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Posted on Wed, Jan 27, 2010 : 11 a.m.

Political blog roundup: Ann Arbor parking, budgets, pay cuts and convention centers

By Edward Vielmetti

Today I put together a roundup of what is being talked about on political blogs around the Ann Arbor area. In this week's review:

  • Environmental impacts of parking structure development and transit on Fuller Road (Tom Whitaker via Arbor Update)
  • Expanding Ann Arbor city information technology and legal expenses versus parks and human services cutbacks (Jack Eaton via A2Politico)
  • Personnel costs and pay cuts for teachers (Ruth on Ann Arbor Schools Musings)
  • Hospitality analyst Chuck Skelton thinks Jesse Bernstein is working from an old, flawed convention center strategy (interview on Public Land, Public Process).

Parking at Fuller Road

The Arbor Update blog is run by what Arborwiki characterizes as a "bulky, herbivorous collective." Herbivores generally provide a fertile trail behind them for picking through for good information. The most promising thread on that site of late has been the reasoned discussion of parks vs. transit and the Sierra Club's opposition to the Fuller Transit Center.

Commenter Tom Whitaker notes the complicated environmental calculus of parking, transit, and rail:

Someone else claimed that rail transit will bring in UM commuters from the east and thereby reduce car traffic, emissions, carbon, etc., etc. That’s great, I’m all for it. But, if that’s true and it’s being used as justification for building a rail transit center on parkland, then why build a 1000-space parking garage, too? How many years of environmental savings from rail transit are being wiped out by the construction of a huge new parking structure? What other environmental trade offs could be considered to help offset this impact, like perhaps removing some of these extra satellite surface lots that in theory, should no longer be necessary?

City of Ann Arbor budget priorities

The nominally anonymous A2Politico can't even eat a sandwich without dripping some snarky commentary on the table, but it appears its focus on relentless criticism of the management of city government is accompanied by solid research. In The Politics of Cooking the Books: Ann Arbor As A French Restaurant, it discusses the growing city budget, and elicits this comment from Jack Eaton on the relative focus of spending and cuts:

In the last 5 years, the City’s spending has increased by more than a third. In that time, the city administration has cut police and fire staffing. Yet, even the police and fire budgets have increased while the staffing levels declined. We have witnessed astounding growth in the IT and legal budgets in that same period. Now that it’s time to stop spending, the city is recommending cutting service levels, human services and parks budgets. No mention of cut backs in the budget-growth-areas of the IT and legal departments.

School budgets and personnel costs

Ann Arbor Schools Musings is the antithesis of A2Politico; no venom, no harsh words, just well reasoned and thoughtful commentary.  So when the author, who goes in public by the name of Ruth, asks about pay cuts because they are 70% of the budget, she does it with some consideration.

So--if we need to cut, obviously personnel cost containment needs to be part of the solution. I think that the Ann Arbor schools should set a target for pay rollbacks, and work toward that with the unions. That seemed to work for Washtenaw County. Furthermore, if the overall target is 4% (a number I am making up), then perhaps that should not be distributed evenly. Flat rollbacks, just like flat taxes, are regressive. Put another way, 4% of the pay of someone who makes $25,000 is likely to be felt a lot more deeply than 4% of the pay of someone who makes $60,000. And, 4% of $60,000 is $2400 while 4% of $25,000 is only $1000. So perhaps people at the top should take 4.5% cuts and people at the bottom only 3% cuts. And it could be that health benefits should be included in these cost changes--certainly they are part of the overall package. [And by the way--I've already written about why I oppose privatization of bus and custodial services, but note that those bus drivers and custodians are definitely on the bottom end. Bus drivers' pay goes from $13-$19/hour, bus monitors from $10-$14, and custodians from $9-$18.]

Public land, public process

Public Land, Public Process is a new blog organized to provide a perspective on the development of the downtown Library Lot.  Group member Leslie Morris interviews local hospitality industry analyst with Chuck Skelton on his assessment of what kind of information city officials and planners are looking at to help make their decision.  

He (Skelton) recounted an experience he had about twenty years ago. He was asked to serve on a citizen committee, which was formed to react to a study that the city (Ann Arbor) had commissioned to assess feasibility of a convention center. The study was done by a nationally known firm, but was so poorly executed, and included so many erroneous assumptions, that he refused to sign off on it. As an example, he said that the producers of the study had assembled a list of all the groups that meet at large midwestern conference centers, including McCormick Center in Chicago and other convention centers in cities like Cleveland (I didn't get down all the names). He said they then claimed that an Ann Arbor convention center would have access to 100% of these groups. He said his opinion was that Ann Arbor would be lucky to have access to 1% of the groups that meet at the McCormick Center, which is very large, and can accommodate big trade shows. He thought that Ann Arbor might have access to 10% of the groups that meet at the other larger midwestern convention centers. He thinks that this poorly-done study is the one that Jesse Bernstein is carrying around and citing currently.

The political blog roundup is something I'm doing on Wednesdays; I'm working from the Arborwiki List of Ann Arbor political bloggers.

Edward Vielmetti reads the entire Internet and clips out only the best of it for you at  To reach him, write something somewhere and send the URL to