City blocks Ackerman from Planning Commission, releases report on former HR director's texts

Tuesday, September 3, 2019 - 11:30pm

Ann Arbor residents voice their concerns ranging from the rising cost of living in Ann Arbor to the Palestine-Israel conflict to Mayor Taylor and the Ann Arbor City Council at City Hall Tuesday evening.

Ann Arbor residents voice their concerns ranging from the rising cost of living in Ann Arbor to the Palestine-Israel conflict to Mayor Taylor and the Ann Arbor City Council at City Hall Tuesday evening. Buy this photo
Asha Lewis/Daily

Ann Arbor City Council decided by a one-vote margin against re-nominating Councilmember Zachary Ackerman, D-Ward 3, to the Planning Commission and voted unanimously to release a redacted report on the city’s investigation into a former employee’s controversial texts at their meeting Tuesday night.

When confirming nominations for the Planning Commission, Mayor Christopher Taylor re-nominated Ackerman, who has served on the Planning Commission since December 2016. 

Councilmembers Julie Grand, D-Ward 3, gave a speech detailing the time and effort that Ackerman offered in his time on the commission. Grand said she appreciated the intellect Ackerman brought to his responsibilities and noted that the authority to appoint members belonged to the mayor, not other members of council such as Councilmember Jack Eaton, D-Ward 4, who voted to block Ackerman’s nomination. Eaton previously challenged Taylor for the mayor’s office, but lost in the primary in 2018.

“I won’t be soft and squishy about it — I’ll call it like I see it,” Grand said. “In the past we have all supported one another’s nominations to serve on boards and commissions. That has been our past practice, try to spread it around in a way that’s equitable, but ultimately the appointments to boards and commissions in almost every case, and certainly in this one, rests with the mayor. If Councilmember Eaton wanted to appoint himself to the Planning Commission, he should have won the mayoral race. But he did not, and now it’s Mayor Taylor’s job to appoint someone to the Planning Commission.” 

Councilmember Elizabeth Nelson, D-Ward 4, pushed back, saying that it was not about politics and civility, but about the need to have someone more experienced on the commission.

“I think it is time we had someone on planning who has a stronger legal background,” Nelson said. “We can move forward with a decision, and it’s not about anybody being mean to anyone. It’s not about a lack of respect. It’s about making a different choice, and those are the reasons why I support someone else on planning, specifically Councilmember Eaton.”

Ackerman explained his position on the Planning Commission was not an easy one.

“The body meets frequently and deals with subjects that are the most controversial by their very nature,” Ackerman said. “I’ve had a philosophy as a planning commissioner: My obligation to council is to get the best proposal through planning proposal to this body. It may not be one worthy of voting ‘yes’ when it comes to council, but that job is to deliver to you the best possible version leaving planning commission so that you can make a decision.”

The council voted 6-5 against re-nominating Ackerman to the planning commission. 

City Council also addressed an investigation conducted by outside attorney Sheldon Stark into controversial texts sent by the city’s human resources and labor relations director, Robyn Wilkerson. Wilkerson resigned in May after public records requests filed by the Ann Arbor News/MLive revealed a cache of text messages she sent to another city employee criticizing elected officials and “crazy liberals.”

The messages also mentioned wanting to blow up City Hall, wanting to bring a gun to work and racist comments targeted at other coworkers and the community.

The city attorney’s office hired Stark to investigate the city’s handling of the original investigation. Sheldon concluded his inquiry in late August but the findings were not released publicly.

Multiple councilmembers agreed the investigation should be made public due to the nature of the investigation, but said releasing a redacted version is important for the sake of employee privacy. 

“Some of the things that are discussed in this report are inside-City Hall stuff that wouldn’t typically, and shouldn’t typically, be subject to gossip,” Nelson said. “So, I just wanted to compliment and express to our legal department for a careful redaction to protect specific people in City Hall who aren’t meant to be topics of gossip.”

The headline of this story was updated for clarity.