On Monday, Ann Arbor City Council discussed an override of Mayor Christopher Taylor’s veto of a resolution that would put an initiative on whether or not the city’s elections should be partisan on the November 2019 election ballot. The council ultimately fell one vote short of the eight votes necessary to override the veto.
Before the contentious vote, the council welcomed Michael Cox, the new Ann Arbor police chief. Cox said he looks forward to working for and with the community.
“Thank you all for showing confidence in me to lead this great city and police department,” Cox said. “I can’t wait to work with both the citizens of Ann Arbor and the police officers here.”
During public comments, four people spoke about boycotting Israel. Multiple councilmembers shared their own views on the issue and how the Ann Arbor Human Rights Commission should handle it.
Councilmember Ali Ramlawi, D-Ward 5, spoke about how the Ann Arbor Human Rights Commission should look at human rights issues across the world. Other members of the council, such as Julie Grand, D-Ward 3, and Zachary Ackerman, D-Ward 3, discussed how they feel Jewish identities and spaces are often attacked by protestors in Ann Arbor.
City Council then discussed the override of they mayor’s veto on a ballot initiative. Currently, Ann Arbor elections are partisan, and the ballot initiative resolution introduced on July 1 would allow voters to decide if Ann Arbor elections should be nonpartisan. This issue has not been on an Ann Arbor ballot since the 1950s.
Some councilmembers, including Jane Lumm, I-Ward 2, believe the city’s partisan elections mean results are often decided by the primary elections, since a majority of Ann Arbor is Democratic. Changing to nonpartisan would allow residents to vote in city elections during the general election, where there is a higher voter turnout.
Taylor defended his veto, saying he believes partisan elections do not suppress differences in opinion but rather simply require candidates to state which party they belong to. He said Republicans and Democrats have differences in how they would govern and the issues they would highlight and said it is important for voters to know which party a candidate belongs to.
“I believe the introduction of nonpartisan elections would cloud the electorate,” Taylor said. “It would remove from the voters important crucial information about candidate value sets.”
In opposition to Taylor, Jeff Hayner, D-Ward 1, brought up the disenfranchisement he believes comes from partisan elections. Hayner talked about how voters are unable to vote for more than one political party on a ballot, which might not allow for voters to fully express their political opinions.
Lumm noted the mayor’s veto seemed to send the message that he did not trust citizens to make decisions about elections. She clarified the resolution would not automatically change the elections from partisan to non-partisan, but rather opens the question to the voters as a referendum on the ballot in November.
Lumm highlighted Ann Arbor switching over to non-partisan elections would be in-line with most cities in Michigan, excluding Ypsilanti and Ionia, and with cities all over the county that the council uses as benchmarks.
“I’m seeing two very disturbing trends and proclivities with the mayor,” Lumm said. “One, a disregard for the will and voice for the people, and two, no aversion to messing with the election.”
Lumm concluded by reiterating that she would be voting to override the veto. She also brought up that if the override did not pass, she and others will be collecting petition signatures to put the referendum on a later ballot.
Ramlawi voiced support for Lumm’s comments. He focused on the diversity of Ann Arbor’s voter population and how many voters identified as independent. Ramlawi called the mayor’s veto “an abuse of power.”
Grand, Ackerman and Chip Smith, D-Ward 5, did not support of overriding the mayor’s veto. Grand and Smith voiced concern about the timing of adding the question to the ballot, as the referendum is proposed for the 2019 ballot, which they feel may have a low voter turnout.
“For me to support this it needs to be on the 2020 ballot,” Smith said. “I look at this as nothing more than trying to sneak something through during an election year when nobody’s paying attention.”
Lumm countered this point by saying this is not the first time a ballot proposal about nonpartisan elections has been brought up.
“There are people here who are going to have egg on their faces because this is going to be placed on the ballot,” Lumm said. “No matter how you vote tonight it’s going to happen, and it’s going to be veto-proof from the mayor because it’s going to be citizen-driven.”
Jeff Hayner, D-Ward 1, also countered objections to the timing of the ballot by saying putting an interesting question on the ballot will draw people to the polls. He argued that waiting to put the question on the 2020 ballot would only bury it under an already-long ballot and urged the council to encourage people to vote for this issue.
Ackerman spoke on how nonpartisan elections benefit incumbents because, without party markers, voters go off name recognition. He said he believes the change would be a detriment to fair elections since incumbents are not always the most fit for the job. Ackerman said he had gathered this information from political science professors.
The override ultimately failed in a 7-4 vote, one vote short of the necessary eight needed for the override.
The council also voted 8-3 to accept a 37 percent raise in their salaries starting next year, which would be a raise of more than $6,200 each. The raise came through a resolution put forward by Ackerman to reject the determination of salaries for the mayor and councilmembers as put forth by the City’s compensation commission.
Ramlawi spoke about how the raise could allow for a more diverse representation on the council, including those aside from the fairly wealthy or retired. The raises would put the councilmembers salaries at $23,000, half that of the mayor.