Category Archives: Uncategorized

How to spend the City’s public safety rebate

Since voters overwhelmingly passed the public safety and mental health millage in November 2017, there has been some debate about how Ann Arbor should spend the rebate it receives for already providing police services.

There are many unmet needs in Ann Arbor: affordable housing, climate resilience, pedestrian safety, mental health, road conditions, etc. Since the rebate is unrestricted funding, any of these are appropriate uses for the rebate.

While there is a strong case for any of these uses, I believe that it is important that Council keep its promises to voters and not walk back commitments about how funds were to be used that were made prior to the election.

Background: Members of the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners have been discussing some combination of a public safety and/or mental health/human services millage since before I was first elected to Council six years ago. After much wrangling, the plan that emerged was:


  • 38% Mental Health to be administered by Community Mental Health with input from an advisory board.
  • 62% Public Safety, dividing into two pools:
    • 38% paid directly to the Sheriff’s Department to maintain road patrol services out county and to “1. Maximize the impact of their existing community based diversion, treatment and support programs; and 2. Plan, implement and sustain nationally recognized “best practices” criminal justice alternative/diversion programs for individuals suffering from mental health/substance use disorders” (as described in the use ordinance).
    • 24% paid as a rebate to communities that have their own police departments (such as Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Saline, Northfield Township).





The structure of the 62% to public safety was the most controversial element of the millage structure. The rebate is in place to prevent “double charging” in which residents of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti would be subsidizing sheriffs patrols in Dexter and Manchester. The funds were unrestricted from the County both because the County did not have a method to restrict the use by the policing jurisdictions and because many of the policing jurisdictions would have opposed the millage if the funds had been restricted in their use.

Ann Arbor’s Use Resolution

In advance of the millage, the Ann Arbor City Council passed a resolution of intent to specify that the City would use its portion of the millage:

  • 20% to improve Pedestrian Safety
  • 40% for housing affordability
  • 40% for the Climate Action Plan

Some criticized the decision on the argument that we should not specify the usage of the funds prior to the election or budget process, but I supported the resolution for the following reasons:

    1. Voters deserved to know what the rebate would be used for before the vote. This headed off the concern that the millage rebate would be an unaccountable “slush fund”  
    2. Address Unmet Needs: The three areas specified represented three areas where there has been strong and consistent public demand for improved City leadership but where there have not been adequate funds to address the issues.
    3. Expand the coalition. The use resolution brought in housing, environmental, and pedestrian safety organizations and voters to build a stronger campaign for passage of the millage.
    4. These three areas have a connection to the core millage. Affordable housing is a public safety and mental health issue. It’s not safe to sleep outside all winter long. Homelessness is both a symptom and a cause of mental illness. Pedestrian safety is a public safety issue. The recent pedestrian death of an EMU professor in the 5th Ward reminds us all of this.

      Climate change is also public safety issue. My first election season was the year of the Dexter Tornado, and I saw first hand how the increased storm strength that comes with climate change is a threat to public safety. Climate change will impact Michigan in two primary ways – significantly more precipitation, and more intense heat waves.  Heat waves, in particular, present immediate dangers for the lives of the most vulnerable among us – the poor and the elderly. Setting aside this funding, as our use resolution does, creates equity by establishing recurring annual finding that allows the city to help provide these residents with the increased security of safe homes. .





Public Bodies Should Keep Their Promises (even when the individual officials didn’t make them)

Elected officials are often attacked for breaking promises and flip flopping. In this context, I think it’s very important that government does keep its promises.

Here’s an example. In 2010, Ann Arbor City Council passed a “parks fairness resolution” directing that the parks budget be increased at the same rate as general fund expenditures. This was a promise to the voters as Council proposed a Parks Operation millage to give voters certainty that approving the parks millage would not reduce the general fund allocation to parks.

Mayor Taylor is the only person now on Council who was on Council when that resolution was passed. There are times at Council when I chafe at this resolution. Do we really need to increase parks funding every time we allocate new funds for streetlights, traffic studies, etc? But even though I question the way the resolution forces our hand at budget time, I and everyone else on Council always vote for the parks fairness amendment because we all see the importance of keeping promises to the voters, especially the promises made in conjunction with a tax increase.

Now, some people argue that not very many people know about the promises in the resolution of intent. Only a few people made their decision on voting or campaigning for or against the millage based the City’s use resolution. I don’t think that gives us a pass. Only a few voters know about the parks fairness resolution, but I can’t in good conscience use this as a justification to vote against the budget adjustments it requires.  Integrity is about keeping promises–no matter how few people know about them.

Creating a Community Policing Commission: Thoughts on Process and Content

After the events in Ferguson, national attention turned to how to address racial disparities and excessive force in policing. After the death of Aura Rosser in Ann Arbor local attention to the issue increased.

One of the proposed tools to address these concerns is the creation of a community-based commission that can review and influence the police department. For years the City of Ann Arbor has been moving toward setting up a community-based commission to review and advise on policing practices. We have the 2016 Human Rights Commission report, the recent Hillard Heintze report, and many community statements on the issue.

Done right, a community board established to review the City of Ann Arbor Police Department could be a fulcrum to leverage continuing improvements in training, policies, practices, and strategy. Done poorly it risks providing PR cover without leading to actual improvements in policing.

We need to get this right.

To that end, here are some of my thoughts as they stand now (they are subject to change, so please let me know what you agree or disagree with). I separate these into considerations of process and content

Getting the process right

There are a lot of details to work out about the final goals, composition, and powers of a commission.

On Monday, February 5, City Council will consider a Resolution Creating an Advisory Task Force to Make Recommendations Regarding the Roles and Responsibilities of a Community Policing Commission. Under this resolution the task force would:

  • Have voting members of the task force drawn entirely from residents.
  • Have its composition created with input from the Human Rights Commission, Neutral Zone, and other appropriate community stakeholders.
  • Make a recommendation outlining the roles and responsibilities of a proposed Community Policing Commission.

My hope and intent is that this process in inclusive and transparent:

  • Inclusive: the task force should include a broad cross section of the community with a particular attention to communities most vulnerable — people of color, youth, LGBTQ, formerly incarcerated individuals, immigrants, etc.
  • Transparent: The proceedings of the task force, and the subsequent implementation of the recommendations, should be clear and transparent to the public.

One of the biggest challenges of the task force will be to find a process that reconciles competing valid interests in a way that is legally sould. For example, is is a valid goal that the commission have a high level of access to information about police incidents and policies. It is also an important goal to protect community members’ privacy–especially youth and people not convicted of a crime. The task force will have to find a way to thread the needle between these two valid concerns in a way that complies with relevant laws and regulations.

The process is important, but it is the means, not the end of creating a commission that can meaningfully improve policing practices. While it will be up to the task force to make final recommendations, here are my initial thoughts on the charge of the commission.

Getting the content right

I believe a successful police commission should:

    • Constructively engage a variety of voices in the community and law enforcement: A This process should pay special attention to including the voices of those most vulnerable to negative police interactions and least likely to be listened to (people of color, undocumented immigrants, people formerly incarcerated, etc).
    • Create understanding: The commission needs to create a setting in which officers can hear, understand, and learn from the needs community members, and where community members can hear, understand, and learn from the perspective of law enforcement. I’m not saying they always will always agree, and we need to keep in mind the power imbalance here, but this understanding is vital.
    • Produce change: The commission produces concrete and actionable steps to improve equity and public safety in Ann Arbor. The fundamental measure of the commission’s success is that the AAPD improves its policing practice.  
    • Not limit public safety to law enforcement. The commission recognizes that police are not the only tool for providing public safety and looks holistically at other to improve public safety such as mental health and substance abuse treatment, affordable housing, employment access, etc.
    • Recognize that individual, institutional, and systemic racism affect all areas of society–including policing. To effectively address concerns about racially disparate outcomes in policing the commission must a deep understanding and commitment to address the ways that racism affects society through such means as:
      • Individual biases (even among people with a deep commitment to equity),
      • A history of government and corporate racial discrimination, and
      • Current policies that are race-neutral on their face but have racially disparate outcomes (such as banning affirmative action but allowing legacy preferences in college recruitment that disproportionately benefit white applicants).
    • Forge agreement around actionable solutions. The commission has broad enough participation and deep enough deliberation so that, in most cases, the solutions worked out in the commission easily move through to implementation. The Human Rights Commission’s work to revise our Non Discrimination Ordinance is a good example of this. The commission members did the hard work to sort through the details to ensure that the ordinance that came forward had the full support of Council and staff and sailed through the approval process. In contrast, the Human Rights Commission’s recommendation of an ordinance limiting police video surveillance failed at Council as it lacked the support of the police chief.
    • Have the resources to succeed: The commission has access to sufficient information, training, and staff support to effectively review and impact police strategy, training, policies, and procedures.
    • Involve the broader community: If the commission’s engagement is limited to the handful of community members on the body it is a failure. To be effective the commission relationship building, information gathering, and education process must extend into the entire  community–especially into those parts of our community where the risk of negative police interactions is highest.
    • Review past police actions with an eye for improving future decisions. The largest area of debate is how the commission should review police behavior. Some argue that the commission should have the power to directly affect disciplinary decision. I find the frameworks of a  morbidity and mortality (M&M) conference or blameless post mortem to be most promising. Here the focus is creating the environment that allows for a candid and honest exploration of how an event could have been handled differently and what structural dynamics and personal decisions contributed to a negative outcome. I believe a disciplinary review is unlikely to generate the learnings necessary to change future behaviors, as the question, “Was there misconduct?” shifts the discussion to the police decisions rather than the experiences of all parties. A disciplinary hearing also generates a defensiveness that impedes honest and frank discussions of outcomes and alternatives. Many of the complaints that community members have about police interactions are about the decisions an officer makes within the range of actions an officer is permitted to take — they are not about violations of the law or departmental policy. In these cases a disciplinary review that finds no misconduct will likely not address the opportunity to learn from the encounter; improve training, policy, and procedure; and to address the needs of the people unhappy with the event. (There may be a role for the commission to review the disciplinary process to ensure that it is rigorous and fair, but that is different from making disciplinary decisions in individual cases.)
    • Self-reflect and improve: I don’t think we will get this right on the first try, so just as the commission reflects on and seeks to improve police practices, it should also reflect on and seek to improve its own practices.

There are also many important details that still need to get worked out such as composition, nomination process, and ensuring independence. One of the thorniest details will be balancing the commission’s access to information with the need to protect privacy — especially for minors and people not convicted of a crime. On the one hand, the commission needs a high level of access to information about policy and specific police cases to do their jobs. On the other hand, there is a need to safeguard an individual’s privacy as well as legal mandates that may limit the distribution of information to the commission.

We also need to recognize that while the commission should actively share results and key findings with the public, many of their deliberations will need to be in closed session. I know this is a controversial one. In Ann Arbor we (rightly) place a high value on public bodies operating in the public eye. But the fastest way to sabotage efforts to create an environment where officers can engage in a candid conversation about how they could have made different choices in a situation is to turn it into a public interrogation. The fastest way to undermine public engagement with the commission is for their history of police contact to be discussed openly in a public session in front of the press and community television cameras.

We have an opportunity here to create a framework that meaningfully engages voices from across the community and produces meaningful improvements in police practices–and I believe there is broad agreement on many of the core points. Let’s build on this broad agreement and establish a commission that can make a difference in our community. No, it won’t be perfect to start, but we can continue to improve on it as we move forward. And together we can make a safer, more equitable community.

Taking a knee

Back in high school football, when my coach wanted to make sure we were listening and not goofing off he’d tell us to “take a knee.”

If someone was badly hurt on a play and we wanted to show respect and a concern while he was attended to we would also “take a knee.”

I can’t speak to what is in each person’s heart, but for me to “take a knee” is an act of attention, of concern, and of respect. And it is in that spirit that I take a knee at tonight’s City Council meeting: out of respect for the aspiration that we be a nation “with liberty and justice for all,” with full attention that we fall short of that ideal in many ways, and with humble dedication to continue to work that the promise of the pledge may be fulfilled.

It was we, the people; not we, the white male citizens; nor yet we, the male citizens; but we, the whole people, who formed the Union. And we formed it, not to give the blessings of liberty, but to secure them; not to the half of ourselves and the half of our posterity, but to the whole people – women as well as men.
-Susan B. Anthony


Since the story on this broke I’ve been getting a lot of feedback and reflecting more on the decision.

Veterans for Peace Statement of Support

The Utah Phillips – J. David Singer Chapter 93 or Veterans for Peace issued this Vets Statement of Support. They write:

to question people’s patriotism and use smear tactics to quiet them is in direct contradiction to the spirit of the right to freedom of expression. These acts of protest are political acts to register discontent with the actions of our government. It is a nonviolent act that demands positive change for a better future for all of us. It is exactly the kind of speech the First Amendment was designed to protect and as veterans we applaud the use of these rights for the cause of equality and justice; rights and ideals that we are told we served to defend.

Chuck, we defend your freedom to express your beliefs during the Pledge of Allegiance, especially since you say kneeling for the Pledge “. . . for me it was with the same spirit of respect as kneeling in prayer”. We will continue to support you, and work with you to bring attention to injustice.

Apology for offense

As I wrote above, my intent was not to offend of dishonor those who have sacrificed for the country, whether police, military, or civilians. Though those were my intentions, it is clear that some have felt disrespected, and for that I apologize.

What is respect

When someone gets down on one knee to make a marriage proposal, is that a sign of disrespect?

The work before us

The pledge of allegiance proclaims “liberty and justice for all.”  This is a noble aspiration, but one we have not yet reached. Here in Washtenaw County we are “in the bottom 8 percent for upward mobility for children in whose parents fall into the bottom 25 percent of earners nationwide. ” We are the eighth most economically segregated metropolitan region in the country.  Nationally drug use rates do not vary significantly by race, but African-Americans are six times more likely to be imprisoned for drug charges than whites. 

Listening to King

This experience has led me to re-read Martin Luther King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail. Here are a few key excerpts, but I encourage you to read it in full.

You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations.


You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.

Don’t Concentrate on the Finger

In Enter the Dragon, Bruce Lee says “It is like a finger-, pointing a way to the moon. don’t concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory.”

The practice of taking a knee is intended to be a finger pointing to the unfinished promises of American ideals and to catalyze a deeper engagement in how we can be “the land of the free” and have “liberty and justice for all.”

However, the media coverage has focused on the tactic,  not the deeper issues. Rather than looking at the moon, people have focused on the finger.

As I reflect on the feedback I’ve received after taking a knee, I see no indication that anyone new is addressing the root issues of racism and economic injustice based on my actions. So, while I still feel the action was an ethical action to take, I do wonder if it was a tactically sound action.

In part my ambivalence comes from reflecting on the difference between recent symbolic acts of protest versus the direct interventions in the King-era civil rights movement. The Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Greensboro sit ins, the Selma voting rights activities were direct interventions at the site of oppression.

Also, my ambivalence is due to the different opportunities that I have compared to the NFL protesters. As an athlete, the players’ bodies are on-screen but their words about social issues rarely get attention, and they have little direct access to making public policy. In this setting, the decision to take a knee is their best opportunity to bring attention to their concerns. This is different from my role as an elected official where, in my own small way, I have the opportunity to use policy tools to address these concerns.


Some of the vitriolic comments I have received have accused me of being a socialist, which is amusing since the pledge itself was written by a socialist.

What is meant vs what is heard

For me, my decision to take a knee hinged on the question, “Can I take this posture in an attitude of respect for the ideals the flag represents and those who have sacrificed for those ideals.” When I reflected on what the posture of taking a knee means to me, I determined that I could, and I tried to convey that.

Despite these efforts, may people did not hear that nuance.

Effective communication depends on both the sender and receiver. Both have a duty to consider what is intended and how it is received.

It reminds me in some ways of the discussion on the Confederate flag. The argument has often been two sides entrenched in a narrative of “this is what it means to me” and not engaged in a question of what the impact of the symbol or its removal is on others.

In closing

I give Susan B. Anthony the closing words:

Cautious, careful people, always casting about to preserve their reputation and social standing, never can bring about a reform. Those who are really in earnest must be willing to be anything or nothing in the world’s estimation, and publicly and privately, in season and out, avow their sympathy with despised and persecuted ideas and their advocates, and bear the consequences…

Making the Call on the Library Lot

As I wrestled with the vote on Monday, for me it came down to affordable housing. As I reviewed the list of projects in the pipeline that might need money from the affordable housing fund (which is currently unfunded), I asked myself, “If I say ‘no’ to this sale and the $5 million for affordable housing, am I willing to call the people on the housing waitlist and explain to them why I voted to turn down money that would have allowed us to house them?” The issue was more complex than that, but this single question more than anything led to my vote. Continue reading

Town Hall Meeting on Discovery of Dioxane in Shallow Groundwater Sampling

This Thursday October 27, 7-9 p.m.
Eberwhite Elementary School
800 Soule Blvd.


Please attend a community Town Hall meeting to learn about the results of the Shallow Groundwater testing study which discovered trace amounts of 1,4 Dioxane in shallow groundwater on the west side of Ann Arbor. The purpose of the meeting is to help residents understand what the shallow groundwater test was, what the results are and what they mean, as well as the risks associated to the findings.


The meeting will also provide an update on the broader context of Pall/Gelman/Danaher dioxane plume efforts, including a status update on changing exposure standards for dioxane, the impacts of those changes on cleanup and the status of the renewed public engagement effort.

Scheduled and Confirmed Speakers:

  • Michigan Department of Health and Human Services
  • Washtenaw County Health Department
  • Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality
  • State Representative Jeff Irwin
  • Mayor Christopher Taylor
  • Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners chair Felicia Brabec

Questions and Inquires may be directed to Councilmember Chuck Warpehoski at [email protected] or 734-972-8304, Councilmember Chip Smith at [email protected] or 734-709-2022 or Representative Jeff Irwin at [email protected] or 517-373-2577

Please help spread the word by printing and distributing the flyer or sharing the Facebook post.

A Downtown Park: Should we go it alone?

On the August 4, 2016 City Council meeting we will be asked to put on a resolution to ask the voters to approve a City Charter amendment to dedicate the entire of the Library Lot to be city-owned in perpetuity. The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that the entire of the site is developed as a park rather than creating a public-private partnership to develop part of the site as a mixed-use commercial building and part of the site as a park.

I want to see a park developed on Fifth Avenue by the Library, and I believe the best way to do that is in partnership with a developer who can build, manage, and program the site rather as part of a mixed-use development on the Library Lane Lot. The alternative of having the City build, maintain, and program the site would be extremely costly and at the expense of affordable housing, existing neighborhood parks, and other key services.

The only scenario in which I would be willing to choose a “go it alone” approach to the parcel is there was also a funding source to cover the building, maintenance and programming for the site as well as to cover lost revenue from sale of development rights and lost tax revenue from a building on that site, which I estimate to be a .75 mill property tax.

I believe that the best way to achieve the goal of a downtown park on Fifth Avenue is in partnership with a development that can fund construction, programming, and maintenance.

The City has on numerous occasions taken actions to support a park on the site, such as building a portion of the underground structure to not support a building to encourage a park above the site, studying success factors to identify how to make a downtown park most successful, and voting to dedicate the entire Fifth Avenue street frontage to open space.

Right now, we are negotiating with a developer  to put a building on part of the site and a park on the dedicated park space. While the final details of the park portion are not worked out, initial designs include a water feature, play area, and flexible seating so it can be used as a performance space.

I believe that partnering with a developer in this way is the best way to establish a park without sacrificing our current, neighborhood parks.

When I took office four years ago, the City was just starting to rebound from the great recession. There was tremendous community frustration that the grass wasn’t getting cut in our neighborhood parks. We would like to think those days are behind us, but as fifth ward voters went the first month of the summer with Vets Park Pool closed, I am not so sure. The City-owned pools and ice rinks are due for approximately $10 million in new liners, filters, boilers, etc., which is hard to work into to parks budget of only around $12 million total (going off memory here on the costs, don’t have my notes with me). We’ll get that done, but it highlights how tight the city parks budget is.

At the same time, there are some big requests coming forward to improve and expand our park system. I have been championing the Allen Creek Greenway master plan. If successful, this will help establish a trail with anchor parks along the Allen Creek. This will be a tremendous asset to our City, but also another draw on the already-tight parks budget.

Downtown parks are expensive. According to the Trust for Public Land, the average construction cost for a new urban park is $4.3 million per acre, so at this average the cost to develop a park on the Library Lane site would be $6 million. The Trust also reports that operations costs for urban parks are $200,000-$700,000, with highly programmed parks falling in the $500,000-700,000 range. I believe a park on this site needs to be highly programmed to avoid the behavior problems we see at Liberty Plaza Park on the same block.

So, over ten years it would cost around $10 million just to build, maintain, and program the park—about the same as the cost of the pool and ice rink capital maintenance that is coming due. I am not willing to sacrifice our existing park facilities in our neighborhoods to go it alone for a downtown park.

Not partnering with a developer brings tremendous opportunity costs. If we choose a “go it alone” strategy to develop a public park on the site and refuse to partner with a developer to build, maintain, and program it, we lose more than just the private funding for the park itself. We also lose the estimated $10 million sale price for development rights (half of which would go to affordable housing), as well as an estimated $2 million per year in tax revenue that would fund police, transit, parks, schools, and other core services.

So, a back-of-the-envelope calculation of the total cost of downtown park without a developer partnership is:

  • $10 million lost for sale of development rights
  • $20 million lost tax revenue (to be fair, not all of this would go to the City, but it is still lost revenue for the public good)
  • $5 million to construct
  • $$ million to operate

That’s equivalent to a .75 mill property tax.

There is room to quibble over the numbers. You could argue the actual cost is lower because we could build and maintain the park on the cheap. You could also argue the actual cost is higher because these calculations due not include the impacts of job creation and economic ripple effects.

If voters approved a tax or other viable funding mechanism to cover these costs, I would be willing to take a “go it alone” approach to a park on this site. Without such a dedicated funding source to cover both park costs and opportunity costs, I cannot.

Vets Pool Update

Vets Park Pool is closed for the start of the season. Here's why.

Vets Park Pool is closed for the start of the season. Here’s why.

Like many families on the west side of town, my kids have been sad that the Vets Park pool isn’t yet open. Bill Meeks, the staffperson in charge of the pool, shared the explanation for the closure below.

As people have discussed the closure, some residents have also raised other concerns about condition at Vets Park Pool. Chip Smith and I will be meeting with staff in early July to discuss these issues, so if you have positive or negative feedback to give on Vets Park Pool overall please let me know. You can email [email protected] or call 734-972-8304.

Here’s the update.

Hello everyone,
I wanted to take this opportunity to address all of you regarding the issues at Vets Pool. I know you are very frustrated with the situation, as am I and my staff. I want to first give you a recap of the pool since I took over in August of 2013.  Continue reading

What’s Going On There–Using eTRAKiT to Look Up Building and Development in Ann Arbor

Oren Construction

Oren loves watching the construction equipment. Here’s how I used the Ann Arbor eTRAKiT system to on the website find out what’s getting built.

Oren loves watching the bulldozers, cranes, and excavators as they work on a construction project in front of his daycare.

But what is it going to be?

Maybe you’ve had this same question when you’ve seen construction in your neighborhood. Or maybe you’ve wanted to check the permit history of a property. Or maybe you’ve wanted to see the details of how a development’s stormwater impact was modeled.

Thanks to eTRAKiT, you can find out.

To use eTRAKiT,
visit From there you can choose to search permits, projects, properties, or inspections.

Since this is a project, I’ll start there. You can search by address, parcel ID, owner name, and more. In this case, I don’t know the property address, but I do know it’s across from 216 Beakes. I’ll start by searching all the properties on Beakes.

That looks like it, 215 Beakes. Beakes 2Here I can see that the property went through the process to be converted to single-family use, but that the request for a setback variance was denied. Interesting, but it still doesn’t tell me what’s being build. Let’s try searching permits.

Here we go. After going trough some permits we can see that this one is to “rebuild a new single family home.” I can click through to the plans and see the plans for a 2-story house with a 1st-floor garage. I can read through all the submitted site plans, permitting history, etc.

Screenshot (23)So, it’s going to be a house–a big one.


Screenshot (26)For this project it wasn’t that exciting. Single-family homes are pretty basic in terms of permitting. But this feature can be quite useful in other cases. For example, a few years ago a development was proposed on Glendale Drive near Hillside Terrace. As the neighbors tried to understand how the project would affect the neighborhood, they could look up all the background documents for the project, including:

So, whether you are trying to tell your 2 year old why there are all the cool bulldozers across the street from daycare or understand the impacts of a proposed development in your neighborhood, eTRAKiT is a great tool to give you access to the public plans, permits, and property information about what is happening in your city.



What’s the Deal with Dioxane?

Make your voice heard by attending the town hall meeting with Keith Creagh, acting director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality on April 18, 6-8:30 p.m. inside the auditorium at Eberwhite Elementary School, 800 Soule Blvd.

Make your voice heard by attending the town hall meeting with Keith Creagh, acting director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality on April 18, 6-8:30 p.m. inside the auditorium at Eberwhite Elementary School, 800 Soule Blvd.

A brief history: 1,4 dioxane is an industrial solvent that was used by Gelman Sciences in the manufacture of medical filters. According to the EPA, dioxane is a carcinogen. Gelman disposed of the solvent by spraying it on the ground, storing it in lagoons, and injecting it into the ground. This has led to the contamination of many people’s wells and concerns about the long-term risk to Ann Arbor’s drinking water.

There is currently  no 1,4 dioxane in Ann Arbor Water. We regularly test for dioxane in our water supply using highly-sensitive tests. It has not shown up. Several years ago one of our supply wells was contaminated with 1,4 dioxane, and the City took that well out of service, even though the level of dioxane was below the state and federal standards. Continue reading

MLive Litter

4 pieces of fresh #MLiveLitter on just one plot and one more next door)

4 pieces of fresh #MLiveLitter on just one plot and one more next door)

I try to spend most of my time on Council addressing constituent service and the big issues facing the city, things like transportation infrastructure and safety, affordable housing, and environmental protection.

But there’s a pet peeve of mine that I’ve turned into a pet project. I call it #MLiveLitter.

MLive produces an advertising circular and events listing that they distribute for free throughout the community. If people want it, I’m fine with that (I have yet to have anyone tell me they want it).

But here’s the problem, since most people don’t want it, the papers end up as litter. Often, the papers pile up in driveways and yards. If they didn’t want the first one (or 2 or 3), that should be a signal not to deliver any more.



I count four pieces of #MLiveLitter in various stages of decay at this site.

I count four pieces of #MLiveLitter in various stages of decay at this site.



There they are left to disintegrate into a pulp, and eventually wash away to pollute our waterways.


Sometimes they are left right in the middle of the road (hint to Mlive, nobody lives in the middle of the road).

Even though it's hard to see the #MLiveLitter here, this is one of my favorite examples. The advertising circular was delivered to the planting island on Duncan. No humans live there, was it for the apple tree?

Even though it’s hard to see the #MLiveLitter here, this is one of my favorite examples. The advertising circular was delivered to the planting island on Duncan. No humans live there, was it for the apple tree?










I’m not alone in my frustration. A recent poster to NextDoor reported:

I’ve asked them to stop as well, no joy. They keep dumping them. A couple times I’ve caught them throwing them out by my mailbox. The story from the deliverers is they don’t have a list of ‘do not delivers’, their only instruction is to deliver them to every house.

Why is this a problem:

  • It’s unsightly. Piles of litter in our streets and neighborhoods degrade the asthetics of our community.
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    This paper was delivered to the house of a neighbor after she had moved out, cancelled her subscription to the News, and her family had contacted MLive to cease delivery of their advertising circular.

    It’s dangerous. While there are piles of #MLiveLitter at some occupied homes, it can also be a cue to potential thieves that a home is unoccupied. I’ve seen the circulars delivered even after someone moves out, cancels their paper delivery, and asks repeatedly for the paper not to be delivered to the vacant house.

  • It increases flooding risk: newspapers that are delivered to the street often end up in our storm drains, where they can block the drain and contribute to flooding risk in large rainstorms.
  • It’s illegal. Chapter 82 of the Ann Arbor code of ordinances states, “No person shall throw or deposit any handbill or newspaper upon any sidewalk, street, park or other public place except for drop-off distribution points for newspapers to be delivered the same day as distributed.” So, all those pictures of newspapers on the streets and sidewalks? It was illegal to deliver them there (though a very low priority for enforcement).
  • It’s bad for the environment. According to the LA County Department of Public Works:

    Plastic bags are difficult and costly to recycle and most end up on landfill sites where they take around 300 years to photodegrade. They break down into tiny toxic particles that contaminate the soil and waterways and enter the food chain when animals accidentally ingest them.

What can be done?

In May of 2015 I met with representatives of the firm that distributes the Mlive advertising circular to request:

  • Improved opt-out compliance: A perennial complaint is that households opt-out of the paper, but that request is not honored. To that end, I requested:
    • Improved procedures for processing opt-outs
    • Allowing people to post a “Please don’t deliver” sign at their property as an opt-out
    • Requiring clear-to-understand opt-out instructions visible without opening package
  • No Paper Pileup Policy
    • Require that when delivery people observe 2 circulars already present, they don’t deliver a 3rd and either put that address on the “do not deliver” list for 1 year or get explicit opt-in permission from the resident to re-deliver the paper.
  • 3rd party opt-out: 
    • As a neighbor, I see which properties never pick up their circulars. I should have the opportunity to report such properties and have them placed on the do not deliver list for one year or until the company gets explicit opt-in permission from the resident to re-deliver the paper. A2FixIt should be a tool to deliver this feedback.
  • Require compostable packaging
    • bags that the circulars are delivered in should be able to compost in a natural environment. Many compostable materials require the high temperatures of municipal compost systems–temperatures that won’t be reached in storm drain. Therefore, teh bags should comply with backyard compostable standard such as Vinçotte

At that meeting, I was told that the organization would establish policies that would address the major concerns.

These policies have not yet arrived.

At this time, I am reviewing options to amend our City regulations regarding newspaper and handbill distribution. In the meantime, you can:

  • Report unwanted deliveries to [email protected]
  • Help document the problem. Take a picture of egregious problems and email them to me at [email protected] Also consider posting them to social media and tagging @Mlive and using the hashtag #MliveLitter
  • Email [email protected] and ask them to change their delivery policies so they stop delivering advertising circulars to roads and sidewalks and stop delivering them when previous weeks’ copies haven’t been picked up.