By Matthew Jackonen, Daily Staff Reporter
Published February 18, 2014
Cash just complicates everything.
The Ann Arbor City Council debated and voted on a trifecta of issues regarding the allocation of city public art funds Tuesday, a night when only Councilmember Christopher Taylor (D–Ward 3) was absent.
The most significant resolution, related to the other two resolutions, was the return of uncommitted public art funds — amounting to $819,005 — to their original sources.
This resolution would return the funds to various infrastructure needs including water, sewage, street and energy funds, among others — but council postponed a decision on that transfer. The Council debated three separate agenda items regarding the issue.
The first issue tackled was the resolution to amend the city’s public art ordinance. Councilmembers voted unanimously to pass the resolution, which makes it possible for the Council to amend any budget — both future and present — to return any uncommitted public art funds to their original sources.
However, before voting on the resolution to return the funds, the Council debated and eventually postponed a motion to establish a timeline for the city’s Public Art Commission to create a plan to ease its transition into its future without funding.
Councilmember Stephen Kunselman (D–Ward 3) said he believes the resolution is simply micromanagement, and said City Administrator Steve Powers should take care of the transitional finances himself since it is within his power as city administrator.
“These issues can be left to the administrator, and when he submits the administrative budget to Council, he will address what needs to be done in order to finish up the public art programs that have been under way,” Kunselman said. “The resolution that we’re discussing right now loads this effort up by directing the administrator to do something he already needs to do.”
Kunselman added that while he does want to create a steady environment for the Public Art Commission to make the transition, public art supporters are creating tension by “badgering” councilmembers.
“I did make a commitment last year that we are going to get through this transition,” Kunselman said. “But it’s difficult when you’re getting badgered by some members of the public art community who seem to think that we’re all doing it wrong and only they do it right.”
Councilmember Sabra Briere (D–Ward 1), the sponsor of the resolution, responded to the allegations of micromanagement by stating the city needs the resolution in order to have strict guidance during the transitional period as the arts commission adjusts to the reduced funding.
“Whether those funds get returned tonight or not, we still need to give guidance to the Public Art Commission and, by extension, to the city administrator to finalize a plan for the transition,” Briere said. “I appreciate the concern that this might be micromanaging, but to me, it’s reaffirming.”
After the postponement of the resolution to establish a transitional timeline, the Council discussed and also postponed the vote on the main issue of whether or not to return the public art funds to their original purpose of infrastructure.
Councilmember Jane Lumm (I–Ward 2), one of the sponsors of the resolution, argued that the Public Art Commission should not be allowed to “keep the money around just in case,” and said the Commission routinely provides a laundry list of possible future public art projects to simply keep the money in its hands.
Councilmember Jack Eaton (D–Ward 4), also a sponsor of the resolution, said it would be effective because it allows the Public Art Commission to continue the already approved projects without sending the message that the commission must make the decision to either “spend the money on bad art” or lose the funds.
“We should encourage (the Commission) to be selective in the art that they do spend their own money on,” Eaton said.
The city no longer has a public art administrator to lead the projects that are already approved, and the resolution would provide $20,500 to complete the already approved projects that would probably be used to fund the position for six months.