This August, for the second time in a year, Jason Frenzel will be vying for a Ward 1 seat on City Council. Just a few months after falling a little over a hundred votes short of beating incumbent Councilmember Sumi Kailasapathy in the Democratic primary last August, Frenzel was appointed to complete the remainder of the term of the other Ward 1 councilmember, Councilmember Sabra Briere, when she abruptly resigned in December.
Since then, Frenzel has decided he likes the job enough to seek a full term, saying he wants to build on the progress he has made in his limited time on City Council.
“It’s been an amazing experience,” he says. “The first thing that one needs to do is figure out how the system works. I have found that experience to be invaluable and intriguing.”
Many of the things he wants to build on as a Councilmember are things he started pushing through the pipeline years ago, in his roles as stewardship coordinator for the Huron River Watershed Council or citizen representative on the City’s Environmental Commission, such as the ordinance banning idling that went into effect just days ago.
“We moved forward all sorts of interesting ordinances that now are becoming law. You may have seen the no-idling ordinance just went into effect a couple days ago. That went through between a few of us as colleagues on the environmental commission when I was a resident,” Frenzel said. “At that level, having experience with the specifics of moving legislation through, and now that I’m on Council we’ve been moving more and more environmental sustainability related ordinances on a pretty regular basis, which I’m quite proud of.”
Even as an incumbent, though, the election will be no walk in the park for Frenzel –– his primary opponent, Anne Bannister, has been pursuing the seat over the past few months, and is supported by Councilmember Kailasapathy.
And despite governmental transparency and accountability being one of the main pillars Frenzel is running on, Bannister has criticized Frenzel over his vote in favor of selling the downtown “Library Lot” to the Chicago-based real estate firm Core Spaces –– a vote many residents opposed.
While saying it was not an easy decision, Frenzel defended his vote, saying that while many opposed it, the public didn’t realize the degree to which other people supported it. A 2013 Park Advisory Commission survey, however, showed 76.2 percent of respondents thought Ann Arbor would benefit from more downtown open spaces, like a park or town square rather than a residential building, and 41.5 percent of respondents chose the Library Lot as the best place to build such a space.
Frenzel also cited the need to increase housing supply in the city as motivation for his vote, pointing out it was a way to drive down increasing prices.
“The thing that’s lost in that conversation, though, that’s really important to me, is not only are we looking at changing the way the city looks, but we are also substantively changing the people that can live here,” he said. “When housing costs go up, disproportionately certain groups of people can no longer afford to be in our town. Young professionals, older people, and many times people of color. Allowing those housing pressures to push people out of our community is completely inappropriate in my book.”
Furthermore, Frenzel characterized Bannister’s opposition to the sale of the Library Lot as an oversimplification.
“From what I’ve heard, Anne is very against development per se. I take generally a more nuanced approach to that conversation,” he said. “The issues are much more complicated than one would perceive from the outside. I refuse to talk to residents in a way that minimizes that complexity. I believe our residents are smart enough, engaged enough, to hear the complexity of any of those situations and grapple through them.”
If he does win his reelection bid, Frenzel says one of his main goals will be to find greater financial support for climate action plans –– the issue he says is dearest to his heart.
“We have the environmental commission, the energy commission, a bunch of local activists have agreed that if we’re not spending well over $750,000 a year, we’re not going to make a significant dent in our climate change goals, and therefore doing our part to not just reverse climate change, but slow down the amount that we are contributing to climate change as a municipality,” he says.
One such funding source he found was the City’s controversial deer management program –– although the effort did not pass, Frenzel was one of three councilmembers who voted in May to defund the deer cull in favor of supporting climate action and pedestrian safety initiatives. Although both Frenzel and Bannister have mixed feelings on the cull, it remains a main point of contention for them.
Frenzel said while he recognizes the ecological problems deer create for the city and its residents, the deer management program as it is now has been full of problems.
“The implementation, especially the first year, of the cull was extremely frustrating and problematic in a lot of ways,” he said. “I was talking to a neighbor yesterday when I was door-knocking, and the neighbor said, ‘I couldn’t think of anything else they could’ve done wrong.’ “
Aside from climate action issues though, Frenzel says one of the most important issues currently facing the City is the third-party audit of the Ann Arbor Police Department, and the lack of minority perspectives that have been included in it so far.
“The people that show up to public meetings are the ones getting their voice heard mostly, and that’s completely insufficient,” he said. “I’m really hopeful, after talking to the police chief a number of times, that the force will be ready to make some improvements to how they deliver services after that report comes out. A number of us on council, myself especially, are more than happy to offer the resources needed to our police department to grow into being a stellar department.”