Ann Arbor City Council met on Tuesday to discuss amending City Council rules on discussion and debate conduct, snow removal in the downtown area and festivities on St. Patrick’s Day.
Councilmembers debated DC-2, a motion sponsored by Councilmember Ali Ramlawi, D-Ward 5, to reconsider a previous vote on Feb. 1 that approved amendments to Council rules about conduct of discussion and debate.
The original resolution to amend Council rules to “improve the way Council works together as a body” passed with an 11-1 majority. The amendments limit the time councilmembers can hold the floor and give councilmembers the opportunity to address a personal attack if one should arise.
Though Ramlawi originally voted in favor of the resolution, he said he has since changed his opinion and feels the rules limit councilmembers’ free speech, targeting them for personal politics and views.
“This new council has spent more time questioning others’ motives and behaviors than they have on actually forming policy and making policy,” Ramlawi said. “There is a high likelihood that there is viewpoint discrimination here with this adopted set of rules.”
Some councilmembers expressed frustration with Ramlawi’s motion. Councilmember Travis Radina, D-Ward 3, said the council could always revisit the rules in the future if they require further clarification or adjustment.
“I think we need to stop the attacks, and I think we need to move forward,” Radina said. “If we find that we need some tweaking to our rules, we as a body can do that.”
After a failed motion to postpone the vote until March and a second failed motion to revise the amendments, the council voted to move forward with the previously amended rules.
Ramlawi then addressed a resolution calling for the city administration to evaluate the cost and feasibility of city snow removal, a point first raised at a Jan. 4 council meeting. Discussions about city snow removal arose in response to concerns about pedestrian safety, specifically in the downtown area.
“The DDA (Downtown Development Agency) district is where you have most pedestrian traffic,” Ramlawi said. “You have mobility issues, you have the most impermeable surfaces, you have the most crosswalks and ramps and such that really become extremely problematic.”
According to Hayner, Ann Arbor has committed to the goal of ensuring zero traffic-related deaths by 2025. Ann Arbor has a history with traffic related deaths: in the years 2009 to 2017, there were 495 pedestrian-vehicle crashes. 56 out of these crashes resulted in critical injuries and 9 resulted in fatalities.
This follows a $9.95 million dollar award from the National Department of Transportation to implement over 20 smart intersections in Ann Arbor by 2024 in light of research released in 2019 about reckless drivers in the city limits.
The resolution aims to make the downtown sidewalks and crossways clear after plowing. Additional concerns regarding snow removal in downtown Ann Arbor include the accessibility of sidewalks and cross ramps to those with disabilities during heavy snowfall. The resolution calls for an active effort to remove snow from sidewalks, bus stops and ramps.
According to Ramlawi, owner of the local restaurant Jerusalem Garden, the downtown sidewalks are clear until the streets are plowed, and then all the excess snow ends up on the sidewalks.
“There’s a very strict time frame that businesses down here have to clean up their sidewalks,” Ramlawi said. “What you see is, most of the sidewalks get cleared here very quickly, but then the streets get cleaned and then all that snow ends up in the crosswalks and ramps and everywhere else. So we have nice clean sidewalks, but the crosswalks and the ramps that go into the intersections are not passable.”
Ramlawi said he was forced to make budget cuts in his business due to COVID-19. After spending four hours shoveling outside of his restaurant Monday night, Ramlawi said he is in favor of assessing the cost of city snow removal from sidewalks following plowing.
“This is very actionable, it’s very simple. It’s focused. And all we’re asking for is how much is this going to cost,” Ramlawi said. “This is not spending any money. And it makes sense with all the shareholders that we have downtown. We have the University, we have the DDA, we should not have to wait for a more comprehensive policy to come forward first.”
Councilmember Erica Briggs, D-Ward 5, proposed postponing discussion of the resolution until the transportation committee meets on Wednesday, citing concerns over the council’s unpreparedness.
In a vote of seven to four, City Council voted to postpone discussion of DC-3 until the transportation meeting. Councilmembers Hayner, Ramlawi, Kathy Griswold, D-Ward 2, and Elizabeth Nelson, D-Ward 4, voted against moving the discussion to a later date.
The council then moved to discussions about St. Patrick’s Day plans during the COVID-19 pandemic. Every year on St. Patrick’s Day, Ann Arbor restaurant Conor O’Neill’s hosts a celebration, partnering with Michigan Medicine’s Mott’s Children’s Hospital for the Shamrocks and Shenanigans 5K.
Current COVID-19 restrictions require restaurants to limit their indoor dining to 25% capacity. In hopes of carrying out a modified version of their St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, Conor O’Neill’s requested a street closure on Main Street between Liberty Street and Williams Street on March 17. The street closure would last from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Conor O’Neill’s owner Tom Murray sent an email to Debra Williams, a member of the Ann Arbor special events committee, asking for approval for their modified event. Murray said COVID-19 restrictions were implemented one day before their planned St. Patrick’s Day event last year, meaning they could stand to lose the revenue of the event for two years in a row if not approved.
“With current State of Michigan COVID restrictions still in place and with the anticipation that we will still have some restrictions in place on March 17, 2021, we are requesting this Special Event permit so that we can safely serve customers on St. Patrick’s Day, seated outside on Main street, in a safe and socially distanced manner,” Murray wrote.
In the email, Murray said proper social distancing, additional staff and the use of reservations to control attendance will be in place on the day of the event to prevent spread of the virus.
Councilmember Lisa Disch, D-Ward 1, and Ramlawi discussed the possible risks given the presence of the new highly contagious B.1.1.7 variant in the Ann Arbor community. Disch also expressed her support for the resolution, citing the fact that the spread of COVID-19 significantly decreases in outdoor spaces.
“I do share a little bit of councilmember Ramlawi’s concern that we are facing a different variant of COVID, and we’re not sure how contagious it is, and so I think we need to take extra precautions to make sure this event doesn’t become a superspreader (…) when we open the streets for this one day,” Disch said.
Ann Arbor resident Shannon Hautamaki expressed concern about the safety of a gathering at O’Neill’s. As of Feb. 10, there are 1,103 confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 in Washtenaw County, and concerns about the contagiousness of the new variant are widespread.
“This is way too premature,” Hautamaki said. “I’m shaking because everything in the city is about accommodating adults and accommodating college students because they make the money — I understand that. But my son can’t go to kindergarten because the case rates are so high.”
Proposal CA-12 to close Main Street on March 17 for Conor O’Neill’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration passed with a seven to four vote. Councilmembers Ramlawi, Hayner, Griswold and Nelson voted against the motion. City Council rules have changed to “aim to end meetings no later than 11 p.m.” in order to make meetings accessible to the general public.
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