Opponents of the Ann Arbor deer cull accused the body of unethical behavior prior to the cull’s approval in 2015, calling for the resignation of Councilmember Jane Lumm (I–Ward 2) at Monday’s City Council meeting.
Local residents opposed to the city’s deer management program — a long-term polarizing issue that concluded its first iteration in early March — accused Lumm of having an unethically close relationship with deer cull advocates from 2014 to 2015.
The activists, led by Ann Arbor resident Sabra Sanzotta, said Lumm has an undisclosed relationship with the pro-cull advocacy group Washtenaw Citizens for Ecological Balance. Sanzotta and other activists cited several of Lumm’s e-mails, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, as a basis for their argument.
Similar charges were leveled against Lumm and WC4EB in January from a different set of e-mails. Ann Arbor resident Jennifer Robertson cited those e-mails to claim Lumm had forwarded city documents to WC4EB before they were made public, and that WC4EB provided personal information on public opponents to the cull through 2014 and 2015.
“We are being poisoned by toxic cronyism and the indifference of our elected officials,” Robertson said at Monday’s meeting, calling on Lumm to resign.
In response to the charge, multiple council members and Mayor Christopher Taylor (D) came to Lumm’s defense, drawing angry responses from many residents in attendance and causing Taylor to call the chamber to order multiple times.
Taylor specifically noted that though he was the only individual to vote against the cull and often disagrees with Lumm, he did not believe any of her actions were unethical.
“I’ve endorsed opponents of (Lumm)” Taylor said. “If she runs again, I’ll probably do it again, because we don’t vote the same on many issues. However, I have heard nothing that shakes my confidence in Councilmember Lumm’s ethical behavior in this matter. Building coalitions with citizens and colleagues is democracy in action … she has been an effective public servant in this regard, although I disagree with it.”
Councilmember Chuck Warpehoski (D–Ward 5) also said Lumm’s involvement with local activists was in no way unethical, comparing it with his own involvement with a summer youth work program sponsored by the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Department.
“I don’t that there is some cronyism that puts me in the pocket of the ‘summer jobs’ constituency,” Warpehoski said. “I have disagreed with Councilmember Lumm about many things … but I have never known her to turn her brain off and hand it to somebody else. I’ve never seen her advance a position that she doesn’t personally believe in.”
When the similar accusations that WC4EB had unethically influenced Council to back the deer cull were raised earlier this year, WC4EB member Bernie Banet dismissed them in a January interview.
“All groups were communicating with council as we have a constitutional right to do, we have every right to petition our government,” Banet said. “The notion that there were some improper connections or magical power, other than the information that we provided, is kind of laughable.”
Following the public commentary, City Council also voted to approve a special election on Aug. 2 for a millage on street, bridge and sidewalk repair. If approved, the tax will raise $11.25 million in its first year. Councilmembers Jack Eaton (D–Ward 4), Sumi Kailasapathy (D–Ward 1) and Lumm voted in opposition, voicing concerns that the guidelines on what these funds would be spent on aren’t sufficiently strict.
“By broadening the scope of permitted uses (for funds raised through this tax), by definition that reduces the amount of funding available for fixing the roads,” Lumm said. “I don’t think for a minute that the amount we will be diverting from fixing roads will be inconsequential, insignificant or not having any impact on our ability to fix the roads.”