City Council passes ballot caption regarding Library Lot, fails resolution regarding non-partisan ballot labels

Tuesday, July 3, 2018 - 8:00pm

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Matt Vailliencourt/Daily

Ann Arbor City Council met Monday evening and approved a caption addition to ballot language regarding the development of the Library Lot into a downtown park titled “Center of the City.”

The caption would detail history and plans regarding the Library Lot and how it would be developed. The resolution passed 6-5.

Mayor Christopher Taylor helped draft the resolution, believing the added language would benefit voters in their understanding of the issue.

“I believe that the addition of these facts to the ballot will be a benefit to voters understanding the full scope of the impact of the charter amendment and that is why I am pleased to support it,” Taylor said.

Councilmember Sumi Kaliasapathy, D-Ward 1, questioned the addition of the facts regarding the Library Lot development and if the council understands the meaning of the word “caption.”

“I think we are playing ‘fast and loose’ here and calling it ‘Facts, facts, facts. Factual,’” Kaliasapathy said. “What facts? I think it’s only right to say that we are also going to be giving $1.45 million back to Core. Core is getting this money. Eighteen stories is going to be a fact, but I don’t think there’s any mention of that. Just saying we are just putting facts out here and my question is ‘What facts?’ Is it the gross number or the net number because I think that’s pretty relevant, too. My youngest son was doing this online English class and he was asking me definitions and I go and ask him ‘what does a caption mean?’ My second language is English and he’s doing English as a first language and he shows me and says ‘see, the short thing, like a heading. You put it under a picture or you put it under a topic’. I showed him (this caption) and he started laughing and saying ‘No, Mom. That’s not a caption. That’s an explanation of this.’ He thought I didn’t understand what a caption is so I think we are really defeating the purpose of this.”

Kaliasapathy went on to explain she does not believe the addition would educate Ann Arbor and would instead confuse them about where and how the money is being spent.

“I don’t know where facts end and propaganda starts,” Kaliasapathy said.

Councilmember Jane Lumm, I-Ward 2, felt the caption did not adequately address the positive and negative sides of the issue.

“The caption reads like a marketing brochure for the Core Spaces deal,” Lumm said.

Residents seemed split on the council’s attempt to add several paragraphs of text as ballot language.

Ann Arbor resident Jessica Webster Sendra addressed City Council during public commentary and believes the added language will help educate voters in the area on city issues, not sway a vote in a particular way.

“This is not voter suppression,” Sendra said. “This is an attempt at voter education.”

Ann Arbor resident Eric Lipson said that Council is trying to skew votes in a particular way to approve the development.

“This group has again and again and again tried to thwart the voters,” Lipson said. “This is voter suppression."

Councilmembers Anne Bannister and Sumi Kaliasapathy, both D-Ward 1, are currently suing the council and Mayor Christopher Taylor for allegedly violating the city’s charter by signing the development contract without first consulting City Council.

The council then discussed a resolution regarding a non-partisan ballot for the upcoming mayoral and City Council elections. The resolution would have had ballots without candidates’ party affiliation written. The council voted against the resolution 6-5.

Lumm proposed the resolution because she feels party affiliation does not help residents make decisions on issues throughout the city.

“Party labels don’t really inform the residents on key municipal issues,” Lumm said.

Taylor said the label helps voters in a day where information is not regularly available.

“The partisan label is an incredibly useful piece of information for voters in a low-information environment,” Taylor said.

City Council also addressed a resolution regarding adding citizen input for city street-related projects.

Councilmember Chip Smith, D-Ward 5, did not support the resolution due to the Transportation Commission already in place.

“We have a transportation commission in place to provide us advice on matters like this,” Smith said. “I am not at all concerned that our staff goes through the proper, professional methodology to sign off on potential lane reductions.”

Lumm believes citizen input will assist with processing issues faced by the city on street-related projects.

“I just want to see this go forward because I think we have some serious process issues and it’s all about citizen engagement upfront,” Lumm said. “I don’t think that should ever be viewed as a barrier.”

The council also proposed a resolution to monitor a gypsy moth infestation affecting parts of North Campus and the Northeastern part of the city. Gypsy moths are an invasive species that can defoliate trees, particularly oak and aspen, making them susceptible to disease. City Council passed the resolution 11-0.

Councilmember Kirk Westphal, D-Ward 2, said monitoring is important so quality of life is not negatively impacted.

“The day-to-day quality of life impacts are pretty remarkable,” Westphal said. “It’s not just the caterpillars hanging all over your house and vehicles, but the amount of feces generated; it makes it really difficult to enjoy your property. I think the overriding long term concern is that repeated infestations can weaken and leave trees susceptible to disease. I think it’s really prudent to make sure that we are collaborating with U-M since a lot of these neighborhoods are adjacent properties.”