Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

Should city bonds need voter OK?

30. March 2009 • Chuck Warpehoski
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The Ann Arbor News is reporting on a project called GO Ask Voters to require that bonds for city projects get voter approval before they are issued.

What do you think? Is this a needed check on our city government, or an added bureaucratic hoop for the city to jump through before it can do big projects?

  1. This looks like Patricia Lesko’s effort. She was the spokesperson in the statement, and the organization address is her address.

    My initial reaction to this is that it seems like using a shotgun to kill a mosquito. I understand that Lesko and others are unhappy about the police-courts building, but is this the best way to deal with that frustration?

    The information on the website about other communities that have similar policies tempers my concern. And, I do think that if they get enough signatures to get this on the ballot, I do think it will pass.

       —Chuck Warpehoski    Mar. 30 '09 - 08:40PM    #
  2. I’d like to hear more before I decide but the entire attitude about the police-courts building has pushed me in the direction is supporting this.

       —Alan Goldsmith    Mar. 30 '09 - 09:26PM    #
  3. I obtained a list of recent bonds (2004 onward). There have been 4 GO bonds floated. I offer these without comment so that we can better evaluate the proposal.

    2004: None

    2005: Open space preservation (for Greenbelt): $20.25 million

    2006: Maintenance facility: $24.636 million

    2007: Parking Facility improvement: $4.25 million

    2008: Court and Police Facility: $27.142 million

       —Vivienne Armentrout    Mar. 30 '09 - 10:13PM    #
  4. On the surface it always appears that it is better for the public to have a say about everything, but it could have the opposite effect. The public does not always understand all the issues and sometimes doesn’t want to learn about the issues. Votes that are cast will not be based on logic and facts; people will not vote at all or be based on personal self interest.

    I understand that school and other millages are voted on by the public, but these usually pass because the public have a personal interest in the account. Most voters have kids, therefore the school millages pass. Parks are fun, therefore the park millages pass. The greenbelt passed because most people thought their property values would increase.

    However, infrastructure improvements are different. If you ask the public about infrastructure improvements that are necessary but do not have a direct benefit to them personally, the public will not relate to this need, not vote or vote how their friend tells them to and the issue could fail. Not enough people actually show up at the voting booth for this to be a reliable view of the community. Infrastructure improvements when necessary should be voted on by council in the best interest of the city because the public sometimes does not know enough to validate the issue (eg. whether we need a new PD/court building). We pay our elected officials to gather the information, evaluate the pros and cons and decide these sorts of things for us. Otherwise what is the city council there for?

    I may not always agree with all councilmember’s viewpoints, but at least I know that they read the material related to the issue and are basing their vote on their actual knowledge. I am sorry to say I don’t trust the public to be as informed, thus their apathy can affect very important issues and be a detriment to the city.

    I would be interested to hear what Pat Lesko and the “Go Ask Voters” group think of the Library proposal that was pulled? Is it ok to spend 71 million on a library but not 48 million on a PD/court building? I can’t believe that anyone who has actually been in both the downtown library and the current police dept/city hall would think that the library would need to be replaced first.

    I am for things that are “extras” or “luxuries” being voted on by the public, but when the city needs real infrastructure projects the public’s apathy towards elections will only hurt the process and the city.

       —Diane    Mar. 30 '09 - 11:03PM    #
  5. There are legitimate reasons to take the position that the City Council should be left with the authority to issue these bonds without having to seek voter approval. The reasons that the voters of Ann Arbor are “apathetic” or “uneducated” are not among them.

       —John Q.    Mar. 30 '09 - 11:54PM    #
  6. I so disagree with you, John Q.

    Government makes choices all the time that are in the best interest of the citizens, when the government feels that the public will not make the best decision or are apathetic. Prime examples are seat belt and helmet laws. If the public was asked to vote on these issues before they were implemented years back, then they would never have passed; most thought of the inconvenience. Yet these laws now save laws whether the public appreciates them or not.

    Citizens have most of their say when they elect their public officials. The public officials are supposed to judge what is important for the city on a regular basis. Not everything justifies a voter referendum. Certain particular infrastructure items for a city should not be considered optional. A voter referendum implies that this is optional. It is not.

    I understand that people want to have a say in taking on more debt. However, if the public cannot possible understand the urgency or necessity what is a city supposed to do. Sometimes hard choices must be made.

       —Diane    Mar. 31 '09 - 12:08AM    #
  7. “Not everything justifies a voter referendum. Certain particular infrastructure items for a city should not be considered optional. A voter referendum implies that this is optional. It is not.”

    One could make the same argument about school bonds or millages for public safety. Why should new school buildings or having police or fire services be considered optional? Your argument implies that there’s some bright line that voters are being asked to cross when the reality is that voters are already asked to vote on many projects that require the the governmental body to take on a significant amount of debt.

       —John Q.    Mar. 31 '09 - 12:37AM    #
  8. John Q: School millages are such a different issue. As I said before almost everyone who has kids vote for the school millages. It has such a direct benefit that people automatically vote for it. These issues are not do or die issues.

    The problem with having the public vote for necessary infrastructure improvements is that what happens if they vote no. These issues are complicated and usually involve a lot of money. I just read in the Ann Arbor observer today that the wastewater treatment plant will need 100 million dollars in improvements that will be paid from bonds. They have collected 35 million in revenue from increased rates over the past few years but still need to fund the rest of the improvements using financing from bonds. If this “Go ask voters” proposal passes and the public votes NO on the bond issue, what do we do then? Do we wait until the plant completely collapses and is not functioning? Do we go without wastewater treatment?

    Things that are not true “yes or no” issues should not be put up for a vote. Infrastructure improvements are these types of questions. However, I do agree that other issues that are truly optional choices (eg. Greenbelt) should be voted on by the public.

    My point is this, for every single project there will be a group out there who is against it. One person’s need is another person’s want and vice versa. The city needs to be proactive on certain things, even if the public or a small group of citizens like to be reactive. This proposal completely ties the hands of the city. We know voter turnout is low and the public is mostly apathetic on these issues. It just sets up important projects for possible failure. An efficient city is a proactive city. I have been trained as a project manager so I automatically think proactively.

    I would also like to add that I think if the PD/courts building was actually up for a vote that this issue would pass overwhelmingly. This issue has been discussed for so many years and in such depth that the average person actually knows about the controversy. However, keep in mind not all future projects will have as much time to be discussed in such detail.

    People are FOR the PD/courts project even if the “go Ask Voters” group refuse to acknowledge it. I am mostly debating this for the sake of the future projects in the city not because I feel the public is not for the PD/ courts project.

    Everyone knows that this group is still upset over the PD/courts building. For them, the building is optional, even though the case has been strongly made repeatedly that it is necessary. We have to move the courts; Larcom is falling apart. We don’t have to go on with the same old arguments. No one will ever change their minds.

    This group has campaigned long and hard against this issue and lost. They have claimed repeatedly that tax money should not be spent on these types of projects. (we can always find a way to do it cheaper-put the court in a strip mall!) Of course now they are switching their argument to the voters need to approve the expenditure no matter how necessary the project is.

    So I am interested in knowing, if the library bond proposal ever comes to fruition (71 million for a new downtown library) will this group (the ones who said that 48 million is too large to spend on the PD courts building) campaign against it?

    Are they truly conservative spenders or just anti-police / anti city council?

       —Diane    Mar. 31 '09 - 06:07AM    #
  9. I have no clue about this group, or the other group that opposed the court/police building and to say because I want to ask questions about tax and bond approvals I’m could be anti-police or anti city council (well I’m NOT happy with the 4th Ward reps) is insulting. Why CAN’T we have the courts or police in a strip mall? Why is that funny? Then the water scupture could go on the roof perhaps? Lol. It’s that kind of arrogance and not thinking outside the box that we don’t need in this current financial climate.

    And if this issue comes down to whether you belief voters are intelligent to sort out the issues. This varies sometimes but I’d much rather have that option on the table and to imply voters aren’t as intelligent as elected council reps is probably a losing battle if that’s all you have.

       —Alan Goldsmith    Mar. 31 '09 - 03:06PM    #
  10. My argument is not that the voter is not intelligent…it is what do you do if the voter says no to something that is a necessity. The voter not being informed is a problem that leads to a failure of the ultimate goal.

    Why can’t we have the court in a stripmall? I find it embarrassing that our city residents even find this acceptable. There are other cities that are a fraction of our size that have better and more functional municipal buildings then we have. (by better I do not mean pretty, I mean at least acceptable looking-ours is a disgrace) The municipal buildings are a gateway to our city. They are the face of Ann Arbor. How we treat such a public structure shows people outside this community what we think of the city and frankly ourselves.

    It is equivalent to your curb appeal of your house. If you have tried to sell a house with no curb appeal, you have far fewer buyers who actually want to look inside even if the inside is the best on the block.

    I am not against people having a say over tax issues. If taxes need to be raised, by law, there has to be a vote. This new proposal only covers issues that the city council can handle using the current budget they have.

    I am against people having false choices. If there truly is no choice, why have a vote. To me it is disingenuous.
       —Diane    Mar. 31 '09 - 05:05PM    #
  11. Well, Diane, if things are going great nobody is going to show up to vote, and when things are not lots more are going to vote. Nonsense to your argument. Could people over and undershoot on vote?Very likely. Will it involve such bad decision making we won’t have water out of tap, and draining well out of the house. Not for long. People generally are not that stupid. It may not be your choice in the matter, but honestly, what a weak argument.

       —emilia    Mar. 31 '09 - 06:17PM    #
  12. I never said people are stupid, I said that they don’t pay attention and listed many reasons why they don’t. And yes, people do not pay attention even when it is important; that is why we got stuck with George Bush for 8 years instead of only 4.

    I got too wordy above and dug in too deep saying why I think people don’t vote. Someone on the AAchronicle posted the first half my argument in a more precise way, so I am going to copy their post here. (my second half of the argument related to why vote on something that is not optional)

    I like his idea of having a minimum vote requirement but don’t know what the appropriate number should be.

    From AAChronicle reader comments under “Bid Launched to Amend City Charter”
    By jay
    March 30, 2009 at 10:24 pm | permalink
    bad idea. why? because in primary elections less than 20% of the city votes. if a referendum comes up then, a very small percentage of citizens would be dictating bond issues… which is very troubling. if the group were honest they would insert a minimum voter turnout clause (say, 51%) to guarantee that the true interests of citizens weren’t trumped in the name of false fairness.

    The fact is that people don’t vote. We should not and cannot ignore that fact. Why do we want to set up a system that we know is not fair and not in the true interests of citizens?

    Voting on a bond issue is not the same as voting for an elected official. One is a yes/no question, the other is a preference on who you want to represent you.

       —Diane    Mar. 31 '09 - 08:38PM    #
  13. Thanks Vivienne for the breakdown.

    Since 2004, we are talking about four GO bond issues that would have gone to the voters for approval if this amendment to the city charter passes.

    We just need to make sure the votes are scheduled for November when the maximum number of voters go to the polls. If the project makes sense I’m sure the voters of Ann Arbor, like their counterparts in Madison and Portland, will be wise enough to exercise their democratic rights and make the right choices.

    “Why can’t we have the court in a stripmall? I find it embarrassing that our city residents even find this acceptable.”“How we treat such a public structure shows people outside this community what we think of the city and frankly ourselves.”

    I’m guessing you don’t drive a Chevy S-10 pickup then?

       —Alan Goldsmith    Mar. 31 '09 - 09:08PM    #
  14. “The fact is that people don’t vote. We should not and cannot ignore that fact. Why do we want to set up a system that we know is not fair and not in the true interests of citizens?”

    You claim that the system is not fair. Why? People choose to participate or not participate in local elections. That’s their choice. The fact that many do not does not make the system unfair. If you were consistent in your views, you would push to abolish partisan elections. Partisan elections force voters to choose candidates based on party, which narrows their choices down to a single party. This gives an even smaller group of people the choice of who’s elected. It’s embarrassing to see the arguments that used to be trotted out to justify polls taxes and “voter education” tests now being used to limit voter choices.

       —John Q.    Mar. 31 '09 - 09:11PM    #
  15. Voting on a bond issue is not the same as voting for an elected official. One is a yes/no question, the other is a preference on who you want to represent you.

    When you ignore a candidate election you are saying you don’t care who represents you, yet you still end up with representation. Your lack of voting still gives you a result.

    When asked a yes or no question, if you abstain from voting you do not get the same cause and effect. Saying I don’t care to a question that requires a yes or no answer does not give you the same effect. A result cannot be derived from not voting. I don’t care cannot be deduced from a question that asks should we finance a new project with bonds? I don’t care really means I don’t know when someone does not vote on a bond issue

       —Diane    Mar. 31 '09 - 09:59PM    #
  16. A preference for an official is based on what they will do in office, If people don’t like their choices, they get voted out. A little more indirect, but same thing. Other cities have this system it and have survived, I am sure no major tragedy will befall Ann Arbor if it goes through, and maybe it will settle down some excessive spending.

       —emilia    Mar. 31 '09 - 11:22PM    #
  17. If kooky Glenn Thompson is part of “Go ask voters first”, then I have to say I won’t sign their petition, or give this group any credence. Glenn has ignored and opposed Ann Arbor citizens who tried to raise fairness issues at the Farmer’s Market, so his being one of the organizers of Go Ask Voters First tells me all I need to know.

       —Fuzzbollah    Apr. 1 '09 - 12:30AM    #
  18. I think that the answer to your repeated question of what happens when people vote down a referendum might help you see things differently, Diane. The answer, at least according to the GOAV web site, is that the city could revise the question and put it to another vote. Another option, of course, would be to find other solutions to the problem or approaches to funding the opportunity. Certainly, no one wants to waste time and other resources on revamping and rerunning a campaign, but we could reasonably expect council to only put forth viable requests that are soundly justified.

    Do we need this? No. The difference in outcome is likely very small. Would it be good for our community? Arguably, yes. In part because it might well help to address the apathy and ignorance that you (and I) see in some portion of the citizenry.

    The non-voting position isn’t necessarily meaningless or a problem. As you noted, it might best be interpreted as “I don’t know” (ignorance or tough choice) rather than “I don’t care” (apathy), which leaves it to presumably better-informed and/or more caring voters to decide. That doesn’t seem much different than any other type of election, or to be an objectionable situation, relatively speaking. If we want to increase voter participation and interest, we can work for the adoption of instant runoff voting or other measures. I don’t think that defeating this proposal would help in that respect.

    “The fact is that people don’t vote. We should not and cannot ignore that fact.”

    Clearly this isn’t true. You vote and I vote. Your unrecognized generalizations may be keeping you from seeing other perspectives on this.

    I used to share much of your perspective. Thanks for helping me to rethink the issue and see things differently.

       —Steve Bean    Apr. 1 '09 - 01:12AM    #
  19. “You claim that the system is not fair. Why? People choose to participate or not participate in local elections. That’s their choice. The fact that many do not does not make the system unfair.”

    On complex issues, you get better outcomes by kicking the decision to a small group of well-informed officials. Would 50% of those who regularly vote in city elections understand the average bond issue at least as well as the average city council member? Not a chance.

       —Daniel Adams    Apr. 1 '09 - 05:29AM    #
  20. “On complex issues, you get better outcomes by kicking the decision to a small group of well-informed officials.”

    That seems reasonable on the surface. If you, or anyone, has something to back up that assertion, it would be helpful.

    “Would 50% of those who regularly vote in city elections understand the average bond issue at least as well as the average city council member? Not a chance.”

    I agree that that’s not very likely. However, I think that the desirable threshold isn’t necessarily “as well as the average city council member”, but “well enough”. And if the answer is still “no”, then the appropriate remedy would be to help them understand sufficiently (i.e., improve democracy), rather than to assume that they’re incapable, thereby accepting the inadequacies of the system. Do you agree, Daniel?

       —Steve Bean    Apr. 1 '09 - 06:21AM    #
  21. “Do you agree, Daniel?”

    I don’t think I do. Sure, we could (and should) improve voting rules, or boost the resources available for voter education. But because of its small size, dedicated role, and access to information, the city council will almost always be in better position to make informed decisions on issues like bond decisions.

       —Daniel Adams    Apr. 1 '09 - 02:30PM    #
  22. Re post 18 Steve Bean

    When less than 20% of the population votes in non-presidential elections I don’t think it is too much of a generalization to say that people don’t typically vote on these issues. Obviously if you want to jump all the way to the other side and say one vote makes this statement void, so be it.

    When less than 80% of the population typically says “they don’t know”, I don’t think having a voter referendum for these issues solves the problem; it actually might create more problems in the future. I agree that kicking this decision to a well informed group is a much better decision.

    Changing the city charter to have voter approval for bonds can have far reaching consequences than are beyond the scope of what this group’s initial intentions are. I hope they really think about what they are trying to pass before actually doing it.

    They should look at Proposal A (property tax) and see how that was initiated, discussed, understood by the public and implemented. Proposal A changed the property tax structure where it benefited most current homeowners but punished new home buyers. At the time most thought that was fine, and ignored the arguments about what would happen if the real estate market fell apart. Whether it was denial or just that people always want to be reactive instead of proactive in problem solving, the end result is that now people have falling property values and rising taxes and they are VERY unhappy. People are upset and don’t understand that they did this to themselves. Was this because the sponsors refused to consider future implications of Proposal A, or did they purposely spin it so that the negatives were downplayed.

    When you have reactionary proposals that change city charters, there all consequences that need to be considered and addressed so we don’t end up with a situation like proposal A. Voter referendums that work out well are usually because they are addressing problems proactively. Reactionary proposals, such as Prop A, are great for the immediate future but can end up hurting more in the long run. It is next to impossible to overturn a proposal that changes a city charter once it has passed. Has this ever been done before?

    I hope that Go Ask Voters actually thinks about all the consequences that might come from this proposal not just their initial intent of reacting to one project that they vehemently are opposed to.

       —Diane    Apr. 1 '09 - 05:59PM    #
  23. Diane, while Proposal A is a good example of unintended consequences, it isn’t really applicable in terms of good versus bad ballot proposals in this context. (The generalization pitfall again?) The reason is that the charter amendment would only apply to questions put forth by city council. I think that that fact also addresses Daniel’s concerns.

    Ultimately, I think this comes down to a choice between two viable approaches. The choice we make will likely be less important than what we make of it afterwards.

       —Steve Bean    Apr. 1 '09 - 10:54PM    #
  24. Steve- I am comparing the Go Ask voters proposal vs Proposal A, (not future proposals put forth by council vs. prop A). My point is that both have unintended consequences for their original outcome. Although not a perfect example, we can only use examples from the past and probabilities and possibilities for the future. So we have to talk in generalizations because no one can predict the future.

    What we do know is that:

    - It is highly PROBABLE that we will have low voter turnout based on the past elections. This low voter turnout will not represent the true intent of the citizens as a whole.

    - It is POSSIBLE that a much needed infrastructure project could be voted down by the public and necessary repairs or replacement will not and cannot be done. It is also possible that even if the city repeatedly puts up a specific ballot proposal that it might NEVER pass. Does that make the project any less necessary?

    If the intent of the GAV proposal is to have citizens take control over bond issues, then how does this proposal accomplish that?

    It would be helpful if the Go Ask Voters gave a list of what they think are possible bond projects in the future that they might find questionable. What future projects will this GAV ballot proposal want voters to approve?

    I can only think of infrastructure projects that usually are necessary and not optional. Anything that raises taxes (greenbelt, parks millage, school millage etc.) has to by law, be put up a voter referendum anyway. If everything that is intended to be put up for a future voter referendum is considered to be a slam dunk, then I find this whole “Go ask voters” proposal a waste of time. It only creates drama and strife within the city.

    We elect representatives to deal with the everyday managing of the city and to deal with budget issues. Otherwise why does council exist?

       —Diane    Apr. 1 '09 - 11:57PM    #
  25. Diane,

    You’re asking good questions. Let me try to answer them:

    1. GO Ask Voters is an offshoot of AVF. No. This Charter amendment proposal is about bringing our Charter into the 21st century and abolishing a barrier to voting (the 45-day referendum mechanism). Municipalities in 40 states use the voter assent mechanism to issue GO bonds. In several states, the requirement is written into their state Constitutions thus requiring all municipalities that levy taxes to issue GO bonds by voter assent. There has never been a drive to repeal voter assent of GO Bonds.

    2. If you visit the Ann Arbor City web site and view the CAFR statements provided by the Finance Department, you’ll get exact information about GO bonds issued back through 2001. Please remember that the proposed amendment would impact only those GO bonds backed by the taxing power of the municipality. It will not require voter assent of revenue bonds (such as those bonds issued to maintain and expand water and sewer systems), special assessment bonds or emergency bonds. [There are cities (San Francisco and Kansas City, for instance) where ALL bonds are issued by voter assent. There are cities where GO bonds are issued only by a vote of 2/3rds of the electorate.]

    3. Would this amendment would take away power from City Council? No. Municipal bonds are issued by Council now, and would be issued by Council should this amendment be adopted.

    4. What if voters refused to assent to a GO Bond issuance? In 2005, Ann Arbor voters refused to renew the Charter amendment which provided a millage for road maintenance. What were the ramifications of that vote? In California, where GO Bonds are issued by voter assent, the approval rate is 80 percent. Those GO bonds with which this amendment concerns itself are those backed in part or in whole by the taxing power of the city. If voters choose not to authorize a GO bond issuance, our elected leaders will continue to lead and come up with an alternative.

    5. The point is not that any particular future GO bond issuance might be found objectionable. The point is to have voters work with government as opposed to against government. The 45-day referendum mechanism sets up voters to work against government, and is more likely to result in the strife you mention. Worse, it is a barrier to voting.

    This proposed amendment doesn’t mean Council won’t manage the city, deal with budget issues or issue GO bonds. It simply allows voters to have a say in when, how and for what money given to the city in the form of taxes will be used. It strengthens government, increases grassroots activism, and fosters communication.

    We vote on requests from the city and School District for millages and bonds on a regular basis. This amendment would simply add GO bonds which are repaid through taxation to that list.

       —Patricia Lesko    Apr. 2 '09 - 08:38PM    #
  26. “What we do know is that:

    - It is highly PROBABLE that we will have low voter turnout based on the past elections. This low voter turnout will not represent the true intent of the citizens as a whole.”

    This conclusion is yet another generalization (and a debatable one, even given that.)

    The “everyday managing of the city” is the role of the city administrator and staff. The role of city council, in addition to budget approval, is to establish policy.

    Pat, I’m still failing to see the barrier to voting that you’ve referred to here and elsewhere.

       —Steve Bean    Apr. 3 '09 - 12:12AM    #
  27. Steve, your last comment is confusing since you appear to address Patricia Lesko but quote the previous post by “Diane”. Which one are you debating?

       —Vivienne Armentrout    Apr. 3 '09 - 01:07AM    #
  28. Diane,

    I take major exception to your assertion that Ann Arbor residents want a new PD building. I worked on the petition drive that attempted to stop this huge white elephant and I had no problem finding registered voters who wanted a chance to vote this turkey down. Amending the Charter is the right way to go since the voter roles inflate the actual voting residents by a factor of almost 2-to-1. This is due to the fact that Ann Arbor being a college town gets many undergraduates from out of state who register to vote here in the Presidential election years and then move out of state after graduation but remain on the voter roles since the Secretary of State has no knowledge of where they are. There was one example of an 18 year old woman who registered to vote in 1976 with a fairly obvious apartment address who was still on the voter roles for the first ward that I saw. Why the detail here? The number of signatures needed to place the bond issue on the ballot under current rules is based on the number of registered voters. AVF needed to get 10,000 signatures in 45 days to get the issue on the ballot which is ridiculous. I would also point out that the inflated number of registered voters understates the true turn-out percentage on election days. I am all for this proposal.
       —ChuckL    Apr. 3 '09 - 03:59AM    #
  29. “Would this amendment would take away power from City Council? No. Municipal bonds are issued by Council now, and would be issued by Council should this amendment be adopted.”

    This is misleading. Sure, you’re not actually stripping the council of authority. But in practice, that’s exactly what you’re doing by giving the citizens the power to veto the council. When one entity takes power, another necessarily cedes it.

    Except this is even more significant than a veto, in that the public must affirmatively approve the measure, as opposed to affirmatively veto it.

    “In California, where GO Bonds are issued by voter assent, the approval rate is 80 percent.”

    An interesting example, if only because I’ve heard that California’s direct democracy experiment has been a red-hot mess.

    “Worse, it is a barrier to voting.”

    As I’ve argued above, this is a good thing. More democracy is not always better.

    “It strengthens government, increases grassroots activism, and fosters communication.”

    From what I understand, there is very little “grassroots” activism in California. Mostly just extremely well-funded special interest groups running the show.

       —Daniel Adams    Apr. 3 '09 - 05:35AM    #
  30. Daniel,

    Democracy is the sum total of “well-funded special interest groups”! Democracy is not always better? Yes, this was and is true for all of the worlds despots. It is also true for powerful economic interests as well since the concern by same is usually that the mass riff-raff will vote themselves more control over “their” money.
       —ChuckL    Apr. 3 '09 - 06:18AM    #
  31. Vivienne, I’m not debating either of them (or anyone else.) That’s a literal interpretation of your question, but also an important distinction, I think. My intention is to discuss and be open to other perspectives. (See response below to Daniel.)

    More to your point though, your interpretation of what I wrote doesn’t sound confused to me. But I’m open to suggestions as to how I might have made it clearer, if you have any.

    Daniel, you haven’t argued, you’ve only asserted.

    A comparison with California is of limited value. We’re talking about the municipal level of government, not the state level. I think the differences are significant, and I would be much less agreeable to this sort of change at the state level. At the local level, though, I think it’s a reasonable choice to consider. A more useful comparison would be to look at other cities that have a similar policy in place. That might help you make a more persuasive argument.

    Actually, I don’t think a case can be made that council-only decisions would produce better outcomes. I think you’d need to find the opposite: at least one example of a case where citizen votes resulted in a clear problem.

       —Steve Bean    Apr. 3 '09 - 08:24AM    #
  32. “I worked on the petition drive that attempted to stop this huge white elephant and I had no problem finding registered voters who wanted a chance to vote this turkey down.”

    AVF needed to get 10,000 signatures in 45 days to get the issue on the ballot which is ridiculous.”

    So, there was no problem but it was also difficult. Right. And was it the pressure to collect 10,000 votes in such a limited time frame that led AVF to falsify signatures?

    Go Ask Voters First is yet another attempt by the obstructionist elements from the West Side and the 1st Ward to force their reactionary, “Ann Arbor was better in 1969” on an unsuspecting body politic. Hippies that have turned self-righteous and provincial. They want theirs, and to hell with anyone else either now, or 20 years from now when their chickens come home to roost and they’ve turned Ann Arbor into Novi with a university.

       —HNG    Apr. 3 '09 - 04:35PM    #
  33. What is the “hippie density” of the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Wards, or are we all segregated into the 1st and 5th?

    Steve, sorry I was obtuse, but if you had addressed the first part of your comment to Diane it might have prevented me from assuming that you had mixed the two up. I thought you were attributing Diane’s comments to Lesko.

       —Vivienne Armentrout    Apr. 3 '09 - 09:55PM    #
  34. Vivienne, I don’t think you were obtuse. The reason I didn’t direct those comments to Diane is because they weren’t intended just for her. I could’ve referenced her or the comment numbers, which would have made it more clear, though. Thanks for pointing it out.

       —Steve Bean    Apr. 3 '09 - 10:25PM    #
  35. HNG,

    Asserting that signatures were falsified without proof is a really cheap shot. Gathering 5000 signatures in 45 days is a significant achievement and shows that AVF has more than enough resources to gather the 8000 signatures needed to force a vote on the City Charter since the organizers have one year, not 45 days. HNG should be more honest and admit that when s/he says that signatures were falsified, it is really meant that AVF supporters didn’t promote the Courts/PD supporter’s version of “The Truth” when gathering signatures.
       —ChuckL    Apr. 3 '09 - 11:31PM    #
  36. ChuckL,

    Just a quick clarification: GOAV has 365 days from March 30, 2009 to gather signatures from 5 percent of the registered voters in Ann Arbor. That means we need to gather 5,322 signatures. The process for amending the city’s Charter is set forth in the Home Rule City Act 279 of 1909.

       —Patricia Lesko    Apr. 4 '09 - 05:10AM    #
  37. HGN (and anyone else),

    If you have questions about the GOAV petition drive, please contact me by email at I’d be happy to directly discuss your reservations about the petition drive and the proposed Charter amendment.

    GO Ask Voters is having a gathering at Vinology on April 5th from 5:30-7:00. All are welcome, including those who’d like to have more information about the Charter amendment drive.

    Finally, this is a grassroots, non-partisan movement organized by neighborhood activists from all five Wards. There are Dems, Republicans, Independents, Liberals and Greens working together on this. What brought us together was the belief that voting rights should be extended in our city to include the authorization of GO municipal bonds. We believe this amendment will have a positive impact on government transparency (particularly in light of the loss of our daily newspaper), and remove a barrier to voting, a mechanism that currently pits citizens against government.

       —Patricia Lesko    Apr. 4 '09 - 05:23AM    #
  38. Patricia,

    I thought the threshold was around 5000, but I’ve always assumed a real drive would want to get about 3000 more to withstand challenges.
       —ChuckL    Apr. 4 '09 - 04:52PM    #
  39. I live in the 4th Ward and will try to do a ‘hippie density’ test when I get some spare time. Lol.

       —Alan Goldsmith    Apr. 4 '09 - 08:32PM    #
  40. “Ann Arbor was better in 1969”

    I believe Ann Arbor was better in 1969 and any other time period other than the one we are currently in.

    Ann Arbor News was the second oldest active newspaper in Michigan, next to the Detroit Free Press and will now be gone. Our local circuit court system is a running joke. Our Sheriff’s Dept. has been in turmoil. Home foreclosures in Ann Arbor are rampant and residential property values have plummeted to the point where many mortgages exceed the value of the home they secure. Many police department employees are expected to be facing layoffs while the City Council is going to break ground on a $47 million dollar police/court building and expend some $700,000 on some fancy artwork.

    City Council bears a significant degree of responsibility for this mess and this is why I and many other citizens are supporting the GO Ask Voters movement as it will empower residents to take control of their own fate and not be at the mercy of City Council members who have their own agendas that are at variance with the public interest.

    The proposed charter amendment, besides its express divestment of City Council’s power to issue general obligation bonds, would also serve to punish City Council for its approving the unpopular Police/Court project and deter similar conduct in the future; thus City Council can be expected to be more accountable to the will of the people they serve.

    With Chris Easthope and Joan Lowenstein, City Council’s two most charismatic and popular members gone from that body, I believe that the time is ripe for the voters to seek to remove remaining “pro-build” members of council that are up for re-election. This would include our Mayor Pro Tempore Marcia Higgins.

    Marcia Higgins is a political opportunist who changes her positions at the drop of a hat. One of the longest-serving council members, she was elected to the Fourth Ward initially as a Republican but changed parties to become a Democrat awhile back.

    The key reason she has been able to remain in office is because there has been little organized opposition to her candidacy over the years. In 2003, for example, she ran unopposed in the primary and no other major party candidate ran against her in the general election in November. What did happen however is that Scott Trudeau, a recent U-M alumnus ran on the Green Party ticket, and a Libertarian and independent were also on the ballot running against Higgins in the Fourth Ward; one of the challengers was a U-M student. Higgins, running as an incumbent on a major party ticket, only got 52% of the general election vote with the other three candidates collectively gathering about 48% of the vote.

    The county Democratic Party missed a golden opportunity to unseat Higgins in 2003 and Higgins bolted to the Democratic Party following the election. Steve Rapunadalo also was a Republican who changed parties ostensibly to retain his seat on City Council. Ed Amonsen or Stewart Nelson could probably take down Rapundalo if either filed against Rapundalo in the August primary.

    Although City Council is nominally Democratic, its members generally have had close connections to traditional Republican interests. Leigh Greden ,for example , works at a law firm which has had Spencer Abraham and Steve Markman as partners. Greden practices labor law representing employer’s interests; this issue was raised in his 2006 race against Rebekah warren for state representative. Joan Lowenstein works for a law firm that has traditionally represented big business interests, but has had a long record of donations to Democratic Party intersts.

    In addition to the GO Ask Voters petition drive, I would encourage the various political parties, including Huron Valley Greens and Libertarians, to each field candidates in the upconing City Council races.

    If anyone is running agaist Marcia Higgins in the Fourth Ward, I would like to know. There are many Fourth Warders who have expressed there desire for an alternative candidate.

       —Junior    Apr. 4 '09 - 09:52PM    #
  41. The Greens should run someone as a Green Democrat in the August Democratic primary against Ms. Higgins. I’m guessing such a candidate would win in a landslide. Not sure if the city is any better or worse than it was in 1969 (I got here in ’73) but I certainly miss the humor and energy and grass roots connections of the Human Rights Party and how they pulled the party to the left.

    I still remember Ms. Higgins acting confused in an Ann Arbor News interview about which way she would vote on the Greenbelt issue shortly before that election too. Invisible and ineffective as my 4th Ward council rep pretty much sums it up.

       —Alan Goldsmith    Apr. 4 '09 - 11:22PM    #
  42. I am not so sure you are correct on this Junior. In last years council race the candidates who supported the council and the new building won, those who did not, lost.

    It seems to me that the mainstream democrats who came out for the primary recognized the city had to do something on the courts and police building issue.

       —Dusty Lake    Apr. 5 '09 - 12:08AM    #
  43. Alan: Last I heard the Greens in A2 have been taken over by the people who picket the synagogue and constantly speak at council on the Palestinian issue.

       —Dusty Lake    Apr. 5 '09 - 12:11AM    #
  44. Dusty Lake, you may be reading too much into the August, 2008 Democratic primary results. In the First Ward, Ron Suarez, an incumbent opponent of the project, withdrew from the race after the filing deadline, leaving Sandi Smith, a project supporter, facing a write-in candidate. In the Third Ward, Steve Kunselman, another incumbent opponent of the project, did not campaign seriously for re-election. The only other race, in the Fifth Ward, was decided by about 50 votes.

       —David Cahill    Apr. 5 '09 - 01:26AM    #
  45. David: You are correct about the first ward although the write-in had a campaign behind her. I thought Steve K did run a decent campaign but I don’t live in the third so I can’t say for sure. The fifth ward was close, I always thought the former county commissioner was going to win with her name recognition so it was a surprise.

    But, you leave out my own second ward. Nelson ran a strong campaign and he was out working early. He had plenty of money but lost anyway. His opponent was a vocal advocate for the new building while Nelson was a staunch opponent. The anti building candidate lost badly.

    The best guess is that the new building was not an issue for the voters.

       —Dusty Lake    Apr. 5 '09 - 01:37AM    #
  46. Junior: Please clarify: You blame city council for problems at the Sheriff’s dept. and the circuit court? You blame them for the home foreclosures even though A2 is in the state that is hardest hit by the recession?

    Do you also give them credit for the city having the lowest unemployment in the hardest hit state? For not having raised taxes over all these years of state cut backs and now, as you state, falling property values?

    The city has no sway over the sheriff’s or the circuit court. They are the responsibility of the county and the county has a much deeper financial problem than the city. Funny how no one is focused on it.

    Given everything that is going on with the economy and the fact that Michigan has been cutting back on local government funding for years, it seems to me like the city government is doing very well.

       —Ted Ancil    Apr. 5 '09 - 05:53AM    #
  47. Junior: You are against the new police and courts building and I suppose people are tired of hearing about it but without intending to open up the whole thing again, I can’t help but note that the “anti” crowd never offered an alternative that would solve the problem of the closed out lease for the courts and the aging, never adequate space for the police.

    I would also note that the final decision to go ahead, after years of conversation in the community, was made last spring and after that it would have cost $millions to cut it off. The problems of where to put the courts and police would have still been there. The final decision was made before the economy went over the edge and before the university took away so much of the city’s revenue.

    I am no fan of government waste but that is not what this is. The city needed this building and the good part is that it does not impact the operating budget except in a minimal way. The rent saved will make the bond payment. The city should not be paying rent anyway.

    Sorry to bring this up but I think it is important.

       —LauraB    Apr. 5 '09 - 06:11AM    #
  48. What about the Ann Arbor News building? It’s already got a 4-inch steel door.

       —MattH    Apr. 5 '09 - 08:29PM    #
  49. Regarding Mayor Pro Tem Marcia Higgins, I would not disgree with the characterization that she has been the “Invisible Woman” on City Council for about the last ten years.

    I am familiar with most recent City Council members having met them or otherwise being acquainted with them through media sources. Greden, Easthope, and Lowenstein are attorneys, Margie Teall is a photographer and her husband is a lawyer, Rapundalo works at Pfizer, Sabra Briere used to work at U-M and her husband was on the Library Board.

    I confess to knowing absolutely nothing about Mayor Pro Tem Higgins; what she does for a living, whether she has a family, what she looks like, what her accomplishments on City Council have been. I am not surprised she almost got beat collectively by third party candidates in 2003 because she has been the quintessential “potted plant” (using the definition popularized by Brendan Sullivan during Iran-Contra hearings).If anyone can disclose any background about this councilperson I would like to learn about her, as I know almost nothing about her, and I am sure that other A2 residents are at the same level of cluelessness about Higgins in general.

    I also confess to being antagonistic to the Police/Court facility from the get-go and I believe one year later the Ask Voters First movement has been vindicated in their positions.

    Patty Lesko is the “front” of GO Ask Voters; the real ringleaders are Karen Sidney and David Cahill.

    Ask Voters First and GO Ask Voters have created a profound transformation in Ann Arbor politics. Realignment is too dull of a word to characterize the change in voter attitudes. GO Ask Voters has the morale, volunteer human resources and material support to essentially gain majority control of Ann Arbor city government by the end of 2010. It represents a populist effort to give more control to taxpayers rather than elected officials who may be wined and dined and financially supported at election time by special interests whose goals are adverse to that of A2 residents.

    There exists a crosssroad point of every elected official when they are going to have to decide whether or not to represent the interests of their constituents or cede those concerns to moneyed intersts lobbying them and who have the ability to render financial support to their political careers. Some local officials have chosen the latter road.

    GO Ask Voters will be victorious and there aims will be successful and beneficial for the citizens of A2.

    I believe that a concerted effort in August of this year with bulk mailings, get-out-the-vote calls, literature drops, and door-to-door advocacy will be successful.

       —John Dory    Apr. 6 '09 - 12:16AM    #
  50. Re Post #43: I would like to point out an inaccuracy in the statement of Dusty Lake that the Huron Valley Greens have been “taken over” by pro-Palestinian activists. This misinformation has been repeated repeatedly over the past several years.

    In fact, the platform of the national Green Party calls for support of serious consideration to be given on whether to dissolve the State of Israel. The local Greens are and have been following the lead of the U.S. Green Party on this issue.

    I am not a member of the Huron Valley Greens nor do I necessarily subscribe to their positions, however I want to set the record straight and note that some candidates of the Huron Valley Greens have done quite well in recent years locally. I welcome their participation.

       —John Dory    Apr. 6 '09 - 12:32AM    #
  51. John, If it’s truly important for you to know more about Marcia Higgins, contact her yourself. Her phone number and email address are on the City’s website,

       —Steve Bean    Apr. 6 '09 - 02:06AM    #
  52. John:

    The Ask Voters First/Go Ask Voters/No Police/Courts building crowd endorsed, raised money and worked hard for candidates in the August 4, 2008 election. They lost every race including one incumbent.
       —LauraB    Apr. 6 '09 - 07:11AM    #
  53. From the National Green Party platform:

    “We know that significant international opinion is committed to a two-state solution. Yet, we recognize that the two-state solution may be increasingly unrealistic in the face of economic and social conditions in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Given this reality, we would consider support for a U.S. foreign policy that promotes serious reconsideration of the creation of one secular, democratic state for Palestinians and Israelis on the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the River Jordan as the national home of both peoples, with Jerusalem as its capital. We encourage a new U.S. diplomatic initiative to begin the long process of negotiation, laying the groundwork for such a single-state constitution.”

       —Alan Goldsmith    Apr. 6 '09 - 08:36PM    #
  54. “…and remove a barrier to voting, a mechanism that currently pits citizens against government.”

    I have no idea what this means. By this logic, we should just put everything to a direct, city-wide vote. That would remove all barriers to voting and “mechanisms that pit citizens against government.”

    Steve Bean: If you take another look at my posts, you’ll find premises and conclusions. Arguments. (And for the record, I was responding to a California comparison, not making one)

    I didn’t think I needed to provide factually analogous examples. I assumed that the following premises would be uncontroversial:

    1) A weakness of direct democracy is that voter ignorance, apathy and confusion leads to sub-optimal outcomes—i.e., votes against self-interest. (See: Failure of ostensibly popular non-partisan redistricting reforms in Ohio and California—

    2) A strength of representative democracy is that small groups of professional “voters” tend to be less ignorant, apathetic and confused—and thus better situated to vote on complex issues than the general population.

    If you need small-town examples to be convinced, I’m sorry—I confess that I don’t know of any. But we’ve all seen how this goes at the state level: Dissatisfied petitioners promise “grassroots” reform—to accomplish through referendum what could not be accomplished in the general election and to check the entrenched political elites. The money soon flows in. Grassroots movements become sophisticated political vehicles, often run and financially backed by same political elites, playing off the aforementioned voter ignorance with candy-coated names (See: “Michigan Civil Rights Initiative”) and deceptively worded petitions.

    To assume that the same wouldn’t happen here, at the local level, seems beyond naive.

    Granted, direct democracy should have a place in the system—but so do political organs like city councils. Let’s think critically about the things that each does best, and design the system accordingly.

    Besides: If the city council is so out of touch, if the PD building is so unpopular, can’t we just vote them out of office? The answer, I suspect, is that the city council is not so out of touch, that the PD building is not that unpopular, and that GAV is just a vehicle for pushing an agenda that probably wouldn’t win in the general election. But when you package that same agenda as “grassroots” activism and tell voters that they’ll have more say in spending decisions? You have a winner.

       —Daniel Adams    Apr. 7 '09 - 06:31AM    #
  55. Daniel, yes, now I see the “because” in #21. My mistake. Sorry about that.

    I don’t have any idea about the “barrier to voting” phrase either, but I won’t go on to build a straw man out of some imagined logic it represents. I’m still hoping that Pat will clarify.

    “Besides: If the city council is so out of touch, if the PD building is so unpopular, can’t we just vote them out of office? The answer, I suspect, is that the city council is not so out of touch, that the PD building is not that unpopular, and that GAV is just a vehicle for pushing an agenda that probably wouldn’t win in the general election.”

    That’s an argument in support of this proposal. The proponents believe that changing the composition of council after the fact is insufficient. Seems logical. Maybe it would help you to see their perspective better if you considered the differences between voting on the overall past performance of an incumbent council member and voting on a single council decision that directly affects the amount of taxes we pay.

    “But when you package that same agenda as “grassroots” activism and tell voters that they’ll have more say in spending decisions? You have a winner.”

    Possibly. And possibly for good reason.

    I still think it matters more what we do after this gets decided than which choice wins out. Fortunately, we’ll have plenty of time to discuss and consider this.

       —Steve Bean    Apr. 7 '09 - 07:15AM    #
  56. Steve,

    You’ve asked about my comments concerning the GOAV drive as having much to do with removing a barrier to voting. The 45-day petition drive mechanism is the barrier to voting to which I refer.

    In essence, instead of facilitating opportunities for citizens to bring a GO Bond to a public vote, encouraging voting, the 45-day mechanism (and its requirements) set a barrier for citizens in several ways.

    This begins, of course, with a larger discussion of Ann Arbor’s voter rolls. As I’ve said, keeping accurate records of registered voters is a complex and national debate. That being said, the 45-day mechanism requires gathering signatures from 10 percent of the registered voters in the city. Without accurate rolls, gathering valid signatures [finding those registered voters who still live in Ann Arbor at those addresses] becomes difficult—perhaps impossible—in the 45 days allotted.

    The next issue has to do with finance. To mail a single first class letter to all of the 47,000 households in the city would cost around $19,000. Of course, first class mail isn’t the only way to get in touch with people, but then how does the average citizen reach out to one’s 114,000 neighbors in 45 days to get the word out about the petition drive? Newspaper? Our daily newspaper is folding. Mass communication requires some expertise. My point is this, how much funding does it take to finance such an intensive campaign? More than the average citizen has to spare, and what about someone who’s living on an income that is below the median, or even below the poverty line?

    Time. The 45-day mechanism requires an burdensome time commitment. If a voter is forced to spend numerous hours on a campaign that will impact one bond issuance, how likely is it that a voter will be inclined to do that once, much less multiple times to bring multiple GO bond issuances to a vote? How about a voter who works two jobs? How about the voter who is a single parent?

    Legal expertise. To prepare the petition language requires legal expertise. To prepare the petition sheet itself requires specific language, font sizes and other data, some of which is outlined, defined and mandated by state statute. To make a long story short, it’s burdensome, again, for the average citizen who doesn’t have legal expertise. One could pay a lawyer, but with what money? One could have a friend who’s a lawyer. The question is, though, does the average citizen have the necessary expertise? How about someone without a college degree? How about a new citizen?

    So, to launch a 45-day petition drive to bring a bond issuance to a vote, I need funding, free time, and legal expertise. Together, these create a very effective barrier to citizens who want to bring a bond issuance to a referendum. The 45-day mechanism has created a very effective barrier to voting on GO Bond issuances.

    If we amend our Charter so that we vote on GO bonds, what will I be required to do in order to vote on a GO bond issuance? I must register, then go to the polls.

       —Patricia Lesko    Apr. 7 '09 - 10:09PM    #
  57. Daniel,

    GOAV is not a referendum on a single building; it’s not a referendum on our present, past or future City Council members. It’s a petition to give voters a choice about whether to issue bonds that are backed in whole or in part by the taxing power of the city. It’s an answer to President Obama’s call for increased community activism, voter participation, and a desire to make a positive political change in a city with a long history of embracing and voting for positive political changes.

    This is the first time I’ve ever organized anything like this, so I can’t really speak to your “next case scenario.” I can tell you I have two young kids, own a publishing company and write about higher education for national newspapers. In March I published a piece in the Ann Arbor Observer about tapping our trees and making maple syrup.

    I am frankly amazed that I’ve been able to find the time to do this, and I’m equally amazed so many people have volunteered to help. GOAV isn’t a battle Daniel; it can’t be. People in our city, state, and nation are battling for their jobs, homes and families. GOAV is about updating outmoded public policy, and expanding the vote.

       —Patricia Lesko    Apr. 7 '09 - 10:48PM    #
  58. Pat, thanks for the response.

    So, to launch a 45-day petition drive to bring a bond issuance to a vote, I need funding, free time, and legal expertise. Together, these create a very effective barrier to citizens who want to bring a bond issuance to a referendum.

    I agree that the problems you identified exist.

    The 45-day mechanism has created a very effective barrier to voting on GO Bond issuances.

    This is a leap in reasoning. I disagree with your characterization/conclusion. Barriers to (or, as I suggested in a comment on the Chronicle site, potholes in) democracy, yes. Barriers to voting, no. In any case, you clarified it, and the wording choice is of little importance to me, but then I’m not pushing this proposal. I suggest that you rethink it.

    If we amend our Charter so that we vote on GO bonds, what will I be required to do in order to vote on a GO bond issuance? I must register, then go to the polls.

    Preferably (and, I would think, this is a key impetus for the proposal) you would also educate yourself prior to voting. This likely implies a need for some of the efforts you indicate are necessary under the current situation (which brings us back to your characterization regarding barriers to voting as opposed to barriers to democracy.)

       —Steve Bean    Apr. 8 '09 - 08:15AM    #
  59. There is an article in the New York Times today which says that all municipal bonds have been downgraded across the country, but calls out Michigan. Another article discusses the use of derivatives in municipal financing and the problems this has led to. I’m not suggesting that either of these apply to Ann Arbor, but it would be useful to know more about how our bonds are sold and financed.

       —Vivienne Armentrout    Apr. 8 '09 - 04:51PM    #
  60. Is there any requirement that petition circulators for the proposed charter amendment initiative be residents of the City of Ann Arbor?

       —Mark Koroi    Apr. 8 '09 - 11:00PM    #
  61. If there was any such requirement, it has probably been voided by Bogaert v Land .

       —Larry Kestenbaum    Apr. 10 '09 - 07:23PM    #
  62. Re Post #51: Steve, if you ran against Mayor Pro Tempore Higgins in the Fourth Ward, I would vote for you. You have been a knowledgeable and accessible appointed commissioner as well as giving a thoughtful analysis on a variety of subjects on this website. I do not know if you are a Fourth Warder, but you could likely beat Marcia Higgins if you ran against her. There are few persons that I would not vote for if they ran against Higgins.

    Prior posters have been dead on correct that Higgins has not been effective as a councilperson. Any half-way credible candidate would likely beat her this August.

    Is anyone interested in seeking the seat of Marcia Higgins?

       —John Dory    Apr. 16 '09 - 04:54AM    #
  63. I second the motion. If anyone is interested in running against Marcia Higgins get in touch with me please. I’ve gotten THREE calls to run against her myself(not interested and can’t because of my job and the Hatch Act) and I’ll I’ve done is write a handful of blog posts. There is a HUGE group of unhappy 4th Ward voters—trust me.

       —Alan Goldsmith    Apr. 16 '09 - 02:51PM    #
  64. I’m in the 5th ward, John.

       —Steve Bean    Apr. 17 '09 - 10:41PM    #
  65. I would like to thank Alan Goldsmith and John Dory for their expressed interest in recruitment of a possible candidate to unseat Marcia Higgins in the Fourth Ward. I concur that your respective opinions reflect those of the silent majority of Fourth Warders and wish to suggest possible avenues for such recruitment. I express no personal party affiliation in this City Council race as I believe that it would be a difficult task to find any prospective candidate from any political party who could be a more ineffective City Council representative for the Fourth Ward than Marcia Higgins.

    Let me first suggest that the Washtenaw County Clerk’s Office has names, addersses, an telephone numbers of Democratic precinct delegates in the Fourth Ward who may be interested in opposing Higgins. I would note that Precinct Delegate Lynne Schwartz of the Fourth Ward received global news coverage at the last Democratic National Convention when she met and conversed with Michelle Obama. There are numerous Democratic precinct delegates in the Fourth Ward who currently sit that could make possible challengers to Higgins. Someone needs to begin circulating petitions soon, however, to ensure they get on the Democratic primary ballot.

    The Republican Party is also a very possible source of prospective candidates to oppose Higgins. I would note that two Republican precinct delegates currently sit in the Fourth Ward. One of these in Jim Hood.

    Even though the Fourth Ward is heavily populated with liberal Democrats and Green Party activists, Jim Hood as the Republican nominee in the 2005 City Council general election was able to garner an astounding 49% of the vote against Marcia Higgins, who ran on the Democratic ticket. Any Republican challenger would have a reasonable shot at unseating Higgins this November if Higgins were to win in the Democratic primary.

    The chairman of the Washtenaw County Republican Party could also be contacted to recruit a possible candidate to run on the Republican primary ballot in the Fourth Ward.

    Higgins ran unopposed in the 2007 general election.

    What also cannot be overlooked are the Ask Voters First and GO Ask Voters movements whose very formations were spawned by the actions of Higgins and other City Council members who suppoted the unpopular Police/Court building construction. This movement has dozens and dozens of activists, some of whom must reside as registered voters in the Fourth Ward. Such a candidate recruited from these ranks would not only have a built-in support base to mobilize volunteers, but these volunteers would both be highly motivated and antagonistic to Marcia Higgins.

    I will also concur with prior posts on this thread that there is a general level of dissatifaction at the grassroots level in the Fourth Ward with Marcia Higgins. But do not believe that necessrily translates to an easy victory. Expect Higgins to have fundraising ability and endorsements from influential persons and organizations whose agendas she promotes on City Council.

    I am however confident and optimistic that Higgins will be removed by the voters in August or November of this year.

       —Junior    Apr. 18 '09 - 07:51PM    #
  66. Re Post #46: “The city has no sway over … the circuit court.”

    If you recall one of the proffered reasons for the need for a new courthouse construction was the fact both Judges Archie Brown and Timothy Connors wanted the District Court out of the County Building where the circuit court and disrict court both operated. Judge Ann Mattson got locked out of her courtroom and had to go to state sponsored mediation to get her courtronn back. The story I heard that Judge Mattson was on vacation and returned to discover that then-Chief Judge Archie Brown of the Circuit Court had taken her courtroom over. County Commissioner Jeff Irwin,then chairman, went toe-to-toe with Judge Brown regarding the takeover since, he contended, the court building was under the jurisdiction of the County Commission. Judge Connors was angry his wife did not get an appointment as magistrate to the District Court and therefore committed himself to getting the District Court out of the County Building.

    The City Council, who has significant control over the District Court’s operation, caved into the will of Brown and Connors and voted to build the new court facility; it was one of the factors.

    City Council should have stood up to the shenanigans of Circuit Court Judges Brown and Connors as Jeff Irwin did.

       —Junior    Apr. 18 '09 - 08:34PM    #
  67. Re: Post#63: I have been contacted myself to run against Marcia Higgins, but likewise cannot do so to other commitments and circumstances. But apparently Fourth Warders are reading these posts and are in agreement that Marcia Higgins needs to be replaced. I have personally heard numerous Fourth Warders complain over the last several years over Higgins’ performance.

    I was waiting for some candidate to oppose Higgins in 2007, but no one came forward. Nevertheless, over 8% of Fourth Ward voters in that general election wrote in votes against Higgins, even though no organized opposition existed to her candidacy.

    I have checked it and, yes, Marcia Higgins only received 52% and 51%, respectively, of the total votes cast in the 2003 and 2005 general electiions, even though she faced only token opposition in both races.

    Completed petition forms must be submitted in sixty days. Does anyone want to take advantage of yet another opportunity to unseat Higgins? Let us not squander this one.

       —John Dory    Apr. 18 '09 - 11:44PM    #
  68. I am also a fourth warder and a strong supporter of Marcia Higgins. Although you say you know of a huge group that wants someone to run against her, keep in mind that there is also a huge group who supports her. So I wouldn’t be so confident in your assertions.

       —Diane    Apr. 19 '09 - 05:52AM    #
  69. Finally happy to see a Higgins supporter since Ms. Higgins herself is next to invisible. Can you name one thing she’s done in her several years on council other than blend into the background? Did you admire her cowardly stance on not taking a stance on the Greenbelt vote up until the day of the election? Her flip-flop for political self protection from Repubican to Democrat? Her leadership on the Stadium Bridges issue? Her take charge manner on…well on anything?

    I’m glad you are happy with her leadership. But a huge number of 4th Ward voters aren’t. I’ve written maybe a dozen blog posts and people are calling ME to run. Trust me, you aren’t in touch with other Ward voters.

       —Alan Goldsmith    Apr. 19 '09 - 03:19PM    #
  70. I think the Arbor Update powers that be should start a separate article on this year’s City Council races and move the relevant comments from this article into the new one.

       —David Cahill    Apr. 19 '09 - 04:21PM    #
  71. I would second the need for a separate Arborupdate thread on the upcoming City Council elections.

       —John Dory    Apr. 19 '09 - 10:18PM    #
  72. I’ve never understood how Higgins has managed to stick around this long. You would think running against the current Mayor back in her Republican days would have guaranteed that.

       —John Q.    Apr. 20 '09 - 08:17AM    #
  73. I agree. A thread devoted to the upcoming council election would be a great idea.

       —Alan Goldsmith    Apr. 20 '09 - 09:37PM    #
  74. I have to admit that I don’t understand the vehemence of the comments against Marcia Higgins. I have never been a supporter but I respect her diligence, and the relatively few times I have tuned in to City Council, I have noticed that she asks some rather pointed questions. I particularly appreciated her questioning of the SPARK spokesman about the value that Ann Arbor gets from its donation to that organization.

       —Vivienne Armentrout    Apr. 24 '09 - 06:13AM    #
  75. Many people see her political opportunism as a sign of bad character.

       —John Q.    Apr. 24 '09 - 06:56AM    #
  76. Even though the Fourth Ward is heavily populated with liberal Democrats and Green Party activists…

    You don’t know how hilarious that sounds, given that the 4th ward, in essentially its current boundaries, was considered a Republican stronghold as recently as the 1990s. The Lansdowne neighborhood (south of Pioneer HS) was seen as the absolute bastion of Ann Arbor Republicanism.

    Sure, things have changed since then, and even Lansdowne votes for Democrats now, but on cultural issues, the 4th is the undoubtedly the city’s most conservative ward.

       —Larry Kestenbaum    Apr. 24 '09 - 07:41AM    #
  77. As a current Lansdowne-ian since ’94, the tide has shifted over the last ten years and continues to move left but, true. It is the most conservative ward in the city.

    And Marcia Higgins as, to coin a cliche, ‘found reliegion’ the last few weeks and suddenly is asking questions. I’ve guessing with the concern about her political performance we’ll be seeing her at neighborhood picnics and elbowing her way to the cameras and microphones to show she’s on the job.

    But again, what has she acomplished in ten years?

       —Alan Goldsmith    Apr. 24 '09 - 04:33PM    #
  78. Fancy you ask! Here’s a simple list of some recent legislation she sponsored.

       —Matt Hampel    Apr. 24 '09 - 05:26PM    #
  79. The actual meetings are only one facet of council work. A couple of meetings ago Higgins was recognized for her work keeping the A2D2 process on track. I remember she was the chair of the zoning board for years. Not much glamor there but needed work.

    She worked for her residents when the UM wanted to make noise at the Stadium all night and close lanes on Main St. for 18 months. In the end they kept quiet at night and now the closure will only be 4 months.

    As Vivienne notes she digs in on financial issues. She’s been part of a council that has kept the city government out of the financial swamp so many local governments in Michigan have fallen into in this long decline and the millage has not gone up in A2.

    Teall seems to work in the same quiet way.

       —Ted Ancil    Apr. 24 '09 - 05:41PM    #
  80. So far for calendar year 2009:

    Resolution to Approve Amendment No. 2 to Lease Agreement between Panzada, Inc. and the City of Ann Arbor, Assignee to the Lease Agreement between Panzada, Inc. and Dean Zahn Properties, L.L.C. (8 Votes Required)

    Resolution Opposing SJR H

    Resolution Congratulating and Honoring Congressman John D. Dingell

    Resolution for Community Events Fee Waivers from FY 2007/2008 (8 Votes Required)

    Resolution for Community Events Fund Disbursements from the FY 09 Budget (8 Votes Required)

    Resolution Approving the Issuance of a Purchase Order to Comcast Cable for the Relocation of the City’s Comcast-operated Institutional Fiber Network Services ($45,385.61)

    Resolution for Community Events Fund Disbursements from the FY 09 Budget (8 votes required)

       —Alan Goldsmith    Apr. 24 '09 - 06:45PM    #
  81. What’s been your personal experience with her, Alan? Have you made any requests during those ten years she’s been on council or called or written her to express a particular concern or desire for her to pursue something at the council level or some other channel? If so, how did she respond?

       —Steve Bean    Apr. 24 '09 - 09:46PM    #
  82. I’ve emailed her twice in the last four years, and didn’t get a reply to either. Never called her on the phone or spoken to her in person. I was amazed at how she couldn’t make up her mind on the Greenbelt vote and her being invisible but never contacted her to ask her to be more vocal about issues in the 4th Ward.

    But the last year or so, with the budget cuts, the ‘arts fiasco’, and a handful of other issues, I’ve been reexamining her time on council and it’s come up lacking. She’s had ten years in office and I can cut and paste the council resolutions she’s sponsored but other than serving on committees (which isn’t a bad thing) she’s never been out front on anything. Just invisible.

    I’m glad she’s been asking tough questions the last few weeks as the budget crisis makes life more difficult. But I’m actively looking for alternatives for the Democratic Primary.

    I found it repulsive that she switched from a Republican to a Democrat, mostly I think to save her own political skin, but I guess it worked and she survived for the last ten years. But it’s time the city and the 4th Ward (and trust me, there is an anti-Higgins undercurrent here) have an alternative to her being the least effect member on council.

       —Alan Goldsmith    Apr. 24 '09 - 10:47PM    #
  83. Vivienne;

    So why have you “never been a supporter”? I’d like to hear your thoughts.

       —Alan Goldsmith    Apr. 24 '09 - 11:07PM    #
  84. As a fellow Repblican precinct delegate, I believe that Jim Hood, who now appears to sit on the Board of Canvassers, might well make a good candidate against Marcia Higgins given the fact that he did well in 2005. Washtenaw County Republicans should be licking their collective chops for a chance to unseat turncoat Higgins, who left the Republican fold to run as a Democrat.

    Local Democrats may want to back an alternate candidate in the Democratic primary, since a Republican nominee likely has a better shot at unseating Higgins in November than anyone else the Democrats can field.

    I have also heard the “undercurrent” and agree that this may be the year that Councilperson Higgins loses her Council seat.

    It would be a major prize for Republicans to get back a seat on City Council.

       —Mark Koroi    Apr. 25 '09 - 12:00AM    #
  85. You are right. If the Dems continue to back Higgins, or decide not to field a better candidate, Democrats and Republicans are going to turn to another option in November.

    I know what Higgins thinks on the new court/police building, and how she’s happy with tossing $770K plus for water artwork without any process in place, we know how quiet she’s been on the Stadium Bridges issue.

    I’d like to find out what she thinks about a city income tax. Or fixing the roads in the 4th Ward (7th Street between Stadium and Scio Church is now going to dangerous with all the craters). Or…well actual anything. If she doesn’t start to address real life, city issues that are related to the voters in the ward, you are right—a strong Republican candidate will defeat her in November.

       —Alan Goldsmith    Apr. 25 '09 - 01:33AM    #
  86. Regarding my statement about not being a supporter, I worked in Larry Kestenbaum’s campaign when he ran against her. At the time she was running as a Republican. I’m rather dubious about people who conveniently change their party, and I’m a lifelong Democrat. In recent years she has been part of the council majority who have passed measures of which I disapprove. All that given, I’ve never thought of her in a negative way personally. Sometimes one just differs on issues.

       —Vivienne Armentrout    Apr. 25 '09 - 04:03AM    #
  87. Then-Planning Commisioner Eric Lipson was quoted in the Ann Arbor News in 2005 regarding Rosewood Street traffic calming efforts and the lack of participation by Marcia Higgins:

    “She is not a very visible member of Council…we never got any assistance from Marcia. She never came to any of our meetings. We felt we were left hanging…I just feel like the Fourth Ward could use more effective representation.”

    Lipson, a lifelong Democrat, referred to Higgins as a “Democrat of convenience”.

    The “invisible” characterization is nothing new to Higgins, nor is reference to her as a political opportunist.

       —Mark Koroi    Apr. 25 '09 - 04:31AM    #
  88. As the Ann Arbor Chronicle has pointed out, Hatim El-Hady is planning to run as an independent against Marcia Higgins. He has been described as a former U.S. State Department intern.

    I have never heard of him before and am unsure of his chances of winning withuot party affiliation.

    Does anyone know anything about him?

       —Junior    Apr. 25 '09 - 08:00PM    #
  89. Hatim El-Hady is a student at University of Michigan in Ann Arbor at this juncture
    who has an earned degree in economics and is also currently engaged in a Near East studies degree program. He has been introducing himself to local civic leaders and residents in the last few days and has received a generally warm reception; he is being asked questions on various issues of public interest such as the Stadium Bridge and traffic congestion issues. He is a strong supporter of a healthy envirironment, especially on issues such as public smoking prohibitions.

    This is kind of reminiscent of the Eugene Kang candidacy a few years back where, as a student, he almost beat Steve Rapundalo.

    I must say I am satisfied, if not exhilirated, to hear that there is expected to be someone on the ballot this year that will be squaring off against Higgins, as opposed to 2007 where nobody opposed her on the ballot. At least voters can expect to have a real choice.

    I am withholding any endorsements until I find out all who is running in the Fourth Ward, however I can predict with great confidence that if Mr. El-Hady is the only candidate the ballot this fall against Higgins, there are going to be a lot of Fourth Ward citizens supporting his candidacy and campaign.

       —John Dory    Apr. 25 '09 - 11:30PM    #
  90. Is there any news of progress on the GO Ask Voters organization and their goals?

       —Mark Koroi    Apr. 29 '09 - 07:13AM    #
  91. Hi Mark,

    On April 20th, we sent out a press release about the fact that our petition form and language were informally vetted by the City Attorney’s Office and the Michigan Attorney General and both the petition and the language passed muster. Neither office suggested changes in either the petition format (many aspects of which are governed by State statute) or the language (ditto). In fact, we were told that the language of the petition is crystal clear. Here’s a link to the press release ( We had the petition submitted to make sure it would be acceptable to the City Clerk when submitted. The City Attorney’s office sent it on to the Michigan Attorney General.

    On April 22nd, we held a meeting to distribute materials to our petition circulators. Our initial goal is to gather 1,000 signatures by May 14th. There’s a good chance we may gather more— we have lots of motivated volunteers in all five Wards. We’ll have to see if the weather cooperates. However, we have about 300 days remaining to gather our signatures. We’re shooting, as I said at the Press Conference on March 30th, to get this on the November ballot. To do that, we’ll need to gather 5,322 signatures, minimum, by early August.

    I’m blogging about the petition drive here (, and it’s a good place to check out for updates and information.

       —Patricia Lesko    Apr. 29 '09 - 05:34PM    #
  92. According to, Fourth Ward City Council candidate Hatim Elhady has endorsed the GO Ask Voters charter amendment drive.

    He is campaigning for the seat currently held by Mayor Pro Tempore Marcia Higgins.

       —Mark Koroi    Jun. 11 '09 - 08:51PM    #
  93. Re No.49: The “re-alignment” I referred to is now manifesting itself in Anglin’s landslide victory and Greden’s shocking upsetloss.

    The keywords are “anti-tax” and “fiscal responsibility”.

    UMGrad1234 predicted Leigh’s political demise and David Cahill predicted the probable win of Kunselman.

    I was very impressed by Steve’s pounding the table about ethics, honor, and trust in government. Apparently the Third Ward voters were too.

    I predict Higgins will be voted out this fall and Hoenke and Taylor will get the boot one year from now.

    A new era of integrity and fiscal conservatism has dawned in Ann Arbor government.

       —John Dory    Aug. 7 '09 - 03:26AM    #
  94. Does anyone know what is going on with the GO Ask Voters petition drive?

    Their website has been inactive for a number of months.

       —Kerry D.    Jan. 18 '10 - 07:40AM    #
  95. I think we should have faith in all of our elected and unelected officials. If they want to build more courthouses, police stations, and anything else, they should just take the money from any bonds or any other place. We can always trust them to be fair about it. I bet they tell all their old developer friends, “sorry, I can’t give you this building contract. It would look bad.”

    If they don’t spend it all on courthouses and stuff, then all that money will go to undeserving types, and I think you know who I mean. This economy is bringing a lot of those types out of the woodwork.

       —AskVoters    Jan. 18 '10 - 08:15PM    #