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Posted on Sun, Oct 17, 2010 : 5:57 a.m. announces mayoral endorsement

By Tony Dearing

In Ann Arbor, times may change, but the mayor doesn’t. John Hieftje seemingly has the job as long as he wants it.

Having won the primary in a landslide over a vitriolic opponent, the only thing between the mayor and re-election in November is a low-key challenge from Independent candidate Steve Bean.

Critics of Hieftje have trouble understanding his popularity, seeing it as out of proportion to his accomplishments. We agree that the mayor’s record has been mixed.

He clearly is passionate about the environment and mass transit, and those are good issues to be strong on, particularly in Ann Arbor. Another of his hallmarks has been long-term investments in capital and infrastructure - though, sometimes, in ways that raise questions about priorities.

The millions spent to renovate the sewage treatment plan, replace sewer and water lines and introduce single-stream recycling are prudent investments that will serve the city well in the long run.

Hieftje also points with pride to the construction of the Police-Courts Building and the Fifth Avenue underground parking ramp, but these projects are more exciting to him than to the public, and involve long-term costs that are harder to justify in the current economic climate. We also question what they say about the city’s focus, when it can build these projects, while basic infrastructure needs like the Stadium Boulevard bridges and the Argo Dam languished.

We credit the mayor for navigating the city through hard fiscal times. That is no small feat. Tough decisions have been made to reduce the city workforce from more than 1,000 to some 735 employees today. But general fund spending was up from 2006 to 2009, partly because of one-time expenses and partly because the city hasn’t confronted employee benefit costs the way it needs to.

We also think the city has relied too much on balancing its budget by taking parking revenue money from the Downtown Development Authority. Granted, the funds ultimately belong to the city. But when the DDA took over management of parking, the understanding was that the city could tap $10 million in revenue over 10 years. Instead, the city burned through that $10 million in five years, and then dipped back into the DDA for another $2 million this fiscal year to avoid draconian budget cuts. That can’t be a long-term fiscal solution, and in the short-term it raises questions about the DDA’s ability to be independent and serve the best interests of downtown - especially when both Hieftje and another City Council member also sit on the DDA board.

Have the mayor’s accomplishments earned him another term? We believe they have, and we endorse him for re-election. But we also think the times and the challenges are different than when he first came into office in 2000. They require a different emphasis.

We hope Hieftje will continue to maintain the current millage rate, while achieving real, structural change to the city budget and greater restraint on spending. During his next term, we expect the topic of a city income tax will surface again. Hieftje says he’s against that, and we call on him to hold to that position, and look for other solutions.

We hope he will continue to be forward-thinking enough to position the city for future growth, but put more of his energy into immediate concerns and demonstrate more caution about committing future spending at a time when economic uncertainty will continue.

For those who believe fundamental services come first, the success of the mayor’s next term will be judged by how he handles less-than-grandiose concerns, be it fixing the Stadium Boulevard bridges - which fortunately, nearly miraculously, the city has just received federal funding for - or be it coming to final resolution on Argo Dam or dealing with parking policies and rates in ways that preserve the vitality of downtown, and not just plug holes in the city budget. If the mayor rides his popularity to re-election in November, the focus of his next term should be on getting down to basics.

Editor’s note: The three community members who serve on our Editorial Board - David Mielke, Bob Guenzel and Marsha Chamberlin - did not participate in the endorsement interviews and were not involved in these endorsement decisions.


Milton Shift

Mon, Oct 18, 2010 : 2:17 a.m.

You looked at the average total cost of compensation on the BLS website, but did not factor in investment income! A huge percentage of income comes from investment returns and not just from salaries, particularly for the super rich. Dogmatic capitalists are supposed to understand this! You are the one that's failing to interpret the data properly. And I do keep up with current affairs, I just don't have the time to read 200 huge comments on every article every single day. I have obligations in life outside of debating people on this website. Raising taxes on the upper echelons is a great idea. The rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, and the economy is stagnating because of it. There is no mechanism in "free" market capitalism that re-balances wealth; it can only send it hurtling toward the current extreme. The rich aren't using their money to create jobs anyway, so why not take it back (wealth created by OUR labor and NOT theirs) and use it to begin rebuilding our economy? They have no incentive to do this themselves: they're inundated with cash every time we're forced to endure another disaster. Your proposal for dealing with income inequality is laughable. Peasants sharing their peanuts is not socialism. Then again, those free market mud cookies do sound good...


Sun, Oct 17, 2010 : 10:20 p.m.

Mr. Shift - These numbers are from other cited sources via; those sources are generally far more credible than is one who "doesn't read the news because they have a lot to do". Your 'analysis' of local wage sources ignores the US BLS data, in error. Enough. Tax increases are problematic. Public wages need to revert to the mean, ~ $57K/year total compensation. Then, the city could hire lots of additional workers. Wouldn't that be great? Sharing the wealth among the many...


Sun, Oct 17, 2010 : 7:45 p.m.

Comments coda: For an alternate and somewhat lengthier comparison between candidates Bean and Hieftje that covers a smorgasboard of local topics & issues, visit:

Milton Shift

Sun, Oct 17, 2010 : 7:35 p.m.

You are not looking at investment income and have not corrected your numbers. The comparison of income between the average Ann Arbor resident and a public employee is full of complications as well. Large numbers of employees here are students working temporary jobs, unlike the city positions - they are full time positions that don't, whether in the private or public sector, pay minimum wage. Benefits packages for the average Ann Arbor resident haven't been taken into consideration either. Your analysis is far too simplistic to be taken seriously. The only way out of this mess is to jack up the tax rate on the wealthiest Americans to that of the Eisenhower administration. Sadly, mud cookies are more palatable than this option. It is time to aid the ruling elite in their task of exploiting our friends and neighbors for profit!


Sun, Oct 17, 2010 : 7:13 p.m.

The cited numbers are accurate; they have been discussed here ad nauseum. Sorry you are a late in joining the discussion. At this point the cited numbers are accepted by most, the debate now is what to do about it. Higher taxes? Very problematic during recessions.

Milton Shift

Sun, Oct 17, 2010 : 7:01 p.m.

You aren't looking at investment income...


Sun, Oct 17, 2010 : 6:51 p.m.

Some research. It reveals a lot. 1. Check 'total compensation', not salary. ~104,000 in 2010 for city workers. 2. Check your average US worker total compensation: ~ $57K, per BLS.

Milton Shift

Sun, Oct 17, 2010 : 6:45 p.m.

I don't have time to read through every day, I usually have a lot to do. I did find the numbers in question, and I see nothing absurd here. $65k salary, which will be more like 40k after all taxes are figured in - that's not exactly rolling in cash when you're raising a family on that, paying down the mortgage, car insurance, socking away cash for retirement and the kid's college education... Last time I looked at the numbers, the average income for an American worker was almost 100k, though the median is more like 45k (huge disparity of wealth). 65k is not breaking the bank, it's those making the big bucks that are. I suppose, however, it would be more logical to make the argument that those who are paid the least should help drag the rest of society down to their level. Let's all eat mud cookies like they do in Haiti! Only ideologies as cynical as yours can call hard working Americans (who often struggle to get by) greedy and entitled, while bankers and executives gloat over the distraction and clean us out.


Sun, Oct 17, 2010 : 6:24 p.m.

With all due respect Mr. Shift, The numbers you seek have been all over this website many times, some just recently on 30SEP2010. Do search for them. You may respect them more via self discovery.

Milton Shift

Sun, Oct 17, 2010 : 4:56 p.m.

Do you have a source I could take a look at? I'd like some hard numbers here.


Sun, Oct 17, 2010 : 4:31 p.m.

City workers are compensated at nearly twice the average resident's rate. Many believe they should earn approximately the same as residents, not twice.

Milton Shift

Sun, Oct 17, 2010 : 4:09 p.m.

"The key enabler to that goal is reducing the remarkably high wages and lucrative fringe benefits of city workers." Once again, the laughable argument is made that living wages, not exorbitant executive and administrator salaries, are bankrupting our society! How do you define "high wage," AlphaAlpha? What about "lucrative fringe benefits?"


Sun, Oct 17, 2010 : 11:24 a.m.

Speechless, I sympathize with your problem. He has been well-nigh invisible. So has his campaign. The little I have noticed has been marked by a concentration on appearing uncontroversial and accommodating. I guess he has been overcompensating for the lessons learned from the Pat Lesko run.


Sun, Oct 17, 2010 : 9:57 a.m.

"We hope Hieftje will continue to maintain the current millage rate, while achieving real, structural change to the city budget and greater restraint on spending" Right on. The key enabler to that goal is reducing the remarkably high wages and lucrative fringe benefits of city workers.


Sun, Oct 17, 2010 : 8:11 a.m.

Uh, who is it again? St... Stan? No? Simon? Sam? No... oh, wait... Stephen? Am I getting closer? Memory's starting to return now....  It's... Steve! Steve. That's right. Nearly forgot. That's the other name on the ballot.... Um, if the management of this page kindly wouldn't mind, could someone on weekend staff duty take a few minutes to drop in an additional paragraph or two that reminds us why Steve Bean decided to run and what his stated priorities are? There's a big void here, kind of like a deep hole in the ground.