At the City Council meeting on Monday evening, council members passed an ordinance to amend city code to include a chapter outlining procedures for removal of councilmembers. The Council also honored Carolyn Grawi for her disability awareness efforts and work toward implementing independent living for people with disabilities.
According to the Council Internal Regulation Ordinance, cause for removal of a councilmember includes conviction of a felony, violation of an oath of office, repeated violation of council ethics or administrative rules, conviction of state criminal misconduct or conviction of city or state election laws. Upon requests for removal of a councilmember, the ordinance specifies the Council Administrative Committee as the investigative staff who must recommend the appropriate action for the request, such as dismissing without merit, scheduling a Council meeting or referring to a government or law enforcement agency. At least eight councilmembers must approve the removal of a councilmember based on valid evidence.
After two years of developing the chapter, the Council passed the ordinance unanimously.
Councilmember Sumi Kailasapathy, D-Ward 1, emphasized how the ordinance is an essential and relevant element to the code of the city and enacts a system of checks and balances among councilmembers.
“I feel having (the ordinance) is very essential that council members don’t have a double standard,” Kailasapathy said. “That we too have to have code of conduct, ethics and our standards.”
With council member terms increasing from two to four years starting next year, Kailasapathy also highlighted how the procedures outlined in this ordinance would relieve Ann Arbor residents of time-consuming actions to remove council members.
“If residents feel that someone misbehaved, let’s say in being elected, they would have to wait another three years for that councilmember to be replaced,” Kailasapathy said. “We are putting an undue burden on the residents to collect the number of signatures to recall that councilmember.”
Although supporting the ordinance, Councilmember Westphal, D-Ward 2, also brought up the need for caution regarding the way the procedures are implemented.
“I understand that recalls are a great tool to have and they can be effective but it is a great burden,” Westphal said. “Certainly if there is an inkling of something like this be used improperly, we would modify or remove it, so I think we will be keeping an eye on it.”
Mayor Christopher Taylor-D emphasized the ordinance as a necessary new chapter that will provide a proper course of action for Ann Arbor residents to remove councilmembers.
“This is something that we as a council have needed for some time to put rules in place,” Taylor said. “We need to have an ordinance that provides a structure for folks who have concerns about the actions of council members.”
However, Ann Arbor resident Edward Vielmetti highlighted how the ordinance could politicize a polarized council and be used to oust a council member through an unfair method.
“The process of removing a Democrat being elected member of Council by non-democratic method doesn’t strike me as a particularly good one,” Vielmetti said. “It strikes me as something that in a climate could be used as a political weapon … and to fill this hole (in the code) might come back to haunt us in years to come.”
Yet, Councilmember Julie Grand, D-Ward 3, explained the need to enforce this ordinance now rather than waiting for a violation to occur. “A time when we are not dealing with a particular action with a particular council member is the time to impart rules so that we are not trying to make up things as we go.”
With the new chapter’s approval, the ordinance will take effect ten days following legal publication.
“I hope we can file this under a never need to use category,” Westphal said. “It would certainly be great to have in a very unlikely event where it would actually play a role.”