Following a Jan. 2 drunken driving arrest in Novi, Mich., Ann Arbor City Councilmember Zachary Ackerman, D-Ward 3, was sentenced in February to a year of probation and five days of community service. Despite the January arrest, Ackerman did not disclose his arrest to City Council and the public until he released a statement to the council on April 1.
In an interview with MLive, Ackerman acknowledged the delayed response time between the incident and his statement. He stated he did not intend to hide the story for "malicious reasons", but had instead hoped to deal with his personal life privately.
After being found with a blood-alcohol level of 0.20 percent, Ackerman was originally charged under Michigan’s “Super Drunk Law,” for which drivers with a BAC over 0.17 percent face extended punishments, even for a first time offense. However, after pleading no contest in late January, Ackerman’s sentence was reduced to a year’s probation.
According to Sergeant Kevin Gilmore, a Novi police detective, police brought in Ackerman around 5:30 p.m. on Jan. 2 after he got in an accident in stop-and-go traffic.
“He rear ended someone near Beck (Road) and 10 Mile,” Gilmore said. “The officer got there and noticed that Mr. Ackerman’s eyes were bloodshot and glossy and he had slurred speech. Talking to him, he had the odor of intoxicants coming from his vehicle and from his person.”
Gilmore explained arrests are made relatively frequently in law enforcement.
“It was nothing out of the ordinary in our line of work — a car accident where someone ended up being intoxicated, we arrested him, held him, released him the next morning,” Gilmore said.
In the weeks following the arrest, however, Ackerman neglected to inform his constituents and fellow Ann Arbor councilmembers, only disclosing information to fellow councilmembers on March 27, followed by an April 1 City Council statement.
“This happened nearly three months ago,” Ackerman said in the statement to City Council. “I did not disclose any of this to anyone at this table until this past Wednesday. I recognize, that as public officials, we walk a fine line between what should and should not be private. I considered this a private part of my life because these events were a wake-up call. They were a wake-up call that I had a serious, and now diagnosed health issue — Severe Alcohol Dependence.”
Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor defended Ackerman, explaining that the councilmember understood the danger of his actions and has since worked to curb his alcohol usage.
“I think Councilmember Ackerman has spoken eloquently for himself at the council table and in public statements,” Taylor said. “Of course he knew and knows that driving under the influence is a terrible mistake, he put his own and other peoples’ lives at risk and that’s an error that he’ll walk with. He also knows that he has a big medical problem that is addiction and he is continuing with the ongoing daily work to combat it.”
Ackerman offered a statement to The Daily explaining his issues with alcohol began late last year, and he has since been working to control his dependence. Ackerman also added since his arrest, he has not consumed any alcohol, and has been pursuing treatment at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Ann Arbor.
“For me, my drinking became dangerous in mid-November of last year, just six to eight weeks before my arrest,” Ackerman wrote in a statement to The Daily. “But it was not until January 2 that I could see it for myself.”
Ackerman emphasized that he would not be leaving office following the incident, stating that “a health condition is never ground for being fired.”
Despite Ackerman’s disciplinary sentence, according to Taylor, the councilmember has been met with support and understanding from the Ann Arbor public following his April 1 statement.
“Everybody is either an addict, or knows one,” Taylor said. “People who suffer from this condition are everywhere and they’re part of our community and I think that they require our support to continue the hard work and maintaining sobriety, maintaining recovery. He has felt, I believe, a tremendous amount of support from people in the recovery community and people outside the recovery community for that effort.”