Ward 1 candidate Anne Bannister looks to bring transparency to A2 City Council
On Tuesday, August 8, Ann Arbor residents will vote in the primary election for City Council. In Ward 1, Democrat Anne Bannister is challenging the incumbent, Democrat Jason Frenzel, who lost to Councilmember Sumi Kailasapathy in last year's election, but was appointed by the council to fill a vacancy left by Councilmember Sabra Briere's abrupt resignation.
Bannister, a lifelong Democrat, University of Michigan alum and now Certified Financial Planner, said she was encouraged to run by neighbors who felt their voices weren't being heard by City Council. She joined the Daily for an interview Monday to discuss who she is, why she's running, and what she sees as the main issues facing Ann Arbor city government.
TMD: Let's start with the basics. Why do you want to be on City Council?
AB: Well, I'm a 43-year resident of the town, and I moved into the first ward — so I've been 27 years with my neighbors down here in the first ward. And I'm a personal finance educator. That's my background. Running for City Council was not on my radar. I do volunteer, I'm going to Huron High this Wednesday as a guest speaker in the economics class, and my main work is in educating people in the basics of personal finance.
But then in April, community activists started to get concerned about the existing council members that were not listening to the residents enough, that they were disregarding a little bit of the public process in things that we, as residents, feel that we need a bigger voice in. They’re also a little bit brushing aside local business too. As an educator, I want to help people understand a little bit more about — you know, we all understand national politics, and even quite a bit about state politics — but when it comes down to the city decisions that are affecting long-term effects on the future of Ann Arbor, I find that people don't know what ward they're in, they don't know who their council member is, and they're not sure about anything. So that’s one of the reasons I’m running, is to help people understand the decisions that are being made that affect us, without having to decipher — I want to decipher it for them. It’s not about Anne Bannister’s opinion about anything. It’s about listening to the neighbors and the voices, and what they feel are priorities in the city, and then trying to represent those voices at the council meetings.
TMD: By running for a Ward 1 seat, you’re going to inherently be challenging the incumbent Jason Frenzel. What are your thoughts on your opponent?
AB: I've been a friend of Jason's for years. I bump into him out on the hiking trails in our neighborhood, and I'm also friends with his (step)mom, Sandi Smith. So it's not a big divisive race — we've all been friends.
But I think, back in April, when community activists were concerned about some of the vote ... we have a public lot downtown next to the public library, and our taxpayers own that lot, and we own the parking structure underneath it. That's a public piece of land. There were petitions; 5,647 people signed that they wanted a bigger voice in creating some sort of different development on that lot. I want to put people first and bring that voice to City Council and make sure that we are represented in these decisions that are forever going to change Ann Arbor.
TMD: You're a Certified Financial Planner. Can you explain a little more about what that means, and how you think it prepares you to be on Council?
AB: The Certified Financial Planner designation — roughly only half of the people in the country who sit for that exam actually pass it. It's sort of a gold standard for people in financial planning. And not only does it show that we've really studied taxes — so I'm a lifelong financial person, I started out as a bank teller when I was at U of M.
One of the things — and maybe this is too big of a word — is fiduciary. I'm a big believer that the person sitting across the table from you, whether you're their financial planner, or whether they're your neighbor and you're on City Council, people need to know that person is representing your best interests. We call it the fiduciary. In order to be a CFP, you have to take ethics courses every two years to make sure that you understand that you don't represent any particular investment or commercial interest, you represent the best interests of the person who's seeking your advice, who thinks you're protecting them. If my neighbors tell me that they want better safety at the crosswalk, then I want to take that voice and work to make sure that the city's actions and budget priorities reflect what people are saying they need. So it's a code of ethics, where I'm just a plain old resident, and I'm not running for a political career, I'm not running because I'm a real estate developer or anything, I'm running just because I'm 53 years old, and it feels good to me to do the right thing for the people for the greater good and to listen to what their priorities are.
TMD: Walk me through your political experience. I know you served a variety of roles in the Ann Arbor Democratic Party, but what kinds of things did you do, and what did it provide you?
AB: Let's see. In 2009 through 2010, I was the treasurer of the Ann Arbor Democratic Party, which is actually just a club — the Washtenaw County Democratic Party is the official democratic party that's hooked up with the Michigan Democratic Party. But in Ann Arbor, to address the city issues, it's the Ann Arbor City Democratic Party. Then I ascended to co-chair for 2011 and 2012. And then I was still on the board as the immediate past chair from 2013 through 2016. My main understanding of the purpose of the club was access for the public to political candidates and elected officials. They have monthly meetings, and it's like an association meeting for candidates and officials because half the attendees were either a candidate or an elected official. So the public having access, and then voter education — those were what I was proud of there.
I've also worked on a lot of campaigns. One of the campaigns I'm most proud of — do you know Yousef Rabhi? Back when he was just starting out, I was his treasurer for all of 2010 through 2016, while he served on the County Board of Commissioners. And his mother is now my campaign chair.
TMD: Going back to Peggy Rabhi, she said in your press release that you would bring a "truly progressive approach" to City Council. What does that mean to you, and how do you plan on doing that?
AB: I think that ties in with what she said about — I think she nailed me when she said when she thinks of Anne, she thinks of my courage and integrity.
I am this little not-even-five-foot-four person, but when something is not transparent, or when there's, heaven forbid, a double standard, and someone is being taken advantage of — a progressive approach has to do with, I'm a real nice person, but I'm also courageous and have a lot of integrity when it's time to stand up and speak out, and so I think that sort of progressive — I'm a lifelong Democrat. I originally supported Bernie, but then after the primary I fully supported Hillary. My core values are the democratic values of equality and justice and protecting the environment for the people that will come after us and treating everyone with respect, finding the divine in everyone. We might have different dispositions and different levels of education, but we're all human, and we all deserve to be treated with respect and looked out for and not taken advantage of. Sometimes in politics, our society can take advantage of people, and it's like "well, if you're dumb enough that I can take advantage of you, it's your fault," and that's no. The average neighbor doesn't want to study City Council, they want to have some trust that they are being protected and taken care of. I call that progressive. Listening to people, collaborating with all the sides and not having a conflict of interest.
TMD: Since you're running in Ward 1, I kind of have to ask. What are your thoughts on the deer cull?
AB: Yeah, I've struggled with that one. My initial feeling years ago when it became a big issue — I, like so many people, I am a huge animal lover. I love cats and dogs and groundhogs and birds and deer. I donate to the Humane Society. I want animals to be treated with respect, and I want wildlife to be managed properly. We are the thinking animals, and what I've learned while campaigning — and I've only been campaigning now since mid-April — but while I've been listening to my neighbors — have you seen the website Washtenaw County for Ecological Balance?
A lot of people in my ward, particularly up in the north of the ward, where more deer are, they are saying that they have 17 deer in their yard on a regular basis. And the deer, some of them are starving. Just last week, a motorcycle guy got hit by a deer and fell off his motorcycle and was run over by a car. I hit a deer in 2004 when I was in my car. So I want to work toward finding better ways — the problem is the deer don't have predators, the coyotes and the wolves and whatever. It breaks my heart to have a cull, but it seems like the science is clear that we, as the thinking animals, have got the dirty job of managing.
Here's an excellent point — if the deer eat everything and denude the foliage everywhere, then the groundhogs and the racoons and the skunks and the honeybees — it throws off the balance of the whole place if the one species does not have a predator. I am against guns, I don't go hunting, I'm 95 percent vegetarian myself, but I hear from my ward people that the lyme disease — when you've got 17 deer in your backyard you're afraid to have the kids go out and play. It's a horrible issue. I want to work for better solutions, but I'm not gonna deny that we need to have the cull for now.
TMD: There's been a good deal of debate over pedestrian safety and work being done on it. Where do you think the city is on that right now, and what progress do you think needs to be made, if any?
AB: Well, we've got an ordinance that was put in place after our crosswalks were put around town, so some of the crosswalks are over hills and such where the pedestrian has the right of way, but this can be a problem, because you can be dead right, if you will. Because the car wins, you know.
So what we need is possibly to keep working on seeing where we need to slow the traffic, seeing where we need more rapidly-flashing lights, maybe moving crosswalks to safer locations. At the state level, it would be good if the state had legislation. When people come to Ann Arbor, they may not realize that the pedestrian has the right of way. I rode with a police officer on a ride along, and he told me there is no rule against jaywalking. So pedestrians can walk everywhere, at anytime anywhere, and that's a problem.
A neighbor of mine has a 10-year-old girl. It was a two-lane road, and one car stopped and the adult in the car waved the daughter to cross the road, but the other car in the left lane didn't know what was going on and didn't stop. So the little kid is confused about whether they're supposed to stop or not stop. So I think bigger signage and more attention to the issue before any more people get hurt. The group A2 Safe Transport has identified all of the tricky areas for us. So here we go, we've got some experts in town who've spent time on it, let's listen to them very closely and address the good information they're giving us and budget for that before people get hurt with the confusion. Because it's good for the environment if people feel safe.