New members sworn in at first session of council term
Monday’s Ann Arbor City Council meeting featured two new faces — newly elected members Chip Smith (D–Ward 5) and LSA senior Zach Ackerman (D–Ward 3). The council also welcomed back Jane Lumm (I–Ward 2), Sabra Briere (D–Ward 1) and Jack Eaton (D–Ward 4), who all returned to the council for another term.
The council appointed James White, an assistant police chief with the Detroit Police Department, as Ann Arbor police chief, discussed the allocation of funds in preparation for winter weather and discussed the rezoning of the Nixon Farm properties.
The council unanimously approved City Administrator Steve Powers’ recommendation to appoint White to the role. White will start the position on Jan. 11, 2016.
“I’m happy to be able to support this appointment,” Lumm said. “The national search resulted in three very strong qualifying finalist candidates, and I believe Mr. White is an exceptional candidate. He will serve Ann Arbor very well.”
Councilmember Sumi Kailasapathy (D–Ward 1) said she felt Ann Arbor residents responded well to White during the interview process.
Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor also voiced support for White’s appointment.
“The three candidates were each excellent and would have served as chief ably and well,” Taylor said. “I look forward to working with Mr. White as police chief; he will have an important task.”
White was one of three finalists in running for Ann Arbor police chief, alongside Interim Police Chief Jim Baird and Rob Severance, a deputy city manager in Texas. John Seto, former AAPD police chief, accepted a role as director of the University’s Housing Security and Safety Services and announced his retirement from AAPD in May after 25 years with the department.
While council welcomed White to the city, they also said goodbye to City Administrator Steve Powers, who announced plans to accept a new job as city manager in Salem, Ore. in August. Tom Crawford, Ann Arbor’s chief financial officer, will serve as interim city administrator while the administration committee searches for a replacement.
Powers thanked the council for giving him the opportunity to serve the city of Ann Arbor.
“Thank you for taking a chance on a small county, community guy, and letting me work with you,” Powers said. “I was impressed then by your intellect and stamina, and most importantly with your compassion and concern for the city. That has not changed with the 22 council members I’ve worked with.”
Several council members offered words of encouragement and farewell to Powers.
“You leave huge shoes to fill,” Councilmember Kirk Westphal (D–Ward 2) told Powers. “If there’s any downside to this, it’s the expectations. You’ve set the bar very high. I have to admire your professionalism, your intents, your listening abilities. It’s a really hard job and I admire that you’ve genuinely respected all the views around the table and among the residents.”
Later in the meeting, the council discussed winter emergency shelter and warming centers for the upcoming winter. They voted unanimously to allocate up to $89,040 for the initiative.
“The logic by doing it now is that by Dec. 1, everything should be in place,” Briere said. “It remains my hope and expectation that we can roll money for the winter shelter into the budget for next year.”
The Washtenaw Housing Alliance and the Office of Community and Economic Development formed a winter shelter work group to address winter shelter needs in the city. Led by Briere, the group reviewed shelter operations from the 2014-2015 winter. They found that while the city’s response worked well overall, several logistics and transportation challenges persisted.
Consequently, the group recommended the council provide funding for two overnight warming centers in Ann Arbor, providing a temporary shelter for homeless individuals at night in churches and community centers. The group also suggested the council allocate $11,000 in funding for hotel and motel vouchers, as well as $18,000 to fund transportation to the warming center. The recommendations anticipate another winter of extreme cold and aim to prioritize the needs of homeless individuals in Ann Arbor.
“This is pretty essential,” Eaton said. “It’s not a great deal of money, and yet it really goes a long way ensuring that no one dies on our watch. No one should die because of extreme weather.”
Councilmember Chuck Warpehoski (D–Ward 5) said the council should consider future funding by looking at the large picture.
The council also voted to postpone the rezoning of the Nixon Farm properties until the body’s second meeting in December. The postponement delayed a vote on the site plans and zoning changes needed to greenlight 472 new residences on Nixon Road, near Dhu Varren Road.
The proposals both drew public commentary, mostly from neighbors to the area. Several community members voiced their opinion and said they felt that the city had not conducted enough research on traffic and floodwater ramifications.
Kailasapathy rallied for the residents who felt the Nixon Farm properties would damage the nearby areas.
“My advice is fix the problems, we don’t want another flooding lawsuit in our hands,” Kailasapathy said.
Eaton also said he did not feel comfortable approving the plans. He proposed the postponement and said the extra time would allow for the completion of additional studies on traffic and wetland impacts.