Ann Arbor City Council gathered Monday evening in Larcom City Hall. The meeting, which marked the start of a new fiscal year, was met with conversations regarding nonpartisan voting practices, housing development plans and approval of a new Ann Arbor Chief of Police.
Jane Lumm, I-Ward 2, introduced a resolution for the November ballot to add the option to convert local Ann Arbor elections to a nonpartisan system in which all candidates would run for two general election nominations regardless of party affiliation.
“Passing this tonight is to place the question on the ballot for voters to determine, but I do think there are very strong arguments for conducting local elections on a nonpartisan basis,” Lumm said.
Ann Arbor currently stands alongside Ypsilanti and Ionia as one of the state’s three cities which still participate in partisan local elections. Lumm, the only non-Democrat on the council and having previously served as a Republican, has been calling for a move away from partisan elections for almost four years.
Because the city of Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County as a whole is saturated with historically Democratic voters, Lumm said she believes the August primary elections are essentially the only competitive races. In November, when voter turnout is higher, Democrats often run unopposed. Rosemary Bogden, resident of Ann Arbor’s Ward 3, spoke to the council, compelling them to leave the issue to the voters.
“I think this could make for a much more fair, democratic, exciting and intelligent election,” Bogden said. “There could be debates. There could be town halls. Voters would be forced to look at the candidates and see what they stand for, what they value, what issues are most important to them, and isn’t that what politics should be all about?”
Bogden cited voters’ inability to vote in multiple primaries across party lines as “disenfranchisement.” She also named heightened informed voting and voter turnout, particularly among college students, as just some of the reasons to pass this resolution.
The Council voted 7-4 in favor of allowing voters to decide by a city charter amendment proposal in the city elections this November. However, MLive reported Mayor Christopher Taylor said he will block the council’s action with his veto. It would take eight votes to override the mayor.
Ann Arbor residents voiced concern about a resolution to settle a lawsuit between Trinitas Ventures and the city during the public comment section of the meeting. The Indiana-based developer plans to build a complex capable of housing up to 690 residents in units with up to five bedrooms on Pontiac Trail.
Residents said it was impractical, expensive and dangerous as well as inhibiting a harmonious residential community environment. Ann Arbor resident Ken Garber requested the council postpone settlement until the agreement could be re-worked to include protections for neighborhood residents and support for graduate school students’ families.
“Your job is to balance the risks of fighting it out in court against the costs to the community of settling,” Garber said.
The council unanimously rejected a similar proposal from Trinitas in September 2018. However, council voted 7-4 Tuesday morning to settle the lawsuit because they did not wish to take their chances. Many councilmembers, even those like Lumm who voted in favor of the settlement, expressed ongoing concerns with the development.
“It’s essentially force-fitting a massive student housing facility at a location miles away from campus in a residential setting,” Lumm said. “It doesn’t get much worse than that.”
Councilmember Jack Eaton, D-Ward 4, spoke on the resolution to appoint Michael Cox, former Boston police chief, chief of the Ann Arbor police. Eaton elected to speak his comments live before the council rather than merely write and file them away because he was “quite delighted” at Cox’s appointment.
“We have a great police force,” Eaton said. “I think that adding Chief Cox to our department will continue our tradition of good leadership in that department.”
Councilmember Ali Ramlawi, D-Ward 5, is liason to the city’s newly installed Independent Community Police Oversight Commission. He spoke at the meeting about the extensive role he played in the police chief search given his unique roll on the ICPOC.
“I’m feeling, like my colleagues have said already, excited about the opportunity that someone of Mr. Cox’s experience, coming into the force and providing it with the history and the training that he brings and the experience that he brings, especially when we have this new police oversight commission that needs a lot of direction,” Ramlawi said.
Both Mayor Taylor and councilmember Kathy Griswold, D-Ward 2, made a point to thank Interim Chief Jason Forsberg for his service. Forsberg was one of three final candidates for the permanent chief position. He will be stepping down and returning to his job as Deputy Chief when Cox takes over the department “on or about July 15,” according to the resolution.
Ramlawi said he hopes for “longevity” and “support” in Cox’s appointment. The council passed the resolution unanimously.