The recent wave of pressure on City Council from student leaders yielded its first tangible result on Monday when the Council unanimously voted to establish a joint committee of students and Council members that will meet to discuss issues in city government that affect students.
The committee, first proposed in late September by Ward 2 Democratic candidate Stephen Rapundalo, will consist of five students appointed by Michigan Student Assembly President Jesse Levine and two Council members appointed by Mayor John Hieftje.
Levine said MSA’s City Council liaison, Laura Van Hyfte, will fill one of the five student seats on the committee, and the other four seats will be open for any students who apply.
“I will be looking for qualified, representative and committed candidates for this committee,” Levine said.
Van Hyfte said she was pleased that the liaison position was incorporated in the committee. “I’m happy I’ll be able to have an even greater involvement with City Council and its interactions with MSA and the student body,” Van Hyfte said.
In earlier drafts, the proposal for the committee had seven student representatives. Van Hyfte said five representatives was a better idea because a smaller group would be able to carry out strong dialogue and also come to conclusions in a more timely fashion.
Levine pointed out that the student community is made up of 39,000 undergraduate and graduate students who put hundreds of millions of dollars into the Ann Arbor economy annually.
“This committee will allow those students direct access to city government,” Levine said.
Rapundalo, who defeated LSA senior Eugene Kang in the Democratic primary this summer, addressed the Council at its meeting Monday night to urge members to approve the committee. Rapundalo said his experience running against Kang got him thinking about the student perspective.
“Students in Ann Arbor feel exiled from the city – it shouldn’t be this way,” said Rapundalo, who said he learned the value of student-community relations when he was president of the student government at the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond. “Students are legitimate members of the community.”
Councilman Leigh Greden (D-Ward 3), who brought the proposal to the council, has accepted the mayor’s request to sit on the committee and said he anticipates being appointed in the near future.
“This will be a great opportunity for students and Council members to work with each other directly,” Greden said. “I’m confident that this will be a benefit for both Council members and students.”
The mayor has not yet released any other recommendations for the committee, but Rapundalo said he would love to serve as a member of the committee if he is elected next month.