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Posted on Fri, Jun 1, 2012 : 11:13 a.m.

Conan Smith: Washtenaw County not ready to embrace regional arts tax for DIA

By Ryan J. Stanton

MACKINAC ISLAND — While voters in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties prepare to go to the polls in August to consider a regional arts tax to support the Detroit Institute of Arts, Washtenaw County is sitting this one out.

Conan Smith, chairman of the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners, said there's a simple reason for that.

"Washtenaw County's not ready to get in on it," he said. "We haven't built up the community understanding of the value of the DIA across Washtenaw County yet."


Conan Smith on the deck of the Grand Hotel during the Detroit Regional Chamber's Mackinac Policy Conference.

Ryan J. Stanton |

That position drew ire from Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson during a panel discussion Thursday at the Detroit Regional Chamber's Mackinac Policy Conference. Patterson bluntly told Smith: "You don't have any skin in the game."

If the 0.2-mill levy passes, it could raise up to $23 million a year for the DIA and cost the owner of a $150,000 home $15 a year.

A spokesperson for the DIA could not be reached for comment.

Smith, who sported an "I (heart) DIA" button at the conference, said he's hopeful a tax to support the DIA will be on the ballot in Washtenaw County at some point in the future, just not right now.

"The DIA is very passionate about this and their members are very passionate. Washtenaw County members are very passionate and they include heavy hitters like Ron Weiser," he said, referencing the Ann Arbor businessman elected state GOP party chairman in 2009.

"I suspect the conversation will be ongoing and I could see us putting a DIA millage on the ballot," Smith said. "And it's not technically a DIA millage. This is sort of convoluted. You create an arts council. An arts council then puts the millage on the ballot."

If the county created an arts council and the council decided to run a millage campaign, it could fund the DIA, Smith said, but it also could fund local arts programs or arts education.

"I don't want to pre-determine what they would put on there, but I've got to imagine the DIA, as a regional asset, is going to be a part of that mix," he said.

The DIA informally approached a handful of people about the idea of putting a millage on the ballot in Washtenaw, in addition to the three other counties.

Smith said the answer the DIA got from Washtenaw was more of a "not yet," and not necessarily "no, we're not gonna do that.' "

"We're interested. Eager is how I would describe myself," Smith said. "But the board is not fully there yet, and I don't even know if everybody on the board has had this conversation at this point. We never had a board conversation about it at all, just an internal analysis."

Despite the fact that Ann Arbor has an art museum of its own, Smith said there is a large number of members of the DIA from Washtenaw County.

"The number of schools particularly on the east side of Washtenaw County that use the DIA as their art program, for example, that's significant," he added.

"It is an asset to Washtenaw County, but it's not a readily recognized asset. So there's a lot of homework to do there first, but I'm hopeful we'll get there at some point."

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 email newsletters.



Sat, Jun 2, 2012 : 2:46 p.m.

"Washtenaw County's not ready to get in on it," he said. "We haven't built up the community understanding of the value of the DIA across Washtenaw County yet." Speak for yourself, Conan.


Sat, Jun 2, 2012 : 2:28 p.m.

I love the DIA. You want to support it, you can donate your money and/or pay an entry fee to enjoy the facility. The trouble with liberals like C. Smith is that they want to spend other peoples money on what they think is important. I spend my money at the DIA because I want to not because I am forced to by the tax laws. The DIA is important. Why doesn't C. Smith and his influential family raise private donations to help the DIA? But that takes real effort and resources that need to be used for the next reelection campaign. BTW did C. Smith pay back the money he owes the county?


Mon, Jun 4, 2012 : 2:02 a.m.

I do not believe that spending tax payers' money defines liberalism. After all, I doubt that anyone would consider the Big Banks and Wall Street as "liberals" and yet they received billions of dollars of tax payer money in the form of the TARP, or do you not remember that? And how much of that went into the bonuses that the top executives received?

David Cahill

Sat, Jun 2, 2012 : 12:39 p.m.

Just what we need - a countywide public arts program. More Dreiseitls. More scandal. More stupidity.

Les Gov

Sat, Jun 2, 2012 : 7:42 a.m.

Washtenaw County Commissioners found a way to raise taxes in Washtenaw County for their pet interests without going to the voters in the past. I'm shocked Smith hasn't found a way to raise our taxes for the DIA without letting us vote. Remember the Act 88 millage increase levied against all of us? Not a single Washtenaw County Voter was allowed to vote on this tax increase. What did this non-voter approved tax increase go for: The millage will provide: $200,000 for Ann Arbor SPARK. $50,000 for SPARK East. $100,000 for the Eastern Leaders Group. $59,000 for 4-H activities. $27,000 for Horticulture Programming. $15,000 for Agricultural Innovation. $15,000 for the Food Systems Economic Partnership. $137,000 for the county's Department of Economic Development and Energy activities.


Sat, Jun 2, 2012 : 5:38 a.m.

Is this guy for real?


Sat, Jun 2, 2012 : 4:23 a.m.

Since everyone in the state can go to the DIA, the Detroit Zoo, and the other museums, how about a state tax for those-- not Washtenaw County tax. Oh, wait--I'll bet the state (our taxes) already contributes!

Dog Guy

Sat, Jun 2, 2012 : 1:21 a.m.

How about a Washtenaw County millage for the Louvre; it would cost most of a billion dollars for it to have a matched set of Mona Lisas.


Mon, Jun 4, 2012 : 2:39 p.m.

She just smiled....


Sat, Jun 2, 2012 : 1:09 a.m.

At $23 million per year, we could open our own art museum or purchase additional pieces for display at the UM museum. Why send the money to Detroit?

Ron Granger

Sat, Jun 2, 2012 : 12:21 a.m.

Maybe Mr Smith would also like us all to pay a city income tax - to the city of Detroit. Why not? It's not that different than an art millage forcing a2 residents to fund the DIA.


Fri, Jun 1, 2012 : 10:38 p.m.

MOVE the DIA to Waterstreet Ypsilanti, help the city ..


Fri, Jun 1, 2012 : 10:36 p.m.

THE DIA knows How to make money , The Christ Show was SOLD out and had weeks added to it .Yes the made money......


Fri, Jun 1, 2012 : 10:23 p.m.

Here is the Deal...when the trains stop inYpsilanti, chelsea, saline , we will think about it!

Federico de Arbor

Fri, Jun 1, 2012 : 10:11 p.m.

Your affinity might be to Detroit, but mine is to Toledo - there's a nice art museum there, should we fund it too?


Fri, Jun 1, 2012 : 11:20 p.m.

Toledo does have a very nice art museum. The DIA is a world class art museum. Most cities the size of Detroit and even larger have nothing approaching the DIA.

Linda Peck

Fri, Jun 1, 2012 : 9:17 p.m.

The DIA is a world class museum. Detroit is not a world class city anymore. This is a dilemma for the people who love the museum and want to see it continue, but also value personal choice.


Mon, Jun 4, 2012 : 2:38 p.m.

Their childrens museum was also world class. It closed due to lack of visitation and money. Much better then that one in Ann Arbor without parking.

Mr. Ed

Fri, Jun 1, 2012 : 9:01 p.m.

This guy needs to go.


Fri, Jun 1, 2012 : 8:19 p.m.

Idk I'm in the middle and I've been to both art institutes but I'm more familiar with the DIA and ever since I was a child I've been going to the DIA


Fri, Jun 1, 2012 : 8:04 p.m.

How can Conan Smith represent Ann Arbor voter sentiment on a DIA millage without gauging Ann Arbor's attitude about the subject. If Mr. Smith has been paying attention then he will realize that many Ann Arbor citizens are not happy with its own 1%-for-art fund. Perhaps the reason why residents do not like a tax payer supported art acquisition fund is that the art selected for purchase reflects the taste of only one or several individuals who sit on the art committee and, of course, the approval of the mayor. And recent expenditure for public art is not being appreciated by the majority of Ann Arbor citizenry.


Fri, Jun 1, 2012 : 11:38 p.m.

Or Washtenaw County. Who died and made him king?


Fri, Jun 1, 2012 : 7:59 p.m.

The DIA, Science Center, Historical Museum and Museum of African American History should look at combining resources.


Fri, Jun 1, 2012 : 10:26 p.m.

THE Historical Museum is closed for 6 months , being remodelt. AT a time when tourist and children are off for the summer.Good timing.Where did there money come from?

Alan Goldsmith

Fri, Jun 1, 2012 : 7:31 p.m.

From a March article: "Smith, chairman of the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners, comes from a political dynasty that includes Al Wheeler, his grandfather, who served as the city's first black mayor in the 1970s. His mother, Alma Wheeler Smith, also served in the state Legislature for many years. "I'll tell you candidly, a lifelong dream of mine is to be the mayor of my hometown and I think that would be a great service to offer to the community," Smith said." It's his 'lifelong dream'. Lol.


Fri, Jun 1, 2012 : 8:09 p.m.

If John Heiftje - part-time real estate agent - can do it, anybody can do it.


Fri, Jun 1, 2012 : 7:56 p.m.

More of a nightmare!

Alan Goldsmith

Fri, Jun 1, 2012 : 7:16 p.m.

You know the old saying the life is just like junior high school? Seems like Conan Smith has adopted this mantra for his political life. He sounds like the arrogant kid nobody likes and is trying to carry on the family business but has no clue how to do it.

Jay Thomas

Fri, Jun 1, 2012 : 6:54 p.m.

As much as I like U of M's art museum it doesn't really compare. Our school children will continue to be taken to the Zoo and DIA. Whether we want to admit it or not that is our Zoo and our museum.


Sat, Jun 2, 2012 : 11:52 p.m.

Not when Toledo's is better for kids on both counts.


Fri, Jun 1, 2012 : 8:58 p.m.

Here is the funny part. The field trips inside Washtenaw County either send them to the DIA or the Detroit Zoo or the Toledo Zoo. It is the tax payers that pay them to go. I don't remember shelling out funds for mine to go. Just a permission slip. So, if my child goes, is worth $9500 as a student, her amount then goes to pay for the trip the school shells out. So in all retrospect, we are supporting the arts whether or not we like or not. Not bad.


Fri, Jun 1, 2012 : 7:32 p.m.

It does not compare because we don't tax Livingston, Washtenaw, and Lenawee counties to support it.


Fri, Jun 1, 2012 : 6:16 p.m.

Wow, I just saw Conan Smith's Facebook page. The whole thing is full of delusions of grandeur, typos, and not so subtle self-promotion. No wonder likes the guy!


Fri, Jun 1, 2012 : 8:08 p.m.

Hhhhm. Thanks for sharing his facebook page (above) Huron74. After skimming through it, this is not the perception that I got of Conan Smith. ALthough I do not agree with all of his thinking, he gave quite a bit of detailed information on a variety of topics.


Fri, Jun 1, 2012 : 6:32 p.m.

Sadly Jim so do many of Ann Arbor's voters.


Fri, Jun 1, 2012 : 5:59 p.m.

As a county, we have an interest in a healthy Detroit, but fixing Detroit might be a problem too big for us to solve. Supporting the DIA seems like moving the deck chairs around on the Titanic.


Fri, Jun 1, 2012 : 8:53 p.m.

Before or after the sinking?


Fri, Jun 1, 2012 : 5:37 p.m.

With all the money the county can make selling dogs and cats to commercial labs and the money saved by axing funding to the HSHV by having the sheriff's office "euthanize" (i.e., "kill") the unsold animals Washtenaw county can then spend more on out-of-town artsy stuff. Sounds like a plan. Source you say? Smith's Face Book page. Ann Arborites who are appalled by all this have no one to blame but themselves. We vote this guy and his wife into office year after year and then seem surprised by what they get. Go figure?


Fri, Jun 1, 2012 : 9:17 p.m.

Seldon and May 5 And what do suppose the Sheriff's office is going to do with those unwanted, abandoned, and stray pets? Take 'em all home? Ever hear of the term "logical deduction"? If that's not the logical inference from Conan's "privatization" remarks and having "different priorities" than the HVHS has then let Conan say so and explain himself. Even Smith is not arrogant and foolish enough state the obvious outright. See, he dreams of being mayor someday.


Fri, Jun 1, 2012 : 7:56 p.m.

Here are some of the justifications: "If you'll look at the budget proposal, you'll see that the HSHV still receives the largest allocation of any individual outside agency, and it is being reduced proportionally to most of the other entities. I would point out to you that we have been forced to slash support to the domestic violence shelter by 50 percent, to eliminate our direct allocation to DHS's child abuse prevention program, to eliminate the fair housing fund and to cut direct support to the homeless shelter by more than 80 percent. To maintain funding for HSHV at the current levels would mean even more draconian cuts to the remaining programs."


Fri, Jun 1, 2012 : 6:51 p.m.

Wait a minute. The link you provide does include his justification for reducing funding to HSHV, but says ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about euthanizing animals or selling them to commercial labs.


Fri, Jun 1, 2012 : 5:14 p.m.

If Conan Smith (heart) DIA, he can move to Det. and help pay for it. leave our taxes out of the business of another county and separate metro area.

Alan Goldsmith

Fri, Jun 1, 2012 : 5:10 p.m.

Do we need to have "I Heart Politicians With An IQ Over 100" buttons made?

Alan Goldsmith

Fri, Jun 1, 2012 : 5:09 p.m.

So who does Smith even work for? Who does he speak for? From his babbling at the conference and being laughed at by the audience, it's certainly not for Washtenaw County. My family has had a a Family DIA membership for years but for Smith to be the point man for the DIA and a County millage, only because he looked foolish at the big boy's table this week is just very sad.


Fri, Jun 1, 2012 : 7:37 p.m.

Thank you. As I read his comments all I could think of was, "Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah."


Fri, Jun 1, 2012 : 5:07 p.m.

Well at least Mr. Conan, is getting some major media time from!

Top Cat

Fri, Jun 1, 2012 : 5:03 p.m.

Someone needs to buy Mr. Smith a map of Michigan. He is geographically challenged. He doesn't seem to know where we are.


Fri, Jun 1, 2012 : 4:56 p.m.

Is this really the most important topic for Ann Arbor at the Mackinac Policy Conference? a regional arts council? I'm wondering about reporting priorities.

Martin Church

Fri, Jun 1, 2012 : 4:50 p.m.

I like the DIA and support them. However taxes are not the best way to show support. If you want to support DIA than buy a membership or pay for what you like. don't tax people who will never visit, or use tax money to support art forms that attack religous belief systems (Christ in a cup of Urine or a white canvas with a black line {never did understand how this could be art]). when the purposal is put before the citizens of washtenaw county I expect certain items to be in the proposal. cost of membership for citzens paying the tax, a seat on the arts council. also what about support for the local arts council (ann arbor, and some weeks Ypsilanti) would funds be included for those groups. Before I say Yes, the county has a lot of selling to do to get my vote.


Fri, Jun 1, 2012 : 4:37 p.m.

It pains me deeply to see Conan "We don't need no Humane Society" Smith being the spokesperson for what Washtenaw County wants.


Fri, Jun 1, 2012 : 4:48 p.m.

What's your source for the quote above?


Fri, Jun 1, 2012 : 4:30 p.m.

Meanwhile our roads are crumbling, people have flooding basements from an overwhelmed sewage system, and our police force is below the minimum head count.


Fri, Jun 1, 2012 : 4:25 p.m.

Who voted for this guy? (Conan Smith) Maybe we should be recalling this guy instead of the Governor?


Fri, Jun 1, 2012 : 4:24 p.m.

I have an annual membership in the DIA, yet haven't visited it for a few years. I'm a member because I think some things are worthy of support. Put it on the ballot...I'll vote for it. If you don't want to, then vote no.


Fri, Jun 1, 2012 : 10:07 p.m.

Thank you Cinco...that's exactly what I meant. and I think putting it on a regular ballot wouldn't cost...


Fri, Jun 1, 2012 : 7:54 p.m.

I'd be more comfortable putting it up for a vote if I wasn't POSITIVE they wil schedule it for some obscure date and time.....


Fri, Jun 1, 2012 : 7:46 p.m.

Actually, SEC Fan didn't say whether is should be supported or not - just that they would because they found it worthy of support. But that others who didn't find it worthy of support could vote no. However, if it's clear that it will not get much support, I am not sure the time, effort and cost of even putting it on the ballot makes sense.


Fri, Jun 1, 2012 : 7:27 p.m.

So our countty shoudl support other counties art intiatives? Why not Jackson's Armory Arts? Why not literally any other program in Washtenaw county? Keep the money in the county, if it's tax money.

Craig Lounsbury

Fri, Jun 1, 2012 : 4:11 p.m.

How do you spell delusional?..... C-O-N-A-N -S......


Fri, Jun 1, 2012 : 4:01 p.m.

Smith said the answer the DIA got from Washtenaw was more of a "not yet," and not necessarily "no, we're not gonna do that.' " We'll make sure our next representative understands the correct answer better than Smith does.


Fri, Jun 1, 2012 : 3:54 p.m.

So A2's art obsession has now grown to include art institutes in OTHER COUNTIES? Instead of trying to include a millage that would surely be defeated by the Wash. County voters, the Ann Arbor city goverment donate that six-figure water fountain to the DIA. Since it doesn't even work, they could melt it down for scrap, and use the money to sustain real art. (And I find it hard to believe that people around here don't "readily know" about the DIA, in fact I'd guess that they support the DIA as much as anyone.) Conan Smith is almost as laughable as Conan O'Brien.


Fri, Jun 1, 2012 : 3:56 p.m.

^ meant to say, "should donate the water fountain"


Fri, Jun 1, 2012 : 3:49 p.m.

Move it to Washtenaw County first and then I'll consider it...


Fri, Jun 1, 2012 : 8:17 p.m.

Lol exactly


Fri, Jun 1, 2012 : 3:40 p.m.

why support the Detroit institute of arts when i do not support the ann arbor art commission.


Sat, Jun 2, 2012 : 1:59 a.m.

Why not support both?


Fri, Jun 1, 2012 : 8:36 p.m.

Support the DIA because it's a world-class art museum which we in Washtenaw County should be very proud of. It is an amazing place to take students of any age for a docent-led tour geared to the ages of your students. Its murals depicting the heyday of the auto industry are wonderful. Use one of the IPAds they have on hand to home in on the smallest detail of these enormous panels and learn hundreds of things about the culture of Detroit at that time. A well-rounded citizen needs to know history! The DIA is an important conservator of many historical artifacts that shed light on the significance of the lives of people the world over. Take a visit; you will be surprised. There's plenty of parking and several nice places to have lunch inside the museum, very reasonably priced. If something at the DIA doesn't take your breath away, you just not might be breathing.