City Council talks police oversight, EPA involvement in Gelman plume cleanup

Thursday, November 5, 2020 - 8:22pm

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Courtesy of Hannah Mackay

The Ann Arbor City Council met Thursday evening to discuss police oversight and the involvement of the Environmental Protection Agency in the Gelman Science Inc. plume cleanup. 
 
At the final meeting for five sitting members, both Ann Arbor residents and fellow councilmembers expressed appreciation for their service. New councilmembers will begin their terms at the Nov. 16 meeting.
 
The meeting began with Lisa Jackson, chair of the Independent Community Police Oversight Commission, sharing the commission’s response to the June 15 resolution that expands support for the ICPOC’s ability to review public safety services in Ann Arbor.
 
“One shortcoming of the ordinance as it currently exists is that it’s not always specific in its requirements for what kinds of information have to be disclosed to us by the police,” Jackson said. “Because we can’t force the police department to give us additional information, we have to rely on the Ann Arbor Police Department’s willingness to be transparent in order to effectively perform our oversight function.”
 
Jackson continued to discuss the AAPD’s refusal to share the names of officers involved in complaints and misconduct investigations, explaining that this hinders ICPOC’s ability to oversee the department. 
 
“The Ann Arbor Police Department has consistently denied our requests for relevant information. They’ve subverted our attempts to oversee their conduct, and they’ve balked at collaborative efforts we’ve proposed,” Jackson said. “In lacking this vital information, it is important to understand whether the department has a consistent problem running through it or whether there are just a few individuals within the department that are causing a bulk of the complaints.”
 
Jackson explained the AAPD’s current system of assigning officers numbers that can be affiliated with civilian complaints and their refusal to release the names of citizens who file complaints directly blocks the ICPOC from functioning effectively.
 
“It would be ridiculous to refer to such a system as any kind of meaningful oversight because it ultimately relies on the police to decide that officer’s conduct needs to be overseen,” Jackson said. 
 
Many councilmembers expressed appreciation for the manner in which the 2020 elections were conducted in Ann Arbor, specifically the emphasis on public safety. Mayor Christopher Taylor specifically thanked the law enforcement bodies in Ann Arbor. 
 
“I would like to give my thanks to members of the law enforcement community, the sheriff's office, Ann Arbor PD, University of Michigan DPSS,” Taylor said. “We all worked together very closely to make sure that members of the public could have confidence in their ability to vote without intimidation, could have confidence in their ability to protest, if protest there be, without intimidation in a way that is protective of their safety and their first amendment rights.”
 
The council then voted to reconsider the resolution supporting the EPA’s active involvement with the Gelman site and encouraging its listing of the same as a “superfund” site. The council rejected the original Gelman plume proposal at their last meeting. The vote to reconsider passed with only Councilmember Chip Smith, D-Ward 5, voting against the reconsideration. 
 
A lengthy discussion of the pros and cons regarding the potential involvement of the EPA in the Gelman plume settlement followed. Several councilmembers supported the resolution, claiming that the ability to involve the EPA could be used as leverage in future negotiations with Gelman.
 
Councilmember Jack Eaton, D-Ward 4, said he sees the EPA’s involvement as being beneficial whether it is used as leverage or to clean up the spill directly. 
 
“The polluter does not want the EPA to come in, and I think that that gives us the leverage at a minimum to negotiate a better consent judgement,” Eaton said. “Absent a better consent judgement, it’s quite possible the EPA will come in and use the muscle of the full federal government to seek a cleanup rather than just an exit strategy.”
 
Councilmember Kathy Griswold, D-Ward 2, explained that she supports the involvement of the EPA because it provides another potential solution and her constituents are demanding action. 
 
“It is leverage, but at the same time, it’s another viable path, and while it’s a long term strategic path, we can take multiple paths at the same time,” Griswold said. “What troubles me is not the councilmembers who are leaving, but our constituents who are so frustrated because we haven’t done anything and we keep making excuses.”
 
Ann Arbor resident Rita Mitchell shared her support for the resolution and the involvement of the EPA in cleaning up the carcinogenic 1-4 dioxane plume, as she has more trust in them than the polluters. 
 
“We all need fresh water, and we all should be confident of what we use and offer to our friends, that it’s clean water and uncontaminated,” Mitchell said. “The documents (consent judgement 4) allow the polluter to decide when a prohibition zone should be extended and allow the polluter to use a method of treatment that is less effective than known best practices when a method of greater effectiveness is available.”
 
Councilmember Jane Lumm, I-Ward 2, highlighted some of the potential drawbacks that could come from involving the EPA, including the idea that any hope that it will motivate Gelman to offer a better settlement is speculation.
 
“We do not know what the remediation plan will be if the EPA declares the property a superfund site, we don’t know if it will be better or worse than what is achieved in the fourth CJ,” Lumm said. “What we do know is that every day spent waiting on the EPA process is a day where the approved cleanup could’ve been taking place and won’t be taking place, and we know that the EPA superfund process is quite lengthy.”
 
Taylor proposed to amend the resolution to “Whereas that the city council direct the city administrator to continue the 4th consent judgement negotiating process.” This amendment passed, ensuring that if EPA involvement is sought out, negotiations with Gelman will not stop. 
 
The resolution passed, with council members Ali Ramlawi, D-Ward 5, Jeff Hayner, D-Ward 1, Anne Bannister, D-Ward 1, Elizabeth Nelson, D-Ward 4, Griswold and Eaton voting in favor and councilmembers Smith, Lumm, Julie Grand, D-Ward 3, Zachary Ackerman, D-Ward 3, and Mayor Taylor voting against. 
 
Councilmembers Ramlawi, Lumm, Bannister and Ackerman cosponsored a resolution to approve a waiver of late penalty charges for 2020 tax payments in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 
 
Councilmember Lumm explained that this resolution was an opportunity for the council to provide tangible support for the Ann Arbor community during an unprecedented situation. 
 
“Waiving the late payment fees on property taxes was identified as one way the city could provide at least some temporary relief for taxpayers during the pandemic,” Lumm said. “It specifically waives the late payment penalties for 1% in January and 2% in February.”
 
Councilmember Ramlawi added that while the pandemic hasn’t gone away, support has been dwindling and this could provide a small break for residents. 
 
“A lot of the CARES money has been spent, unemployment efforts have run out, Christmas is coming up, bad weather is coming up — I think the conditions for folks are only going to get worse,” Ramlawi said. “This is just a gesture, a signal to our community that we are trying to do whatever we can to minimize the financial hardships that many are experiencing.”
 
The resolution passed unanimously. 
 
Daily Staff Reporter Hannah Mackay can be reached at mackayh@umich.edu
 

 
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