CORRECTION: This editorial in the Nov. 28 edition of the Daily (Trickery at City Hall) should not have stated that Councilman Leigh Greden (D-Ward 3) proposed a ban on placing couches on porches in the summer of 2004. Greden supported the proposed couch ban ordinance, but did not propose it or introduce the ordinance to City Council.
It looks like incoming City Council member Stephen Rapundalo (D-Ward 2) will not have a seat on the new committee between City Council and the Michigan Student Assembly – even though the committee was his idea. Instead, the committee’s two seats for councilmembers are likely to go to Leigh Greden (D-Ward 3) and Wendy Woods (D-Ward 5), neither of whom is known as an advocate of student issues. While Rapundalo can and should still represent student concerns, Greden and Woods in particular need to be receptive to students in their role on the committee with MSA.
After defeating LSA senior Eugene Kang in the Democratic primary for the Second Ward seat in August, Rapundalo ran in part on a platform of staying connected with students. Given that it was his suggestion to form a committee between City Council and MSA, Rapundalo appeared a shoe-in for a seat on the committee after his election.
For now though, the committee seats are expected to go to more experienced councilmembers. Mayor John Hieftje told the Daily that Rapundalo “will have his hands full being brand new on Council.” While Rapundalo has extensive experience in community organizations, Hieftje’s statement is probably accurate. It is difficult to criticize the decision to place experienced incumbents on the committee.
That said, Woods’s decision to step up to the committee was surprising. Her work as the associate director of the Michigan Community Scholars Program has presumably made her aware of concerns facing University students. However, her uncontested campaign for re-election from Ward 5 – which contains no University residence halls – did not place much emphasis on student issues.
Though Greden displayed more interest in students’ lives during the campaign, historically his attitude toward students has verged on hostility. Most notably, Greden proposed a ban on porch couches during the summer of 2004, when most students were out of town. It remains to be seen whether Greden’s newfound interest in students reflects a change in his attitude toward them.
By serving on the MSA-City Council committee, Greden and Woods have the opportunity to become better informed about the issues facing students, who form roughly a third of Ann Arbor’s population. And appointments to the committee are not permanent; Rapundalo may serve on it later, once he has settled into his Council seat.
A number of issues will face the committee in the coming weeks, from the proposed lease-date ordinance to a possible return of efforts to pass a couch ban. From the beginning, both the councilmembers and the students on the committee will need to take their jobs seriously. It is also vital that City Council as a whole listens to what the student relations committee has to say. The committee must be a way for students’ voices to be heard – not a means for an indifferent Council to placate and ignore their concerns.