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Detroiters for Reform seek to elect Council by Wards

10. June 2005 • Murph
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A group called Detroiters for Reform wants to change the way Detroit elects its City Council. Currently, the 9 Councilmembers are elected at-large, a situation which many feel makes them unaccountable to voters. Detroiters for Reform wants to divide the city into 9 Wards, each with a single Councilmember. They are collecting signatures to put the question on this year’s ballot, and need 32,218 by August 3rd – a tight timeline.

The Detroit News supports the change: Districts are overdue for Detroit City Council

  1. That’s damned interesting because the at-large system (and city managers) was a product of Progressive reform to clean up corruption and break the immigrant-ward boss system in a lot of cities. DC has a mix of both ward and at-large representation.

    Is this really the (an?) answer to Detroit’s problems?
       —Dale    Jun. 10 '05 - 06:46PM    #
  2. Just because at-large was the right system at one point in history doesn’t mean it is now. I’d like to see some evidence that the relevant situations making one better than the other exist/no longer exist before making a decision, but I’m inclined to prefer ward to at-large.

    One of my friends who recently ex-patriated to Chicago likes to talk about the aldermanic system them a lot.
       —Murph    Jun. 10 '05 - 07:26PM    #
  3. I don’t know that one is inherently better than the other in any situation; transparency and vigilant examination seem to me to be the chief guarantor of good government (eg I think Kwame’s credit card bills and his wife’s SUV will be his undoing)

    I’m interested to see how the racial, ethnic, and ubiquitous class factors play out. Here in DC, a white council member is doing polling to see if there is any possibility that people are willing to elect a white mayor in 2006. In my hometown of Kalamazoo, a Mexican American was elected in an at-large system in large part because the Latino population is getting so big, even though they’re geographically concentrated. But back to Detroit—who’s going to run in a ward system that’s not running now?
       —Dale    Jun. 10 '05 - 07:46PM    #
  4. Interesting—a similar bid failed a few years ago partly because of poor structuring. In a MT column, Jack Lessenberry proposed a hybird: 5 wards and 4 at-large (perhaps even 6/3 might work).

    This seemed much more sensible as the geographic chunks would be specific enough to meet local concerns (say, Southwest for example), but large enough to include multiple communities and avoid the aforementioned corrupting influences.

    The at-large members could look at “big picture” issues but also be a secondary advocate for any resident, especially if the local-ward rep seems unresponsive.
       —Chris F    Jun. 10 '05 - 07:47PM    #
  5. Dale,
    I think that right now in Detroit, several council members live in the same or nearby neighborhoods. If a ward systems goes into effect, either people in other areas of the city will run, or some current council members will have to move if they want to run for council.
       —tom    Jun. 10 '05 - 07:56PM    #
  6. Yeah, I’ve heard a lot of talk about this basic idea and I think the various hybrid proposals seem to be the best… The kind of campaign you run and accountability you have as a ward representative is closer to a geographic community so if I had to pick one over the other, I’d take a ward system…
       —Scott Trudeau    Jun. 10 '05 - 07:57PM    #
  7. Wards, at-large, hybrid…I don’t think it’ll make that much difference. It’s interesting to me that a blog based in Ann Arbor is having the discussion. We don’t vote in Detroit.

    It seems to me that everything that’s wrong with Detroit stems from suburbanization. Starting as a tax-avoidance scheme, it results in abdication of responsibility. The vast majority of the leaders of our economic region live in the suburbs. What should be one political unit is twenty or thirty. It sucks. Literally.

    A little closer to home, I can hear that same vaccuum. Of course, Ann Arbor—having a service economy rather than an industrial one—has yet to lose its leadership. But the money is flying fast.

    It seems to me that suburbanization is the issue facing Ann Arbor. But it’s probably not polite dinner conversation…
       —Al Braun    Jun. 11 '05 - 03:13AM    #
  8. We don’t vote in Detroit.

    But we certainly are part of it, as much as most in town would like to deny it. Where Detroit goes, so goes Michigan – eventually – and I for one am keenly interested in regional happenings. Detroit’s Mayor and City Council, definitely the current ones, are a total farce of leadership, and it’s good to see people looking at the structural components of that.
       —Murph    Jun. 11 '05 - 01:49PM    #
  9. I have written a lot about these issues before, and I lived in Detroit when I was in law school.

    Bottom line, I strongly support the initiative to elect the Detroit city council from wards.

    Admittedly, it may not help much at this point. But the all-at-large system means that the only people who can win for city council are citywide media celeberities, baseball players, familiar names, etc.

    Detroit used to have a ward system. Indeed, the old wards are still used in parcel numbers. But they were based on the old French ribbon farms: a couple blocks wide and many miles long. The people across the street from you would be in another ward, but the people on the same side of the street several miles uptown would be.

    The ward boundaries sliced up the central part of the city like salami, diffusing the African American vote across a dozen predominantly white wards. Meanwhile, all of NE Detroit was one ward, and all of NW Detroit was another ward, so that something like half the city’s population was in 2 of the 22 wards.

    It was grossly unfair, and eventually abolished in favor of the all-at-large system. Of course, at-large elections were also effective for years in preventing any black community representation.

    At the same time, Detroit’s 21 members of the State House of Representatives were ALSO elected citywide rather than from individual districts. The intent was specifically to prevent the Legislature from having black members, and it worked for about 30 years.

    All this helped make it nearly pointless for anyone to develop any kind of neighborhood constituency in Detroit.

    Probably this lack of incentive to organize politically at the neighborhood level has something to do with Detroit’s debilitating absence of any neighborhood structure.

    In most cities of this size—Cleveland, Chicago, Buffalo, Boston, Philadelphia, etc.—you can point to practically any square inch on the ground, and there is a widespread consensus on which neighborhood it’s in. A neighborhood, that is to say, with a name and an identity, perhaps even one or more organizations or associations (e.g., neighborhood associations, business associations, political orgs).

    When a neighborhood has a name and an identity, that affects decisions which are made about it—decisions made every day by homeowners, landlords, tenants, utilities, police, developers, etc. etc. Neighborhoods prosper and become lively and interesting places when their existence is acknowledged.

    Detroit has a few isolated places with neighborhood identity (e.g., Corktown, Indian Village, Boston-Edison) but most of the city is an undifferentiated, unspecial swath of no identity but Detroit.

    You ever notice that people in Detroit mention what intersection they live near, rather than what neighborhood they live in?

    Probably another reason for this gets back to race. The racial changeover and white flight happened so rapidly and with so much hostility that there was little opportunity to propagate any neighborhood level institutional memory.

    I don’t claim that a ward system would be a panacea. The attempt in the 1970s to break up the Detroit school district into “regions” and elect a school board from each region was a dismal failure.

    But perhaps that was too big of a first step, to expect an arbitrary, numbered territory to suddenly wake up and develop a community and self-aware politics necessary to support and follow the actions of an entire board of education.

    Compared to the school board, the city council in Detroit gets enormous press attention. If each area elects a single council member, the politics of the ward would become a conversation with and about that council member.

    A mixed, partly at-large system would unnecessarily complicate matters. All the council members should be elected from wards. And ideally, there should be more than just nine wards, since each one will be vast, about the size of Ann Arbor in population.
       —Larry Kestenbaum    Jun. 11 '05 - 03:01PM    #
  10. Murph,

    I’m with you. No doubt we’re part of Detroit. Yet the majority’s denial is codified in separate “cities.”

    We abandoned Detroit long before the riots of ‘68, and I feel that the remaining residents—especially since the beginning of Coleman Young’s tenure—have been basically flipping us the bird ever since. And why not? I appreciate Larry’s thoughtful analysis, but I don’t know who’d be open to listening.

    The question in my mind is whether anything good can happen in Detroit while we continue to legally deny our part in it, and if anything can be done to repair that.

    I’m also concerned about what suburbanization is doing—if to a lesser degree—to Ann Arbor. It seems we’re at a much earlier stage here. When I moved to Ann Arbor 25 years ago, we had Barton Hills and Travis Pointe, but that was about it. Now we’ve got exurbs, sprawl, lost revenue, higher taxes, budget problems and condescending suburbanites.

    The issue of suburbanization seems so obvious to me, and yet no one ever seems willing to discuss it. Am I flat wrong, or is it an unspeakable topic, or what?
       —Al Braun    Jun. 11 '05 - 07:30PM    #
  11. If you think you can’t find anybody willing to discuss suburbanization here, just what the heck do you think we talk about all day? In wider Ann Arbor? I think most either deny, don’t care, or advocate measures that would only make it worse. (And I’m sure they’d say the same about me.)

    What do people ‘round Ann Arbor think about Detroit? As far as I can tell, they mostly don’t.
       —Murph    Jun. 12 '05 - 06:28AM    #
  12. Interesting. I haven’t noticed it on the site (as far as I know, the Search window on the top right doesn’t work, and when I did a word search on the archive page it just turns up the article on SLOM).

    Suburbanization might be something that you learn about in the first class on planning, and just falls into the background of obviousness for most who comment here.

    This is the first local site I’ve ever participated on, and have only been around for a month. Prior to this I’ve only had the A2N and personal conversations to access local attitudes. In the A2N I’ve never seen anything about suburbanization, except one lonely letter I wrote to the editor (doesn’t mean it hasn’t appeared, as I’m far less than an assiduous A2N reader). Talking to others—the few times I’ve had the nerve to bring up the subject—it’s shown up as a new idea to the person I was speaking with.

    Of course, if we’re talking sprawl, as opposed to suburbanization, there’s a ton of coverage. Yet though it seems that lower tax rates in suburbs is a major cause of sprawl, I haven’t seen it mentioned.

    I’d appreciate it if you’d bring me up to date on the discussion of suburbanization.-
       —Al Braun    Jun. 12 '05 - 11:33AM    #
  13. “Search” fix is on the “todo.” I’ve been using google. Search with and then your search terms.
       —Scott Trudeau    Jun. 12 '05 - 04:43PM    #
  14. Well, there are some relevant topics that are popular around here.

    For example, whenever discussion of the jail arises – and the Sheriff’s department patrols of the townships – you will see people here upset that our tax dollars are going to pay for police in the townships. We’re covering part of the cost for real estate agents to say, _“Ann Arbor schools without Ann Arbor taxes!”_, and I don’t like it.

    That’s the “pull” side of it – the “push” comes up whenever downtown development comes up. A number of us feel that some significant portion of the people currently buying tract housing in Scio would live in Ann Arbor if offered the opportunity, but we have barred them from that by prevention of housing in Ann Arbor. Compare the predicted population growth in Ann Arbor in the next 15 years (negligible) to the predicted population growth in Washtenaw in the next 15 years (upwards of 20%), and the decision to force all of that 20% to live in the Townships seems pretty lamentable.

    (In that latter case, of course, somebody always says, “Can’t they go into Ypsi?” Well, sure they could, but it will require involvement from us in Ann Arbor – dare I say it, a regional outlook – in order to make Ypsi a place these newcomers think of to go.)

    Let’s try to make clear what our distinction between “suburbanization” and “sprawl” is. Let me take a stab at distinguishing the words and you can correct me to your usage: “sprawl” is a physical form of development, featuring relatively flat uses spread far apart, and especially far apart from differing uses, large setbacks from roadways, no transit, and lots of pavement. (The opposite being a compact, walkable, fine-grained built form, e.g., the OWS.) “Suburbanization” is more concerned with the forces that move development across political boundaries – from areas where desirable land use is allowed (or would at least be considered if you begged the planning commission) to areas where everything but sprawling landscapes are forbidden.

    How’s that?
       —Murph    Jun. 12 '05 - 05:53PM    #
  15. Larry, thanks for the background on Detroit’s wards.

    It sounds like even wards were gerrymandered then. My father, an applied math engineer, always says voting districts should aim to be convex (round, wide, no pockets) rather than concave. So after each census, draw round boundaries that fit the new population distribution but avoid the gaps and pockets that always smack of gerrymandering.

    That’s fascinating that State reps were also picked citywide and therefore at-large (which you’d think is how we would elect senators, to mimic the national system. But that’s another discussion, perhaps for Polygon… :-)

    I agree that perhaps there should be more members of City Council, and thus, more and smaller wards. But do you really think a hybrid system is so bad? It seems we need both the geographic/neighborhood accountability of ward-based combined with the independence and big-picture thinking of at-large. Each by itself has negative outcomes: no accountability versus local stranglehold. And since each system has had its chance and failed, why not innovate and try a system that uses the advantages of each to keep the abuses of the other in check?
       —Chris F    Jun. 13 '05 - 05:12AM    #
  16. “I’ve been using google. Search with and then your search terms.”

    Scott, Wow! What an awesome little tool. Thanks. When I learn something like this I always wonder, “What did I fail to read that would have told me this?” If you have an answer please let me know.

    Total non sequitur: I still love Google, as I once loved Microsoft. It’s a shame to be so jaded that with no evidence I imagine Google’s accumulating and then abusing enough market power to cross that thin line between love and hate. Oh, but for real anti-trust…
       —Al Braun    Jun. 13 '05 - 10:53AM    #
  17. al,

    “What did I fail to read that would have told me this?”

    go to the google search page; click on advanced search.

    sorry to be so off-topic.
       —peter honeyman    Jun. 13 '05 - 01:20PM    #
  18. You once loved Microsoft?
       —Dale    Jun. 13 '05 - 01:27PM    #
  19. Dale, now I’m embarrassed. It must have been temporary insanity…
       —Al Braun    Jun. 13 '05 - 06:28PM    #
  20. After working in Detroit last Summer in the non-profit housing development corperation, I came to the conclusion that changing the City Council elections to ward representation is essential for city residents. City Council now is sooo bad, they are elected solely on name recognition on endless ballots and have no accountability in delivering better/cheaper services to city residents. Their total indifference to budget defecits is detailed in several articles in the Metro Times. Its an anocronistic system that only supports a Byzentine bureaucracy. The city residents would clearly benefit from direct democracy.
       —Dave Somers    Jun. 13 '05 - 07:18PM    #
  21. Murph,

    I like the way you distinguish sprawl and suburbanization. I might somehow modify your notion of sprawl to include what I call rurbanization—which is the placement of residential, commercial and industrial buildings and developments in otherwise rural areas. Also, in the definition of suburbanization I’d focus more on the unfortunate political division and tax inequity over differences in development proclivities.

    I agree that at least the most recent discussion of the Sheriff’s patrols touched on the issue of suburbanization, though I’d say tangentially.

    I don’t understand your “push/pull” distinction, or your statement, “we have barred them from [living in Ann Arbor] by prevention of housing” (there must be a typo here). There are always homes on the market in Ann Arbor, so no one’s ever being prevented from buying here. I’m not clear what failure you’re pointing to here.

    I’ve always thought it would be best—in simplistic terms— if we could annex the rest of the county, and zone parts urban and parts rural. Further I’d have us prevent people from building residential developments in rural zones, or at least get those owning residences in rural areas to pay the same tax rates the rest of us do. I feel strongly that we should get the folks in Barton Hills, Travis Pointe, et al to pay their fair share. Aren’t they ripping us off? Their enclaves of exclusivity wouldn’t exist without the city. Why should they get the benefits of the city while evading the costs?

    I have a number of friends who live in the newer developments toward Saline. I’m sure they don’t consciously think of the implications of suburbanization, and wouldn’t knowingly shirk their civic responsibilities. I think they’re mostly attracted to the newer, bigger, and cooler (architecturally) houses. I’m sure they’re attracted by the lower taxes as well, but—perhaps naively—I believe they don’t see that they’re stealing from those paying city taxes.

    I’m not sure how sprawl became an independent issue, but am eager to make suburbanization one. Though it might pit township politicians against city ones, I think it might be possible to frame it in such a way as to get a reasonable amount of citizen support in the townships as well as the city.

    Even if it is a totally divisive issue, I wonder why citizens of the city are willing to silently allow themselves to be pilfered. My guess is that it’s just another case of the disengaged majority being fleeced by a special interest. And since the victims haven’t complained, many of the perpetrators are unaware of their complicity. That’s why I think it might be wise to attempt to make an issue of it. It might be an situation that something can be done about (though I’d be surprised if suburbanites haven’t somehow enshrined their scam in state law). Given the city’s budget difficulties, it might be a good time to raise the issue. Too bad we can’t collect from the homeowners in Barton Hills retroactively.
       —Al Braun    Jun. 13 '05 - 09:01PM    #
  22. time for a wiki?
       —Dale    Jun. 13 '05 - 09:08PM    #
  23. I have the dubious honor of being a former constituent of Barbara Rose Collins, the Offical Worst Congressperson ever. Sure enough, she got elected to City Council on name recognition in an at-large system. I still worry though, that we’ve already been through the extremes of the ward-only system.

    I think it will be hard to get citywide initiatives passed if each member is solely looking out for their own neighborhood (and the endemic pork, competition and noncooperation.) Why should Rep. Northwest support x-project that only directly benefits Rep. Eastside’s constituents?

    We need something that combines local representation/micro with independent/macro. Bicameralism? (jk)
       —Chris F    Jun. 13 '05 - 10:27PM    #
  24. When I moved to Ann Arbor 25 years ago, we had Barton Hills and Travis Pointe, but that was about it. Now we’ve got exurbs, sprawl, lost revenue, higher taxes, budget problems and condescending suburbanites.

    I first came to Ann Arbor about 25 years ago, too, but I remember it differently. In comparison to 25 years ago, Ann Arbor is in much better economic and physical shape. Back then Main Street was full of declining old-line businesses, 4th Street had the porno shops, and Arborland was a tired, old enclosed strip mall. And campus was much more moth-eaten. The space between the Grad Library and Rackham featured parking lots. The UGLI was still ugly.

    Taxes? Following prop A, tax rates are lower now than then. Population is higher and the number of households (which is what the tax revenue is derived from) is higher still. School enrollment is up significantly.

    The recent budget crunch is not a ‘declining revenue due to suburban sprawl’ problem—it is a ‘oops we built in lots of new expenses during the late 90’s boom when we were rolling in dough and now we don’t know what to do’ problem.
       —mw    Jun. 14 '05 - 12:48AM    #
  25. As to the city council structure, given the history and circumstances, I guess I’m pretty militant about this.

    Detroit’s polity is WAY far over on the citywide-interests side, with almost zero attention to the neighborhood side. And neighborhood political identities need to be nurtured. The more simple and direct, the better. I strongly prefer the proposed nine-ward system to any mixed system.

    And indeed, the nine-ward system is the one for which petitions are being circulated right now.
       —Larry Kestenbaum    Jun. 14 '05 - 12:53AM    #
  26. I feel strongly that we should get the folks in Barton Hills, Travis Pointe, et al to pay their fair share. Aren’t they ripping us off? Their enclaves of exclusivity wouldn’t exist without the city. Why should they get the benefits of the city while evading the costs?

    Well, of course, they already pay full school district taxes. Otherwise, how are they ‘ripping us off’? By coming to work here or to spend money here and contribute to our economy? Damn those bastards—gotta figure out how to punish ‘em for that.
       —mw    Jun. 14 '05 - 01:03AM    #
  27. By being part of the strain on city services like water and roads, yet not contributing through property taxes. By enjoying access to many of the services offered by the city without paying into the system.
    Petty bit of slight-of-hand there, mw.
       —js    Jun. 14 '05 - 01:57AM    #
  28. By being part of the strain on city services like water and roads, yet not contributing through property taxes.

    Township residents generally don’t have access to city water and sewer services, but when they do—they pay. Just as they pay school taxes.

    As for roads—yes, they drive on them when they come here. But how often do they come here for a purpose that does not involve an economic benefit to Ann Arbor (eating, shopping or working?)

    By enjoying access to many of the services offered by the city without paying into the system.

    Many services? What are those many services? We’ve already covered schools, water, sewer, and roads. What other city services do township residents enjoy? Rec Sports? If they play, they pay a higher fee. Police? Well, the city charges the townships for police protection.

    And you could make the argument the other way. For example, the Washtenaw County Courthouse is supported by everybody in the county, but Ann Arbor gets the economic benefit of having those employees in the city (where they eat, and shop, and are more likely to live).

    And, of course, there’s the elephant in the room, the University, which is supported by taxpayers throughout the state but concentrates its economic benefits in and around Ann Arbor. Having the state’s flagship institution makes our local economy much more resistant to recession and helps attract other valuable employers (Pfizer, Toyota).

    Petty bit of slight-of-hand there, mw.

    Slight of hand? I don’t think so. The idea that Ann Arbor is getting the short end of the stick I think is kind of ridiculous. How would you feel about such a claim if you lived, say, in Jackson?
       —mw    Jun. 14 '05 - 10:44AM    #
  29. Larry,

    Love the history lessons! (Post #9). Thanks.
       —todd    Jun. 14 '05 - 11:23AM    #
  30. mw, thanks for your comments. With regard to #24, I don’t dispute anything you say in the first couple of paragraphs. You’re obviously paying a lot closer attention than I am, and I appreciate having my memory refreshed. I don’t have much issue with anything in your third paragraph except the line, ‘declining revenue due to suburban sprawl.’ You weren’t quoting me (or anybody else on ArborUpdate for that matter (thanks again for the Google tool, Scott)). Please don’t put those words in my mouth.

    I do wonder about your statement, “it is a ‘oops we built in lots of new expenses during the late 90’s boom when we were rolling in dough and now we don’t know what to do’ problem.” If the city’s revenues are based primarily on property taxes, the rate’s staying constant, property values are increasing, and “the number of households (which is what the tax revenue is derived from) is higher still.” it would seem our revenues would be at an all-time high. My guess is that neither your explanation, nor the one you implicitly ascribed to me are accurate. My guess would be that it’s decreases in state revenue sharing, but I don’t know.

    I see the city as an organic whole. We have some big organizations whose exports (primarily education, research and healthcare) draw in the bulk of the cash that circulates through town, and leaves to buy everything from cars to computers to vacations that we import. The big organizations can’t exist without the myriad of goods and services provided by the city, and the city can’t exist without the cash brought in by the big organizations’ exports. So it’s a symbiotic relationship.

    You can’t have a city without middle and lower-middle classes. They do all of the physical labor. And with these classes of people comes the need for certain public services that rich people don’t need. Rich people don’t need parks, or pools, or other recreation facilities. Rich people don’t need homeless shelters or soup kitchens or free medical clinics. Rich people don’t need public transportation. But we can’t have a safe city, where you can look the random passerby in the eye without these, and many other expenses. Though I appreciate I think js’ point (#27), I think those costs are incidental compared to what we might call the city’s urban existential expenses.

    Of course, there are other urban existential expenses as well. For example, there are sometimes special expenses to support our exporting businesses. One example might be the cost of fire protection for the university. Another might be added police for downtown activities, art fair, football games etc. I’m not well-informed enough to be sure of any of these, but expect that once we begin to consider urban existential expenses, that we’ll find quite a few.

    Now if we were to bulldoze the city of Ann Arbor, leaving only our suburbs, they wouldn’t be economically viable, i.e. they wouldn’t have any exports. They’d quickly become ghosturbs (forgive me for being cute). So the city and it’s suburbs are an integrated (organic) economic unit.

    Let’s look at the facts about our property taxes. According to Washtenaw County’s Equalization and Property Description Department
    our homestead millage rates inside the Ann Arbor School district are as follows: City of Ann Arbor: 47.3625, Ann Arbor Twp.: 33.9427, Lodi Twp.: 31.9377, Northfield Twp.:40.1605, Pittsfield Twp.: 35.6562, Salem Twp.: 30.4612, Scio Twp.: 31.9243, and Superior Twp.: 36.3364.

    Why do you think Ann Arbor’s rates are higher than the surrounding townships? You imply profligacy in comment #24, but I doubt that the city’s got an exclusive on that bad habit. My unresearched guess is that there are two primary reasons: First, suburbs don’t have urban existential expenses. Second, the average value of homes is higher in the suburbs.

    There are many people living within the city that don’t need the city services exemplified to above any more than our suburban friends do. Yet we pay for these services. In my own family’s case, we do so happily. Why? Because we don’t subscribe to the illusion that our income and wealth comes independent of the existence of others.

    The employment/income of most people in Ann Arbor’s suburbs is dependent on organizations that depend on the city. Suburbanites should the share the cost of the city’s urban existential expenses, just as anyone living within the city limits should.

    Before wrapping up, mw, I must say that I take a dim view of your comment #26. “Damn those bastards—gotta figure out how to punish ‘em for that.” Even if you’re saying it in jest, you’re projecting hostility that doesn’t exist. Most of the evil in the world is perpetrated by people responding to the hostility they’ve projected on others.

    My hope is that there are enough decent people that happen to live in our suburbs that we can figure out a way to remove the artificial and arbitrary political boundaries that separate us. We are one community with one fate. If you happen to live in our suburbs, you’ve got no standing to criticize Ann Arbor’s government. You need to restore your vote by becoming a citizen of the city on which your livelihood likely depends.
       —Al Braun    Jun. 14 '05 - 01:28PM    #
  31. Why do you think Ann Arbor’s rates are higher than the surrounding townships?

    I think it is significantly higher than the townships because Ann Arborites choose to provide themselves with ‘progressive’ options that others choose to do without. An extensive (and endlessly growing) park system. The greenbelt. The living wage. The MRF. A lightly utilized ‘cadillac’ bus system that, when the AA News last reported, cost about twice per passenger-mile what it would cost to provide every bus rider with a new car to drive (this was about 5 years ago—if I remember right, the AA News cited $.80 a passenger mile when car rental companies were spending about $.40 per new car). Did you ever stop to figure what you pay for a kid to play soccer in our rec program? Cost is about $70 for 7 50 minute games of which each kid gets play about half. That’s roughly _$20/hour per kid_ to run around on public fields coached by volunteers. Hell, on a per hour basis, that’s more than golf at a fancy Northern Michigan course. With a cart. And, last I checked, the top two managers of Rec & Ed still were being paid out of the school district budget. And the city and school district still argue about the money to cut the grass. And then there’s the library…

    Don’t get me wrong—on balance, I think living in town is worth the cost, but I certainly understand why others come to a different conclusion. And I’d rather have them in the area contributing to the local economy than living in Livingston or Oakland counties.

    The employment/income of most people in Ann Arbor’s suburbs is dependent on organizations that depend on the city.

    There are also a lot of Ann Arborites who work outside the city. One of the “city’s” big new prospective employers is the new Toyota engineering center.

    One example might be the cost of fire protection for the university. Another might be added police for downtown activities, art fair, football games etc.

    Yes, and the University and City work out deals for fire protection. And when they can’t (as with the police) the U provides its own services. And it’s reasonable to assume that the art fair and football games bring in far more to the city economy than they cost in policing. Or do you think the city of Ann Arbor would be better off financially with no football games or art fair?

    Now if we were to bulldoze the city of Ann Arbor, leaving only our suburbs, they wouldn’t be economically viable

    Why not? There are many, many such areas in Livingston County with no central city at all nearby.

    You can’t have a city without middle and lower-middle classes.

    You do know, of course, that many of our middle and lower class workers don’t actually live in the city, right? It’s too expensive, so they live in Pittsfield Twp or Ypsi and commute in. Part of the reason that it’s too expensive is the 50% property tax premium which results from our decisions to provide the services they ‘need’.

    You would prefer all the well-off people to live in the city instead of Barton Hills or Stonegate? If that were the case, property values in the city would be even higher than now and even fewer people of modest means would be able to afford to live here.

    Even if you’re saying it in jest, you’re projecting hostility that doesn’t exist.

    I was saying it in jest—but even so I think I accurately detected just a bit of hostility on your part toward those people in the ‘burbs which you seem to regard as free-loading rich people.
       —mw    Jun. 14 '05 - 04:09PM    #
  32. mw-

    I can appreciate you being unhappy with how we spend our money as a city. Whether or not the city is currently in a fiscal crisis, I tend to see suburbanization as bad per se. I wonder whether suburbanization can/should be made an issue.

    In the A2News there have been numerous letter-writers from the suburbs saying the city needs to get its fiscal affairs in order. My knee-jerk response has been first, “Well who are these non-citizens to say…” and second, I’m suspicious that they’re disingenuously deflecting attention from that they’re avoiding taxes and pseudo-participating politically, even as they’ve abdicated their right to vote, run for council, etc. in the city.

    There’s an Upton Sinclair quote that I like that goes, “It’s difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” With that in mind, I’d expect a certain segment of suburbanites to get very upset, disingenuous and hostile regarding discussion of suburbanization.

    The conclusions I’ve made thus far regarding suburbanization are:

    1. Cities and suburbs—at least at the early stages of suburbanization—are economically integrated, and suburbanites are largely dependent on cities for employment or markets for their goods and services.

    2. Cities and organizations that export goods or services from the area have a symbiotic relationship where the organizations bring in cash for the local economy, and the local economy provides employees, goods and services needed by the exporting organizations.

    3. Cities have urban existential expenses. These are a consequence of the middle- and lower-middle-class needs for social services (recreation, health, transportation, etc.), and exporting organizations’ need for supporting services (police, fire, utilities, etc.).

    4. Suburbs don’t pay for urban existential expenses, thereby lowering their millage rates.

    5. Upper-middle- and upper-class suburbs enjoy a higher property values per capita, further lowering their millage rates, but removing the progressive nature of property taxes by segregating themselves from those with lower property values per capita.

    6. Lower tax rates in suburbs encourage development there, which exacerbates sprawl.

    7. Upper-middle- and upper-class suburbs deprive cities of the participation of many successful citizens whose experience might make them particularly good voters and leaders.

    8. Over time the political division of cities and suburbs leads to alienation, with suburbanites admitting only proximity and denying mutual identity with the city.

    9. A certain portion of suburbanites are consciously avoiding taxes, but others live in the suburbs for other reasons. A portion of the latter group may be willing to forego suburban tax advantages in favor of recognizing community, authentic citizenship, and the opportunity to participate in the whole community’s governance.

    10. A coalition might be formed between citizens in the city, and suburbanites recognizing community to allow the annexation of the suburbs.

    Of course, even if a coalition of citizens recognizing community were a majority in both the city and its suburbs, there are probably would be legal barriers to unification on the state level. But if any community can stand up to the state it’s Ann Arbor.
       —Al Braun    Jun. 22 '05 - 03:34AM    #
  33. I am interested in providing any assistance to get this proposal on the August primary ballot. Please provide any contact information.



       —tim parvin    Apr. 10 '06 - 06:44PM    #