The Ann Arbor City Council met on Monday to deliberate on the new “Center of the City” task force, water treatment plans targeting PFAS and changes to the competitive bidding waiver requirement. The council also heard from community activists regarding a campaign to boycott Israeli products.
The Council addressed the issue of PFAS in the Huron River and voted unanimously to purchase 11,000 cubic feet of granular activated carbon filters as a response of the PFAS risk. The GAC filters will be implemented for the next two years at a cost of $475,200 per year.
Sarah Page, drinking water quality manager for the city of Ann Arbor, explained the importance and effectiveness of GAC filters.
“GAC is a filter media used to remove poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and nutrients from the water,” Page wrote in a memo to council. “PFAS are persistent and bioaccumulative, and there is mounting evidence for the human toxicity of many of these compounds. GAC filtration is the best available technology for removing PFAS from drinking water.”
The city’s drinking water has been consistently meeting health standards, and the community groups like the Sierra Club has been helping to raise awareness of the PFAS threat in the city alongside the effort of the Parks Department.
In addition to discussing PFAS, the council nominated members for the “Center of the City” task force, which was established as part of an initiative to plan a downtown central park.
Nine members were nominated to the task force at the meeting. Councilmember Julie Grand, D-Ward 3, expressed her high expectations and excitement for the new task force.
“We have really — I think — a range of residents and backgrounds and perspectives in terms of the Center of the City task force,” Grand said. “We had some really interesting young people that applied for it as well, so I’m excited to see some youth voices.”
The council then deliberated on an ordinance to amend various sections of the Ann Arbor City Code. Their focus was the procedure of waiving competitive bidding for city procurements.
Councilmember Jane Lumm, I-Ward 2, expressed her concern about the potential abuse of power that might come with the changes.
“Like most organizations, public or private, the cornerstone of the city’s purchasing procedures ordinance is competitive bidding,” Lumm said. “Competitive bidding is a core element of financial efficiency and discipline. The proposed change to the ordinance is significant. It is targeting the section outlining when the competitive bidding can be waived. The proposal here is to allow the city administrator to waive the competitive bidding requirement when he or she determines that the competitive bidding isn’t practical or of value to the city.”
Lumm said compared to the current ordinance, the proposed change removes the council, who had been acting as a safeguard to ensure proper use of taxpayers’ money, from the waiving procedure for items under $25,000.
“Granting the city administrator the power to waive competitive bidding requirement on such broad terms isn’t appropriate, in my view, or consistent with the Council’s fiduciary duty to taxpayers,” Lumm said.
Tom Crawford, Chief Financial Officer for the city of Ann Arbor, responded to Lumm’s concern by clarifying all items valued over $25,000 will be addressed by the council. He also emphasized this proposal is primarily targeting a great number of low-value items, which only make up about 4 percent of the city budget.
“What this proposal does is to address the fact that we have a high volume of low-value items, and the management team is trying to manage those efficiently,” Crawford said. “There are a lot of items that need to be replaced or followed on maintenance, and that’s why the proposal is there.”
City Administrator Howard Lazarus reassured the council city administration is always striving for a balance between fair competition, efficiency and accountability.
“The city charter establishes the $25,000 threshold, which, by its nature, contrasts administrator and the administration to establish procurement process to handle smaller procurements in the interest of good business practice,” Lazarus said. “That doesn’t mean that there is no accountability in the process; it just means smaller procurement should be done on a more rapid and more timely basis.”
The amendment was eventually passed with unanimous support, though Lumm still expressed her concern about the amendment. Lumm said she is considering proposing a resolution based on her concerns in the future.
The meeting’s public comment section saw activists Blaine Coleman and Mozhgan Savabieasfahni who expressed their discontent and dissatisfaction regarding the council’s long-time lack of action and support for their Israel Boycott campaign and Palestine Human Rights.
“I have been coming here for a very long time,” Savabieasfahni said. “I have been demanding this body that sits here to show mercy to Palestine children. Palestine is being bombed as we speak with American money and political support, this is abominable. If Americans are to stay totally oblivious to the human rights crisis, it will only make it worse. It is to our shame if we can’t bring freedom to Palestinian people sooner. You are paying for that slaughter.”
The council did not directly address the Israel Boycott campaign activists.