Ann Arbor City Council talks plans as ‘U’ students return to campus

Monday, August 17, 2020 - 11:06pm

Ann Arbor City Council discusses plans for students to return to campus during a Zoom meeting Monday evening.

Ann Arbor City Council discusses plans for students to return to campus during a Zoom meeting Monday evening. Buy this photo
Courtesy of Brayden Hirsch

The Ann Arbor City Council met Monday night to discuss proposals regarding University of Michigan students returning to campus for the start of classes in two weeks. 

In June, the University announced that students would be returning to campus for an in-residence fall semester. After the University finalized which classes would be in person, online or a hybrid of both, about 70 percent of classes will be fully online. 

Dean of Students Laura Blake Jones and Ann Arbor Police Chief Michael Cox were brought into the meeting to outline the plans to keep the students and Ann Arbor residents safe during the upcoming semester. 

Jones highlighted aspects of the Michigan Culture of Care Ambassador Program, the initiative to ensure students are complying with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations. The program covers compliance with face coverings, advising against traveling, managing the sizes of groups and social distancing. 

“We worked with our statement of student rights and responsibilities, which is the grounding document that governs student behavior, and have been authored by students and approved by faculty,” Jones said. “It was then implemented by the president’s (Mark Schlissel) acceptance of this time limited agenda that addresses public health-related behaviors that we need to have everyone aligned with this fall.”

Multiple councilmembers expressed concerns about how these procedures would be implemented, as the University has not yet specified how they will enforce protocols for social distancing. Councilmember Ali Ramlawi, D-Ward 5, said he felt there was not a great deal of opportunity to enforce these rules and discipline these students. 

“I still haven’t really heard much detail when it comes to enforcement, and it seems like we are completely reliant on voluntary compliance,” Ramlawi said. “Is there anything going to come in terms of repercussions to students who violate this social contract? To me, it’s all carrot and no stick, and I’m not very comfortable with a policy that just doesn’t have any consequences.”

Jones said education and warnings will be the first step of enforcing the program, and punishment will be used later on if breaking guidelines becomes a recurring problem with a particular group or individual. 

Councilmembers also discussed a resolution to approve a policy to implement a new affordable housing waitlist. The new waitlist is part of an ongoing effort to provide affordable housing to Ann Arbor residents. Applicants can apply online and may be selected to lease an affordable rental unit in the city.

Some councilmembers were concerned that community members with no internet access would not be able to put themselves on the list. 

Teresa Gillotti, management team director of Washtenaw County, said early on in the process of developing the waitlist, her team worked with the Barrier Busters Network, a group of social service agencies in Washtenaw County who work with residents in need, to ensure all eligible applicants would be able to apply.

“These are mostly human services providers in the county, and a lot of them have relationships with folks that are looking for housing,” Gilloti said. “It also included all of our homelessness providers with the intent that they would be available to assist those who might need some support. We also made it available that folks can call our staff or set up an appointment.”

Councilmember Jeff Hayner, D-Ward 1, voiced concerns about the accessibility of the waitlist website. He said he helped a community member sign up for the waitlist about 10 minutes after it opened, but the process took 20 minutes. By the time the individual had finished signing up, they were number 54 on the waitlist.

“How are we going to know that this is working for folks who don’t have access to it?” Hayner said of the application. “And once people start getting in these apartments, I understand there’s privacy issues around these matters. But how are we gonna find out (if this is working)?”

In response to Hayner’s concern, Gillotti said the county must first check to ensure applicants are income-qualified.

“Obviously, we will keep their information anonymous, but we can kind of generally speak to incomes and some demographic information, although we asked people for permission and will only share it if they’ve given that permission,” Gillotti said. “And then every year we have to recertify those incomes. So actually, we’re revisiting these every single year.”

Council voted to approve the resolution.

Additionally, the Fuller Park parking lot land lease with the University was up for approval. Council members disagreed on whether to approve this lease Monday night or to wait to see what the city will look like in a year. 

Councilmember Jack Eaton, D-Ward 4, supported postponing any decision.

“I just think this is something that needs to remain on a short leash until a long-term solution is agreed upon,” Eaton said. “We have to figure out something with this property in the long term, and hopefully, when it comes to council next time, there's a little bit more vision for what happens with this site.”

Council ultimately voted to approve the lease for the Fuller Park parking lot.

Reporter Brayden Hirsch can be reached at braydenh@umich.edu