Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

Crony Environmentalism

20. June 2004 • Rob Goodspeed
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It turns out local power broker and republican-turned NIMBY environmentalist Doug Coward’s name was quietly removed from the panel which will decide how to administer the city’s greenbelt funds:

... Four years ago, Cowherd was in a meeting with real estate agents and developers talking about a land preservation initiative.

Cowherd soon went on the attack. Fisher said Cowherd warned the group opposing him that he could make them “look like the tobacco industry.”

“He heavily implies, ‘If you don’t agree with me or do what I want done,’ he is going to walk through you,” Fisher said. “Either go with him or you are public enemy No. 1 to him.”

Some were concerned about what would happen if Cowherd was appointed to the Greenbelt Advisory Commission and there was disagreement.

“Whenever you are looking at putting people on a commission, you have to look at not only qualifications, but who can work together well,” said Council Member Joan Lowenstein, D-2nd Ward. “Part of the decision was whether the group could work together.”

Also taken off the list was Bill Hanson, executive director of the Washtenaw Land Trust. Here’s some more details about how the decision to remove the two were made:

But Hanson is a member of the city Planning Commission and has missed the last 14 meetings. He wouldn’t comment on his attendance record.

He was also a part of a small group of perceived allies of the mayor whose names kept popping up throughout the greenbelt process.

Cowherd, Hanson and Garfield played key roles in developing the greenbelt property tax campaign and the enabling ordinance. Now, all three wanted on the advisory commission.

Woods said the council had to make sure it didn’t appear a small circle of people were calling all the shots.

“I thought it was important to spread the power,” said Woods, D-5th Ward. “It can’t be the same old gang.”

But Hanson and Cowherd object to the way the council made its choices.

Much of the discussion was held during a council caucus on the Sunday night preceding the regular meeting on June 7. Although the caucus was open to the public, there were no TV cameras, and only one resident attended. And comments said to be made Sunday night would not be repeated on the record on Monday by some council members.

When the decision was made Monday night, no names were mentioned. A resident who watched the meeting on the city’s public access cable TV channel would not have known who had been selected to serve on the advisory commission.

“Their voting process appears to be a charade to avoid public debate over candidates they sought to exclude,” Cowherd said. “All I wanted was a public vote and a public discussion about myself and other greenbelt candidates so the council explains to the public their thinking. It’s a political game.”

Hanson agreed.

“I got caught up in the politicization of the greenbelt and that is too bad,” Hanson said. “I think it is a mistake not to have somebody with professional land trust experience on the commission.”

Clearly, it’s a good thing Hanson and Cowherd aren’t on the commission: whether it’s acting like a political bully, treating local politics as a game to create a park in your backyard to reinforce your own property values (Cowherd did this) or missing 14 consecutive planning commission meetings, the city can and should find better people to administer public money. However, the council should debate important decisions like this in the open, and their secretive removal, however justified, should have taken place in full public view.

> All quotes from AANews: “Greenbelt backers crying foul over panel”

  1. I assume the “Fisher” mentioned early on is the Fisher who is spokesman for the Washtenaw Homebuilders’ Association? As far as I’m concerned, making him look like the tobacco companies really wouldn’t take much work on Cowherd’s part…
       —Murph    Jun. 21 '04 - 05:53AM    #