Candidate forum brings out differences among Ann Arbor City Council candidates
Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com
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.
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."
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.
"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.
"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.
"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.
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 AnnArbor.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to AnnArbor.com's e-mail newsletters.