his veto to stop it.

    Our “boneless wonder” has apparently been trying to avoid a gridlocked Council.

    Now he has one.


       —David Cahill    Mar. 22 '08 - 02:11PM    #
  25. I was actually shocked by the AANews article. Does post 24 think the behavior described is a good thing? As I understand the article at least two Councilpersons voted to kill an unrelated project (which otherwise has approval of the City) because money from that project would help with the Court project. (I don’t know the rationale of the other 3 who voted against this. The article said 5-5. I thought 11 on Council?.)How is that fair/ethical to the other developer, who has a project that has already going along that is evidently approved is some form? So the rationale is to oppose any project that provides any funds (sales proceeds, additional tax base etc) to the City? How long is this going to go on? Post 11 seems to accurately portray what is being done by at least two members of Council quoted in the paper. But, how is this in the interest of the City. It will be interesting to see what other measures are taken in anger to spite the City, by those elected to help govern the City. The City should actually apologize to this developer for this behavior. This is really sad.


       —builder    Mar. 22 '08 - 04:08PM    #
  26. I have a copy of the above-mentioned “Costing out the courts/police facility” by “The Working Group”, v3.0 of March 8, 2008. The first person on the forward chain for it was Karen Sidney, no stranger to these parts and certainly not anonymous.

    Happy to send it on to anyone who needs to see it.

    Rob Goodspeed pointed to a 2004 interview of her from the Ann Arbor News:

    http://www.goodspeedupdate.com/2004/05/ann-arbor-news-profiled-in-article.html

    and the erstwhile Ann Arbor is Overrated notes in a comment from a regular commenter:

    http://www.annarborisoverrated.com/2007/01/08/suarez-on-housing-policy-boards/#comment-42639


       —Edward Vielmetti    Mar. 23 '08 - 05:00AM    #
  27. Yes, Sabra sent the paper to Karen Sidney, me, and others.

    So tell us, Ed, how many degrees of separation there were between you and Sabra.


       —David Cahill    Mar. 23 '08 - 01:59PM    #
  28. Of course if Dave Cahill really wanted to know my position he could have asked. (Post 24) It would have been less roundabout and a bit more civil for a member of the Library Board who has known me for years, who has eaten chicken (with bones) and drunk wine on my deck, to pick up the phone, send an email or come by during open office hours for a chat.

    Even though Washtenaw County has repeatedly said the City Courts must vacate the County Courthouse, I have not voted in favor of a new Courts/Police Building because for a long time I thought we could find another, less expensive way to solve the court’s problem and then tackle the police space situation separately. A part of me would still rather just play chicken with the County on the lease termination.

    However, I have not gone so far as to veto the proposal for a new Courts/Police Building because:

    I have worked for several years with the “veteran” majority on City Council that is supporting the Building. They are thoughtful individuals who have been working on a solution to this problem for years.

    Do we all always agree? Of course not, but we respect each other’s judgment and work together.

    Together we directed a complete reorganization of the city bureaucracy. City Government is working much more efficiently than before. Despite successive years of state revenue sharing cuts and health care cost increases that were out of the box, the budget is stable, the reserve fund is healthy and growing. All but one of the union contracts is settled.

    Council veterans supported me in devoting more funding and staff support to non-motorized transit. They supported the Greenbelt Campaign and the Clean Communities Program. They supported the Mayor’s Green Energy Challenge and the commuter rail proposal and One Percent for Art. Disagreeing with a majority of council members whom I respect is one thing, a veto is yet another.

    A veto would make it harder for me to work with the majority of council members on other issues. Frustration over this issue could spill over into other council business even more than it already has. A cohesive majority has a much better chance of coming together around solid solutions than a fractured council.

    I have not vetoed the proposal because I have no viable alternative to constructing a new police/courts building. I have been searching for an alternative to a new building but could not find one. We have investigated existing buildings both on the edge of the city and in the downtown but none have met the requirements for a secure court house, even with extensive, expensive renovation. We investigated building on the Library parking lot and the Ann Arbor News lot.

    Over and over again I discussed the court’s puzzle with different members of the County Commission, some of whom I know well. I am convinced the County will not change their position and several of the Commissioners have their own plan for the Circuit and Juvenile Courts to share the space.

    The county would probably agree to a little more time for quite a bit more rent money but not a long term solution in the existing courthouse. I am doubtful the judges, who are driving this issue would sign off on sharing space for long, certainly not without extensive renovations and an addition. Even still, this would require the same funds as building on the Larcom site and whatever the city would save from shared hallways and security, would be lost to ever-rising rents.

    This remotely possible solution does nothing for the AAPD and nearly everyone who tours their section of Larcom believes they needed a new headquarters many years ago. It would eliminate a large savings from bringing staff back into Larcom from rented space when the AAPD moves next door. The city would still be renting from the county long after a new building on the Larcom site would be paid off.

    My opposition to the Larcom addition and renovations has diminished with the realization that each time we stop/start the project, it costs time and money. Hundreds of hours of council member and staff time have been invested in the project; $4 million (8.5% of the project) has already been allocated and is rapidly being spent. Last year there was no clear financing plan; now there is and it appears it can be done within existing and projected revenues. If $3 million does not come from the sale of the Washington St. property, it will come from somewhere else.

    The project is going forward. For very good reasons, I will not be casting a veto. I could pout about it for a couple of years or work to reduce the future operating costs and make the new building something of which we can all be proud. This last option will be easier if I am not continually throwing stones at it.

    I would rather not discuss this further via computer. I spend way too much time at the keyboard already and from what I know about blogs, the conversation can be unending. As always I am happy to meet with any resident; just call and arrange for a time slot during my weekly open office hours. If several people want to have a discussion, just tell me when and where and I will do my best to be there.


       —John Hieftje    Mar. 23 '08 - 06:17PM    #
  29. I’m surprised the mayor even responded to post 24, but I’m glad he did. Governing is much harder than making silly comments about the mayor or others on a blog. Governing is much harder than casting votes to try to fiscally harm the City because of some anger over an unrelated matter. I hope the mayor is not driven away from office by such foolishness. The Council needs wise people on it.

    Vetoing a project with no plan in place or deciding to force the City to rent for the next 50 years just is not wise. Trying to goad the mayor to do this by name calling is really pathetic. The residents deserve leadership, especially now.

    The mayor is right, Post 24 needs no further blog comment. Just pity for the writer.


       —sometimes reader    Mar. 23 '08 - 07:45PM    #
  30. I have heard from more than one source that a major reason for the removal of the district court from the county building has been the alleged acrimony between the circuit and district court judges. One story goes that Tim Connors got miffed that his wife could not get a magistrate’s position. It is only via a cost-benefit analysis whether leasing versus constructing a new facility can be determined as the better choice. David Cahill is absolutely right, however, in that we do not need “boneless” leadership and Hizzoner better get on the ball or citizens will register their disapproval at the ballot box this fall.


       —Roadman    Mar. 24 '08 - 04:29AM    #
  31. I don’t agree with the mayor on the Police/Courts building, it should be built. Why pay rent? But, he has shown way more leadership than anyone on the local scene in the ten years I’ve been here. The greenbelt, the big push for alt. trans, the budget cutting, etc. and he just laid out his position on the courts building.

    He hasn’t voted for it but he respects the position of those who have. Isn’t that the way its supposed to be?

    It’s not news that the judges are the cause of the county wanting the city out of the courthouse but for the city, the bottom line is the same no matter what the reason, the city has to leave the courthouse. What don’t some people understand about that?

    By the way Roadman, I doubt the mayor is too worried about the ballot box, I don’t recall him ever losing a precinct.


       —LauraB    Mar. 24 '08 - 05:25AM    #
  32. The term “Boneless Wonder”, for those trivia buffs who care, was coined in 1931 by then-House of Commons member Winston Churchill to describe British Prime Minister Ramsey MacDonald. He borrowed the term from a circus sideshow act that his parents when he was younger deemed too gruesome for those of tender years to witness.


       —Mark Koroi    Mar. 24 '08 - 05:59AM    #
  33. “Boneless Wonder” also should not be confused with the “Hitless Wonders”, the 1906 Chicago White Sox, who were World Series champs that year with a .230 team batting average. However, I think the mayor may find solace in being compared to a famous English statesman.


       —Kaptain Krunch    Mar. 24 '08 - 06:11AM    #
  34. I’m surprised at Mayor Hieftje’s statement that the budget is stable and the reserve fund is healthy. The mayor attended the December council retreat and saw city CFO Tom Crawford’s chart showing growing general fund deficits after fiscal year 2008. Adding 1.8 million in annual bond payments to general fund expenses will make it that much harder to pay the bills in fiscal year 2009 and beyond.

    The general fund reserve looks healthy on paper because governmental accounting rules don’t require reporting all the bills. At the retreat, Crawford told the Mayor and Council that the general fund reserve did not reflect the 12 million owed to employees for earned but unpaid vacation time. Recording that bill would reduce the general fund reserve from 16 to 4 million.

    Mayor Hieftje and the council veterans should be asking for more than a financing plan for the new building. They should be asking for a financing plan showing how the city will pay the bills for basic services over the next 5 years. The public deserves to see the full financial picture.


       —karen sidney    Mar. 24 '08 - 05:00PM    #
  35. I am delighted that Mayor John Hieftje has taken the time to participate in this discussion. (Yes, this is the real John; I remember eating the chicken. He comes frequently to Sabra’s and my annual Winter Solstice Party.)

    Repeatedly in the past several years John has cast votes against development projects that had a narrow majority on Council, but he has failed to use his veto to stop the projects. He has made himself into a “weak mayor” by not using his veto to protect the public interest as a whole from the unwise actions of a slim Council majority. John is a great mayor in many respects, particularly on energy and on saving us from Pfizer’s collapse. But he has a blind spot about development. He apparently is trying to “have it both ways” by opposing projects, but not opposing them effectively.
    Hence my frustration. People who do not take principled stands should beware the fate of Ramsay MacDonald.

    John is operating from a false premise that has taken on the status of an urban myth. This premise is that the “County has repeatedly said the City Courts must vacate the County Courthouse.” Instead, the reality is just the opposite: The City is leaving voluntarily, and is not being forced to leave by its landlord.

    On November 17, 2007, shortly after taking office, Council member Briere met with Jeff Irwin, the chair of the County Board of Commissioners. Jeff should know where the Commissioners are on this issue. Briere sent the mayor and others a report on that meeting. Jeff said that his remarks were not confidential. Here is the relevant excerpt from that report:

    Jeff told me about the interpersonal relations between judges. At some point, he said, Tim Connors’ wife applied for but was not hired to be the magistrate of the District Court. Ann Mattson reported Archie Brown over some issue he couldn’t remember; Archie Brown ended up in disciplinary hearings. Later, Archie Brown took over Ann Mattson’s courtroom while she was gone, and when she return he told her ‘I’m chief judge, this is my courtroom now.’ Jeff said that he told Bob Guenzel that if the judges couldn’t work things out the Commissioners would step in, take the courtroom away from Brown and give it to the city. It ended up going to Lansing for mediation. The result is that Mattson got her courtroom back.

    * * * * *

    The City came to the County and asked for a two-year lease, rather than a longer one, saying that the city was going to build its own building.

    End of excerpt. Please note the last sentence: “The City came to the County and asked for a two-year lease, rather than a longer one, saying that the city was going to build its own building.”

    Sabra talked to Jeff again on Sunday, March 16, 2008. Jeff said that the district judges were behind the move, and that the City was doing what the judges wanted. Again, according to Jeff, the County is not forcing the City out. He told Sabra that if the City Council passed a resolution for further negotiations, he would be happy to talk. But the “pro-build caucus” on Council defeated the resolution.

    Other commissioners have said within the past couple of weeks that with the collapse of the County’s budget, there are no longer any plans for the space now rented by the City, and the County might really need the rent the City is paying. Also a couple of weeks ago, another City Council member was saying there was a majority on the County Commission for further talks about letting the City stay.

    Even if, for the sake of argument, this project is built, it will not be completed by the end of 2009, when the City’s current lease with the County runs out. According to the project time line furnished to City Council by the architect, construction is to begin Friday, March 13, 2009 (not a lucky date) and will continue until March 10, 2011. So the City courts will probably be staying in the County Courthouse for at least a year and three months after the lease runs out. Ergo, the lease will be extended anyway.

    We should also clearly separate in our minds the needed repairs/remodeling for the Police Department (well under $5 million, I expect) and this immense project for the courts (over $50 million). Watch those decimals! Providing improved quarters for the police is not controversial. Feathering the judges’ nests is.

    My prediction is that the big project will never be built. It is an “eight-vote project”, since the financing plan requires the sale of land and the transfer of money from several internal city funds. Doing each of these tasks requires eight votes out of eleven on Council, according to the City Charter. Assuming that the four opponents hold firm, there will never be eight votes. Therefore, no project.

    Also, the “pro-build caucus” now consists of only six people, a bare majority. Two of them (Easthope and Lowenstein) will be leaving Council in the fall. I expect that they will be replaced by Stewart Nelson in the Second Ward and Vivienne Armentrout in the Fifth Ward. Both candidates have as centerpieces of their campaigns opposition to this project, and they are already working hard. If they win in November, then there will be only four people in the pro-build caucus. Any bonds that may already have been issued will be paid back early, and any outstanding construction contracts will be cancelled.

    The planet will continue to rotate on its axis, and John Hieftje will come to our December Winter Solstice Party.


       —David Cahill    Mar. 24 '08 - 06:22PM    #
  36. Ms Sydney: Your constant rantings have never proven to be right. If all the things you have said over the years were true, the city would have been broke long ago and yet the local government just keeps rolling along. Why don’t you rant about the county, they have a $10 million hole in their budget. The city had a couple million surplus last year.

    Your constant message and anti-council bias, (“They can’t do anything right! Fraser and Crawford are incompetent/corrupt!”) is just as well known here as my own belief that the people in charge of the city know what they are doing.


       —Dustin    Mar. 24 '08 - 08:55PM    #
  37. Mr. Cahill: Developments that are controversial are all PUD’s and they have neighborhood opposition therefore they require 8 votes to pass. The same number of votes required to override a veto. If the mayor votes against a development and it passes, A VETO IS WORTHLESS!

    The two that come to mind were metro 202 and the one at the site of the Greek Church on N. Main. The mayor voted no (along with Bob Johnson?) but they both passed with at least 8 votes!


       —Dustin    Mar. 24 '08 - 09:22PM    #
  38. You can find the text of the “Costing out the courts/police facility” document here. Keep in mind that this is from an anonymous “working group” and any numbers are not cited.


       —Juliew    Mar. 25 '08 - 02:42AM    #
  39. I have found all of this discussion of ‘The working group’ to be quite intriguing. It was first introduced by D. Cahill as ‘a paper’. He wrote it is called “Costing Out The Courts/Police Facility” dated March 8. [and it] was prepared for Council member Briere by a group familiar with municipal finance.” Emphasis added

    This implied, to me, that that this had been commissioned by CM Briere, or at least solicited by CM Briere. But after just one question of ‘The working group’ that, according to Cahill has the respect of CM Briere, we are told that they want to stay anonymous. Why would any group need or want to stay anonymous after doing a cost analysis? While it is true that documents such as these contain assumptions, I trust that none of the assumptions include a new car for a CM or anything that might be interpreted as illegal or unethical.

    So this is not an objective third party with an expertise in municipal finance who CM Briere reached out to check the thinking the city’s numbers. This is a group of city insiders who, according to Cahill are “familiar” with municipal finance. How familiar? Is there any familiarity with municipalities other than the City of Ann Arbor?

    So, for me, this begins to smell; another shadowy group introduced by D. Cahill that just so happens to support his argument. But this time it has a twist. This time a CM is directly tied to the making of the document, as offered by her husband (D. Cahill), who then markets the document to those concerned citizens who actively use AU to follow local politics.

    I have just read the document (thank you juliew) and clearly it is not written by an objective third party. The language is completely familiar and non-professional; there isn’t a consultant out there who would leave the phrase “…the City must still come up with…” prior to an amount needed to finance a capital project. I am not arguing the numbers here, nor am I arguing that private AA citizens shouldn’t do their own analysis and offer their opinions to CMs. What smells is the way this document is being pitched to AU readers and the complicity of one CM in that marketing attempt. If CB Briere has an argument to make, one way or the other, she should make it. I for one am waiting for the other shoe to drop.

    [link to discussion--ed.]

    Tried to create a link but just could get it to fly [fixed above--ed.]. The fun really started at post 24.


       —abc    Mar. 25 '08 - 01:46PM    #
  40. This document is clearly not written by anyone remotely associated with finances. For example, it assumes saved lease costs of 700K for the next 30 years. Those are the present costs at the end of current lease periods. The actual least cost will greatly increase if the leases were extended and then continue to increase after that. Why the false figure here? Second point, after initially paying the bond amounts over 30 year, these payments cease over the life of the building, while rent between years 30 and 75? continues to go up. With the economy poor, the interest rates have plummeted, and it is actually the best time for the City to build.

    Why not just admit that it may be cheaper to build in the long run or set out the numbers honestly? Even within the 30 year bond period it may turn out that the costs are equal, depends what the lease payments are.

    This forum should actually promote accurate information for the residents.


       —builder    Mar. 25 '08 - 02:10PM    #
  41. You know I don’t blog (much). I’m just here to set the record straight.

    1) I did not solicit this so-called ‘white paper’. It was sent to me. I was surprised by the information it contained.
    2) My FIRST act was to forward the paper to Tom Crawford, Karen Sidney, and several members of Council asking for comment/correction/guidance on the information contained. I had no independent information about the figures, and no way of testing the assumptions. Some members of Council wouldn’t comment; Tom Crawford said that the information was interesting, and thanked me; Karen Sidney offered some critique.
    3) Of course, I shared this paper with my husband, David Cahill.
    4) David has his own opinions. And voices them.
    5) The paper has clearly been sent out to more people than me.
    6) I am in favor of accurate information being given to us all. It’s often difficult to tell which information is accurate or complete. Right now, for instance, the city charges about $350K per year for cell tower fees. For the next 30 years, these fees are slated to pay off the bond. Does that mean these fees won’t be raised for 30 years? What do these fees support now? The DDA is expected to provide $520K per year for the next 30 years to pay off the bond. This is money that won’t be available for the downtown. It’s money that has to come from somewhere, as well. And it has to keep coming for the next 30 years. This is part of the current plan (announced March 10) for where the funds will come from — and wasn’t analyzed in the white paper.

    It’s good to discuss and differ on these civic projects. If we all agreed on everything, life would be boring. Please tear apart the white paper at will. Tear apart the city’s funding plan, as well. Do both analyses, please. It will make us all look carefully at how we’re spending your money.


       —Sabra Briere    Mar. 26 '08 - 02:44PM    #
  42. CM Briere, thank you for responding. If, as you say, you “did not solicit this so-called ‘white paper’. It was sent to [you].” why not share with AU readers the author(s) of this information. AU readers want to understand the authors’ background in municipal finance so that the credibility of this report can be considered. If you feel this unsolicited report has enough credibility to be circulated around city hall, then why shouldn’t the general public have full access to it as well; including the byline.

    You say you are for accurate information, as am I. But I am also for knowing who can slip an influential piece of paper to a councilmember to have that paper float right to the top; a piece of paper that you admit you had, “no independent information about the figures, and no way of testing the assumptions.” Nevertheless it has been circulated widely in city hall and sold to us as being authored by a group you respect.


       —abc    Mar. 26 '08 - 04:35PM    #
  43. I guess I was surprised also by the paper—surprised that it contained such obviously false assumptions. You don’t need to be a financial guru to know that the current lease amounts are not going to remain the same for 30 years. I’m really looking forward to the next draft of this special analysis. Please post it as soon as it is available.


       —builder    Mar. 26 '08 - 10:36PM    #
  44. I don’t understand what’s wrong with looking at current lease amounts, rather than guessing what they might be after thirty years.

    In thirty years, Ann Arbor (and its lease rates) could be changed beyond recognition. By that time, the County and City could be unified in a “regional government”. Perhaps, contrary to what “builder” thinks, we will have a further economic contraction here which will cause a drop in lease rates because of more empty buildings (some existing and some proposed).

    Even assuming lease rates go up, isn’t it fair to assume that the new costs, such as maintaining the new facility, and staffing the security module, would also go up to the same extent? If so, then the alleged savings by not leasing would largely vanish.

    Or, in 30 years, if crime continues the drop, only one district courtroom may be in use instead of three. If this happens, then the project will look even more unwise than it does now.

    Could someone post an example, using numbers, about this issue? I’m having a tough time following the math involving lease rates.

    Also, abc, what leads you to believe that the “costing out” paper has been circulated widely in City Hall?


       —David Cahill    Mar. 27 '08 - 09:56PM    #
  45. Sabra Briere wrote, “My FIRST act was to forward the paper to Tom Crawford, Karen Sidney, and several members of Council …”

    I accept the word ‘several’ to mean more than two or three, where ‘a couple’ would seem more succinct. But since CM Briere chose the word several I can easily see how this could be her way of saying that she distributed the paper to more than half of the council. Several could also be all of the council except one. I have no way of knowing, but you can simply ask.

    I consider half or more of the city’s council members to be ‘widely distributed’ with respect to the city’s decision makers. I am not concerned about whether or not the janitor has seen it.

    So could you please publish author(s) of this ‘report’.


       —abc    Mar. 27 '08 - 11:59PM    #
  46. Oh, I see what you mean. I had thought that perhaps you had distributed the paper to Council members and staff, since Arbor Update got it, and apparently everyone and his/her brother has seen it. 8-)


       —David Cahill    Mar. 28 '08 - 05:02AM    #
  47. I have a serious problem with the costs being projected with the proposed police /courts building in Ann Arbor. If we are talking in the neighborhood of sixty million dollars I would hope that an audit or some type of competitive bidding process precede any commitment because this far exceeds my own experience in similar buildings. Dearborn, for example, in the late 1990s contracted with DeMaria Building Company of Novi for a new police/court building. Dearborn is similar in population as well as number of judges to Ann Arbor. Dearborn has a broad tax base due to corporate taxpayers such as Ford Motor Company and other large business entities owning property in the city. Dearborn has what is currently recognized aas one of the highest quality police/court buildings in Metro Detroit. The entire project was completed for 13 million dollars. The 36th District Court building in Detroit , on the other hand, is widely viewed as atrocious – an ugly structure with non-functioning ventilation systems and broken escalators as well as being constantly dirty. That court was built with a consortium of private investors who leased the building to the government; it is an example of why one should not lease their court quarters from a third party, although in Ann Arbor’s case most of the problems have resulted not from problems with the court building itself but rather certain circuit court judges acting selfishly or obnoxiously uncivil toward the district court judiciary; this is an outrageous situation! I sincerely hope that the City Council look closely into this matter before it squanders tens of millions of dollars on a white elephant.


       —I.G. Farben    Mar. 29 '08 - 07:50PM    #
  48. There is something fishy about the police/court building that is being discussed. Firstly, the cost projection of sixty million dollars is ridiculous. Not that long ago the Palace of Auburn Hills was constructed at a cost of $70 miilion; the Pontiac Silverdome was built at cost of $55.7 million, which in today’s dollars would be about $120 million. The prior post has already disclosed the modest cost of the police/court building in Dearborn. There should be a vigorous review of how these amounts were arrived at and what cheaper alternatives may exist. Secondly, the Michigan Constitution of 1963 estblished the district court system as a tribunal of inferior jurisdiction that heard such low-level legal matters as landlord-tenant disputes, small claims, misdemeanor cases,civil traffic offense citations, parking violations, and civil actions of relatively small amounts; the only serious cases cognizable in the district court were felony charges which were initially filed in the district courts where the arraignments and preliminary examinations occurred until either dismissal or “binding over” for trial in the circuit court was ordered. The constitutional amendments creating the district courts were implemented by enabling legislation memorialized in the Revised Judicature Act and the State of Michigan was divided into 90 judicial districts. In 1965, district courts began opening up around the state. The buildings these courts were housed in were typically very modest. Some districts actually did not even construct new buildings or open new facilities but rather were simply assigned a room in existing facility by local officials; a good example of this today is the 21st District Court in Garden City in which the City Council shares its chambers with the courtroom of the district judge at City Hall, there are no metal detectors or security officers, the magistrates are nonlawyers, and the court runs on a shoestring budget, making the district the envy of the neighboring 20th District Court in Dearborn Heights, whose merger efforts last year were politely rebuffed by Garden City. Even today, the district courts in this state are typically in small buildings and efficiently operated. The problems came in due to politics, when district court officials began flexing their political muscle and getting more extravagant lodgings. It is no different than when the United States Congress a few years ago raised eyebrows by allocating a whopping $200,000,000 for a giant U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals building in which each judge would have his own law library; this was seen as an attempt by Congress to “buy” a politically friendly appeals circuit. This is no different than the situation Ann Arbor faces at this juncture. There are two city council members who are candidates to fill the vacancy of Judge Mattson’s seat; each should abstain from voting on this issue as there is an inherent conflict of interest in these regards as each has an interest in seeing the most expensive courthouse being constructed. The Council members should make sure the public interest is paramount and question why should Ann Arbor taxpayers foot the bill for a luxurious palatial edifice for the district court judiciary; will it be a matter of pride for them to have the most expensive district courthouse in the state and concomitantly have the enduring political allegiance of the district court judiciary and personnel? Finally, the conduct of “Downtown” Archie Brown and Tim Connors that necessitated this mess should be a source of embarrassment to them and they should both be voted out of office at their next respective elections;let’s name the new courthouse the “Margaret Connors Hall of Justice” and appoint her as an “honorary magistrate” in honor of the circumstances surrrounding her role in its creation. Anybody who wants to learn more about the present state of affairs should contact Jeff Irwin, Chairman of the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners. There is no reason to make a luxurious palace for local judges, just give them sufficient space and facilities needed to conduct their business. We need real leadership, not “boneless wonders” to tackle this thorny issue. There is something very, very fishy about this whole police/court building matter….


       —John Dory    Mar. 30 '08 - 06:40PM    #
  49. Just to clarify re: Post #35, the incidents I referenced during my meeting with CM Briere respecting judicial acrimony were made to indicate what rumors I have heard about the much ballyhooed infighting between judges. Other than the issue of what specific spaces were covered under the city’s lease with the county, I have no personal knowledge of the truth of the rumors.

    For my part, the reasons that our judges have communicated an interest in “recapturing” that space in the courthouse have been completely above board. In my meetings and discussions with our judges they have stressed the operational and therefore budgetary efficiencies allowed by consolidating more of their operations at the downtown courthouse.

    Likewise, my discussions with council members and the Mayor indicate that they are weighing seriously the advantages and disadvantages of building versus continued reliance on lease arrangements. I see this as an issue about what sort of space is needed and how to best secure it, not personalities.


       —Jeff Irwin    Mar. 30 '08 - 09:44PM    #
  50. There is also the widespread expectation that when the district court leaves the Courthouse, the Juvenile Court, now housed at the former detention center on Platt Road, will move downtown into the former district court space. That will enable other use, or perhaps sale, of the Platt Road property.


       —Larry Kestenbaum    Mar. 31 '08 - 05:18AM    #
  51. City Council’s agenda for the April 7 meeting is now posted. It includes a resolution to publish an intent to issue $31,000,000 in bonds for the courts/police facility. With this figure, and the materials Council member Briere has been given in hard copy, here is a rough approximation of how the City plans to pay for the project.

    The cost of construction is $47,400,000. This is the amount that must be paid to the builders and various tradespeople.

    The City plans to use the following amounts of cash from these internal funds:

    Municipal Center Fund $8,400,000; Risk Fund (what is this?) $4,000,000; General Fund $1,800,000; Court Facility Fund $1,100,000; Earnings on Construction Funds (I think this is interest on the bond money not yet spent) $1,300,000. Adding these up gives $16,600,000.

    Subtracting this amount from the cost of construction gives $30,800,000, which is the amount to be borrowed by selling bonds. The City is “rounding up” to $31,000,000.

    The annual payment on a bond issue of $31,000,000, over 30 years, at 4.75% interest, is $1,959,493.

    The City says some of this payment will be offset by savings on existing leases that would be discontinued, for $735,496 per year. Other sources for this annual payment are cell phone antenna revenue, about $350,000 per year; district court ticket fees, $225,000 per year; Downtown Development Authority, $520,000 per year. These sources total $1,830,496, which is pretty close to the bond payment of $1,959,493.

    The lease savings would be real, and the ticket fee revenue would still be supporting the court, as it does now. But the antenna revenue and the DDA revenue would be diverted from the programs they pay for now. That is a loss to the budget of $870,000 per year, which will have to be made up from somewhere.

    In addition, the City’s plan does not include the extra $525,000 per to operate the new building and pay for the security people. (This figure is from The Working Group; see above). When Roger Fraser was asked how the City was going to pay the extra $500,000 per year, he told Council that he would “find it” in the budget somewhere.

    So I think the total annual loss to the budget would be $870,000 plus $500,000, or $1,370,000, even after the alleged savings are taken into account. I am assuming these lease savings would remain constant. People who make other assumptions are welcome to chime in. Be sure to show your work. 8-)

    Given what may happen over 30 years, a “total extra cost to the taxpayers” will be vague. If we add the cash from various City pots of money ($16,600,000) to 30 years’ worth of net losses to the budget (30 x $1,370,000), I get $57,700,000.


       —David Cahill    Apr. 3 '08 - 05:45PM    #
  52. Mr. Cahill’s analysis, while valid up to a point, presents a rather conservative estimate of the long-term cost to the city. To be fair one must also consider the opportunity cost of not investing the $58 million savings in scratch off tickets, semi-precious metals, and trifectas at Northville Downs. This further rigorous analysis reveals that the city in fact stands to lose trillions and trillions of dollars by squandering its money on bricks and mortar.


       —Parking Structure Dude!    Apr. 3 '08 - 07:13PM    #
  53. Indeed, “Conservative” is my middle name. 8-)

    I’m also big on fiscal responsibility and good government.

    Plus, I can count.


       —David Cahill    Apr. 3 '08 - 08:51PM    #
  54. So it’s true. CIty officials do keep tabs on what’s being written on the internet about them.
    Perhaps they should stick to the impotant issues such as the “chicken ordinance.”
    “Vote for my chicken ordinance and I’ll vote for the new city hall.” Is this how government works?


       —Sherry    Apr. 4 '08 - 01:38PM    #
  55. I am aware of several residents I know personally whose property is going into bank foreclosure and Michigan is going through its worst home mortgage foreclosure crisis since the Great Depression. This is one reason I find it appalling that local officials want to construct a court building which will cost nearly 60 million dollars; I challenge anyone to find a police/court building anywhere in the state that approaches the cost that these officials expect taxpayers to shell out. I thank previous posters such as David Cahill, John Dory and others who have taken time to conduct research on this issue and share their findings with readers. Lastly, I thank Ask The Voters for their diligent effforts to put the issue to a ballot vote. I have little doubt that voters would reject this unduly expensive project if faced with a referendum.


       —Kerry D.    Apr. 24 '08 - 01:08AM    #