The Ann Arbor City Council met virtually Monday evening to discuss a motion to remove Councilmember Jeff Hayner, D-Ward 1, from committee assignments, after he made a comment on a Facebook post that quoted a homophobic slur and demeaned journalists. The council also discussed affordable housing developments expected to progress in the near future.
The council passed DC-5, a resolution to remove Hayner from his current appointments. As part of the resolution, Hayner would be removed from the boards and commissions he has served on until December 2021, though he will remain as a voting member on City Council. The resolution also requests that Hayner participate in sensitivity training.
After over an hour of discussion and multiple failed amendments, the resolution passed 8-2. Councilmembers Ali Ramlawi, D-Ward 5, and Kathy Griswold, D-Ward 2 voted no, and Hayner was recused from the vote.
During the discussion, Hayner repeated his apology, which he gave a day after defending his remarks in an interview with The Michigan Daily, for posting the slur and said he understands the harm the word caused to the LGBTQ+ community. However, Hayner also added that he believes being removed from his positions is “inappropriate” and overshadows the work he has done to support the LGBTQ+ community in the past, including marching with AIDS victims and supporting gay and transgender friends and family members.
“I think (this resolution) is a dangerous thing,” Hayner said. “Words are dangerous, and the harm that they cause to the community is real, but I also feel that it’s an inappropriate solution. I don’t see how my quoting someone’s foul language that was repeated at infinitum on social media and councilmember’s websites makes me less able to steward our parks or read a liquor license report or read a Brownfield report.”
Hayner emphasized the sincerity of his apology to the LGBTQ+ community, but added his comments did not break any City Council, state or federal laws.
Councilmember Travis Radina, D-Ward 4, spoke on his personal experiences with homophobia and said he felt frustrated by Hayner’s lack of immediate acknowledgement of his wrongdoing. Radina posted the initial screenshot of Hayner’s comment as well as a copy of an email he sent to Hayner and other councilmembers condemning Hayner’s use of the slur and anti-press sentiment.
Radina said he believes Hayner’s “eventual apology was sincere,” but that as a governing body, the council has a responsibility to the community to call out harmful language, and that includes voting on this resolution.
“As a gay man, I’ve been subject to homophobia and hatred for much of my life,” Radina said. “I have been called the f-word more times (than) I care to remember, I’ve heard the f-word used as it was in this case — as an insult hurled at others because apparently a derogatory comparison to gay people is still seen as the worst insult imaginable … As leaders in our community, our words matter. So to see this sentiment actively shared by an elected community member and for the same person to not immediately acknowledge the harm it can cause to others both hurt and angered me.”
Radina said he and one other elected official who spoke out against Hayner’s comments received “threatening” homophobic mail to their homes. After an hour of discussion, Radina said he felt exhausted by the council’s focus on protecting Hayner from punishment rather than issuing an immediate and thorough condemnation of his action.
“I’m frankly quite exhausted with this conversation,” Radina said. “It’s a conversation that’s been going on for a week in this community … I wish we were willing to condemn with as much passion and, frankly, effort that is being taken right now to protect against a meaningful consequence of this action. I wish we were willing to condemn the initial act with as much passion.”
During public comment, community members expressed concern both for removing Hayner and for the possibility of his remaining on the council.
Tonya Huffman, a Ward 1 resident, said she told her young daughter this morning why she would be speaking at the City Council meeting and felt angry that she had to explain that her representative used a harmful slur. Huffman said she supported DC-5 because of Hayner’s comment and his past activity on social media she felt harmed the community.
“I explained to my daughter in detail what Councilman Hayner had said and the words that he said were a slur and were hurtful to people in our community,” Huffman said. “I don’t think I should be explaining to my child that the people who represent her think it’s okay to use these types of terms in any manner. I think it’s completely appropriate to remove Councilman Hayner from his appointments, because quite frankly, he is not representing me appropriately as a constituent.”
Former Councilmember Ron Suarez, D-Ward 1, condemned Hayner’s Facebook post but accused the rest of the council of using “weapons of mass distraction” to silence Ward 1. His sentiments echoed other community members who worried stripping Hayner of his positions would also take away the ward’s representation on the council.
“It was a stupid idea to post what he did on social media,” Suarez said. “But instead of being contacted directly, Jeff learned of the attempts to strip him of his committee assignments from social media, the way Trump appointees got fired in tweets. This most recent attack on Jeff, our voice for the first ward, is a shameless power grab by neoliberals who pretend to be progressive.”
The council also voted on a multitude of development and rezoning ordinances. Ordinance C-2 called for the development of lands on Valhalla Drive, which is located next to the University of Michigan Golf Course. Councilmembers expressed mixed feelings about the development, with some councilmembers supporting increased mixed-use development and others conveying worries about cramming.
The C-2 ordinance — which passed with a vote of 8-3 — would rezone 9.8 acres in Ward 4 that would permit redevelopment with 84 housing units. The new development zone would also entail including solar panel installations to provide 12-13% of the power for 15 affordable housing units.
The council additionally passed CA-2, which allocated $100,000 towards maintaining protected bike lanes around the city.