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Posted on Sat, Jun 11, 2011 : 3:59 p.m.

Candidate forum brings out differences among Ann Arbor City Council candidates

By Ryan J. Stanton


Marwan Issa, a 3rd Ward candidate for the Ann Arbor City Council, gives opening remarks during a candidate forum held today at the Ann Arbor Community Center. Issa is facing off against incumbent Stephen Kunselman and challenger Ingrid Ault in the Aug. 2 Democratic primary.

Ryan J. Stanton |

Ann Arbor City Council Member Stephen Kunselman and 3rd Ward political opponent Ingrid Ault are both lifelong Ann Arbor residents — and they even graduated together from Pioneer High School in 1981 — but their similarities may end there.

Kunselman and Ault took different stances on city issues today during a City Council candidate forum at the Ann Arbor Community Center, including the role of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority as it relates to city government.

"Stephen Kunselman and I have very different ideas about DDAs," said Ault, who once served as the interim director of the Ypsilanti DDA.


Stephen Kunselman

"Having worked on a DDA, and having gone through the budget issues in Ypsilanti at that time where they were talking about merging the finances back into the city government, I did extensive research about what that would really mean," she said. "And what that means is you would get a lot less services."

Kunselman made clear he's in favor of downsizing the Ann Arbor DDA, saying he thinks there's a lot of duplication of services between the DDA and the city.

"They have an attorney, we have an attorney," he said. "They have an accountant, we have an accountant. They now have a planner, we have a whole planning department."

Kunselman noted the DDA pays more than $50,000 a year for what he considers "luxury" office space downtown for its five employees. He said that money could be saved by moving the DDA into city hall, but DDA officials haven't taken up the city on that offer.

"There's a lot of money to be saved," he said. "Half of their $750,000 bureaucracy bill is paid for by general fund parking revenues, and I think it's time that they bring those home."


Ingrid Ault

Today's forum was hosted by the Ann Arbor City Democratic Party and featured 90 minutes of questions and answers with three council members up for re-election this year and the field of challengers who are competing for their seats in the Aug. 2 Democratic primary.

Kunselman, D-3rd Ward, is defending his seat against Ault, executive director of Think Local First, and Marwan Issa, technology director at Global Education Excellence. Issa tended to agree more with Kunselman than Ault today on issues like the DDA.

"It seems like the DDA has served its purpose and now it's becoming more its own — it can do whatever it wants, whenever it wants," Issa said. "So it'd be nice to kind of rein it in."

In the 5th Ward, Democratic incumbent Mike Anglin is defending his seat against challenger Neal Elyakin, special education supervisor for the Washtenaw Intermediate School District.

In the 2nd Ward, Democratic incumbent Stephen Rapundalo is defending his seat against challenger Tim Hull, a computer programmer at the University of Michigan.


Tim Hull

Hull said while the current economic situation has necessitated difficult city budget decisions, police and fire services should be the last areas to be cut.

"If elected I will look to ensure the city is fiscally responsible and sets its budget priorities based on community needs," he said. "Additionally, it is vital to preserve the unique character of Ann Arbor. There are many distinct qualities that make our city what it is — neighborhoods, parks, natural beauty and a sense of community, to name a few."

Hull added that while he would make it a priority to preserve parks and neighborhoods, he also would encourage "responsible development."

Candidates took turns offering their opinions about issues related to the city-owned Library Lot site on South Fifth Avenue where the City Council recently rejected a private developer's proposal for a hotel and conference center.

Elyakin said he doesn't think the request-for-proposals process the city followed was an effective one. He suggested the city could do a better job of listening to the community.

Hull agreed with Elyakin.

"We need to have a process where the community is engaged in deciding what they want, whether that be a park, a conference center or something else," he said.


Stephen Rapundalo

Ault called the Library Lot "arguably the most valuable piece of land in Washtenaw County." She said she'd prefer to see the land used for a mixed-use development with retail, restaurants, and offices at ground level. "I don't really care what goes above it," she added.

"A mixed-use development in the Library Lot may be a pipe dream," Kunselman responded. "Retail in the middle of a block off the beaten path is not going to do very well."

Kunselman stressed that any development that happens on the Library Lot should not be publicly subsidized. He said his own preferred plan for the site is for the Ann Arbor District Library to purchase it and build a new library there, and then sell the library property next door for private development.

Rapundalo said he wants to see dense development on the Library Lot, which he thinks should be developed to the fullest extent to realize new tax revenues.

"What it should be, I don't know," he said.

Ault said there's a need for conferences in the downtown.

"That's where people want to go," she said. "They want to be able to be immersed in the community. Having said that, I don't think that it should be funded by city dollars. I think if the project's not viable on its own, then that's your red flag."

Issa suggested the Library Lot could be developed in such a way that it becomes a hub for startup companies in Ann Arbor, possibly those that spin out of the university.


Neal Elyakin

On the topic of the city's budget, Kunselman said the city is redirecting too much money from its utility funds to pay for public art when infrastructure is in great need of repair.

"I've had four water main breaks on my street within the last year," he said. "The one that just got repaired is broken again, so that makes five."

Hull said he understands the importance of public art, but he agreed with Kunselman a higher priority should be making sure the city has sufficient money in its utility budgets.

Ault said the city needs to continue to support public art and parks. She said there are about 3,000 people in Washtenaw County who identify themselves as working artists.

Issa stressed the importance of protecting funding for public safety and suggested the city already has cut too far in that area.

Anglin said the city should cut back on administrative costs, and take a closer look at the money budgeted for information technology and the city attorney's office.

"We're having a higher, broader and deeper administration but fewer services coming down into the community," he said. "So we've seen laying off police at a time when maybe we should look at other parts of the staff that need to be reduced also."

Elyakin said he'd like to see the city switch to a multi-year budgeting process and include more citizen participation in crafting the budget.

"I love the idea of creating more green city development and converting city buildings and converting current structures into a more green environment," he added.

Rapundalo said the city should have an open debate about revenue restructuring. In the meantime, he said he'd continue to push for concessions from the police and fire unions. He noted personnel is the city's biggest cost factor, and that's mostly in public safety.


Mike Anglin

"And while I don't want to see public safety numbers diminished and citizen security compromised," he said, "the fact is that their health care and pension plans are totally out of sync with not only the public sector, but also even more so with the private sector."

Ault agreed with Rapundalo.

"Everybody needs to be able to give and take," she said. "With respect to that, I really think we need to talk to the unions about them making some concessions with their health care."

Kunselman talked about his vision for Ann Arbor.

"The Ann Arbor I hope to achieve is the one that I grew up in," he said. "Where we have good roads, clean water, safe neighborhoods, maintained parks — everything that I got from growing up here. If you have all of that, then you get economic development."

Issa shared his vision, too.

"The Ann Arbor I envision is an Ann Arbor that's self-sufficient — that we're not constantly talking about how are we going to pay for something, what are we going to cut," he said.

Ault said she'd rely on her economic development expertise.

"That's what I do every day is economic development," she said. "I work with small businesses. I look for ways to create businesses. I look for ways for partnerships."

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's e-mail newsletters.



Mon, Jun 13, 2011 : 12:08 p.m.

Since Democrats run our city, then the answer is simple. Raise property taxes and create a city income tax and sales tax. Maybe create a city gas tax, to drive more "green" bicycle use. Also, how about allowing a check off box for all of those noisy Democrats that think taxes are too low on higher income residents. The box could be a "fill in the blank" for the added tax dollars they want to contribute. I am thinking about all of those $100,000 per year plus professors that complain that taxes are too low! Also, how about allowing even more early full benefits retirement plans for city workers, police and fire? Oh and don't forget the 47% of liberals that don't even pay income taxes, how about some more tax credits for them?


Mon, Jun 13, 2011 : 2:40 a.m.

"Anglin said the city should cut back on administrative costs, and take a closer look at the money budgeted for information technology and the city attorney's office." That is something we should all look at. Ann Arbor employs the highest paid city attorney in the State of Michigan in Stephen Postema. His salary needs to be cut down to size. In the Third Ward race, I am frankly impressed with all three candidates. Kunselman has been a voice of reason and integrity over the years but both challengers are appearing knowledgeable. Maybe Leigh Greden or the Mayor could make an endorsement to help swing the vote somewhat since both are so well known in the Third Ward. Who of the candidates has a website up yet?


Sun, Jun 12, 2011 : 11:09 p.m.

I'd definitely like to see more of these forums. While I am not happy AT ALL with the current mayor and council and truly, at this point, would like to see a complete overhaul, I favor Kunselman for his sheer ability and willingness to ask questions even when pressured to conform to the group. He is a true Ann Arborite - grounded, and not afraid of common sense questioning. I will be asking all of my Ward 2 friends (you all know who you are!!) to vote for Tim Hull. Although I'm interested in hearing more from him, I appreciate his statement that our safety services are the last thing that should be cut. But even more than that is the hope that he will show far more respect toward constituents of Ann Arbor, who out of concern for their city, come to speak before council. Rapundalo must practice that hateful glare I see him give to those who express ideas that differ from his own. Glares directed at taxpayers who care about their city and take the time and effort to address the council with their concerns. I am thoroughly disappointed with the lack of responsiveness overall of this entire administration. I can't think of anything more disrespectful than not responding to your constituents!!! And there has been a severe lack of communication here. Many, many people that I have talked to have told me that even a simple "I can't respond to that right now" would've been helpful. However, they would receive a limited response with stale information, late responses, or, more commonly, no response at all!!!! To me, this lack of simple respect toward fellow taxpayers communicates a need for a total overhaul.

Bertha Venation

Wed, Jun 22, 2011 : 8:48 p.m.

I'm with you %100 or more, Cinco! I say clean house!


Mon, Jun 13, 2011 : 12:27 p.m.

He does look tired. And I wish that was the look that I was talking about, but it is not. I like to imagine that he looks so tired because he is working hard for our city. However, I really have no idea why he looks so tired. And, being a tireless worker is still no excuse for the hateful glaring I have witnessed him giving to speaking constituents at council meetings. Just as the overall lack of response to taxpayers communications - from all of these council members and mayor - has no excuse.


Mon, Jun 13, 2011 : 2:48 a.m.

Rapundalo has backed a city income tax and is a former Republican who lost to Hieftje in a prior mayoral run. That should lose him some votes right away. I do not know about a "glare" but he looks from his photo to be kind of tired.

David Cahill

Sat, Jun 11, 2011 : 11:15 p.m.

This is good coverage of an event that was not contentious. The candidates went out of their way not to attack each other.


Mon, Jun 13, 2011 : 2:44 a.m.

David, are you endorsing Mr. Anglin again this election?

Alan Goldsmith

Sat, Jun 11, 2011 : 11:05 p.m.

"Ault said the city needs to continue to support public art and parks. She said there are about 3,000 people in Washtenaw County who identify themselves as working artists." Wow, go out on a limb there candidate Ault. Just what we need, vague bumper sticker catch phrases and not addressing the Per Cent Art Tax while the City's infrastructure turns into dust. It's nothing less than I expect from a candidate who will becomfortable and in lockstep with all the failed City policies of the past.


Mon, Jun 13, 2011 : 2:43 a.m.

Alan, who are you backing, if anyone, in the Fourth Ward City Council race? Do you believe a Green Party-nominated candidate would be viable if they filed for Marcia Higgins' seat?