In a continuation of the public arts discussion from its meeting two weeks ago, the Ann Arbor City Council turned its attention to two tabled funding resolutions and passed them both Monday night.
The first arts bill that passed approved a general timeline for the city’s Public Art Commission to create a plan to adjust to a future with reduced City Council funding.
The resolution provided three steps to initiate this change, requiring the city administrator to facilitate a transition plan by Oct. 6. The plan mandates that no additional arts projects will be initiated as of Monday night, and asked the city administrator to establish a public arts budget for the 2015 and 2016 fiscal years.
Although Councilmember Christopher Taylor (D–Ward 3) voted in favor of the resolution, he reminded his fellow councilmembers that public art is a force of good that requires only a nominal portion of city funding.
“I think it’s important to note that law enforcement and safety services next year will be receiving something in the neighborhood of 44.5 million in cities general funding, which is nearly 60 percent of the budget,” he told the council. “This requested allocation will be a rounding error in that context. I don’t see this as being contrary to our stated priorities.”
Mayor John Hieftje added during the council discussion that while the biggest argument against funding public art casts other public services as casualties in the process, this is not the case.
“By that criteria, there is no city in the USA that should be spending money on public art,” he said. “I believe, that by having a robust public art program, we can increase economic development in the city. It will pay for itself in tax revenue that comes back.”
The second resolution that passed authorized the City Council to return $819,005 in uncommitted public art funds to its original sources, such as sewage, street and energy budgets.
During the public commentary at the meeting’s start, Margaret Parker, owner of Downtown Home & Garden, begged the council not to go through with the resolution, which she believed would rob citizens of the “civic pride” that art provides.
Councilmember Stephen Kunselman (D–Ward 3), who supports the public arts program, said he was tentative to transfer these funds a year ago. However, at the meeting Monday, he said returning uncommitted funds to their original allocations is a completely appropriate move. Councilmember Margie Teall (D–Ward 4) disagreed, claiming that the money transfer would impede the transition efforts initiated by the night’s first arts resolution.
“There was ingenuity offered in the program previously,” she said. “I’d like to see these funds used to support that transition more robustly. I’m a little disappointed.”
Teall was the only dissenting vote on the resolution, which passed 9-1 The resolution needed eight votes to pass.
Other important topics discussed Monday night included an ordinance to ban smoking in specific pockets of public parks and a resolution to create a park above the underground Library Lane parking structure downtown. Both proposals only got as far as generating discussion among councilmembers before votes on each were postponed.
The smoking ordinance would have allowed city law enforcement to give tickets to any smokers failing to comply with the smoke-free zones. Kunselman said he thought this measure was far too extreme.
“I can’t go down that road where we’re going to penalize somebody smoking a cigarette,” he said. “That is lawful. Granted, they may be rude for smoking in someone’s personal space. But rudeness is a different issue than unlawful activity.”
Councilmember Sally Petersen (D–Ward 2) agreed that the use of city law enforcement to prevent smoking in public spaces might be overkill.
“I like the spirit of this, I like the intent,” she said. “But there must be a more pragmatic way of enforcing it.”
Regarding the park above the Library Lane parking structure, Julie Grand, a member of the Park Advisory Commission, advised the council not to pass the resolution. She warned councilmembers that doing so could have a negative effect on maintenance and improvements to existing projects.
“Designating the space as parkland really is going to place an undue burden on park staff,” she said, adding that doing so would be like “renting a golf cart before you have a golf course.”
Hieftje added that selling the lot might be more beneficial to the city. The council, he claimed, could make building a park space contingent on purchasing the property, which would allow the city to ensure the park’s development without paying for it. Ultimately, he agreed with Grand as to maintaining current park projects.
“When I’m out talking to neighborhood groups, the word I get from taxpayers overwhelmingly is, ‘Let’s take care of the parks we have,’” he said.