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Posted on Fri, Aug 7, 2009 : 2:55 p.m.

Neighborhoods elect city council

By Alice Ralph

A large number of Burns Parkers voted Tuesday, Aug. 4, in a Democratic primary among candidates seeking to represent us on City Council. At least, more voted than officials expected in both open primary contests (Third and Fifth Wards). Details of the primary election results show that turnout was less than 12 percent.

Half of City Council is up for election each year. In recent years, the primary election virtually determines the general election results for City Council. Even in an ‘off’ year, when our local governments (city and county) are in such turmoil, is that the best we can do? Some might think City Council isn’t that important. I beg to differ. The quality of day-to day civic life is shaped by the quality of our City Council representation.

What differences do our representatives make while serving on Council? Our City Charter ordains a Mayor-Council-Manager form of government. Council, including the Mayor, can hire and fire the City Administrator, create and dissolve the Downtown District Authority (DDA), influence the budget, develop ballot proposals and make policy resolutions, among other things. Council also makes final decisions regarding site plan approvals and some re-zoning requests (Planned Unit Development—PUD*) in any neighborhood.

What our Burns Park neighborhood looks like and how livable it is, depend partly on history and zoning, partly on our own stewardship, and partly on enforcement of codes and ordinances (plus a lot of other things, of course). We depend on our representatives to voice and protect a vision of community that reflects our values and needs as residents.

One of the main reasons that Third Ward turnout was higher than expected is that two thirds of voters who went to the polls believed that our representation should be different.

Even if your candidate did not win, there are many ways you can pursue the vision of livability that led your vote. Donate to a local charity in the same way you might have contributed to a campaign. Create new civic relationships. Offer a ride so that a person with poor eyesight can attend (more easily) a community event with you. Walk, bike or bus around town. Share your home with a foreign exchange student. Volunteer or put on a play at a school. Share our city with visitors. Join the volunteer gardeners at an Avalon site. Landscape with native plants. Grow a modern day Victory Garden. Learn more about Allen Creek or Mallet’s Creek or your own creekshed. Learn your neighbors’ names. Maybe have a block party. But if you are still reading, you probably are already doing things like this.

You can expect (but you might have to insist) that your Council representatives support you in making neighborhood livability real. If you like your neighborhood, it is worth letting Council know why. If your neighborhood is challenged, ask Council for help with solutions. Neighborhoods are always evolving and we need reliable representation to help us achieve and promote neighborhood livability. Our voices should be echoed in what we hear from our Council representatives, even if we have to agree to disagree among ourselves.

Let City Council hear often from Burns Park, or your own neighborhood, wherever in Ann Arbor you might live.

Community Contributor Alice Ralph lives on the southern seam of Burns Park Neighborhood and votes in the Third Ward.

[*For PUD regulations: After linking to the City Clerk’s page , click “Continue to City Code Data” at the bottom and select “Chapter 55 Zoning, Article VI Supplementary Regulations, Section 5:80 PUD Planned unit development regulations and standards for approval.”]



Tue, Aug 11, 2009 : 8:44 a.m.

Maybe primaries are a good time for the candidates to focus on people who don't usually vote, instead of campaigning to the active primary voters (which is the usual campaign strategy, I think). Payoff may be limited for candidates, but it may be a way to improve the chances of a challenger against an incumbent and revive interest of a different part of the population. Whoever did win would have a stronger support base and greater enfranchisement of the community. Perhaps the Dem party itself could take this on...


Mon, Aug 10, 2009 : 8:26 a.m.

Just another idea - I once mapped the simple ways my neighborhood could be made better. It gave me a much better understanding of city infrastructure and inspired me to become more active in water and soil conservation.