City Council discusses anti-Israel protests, environmental concerns

Tuesday, January 21, 2020 - 11:00pm

Mayor Christopher Taylor reacts to citizens' concerns during the city council meeting at City Hall Tuesday evening.

Mayor Christopher Taylor reacts to citizens' concerns during the city council meeting at City Hall Tuesday evening. Buy this photo
Michael Bagazinski/Daily

The Ann Arbor City Council met Tuesday night and discussed anti-Israel protests, adding youth members to the Environmental Commission and how best to proceed regarding contamination from the Gelman Dioxane plume

During public comment, multiple community members spoke regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, condemning U.S. military aid to Israel. Anti-Israel protester Henry Herskovitz, a defendant in a recent lawsuit over a 16-year protest at an Ann Arbor synagogue, addressed comments from a City Council meeting earlier this month in which Councilmember Zachary Ackerman, D-Ward 3, called him racist and anti-Semitic. 

Ackerman explained Herskovitz’s history of anti-Israel picketing outside the Jewish synagogue and told attendees Herskovitz denies the Holocaust at meetings. Councilmember Julie Grand, D-Ward 3, supported Ackerman and criticized Herskovitz’s behavior during such protests. Councilmembers were interrupted multiple times by outbursts from a community member shouting in protest about Israeli violence in Palestine. 

Councilmember Ali Ramlawi, D-Ward 5, responded with a call to order, expressing frustration over the time spent personally addressing Herskovitz rather than focusing on the issues on the agenda.

“I am Palestinian, and I have not made it this forum to express my political beliefs and my personal positions, and I think this body should be held to a higher level where we should be able to take attacks and move on and discuss the business that this city has elected us to discuss,” Ramlawi said. “I have my personal positions, and to this point, I’ve kept them to myself, and I wish others would do so, so we could get on to the work of the people. This body should not be attacking members in the audience, and I find that a very troubling direction that we’re going in.”

Ackerman and Grand responded that it was necessary for leaders to call out hate in the community.

As councilmembers continued to discuss this topic, Councilmembers Kathy Griswold, D-Ward 2, Jeff Hayner, D-Ward 1 and Ramlawi temporarily retreated to the council workroom until the Council returned to issues on the agenda. 

Mayor Christopher Taylor said he believes the protests at the Ann Arbor synagogue are relevant to the community.

“I believe that the ongoing protests at temple are a local issue; they are a local issue because they impact deeply members of the community on a consistent basis,” Taylor said. “I believe those protests are improper, I believe that protests at a house of worship are inconsistent with the values of Ann Arbor, and I believe they should end.” 

The Council later considered implementation of a resolution that had passed in June to add two youth voting members to the 13-member board of the city’s Environmental Commission. Though youth was initially defined as those aged 14 to 25, Councilmember Jack Eaton, D-Ward 4, proposed an amendment to change the age range to 16 to 25, believing that 16-year-olds would be better equipped to participate in policy-making. 

Grand contended that some leaders of the climate change protest are as young as 14 or 15 and should be allowed to apply, as they will only be appointed to a position if they are adequately qualified. 

The majority of councilmembers, however, believed it would be in the best interest of all to restrict the age minimum to 16. Councilmember Jane Lumm, I-Ward 2, highlighted the importance of ensuring the experience is as beneficial as possible to youth members.

“It’s all about making this experience beneficial and positive, onboarding young people, orienting them in the appropriate way so that it’s a good experience, and they build confidence as a result of this experience and their leadership skills and competency,” Lumm said. “So, I’d like to see us do this in a more, sort of, thoughtful, planned way, not just lower the age and add these folks.”

The amendment to change the age to 16 passed. 

The Council also discussed whether to postpone voting on a resolution to support the Environmental Protection Agency listing the site of the Gelman Plume, the spread of dioxane in groundwater contaminating drinking water, as a “Superfund” site, which would begin a long-term cleanup by the EPA.  Councilmembers Hayner and Nelson opposed the postponement, urging immediate action. 

However, other members believed it more important to deliberate carefully before taking action. Taylor emphasized the importance of consulting with the public before moving forward. 

“I believe it is wise that we have the consent judgment in hand before we make the decision,” Taylor said. “I think further, it’s wise that we have an opportunity to distribute the consent judgment to the public for their feedback before we make any decision.”

The vote was postponed until the Council meeting on February 3. 

During communications from the city administrator, Lori Roddy, Executive Director of Neutral Zone, a youth-driven teen center, spoke about the benefits of the program’s partnership with the city. Neutral Zone was awarded a $10,000 grant from the city in May to create the Capacity Building for Job Corps Program, which provides mentors, tuition scholarships and employment opportunities to underprivileged youth. Roddy was joined by two participants of the program who spoke to their positive experiences in the program.

“You have really created a space where, two years ago, honestly, I’m not sure many of our Black youth felt like they belonged in this city, and you’ve really created a warm, supportive, inviting space where they have a platform to be successful,” Roddy said.