TT with HD: John Hieftje
HD: Ready to mount?
HD: Alright. First order of business is to take the standard teeter tottering photo.
JH: What do you weigh?
HD: You know, I've been telling people 160, and I hopped on the scale the other day, and I realize I've been underestimating a bit, so it's more like 170, or even 175.
JH: We're going to be very close.
HD: Alright ready to go? [picture taking] Ready to get this thing tottering?
JH: I'm happy to, I don't know!
HD: Is this going to work for you?
JH: Sure. Do you have a clamp underneath here that just runs under the pipe on your fulcrum here?
HD: Umm, no, it's not a clamp. But the I-beam support underneath has a hole through it to allow for the passage of the pipe through.
JH: Okay, gotcha.
HD: After we dismount we can look at it in detail, if you like. And that annoying squeak, which has appeared recently again, may be a function of the cold weather, in combination with the dampness that we've experienced recently here with the flurries. Well, thanks for coming, first of all!
JH: I'm happy to be here!
HD: Welcome to the teeter totter. And I noticed when you rode up on your bicycle you did come via Liberty Street, so you fell for the trap of having to turn right in order to make it onto Mulholland Street.
HD: Yeah. Oh, well, okay, maybe it's not as funny a joke as the people I run with sometimes on Saturday morning think it is. When somebody misses a right turn--it's mostly liberals who are in this group [Ed. note: this might not actually even be the case; the point is, it's a standard quip among the runners whenever someone who is politically left-leaning person misses a right turn ... but seriously, any joke needing this much explanation is probably not worth the trouble, and will not likely ever be attempted again on the totter. Or anywhere. Ever.]--people will say, Oh you just can't bring yourself to turn right.
JH: Oh, I hadn't thought of it that way.
HD: Anyway that's what that failed joke was about. While we're on the topic of humor, you performed as the Citizen in Citizen Improv over the summer!
JH: I had a lot of fun.
HD: Yeah? Have you been to their new location over at Live at PJ's yet?
HD: I've been meaning to go over there, but haven't made it over there yet, either. So I feel a bit bad about that. That particular business [the fact that Improv Inferno lost its lease and relocated within Live at PJ's], would you say it's fair to characterize that as maybe a symptom of what's wrong with downtown Ann Arbor, or is that just a function of one particular landlord and one particular tenant?
JH: Well, it's really hard to characterize it as a whole, but I think it's interesting to look at the fact that about 50% of the buildings downtown are owned by out-of-town folks.
HD: Really, is it that high?!
JH: Some of them are owned by REITs, real estate investment trusts, which means that they're a bundle of properties sold on the stock market as a investment tool. We find that those landlords are much less aware of the local situation downtown. Then you do have local landlords who are just hard-asses about things. And we have other local landlords who are very understanding, who will actually 'carry' a business for like six months, if they're having trouble or for a year, even, to help them out.
HD: Wow, so 50%??
JH: Almost half. Now, not all of them [the out-of-town-owned properties] are owned by REITs. Some of them are just owned by families, who used to live here, and now their kids don't live here any more.
HD: You know I was over at the YpsiVotes public forum yesterday evening, and the beginning part was a presentation that just basically put things on a factual basis, and they addressed the misconception that it's those absentee out-of-town landlords who own all these downtown Ypsilanti properties, and it turns out that's just not the case. In fact, the vast majority of Ypsilanti downtown properties are owned by Ypsilantians, and what's not owned by Ypsilantians, the biggest chunk is owned by people from Ann Arbor. So that was something I had wanted to ask you about anyway, what the percentage was for Ann Arbor.
JH: Close to half. The point is that the out-of-town landlords in general--again, not speaking about that specific situation--tend to be less attentive. The in-town landlords, many of them are very attentive. Everybody has their own idiosyncrasies and the way they do business. There was a forum that Susan Pollay and Ed Shaffran and I spoke at last week, out at the Polo Fields, put on by the business weekly in town [Ann Arbor Business Review] and we highlighted a lot of these issues, talked about quite a bit of it. One of the points that I think we should make, with the new lifestyle mall that's going in up at Brighton, and some of the higher end, upscale malls, their rents are actually higher for retail than they are for downtown Ann Arbor.
JH: Yeah, they're about 4 or 5 dollars higher--new construction, a lot of the reasons that go with that. Malls aren't cheap for the businesses to be in. But we focus on retail a lot and we put a lot of effort into that, and it's been going on for some time. One of the highlights that Susan made, which I think is very true, we recently hosted the state association of the downtown development authority leaders and they marveled at what an active downtown Ann Arbor had, and in fact she said she had trouble keeping them in meetings because they wanted to be walking around on the streets.
HD: Now, what time of year was this? Just recently?
JH: This was about four weeks ago.
HD: Because I was going to say, on a day like today, you know, as much as I do like walking around, just walking around for walking around's sake is not something I would choose to do today. If I had someplace to go, then yeah, fine, I could put up with it.
JH: Depends on how you feel about cold weather.
HD: Well, you're dressed appropriately for cycling over here!
JH: Yeah, I've just got my sport coat on [Ed. note: for readers who may skept based on the photograph, JH unzipped the jacket to reveal the sport coat underneath]. I just had open office hours. They ran over a bit today.
HD: Yeah, but actually you were on time. Originally I was outside on the front porch at one o'clock, because I thought you were supposed to be here at one, and I was beginning to get a little irritated, so around one-fifteen, I went in to check the email, and I saw, Oh, it's one thirty. So anyway, by my clock you arrived perfectly on time. So you get credit for that! So you are dressed for winter cycling, and I wanted to ask you--I think you'd agree that part of the reason you're here today is some sense of competitiveness, because Tom Wall who's challenging you ...
JH: I don't know that competitiveness is the right word.
JH: Yeah, when people make some outlandish statements, I think it's good that somebody answers and doesn't leave them out there hanging.
HD: Well, I want to give you an opportunity to identify and respond to any outlandish statements you feel Tom might have made, but before we do that, I wanted to ask you about any possible competitive aspect to your nature that might be realized, say, on a bicycle? So Eli Cooper, the Transportation Manager for the City, I know that Friday is his day that he tries to ride his bike. And that you ride your bike on some kind of regular basis, you're certainly riding it today [Friday]. I'm wondering, have you ever seen somebody like Eli up the road, or anybody else, and said to yourself, I want to see if I can catch that guy? Is that something you typically would do?
JH: [laugh] I don't do that much as a commuter. I tend to--this is my commuter bike--and I tend to like to ride whenever I can. It's a way to work in something healthy into your day.
HD: So you're saying that you might do it, just not as a commuter?
JH: Yeah, if I'm out riding and I'm dressed differently than I am now ...
HD: ... so on Huron River Drive, if you saw somebody up the road in cycling shorts who looked like they were a serious cyclist, you might see if you could take them on?
JH: I might, but if they were a serious cyclist, I'm not going to pass them! But the reason I would do it would not be as much having a competitive nature as competing with myself. It would give me a way to say, If I try to do this, I'm going to be improving my ability ...
HD: ... so would you really follow through and just blow by them?
JH: Uh, no, I'd just catch up with them, try to keep up. That'd be my issue, trying to keep up. You know, a lot of those cyclists, I'm few years ahead of them.
HD: So Huron River Drive specifically, ever since I moved to town about 10 years ago, the stretch right out there by--what road is it?--Main Street, I guess?
JH: Um hmm, right where you start out.
HD: I mean that has never been a happy [i.e., smooth and in good repair] stretch of pavement. In the past 10 years, it's never been ideal.
JH: That area of town has never been realized for its potential, the time I've been here. And I grew up here.
HD: There's a ballot proposal to renew the streets millage. Huron River Drive, is that the kind of project that that money goes towards?
JH: Well, the Streets Millage is vital, because it gets matched almost dollar-for-dollar by the federal government. And if we don't have it [the millage], we don't bring that [federal] money in. And I don't know that the Main Street area is on the plan, right now. But it is on everybody's radar down the road to make corrections there. Because we need to put in a new way to get to Bluffs Park, for instance. And there's work going on on that. And there's a lot of talk of a redevelopment plan for that whole segment. I haven't checked in on where it is right now. You've probably heard about my proposal to the County Road Commission to close Huron River Drive four Saturdays a summer. And that's happening, we're making a little progress on that!
HD: That's an idea I've heard floating around ever since I've moved to town, actually.
JH: Exactly. I didn't invent it, I'm just trying to get it done.
HD: So what are the stipulations associated with those matching funds? Does it have to be a complete re-build of the road, or ...
JH: Or resurfacing. An example of what it would be is what we're doing with Stadium Boulevard, where last year we did one whole section of it. Next year we're doing another section. The next one to tackle is going to be Pauline to ...
HD: ... so we're talking about more than just resurfacing ...
JH: ... yeah, Pauline to Main. And we've got to do those bridges that go over the railroad tracks on State, that's big project.
HD: What I'm trying to understand though, is, Do you actually have to rebuild the road in order to get the federal matching funds? Is that the only kind of project you can get matching funds for? Can it also fund, say, a grind-it-down-and-lay-new-asphalt kind of project?
JH: It can cover that.
HD: Okay. Alright, so outlandish statements. Hopefully it's not too long a list?
JH: Noo. Well, the whole 'accessibility' thing, it was kind of silly. 'As accessible as a hermit' was, I think, the statement?
HD: Yeah, well, I mean, he's exaggerating for rhetorical effect, I think, as politicians in general are wont to do.
JH: I try not to, too much! But yeah, my open office hours are pretty well published. Tom himself took advantage of it about three years ago ...
HD: ... as he mentioned, I think, right on the teeter totter ...
JH: ... and all summer long, it was on the web page that I was having lunch at Liberty Plaza and having open office hours. Quite a few people come. Today, we had almost a whole docket of people to come. But if people can't make open office hours, then we arrange for another time for people to talk. Christine, my assistant, is very good and we'll work that out. So I'd just like to let people know about that. That's kind of a funny one. I've run for office a few times, and I've never said a negative word about an opponent, and I'm not going to start that now. But Tom makes statements about City budgets and things like that, that I don't believe he has much of an understanding of. So I would only put that out there. The government in Ann Arbor, is pretty darn well-run. And things are actually going very well for Ann Arbor.
HD: Well, let me approach it this way. I mean, 'transparency' is a word that really was not heard with high frequency until the primary races. I mean I think you'd agree with that characterization.
JH: I think is was an issue, yeah.
HD: Well, as a part of the community conversation about what we want our government to be, it was not a high-frequency word. And then with the primary campaigns it became an issue, and everybody learned to say this word, which is all well and good. But for me as a citizen I find the goal of transparency in government to be a fairly modest one. What I would like to see, as long as we're using the metaphor of light, is City government that is not just transparent, but is also illuminating. So when you say that Tom Wall doesn't have a very clear understanding of how the City budget works, then I have to say, Well, maybe that's because maybe the City, though transparent, is not also illuminating.
JH: We've done more than any City administration than anyone can recall. We started those budget meetings where we go out into the middle schools and make presentations during the budget season. Everything about our budget is totally open. Anyone who wants to look at it, you can find it all online. You can go a look at a paper copy in a couple of different locations. Tom Crawford [CFO City of Ann Arbor] will actually sit down and help explain things to people who want to know about ...
HD: ... actually, he will sit down on the other end of a teeter totter and talk to you as well!
JH: Yeah, he'll do it! The City of Ann Arbor's budget wins an award every year for budget clarity from this organization of municipal budget directors. As municipal budgets go, it's a very accessible document. Beyond having public meetings, beyond making a whole bunch of presentations, which is what we're going to do again this spring ...
HD: ... um, yeah ...
JH: .. you have a suggestion?
HD: Well let me describe the fantasy. I realize that this fantasy is probably a long way away from being realized. And not to diminish what I think really is a heroic job that the City staff do in going out into the community to do these kinds of presentations. Jayne Miller, for example, with these parks millages, I really felt bad for her because she did, I dunno, three or four different presentations in the course of the summer out in the community--you know PowerPoint slide presentations that were very detailed--and then she came back to [to report back] City Council and City Council said, Yeah, Jayne, but why don't you to do one more. And she said, Okaaay, I'll do one more, and she did it. So I think there is a huge amount of energy and effort that's put into it, and I don't mean to diminish it in any way. But the fantasy, I think, that would really help get us from transparency to illumination is, if you had all the relevant numbers in a database, you had some standard queries set up that people could use to generate the charts and graphs that the City would use at a public presentation, but it would also allow you to say, Oh, I think I want to run a chart based on these criteria. I want to see, for example, What exactly has the revenue been for the existing parks millages over the last five years? Because my understanding is, that's shown a steady increase, for example. That the sheer dollar amount of the revenue from parks millages has steadily increased up until now?
JH: Yeah, even despite the whittling down of the millages, it has. City revenues from property taxes go up at a rate of about 3.4%.
HD: So I mean, that kind of thing, where I as a citizen could say, What I want to do is just generate that chart right now. As opposed to rummaging around looking for a document that might already have that chart in it, you know what I'm saying?
JH: I'm not as conversant in the software and everything that would make that possible. What would normally happen now is somebody would send an email to a Councilmember or the Mayor, that they wanted that information, and we would direct staff to provide them with it. But I guess there's accessibility in a different method there. One of the things about the transparency conversation is that it was really opened up by Wendy Woods. There were nine other Councilmembers, ten if you include me, who didn't agree with her. So I think it was kind of a solo issue. I was supported throughout the primary by the rest of the City Council. But the other thing is that nobody has ever given an example: What sort of 'backroom deal' that we hear people talk about? When was there one?
HD: Well, let me give you an example of something someone might point to. The First and Washington property, which is still I think, under consideration?
JH: It's been approved. There's a project with a parking structure and residential, and it's going forward.
HD: This was the--what is it called--the Ann Arbor Apartments, is that the name of the project?
JH: Village Green.
HD: Well, Village Green was the developer, right?
HD: Okay, so the end result of that is their project was approved, as contrasted with the homegrown Washington Commons project, right?
JH: Um hmm.
HD: But there was a Council meeting where that was supposed to be voted on. It was postponed. As it turns out, I believe my understanding of this is correct, it was postponed based on the presentation of the local developer at caucus the night before. I guess he asked for more time to resubmit or to clarify the issues people might have had with the existing proposal. So that was postponed. At Council, if you only watched the Council meeting, there was no explanation of why it was postponed specific to, We want to give this developer another chance based on a presentation that was made the night before. So while, you know, I think you could legitimately claim that, Hey, the right project got approved for heaven's sakes, this guy who was given a second chance, but he didn't win the day.
JH: You're pointing at a caucus meeting as something happening there that wasn't as visible as the City Council meeting?
HD: Right, and I'm saying that at the City Council meeting, it would have been easy enough to have said, Well, in light of what we heard at caucus last night and in light of these other considerations, let's postpone and give this guy another chance. But that wasn't a part of that Council discussion.
JH: Hmm. A couple of things about caucus. It's been there for a long time. When I became mayor, there were Republicans on City Council. What I said is, It's kind of silly to have this separate caucus, which is what they'd always done before. I united them and said we should all talk about these issues together. Caucus is an opportunity for Councilmembers, we put together what are 'caucus questions' that we ask staff, and they have a chance to respond to us in time for the meeting. It's also an opportunity for anyone to address Council in a more casual way. You don't get three minutes, you can take ten, or fifteen, or depending on how many people are there, maybe you can take twenty!
HD: So there's not the kind of rules that exist for public commentary at Council.
JH: Exactly. People are more comfortable, neighborhood groups come to us with problems, and developers come to us and make presentations like that one. We're working on getting caucuses podcast. There are also a couple of residents, who come to almost all the caucus meetings. There's some other people who really like them, and a few of them will come depending on the issues. Reporters do come to them sometimes, if they think there's a hot issue, ...
HD: ... so my take-away from your comments about the caucus is that it really is a joint party caucus, Republican and Democratic.
JH: Yeah, and has been since about the first month I was there.
HD: Alright. Well, that's an important and salient point, I think, especially in light of a question that one of my neighbors ask me to ask. And just to make it clear, there's no way your response can convert her to vote for you because she already voted absentee and she didn't vote for you ...
HD: ... but the question she has, and I wrote it down to make sure I get it right, but it's relevant to the whole Republican-Democrat issue: "What issues and opinions do you think we're missing as a community, given the fact that we have no Republicans represented among our major office holders?"
JH: I think that's a really good question. There's a ton of diversity of opinion on City Council. We had a really good debate Monday night about the library lot, that went on for quite a while. But because we don't have Republicans anymore--this goes back to something that Tom Wall said, about somehow that people who disagree with me get alienated--the people who I ran against in two elections for mayor, Stephen Rapundalo and Marcia Higgins, are on City Council, representing a viewpoint--and I get along very well with both of them we work very well together--for their wards. They represent their ward's viewpoint, and I think they probably are the same people they were when they ran for mayor as Republicans. So the voice is there to some extent.
HD: So what you're saying is that we actually do have Republicans on Council [laugh]?
JH: Weell, no, we don't have Republicans. I'm saying we have people on City Council who represent the ideas, they ask those questions, that people in their ward ask. I don't think they stopped representing the Republicans [in their wards]. It's not as if they're not represented anymore. They write me all the time and they get the same kind of service as everybody else does and the same kind of thoughtful approach. But I think that's a very legitimate worry for somebody. I don't know what we're going to do about it! But the voters of Ann Arbor have made other choices.
HD: Well, we could go to at-large elections, we could change the city charter to dispense with the requirement that it be roughly pie-shaped wedges [for wards]. There are actually things we could do about it, right?
JH: You're talking about some big, major processes. To change the ward map of the city would be a big issue. And I'm not so sure I'm in favor of having at-large elections. I think having a Councilperson that I can point to and say, That's my Councilmember, they're responsible for my neighborhood, I'm gonna call'em up, I'm gonna write'em an email--I think that's important. If you have at-large members it spreads it out. Councilmembers have a real love of the ward and the neighborhoods they represent.
HD: Back to the library lot ...
JH: ... but I wanted to just go back a little bit. I still haven't heard an example of a 'backroom deal' or anything like that.
HD: Well, you know, I don't know that I could give you an example of a 'backroom deal'!
JH: Well, I'm not putting the pressure on you to do that, I'm just saying I haven't heard one from anybody who's espoused this theory. And I would just like to put that to bed before we move on.
HD: Well, okay. I guess if called upon I would point to the kind of issue where the fact of the postponement maybe was not totally clear why ...
JH: ... and it could have been corrected by somebody saying, Due to information that was presented at caucus last night, where we heard from Scott Munzel--who was the guy who came to see us--that we're going to postpone this issue just to have a little more time to figure all this out.
HD: Yup. Now the library lot, this was in connection with the Larcom building renovation slash re-building issue, right?
JH: I have no intention of re-building the Larcom Building. That's not what we're talking about. I'm not interested in a new City Hall whatsoever.
HD: Oh, really!
JH: That's going to be done by somebody down the road a long ways.
HD: You mean just from the brute fact of how long the construction would take? Is that what you mean?
JH: No, what we're talking about, we're being thrown out of the Washtenaw County courts, and what we're talking about having to construct is a courthouse. And in that process, we would very much like to create a new police station, because a lot of people understand the Larcom building was never meant to house the police. They were supposed to build another police station and they never did.
HD: Right, back in 1963 they put them in there as a temporary solution and they were supposed to build something ...
JH: ... and they never did. If we could move the police out [of the Larcom building] then we could move some people in who are across the street in the City Center building and some other places. Combined with what the courts are paying, we have about $780,000 in rent that we wouldn't be paying then, and we could use that to make the bond payments to pay for the courthouse-police-station. The Larcom replacement is way down the road.
HD: So I was re-reading a couple of weeks ago the first, original teeter totter session with Rene Greff-- we're almost to the one-year anniversary at this point--but one of the issues that she talked about the Larcom building and the need to address um, ...
JH: ... space needs?
HD: Yeah, space needs. The timeframe that she gave was spring 2006, when we needed to get started, and basically she was talking about starting the process, developing recommendations, site plan and whatnot ...
JH: ... we did that ...
HD: ... well, yeah, the task force was appointed and they have a recommendation now for the library lot, as far as I understand, right?
HD: And maybe some people think they sort of looked around and said, Oh, that space will do! But actually if you read the report, they considered something like 18 other potential sites and there's smart people on that task force and if they say the library lot, then I'm willing to go along with it ...
JH: ... I'm not wedded to the library lot site. I think we do need to obviously build a courthouse! We don't want our judges working out of the front of a restaurant! And they do have specific security requirements that have really changed in the last six years or so. So we need to do that. Where it's going to be, Council's up in the air about it, if you watched the meeting on Monday night, the working session. We haven't made that decision yet. We need to make it pretty soon, and we're weighing it. We're going to look at numbers on both sides. It appears that it'd be 7 to 10 million dollars less expensive to do it on the library lot. And if we do end up there, people have to have an imagination. It's not as if prisoners are going to be led across the lot in front of the library windows in shackles! There's going to be underground parking, separate entrances [on the library lot scenario]. The library was built with a knock-out in the wall down below. That would provide an underground parking entrance right under the library. And we could have a very nice public plaza, right outside. I personally--maybe I'm dreaming--but I'd like to have a fountain there in the summertime, and maybe an ice-skating rink in the wintertime. And then the entrances to the other building--to the courthouse and the police station--would be completely remote from the library. So you've created a civic center that I think would be a very nice amenity.
HD: So what the task force report seems to say, based on my reading, is one of the things they're really sensitive to is the fact that, Hey, we're in this situation now, because a temporary solution back in 1963 became, in effect, a permanent one.
HD: I mean people can probably split semantic hairs about whether 40 years counts as permanent. But 40 years is way the heck longer than intended. So there's a line in there [the task force report] about 'we have a one-in-a-lifetime chance to do this right' And part of what they're suggesting is the right thing is something you've alluded to: financing is a big deal, how we're going to pay for it? So the recommendation to build a courts slash police station--to as you put it, 'get the police out' of City Hall ...
JH: ... so that we can bring the others in.
HD: Right. And there's this design discussion about whether there'll be a skating rink ...
JH: ... it's not that we don't like the police, but they don't have enough space!
HD: Right. But the thing is, I'm wondering, where in the community discussion is the governmental role of the executive and supervisory function? So, you know, generally there's an accepted principle in our American democracy that there is to be civilian control of police. Which is not to say that we can't have civilian control of police or civilian supervision of our police force, if they're not in the same building. But there is a symbolic statement that's made if they're not in the same building, and really from a practical point of view as well, it is easier to exercise a supervisory capacity if you're physically proximate, namely in the same building. So I'm wondering what your thoughts are on that as a leading principle? Do you think that should be a leading principle for this project?
JH: I'm glad you raise the point, because it's a belief shared to varying degrees among Councilmembers. And that's a factor in this discussion that we have to weigh. I meet with the police chief every Wednesday. He and Roger Fraser and I have a meeting with the chief every singe Wednesday. Part One crimes are down 13% for the year, it's going very well this year. We talk about issues like, Who's the 'criminal of the day'? Who are we looking for?
HD: ... are you kidding me?
JH: Oh, no. What are the trends, that we see this week ...
HD: ... so wait, is it possible for you to describe the 'criminal of the week', or whatever, not necessarily some specific person, but like a representative kind of example?
JH: Well, last week it was a domestic violence situation, a gentleman who tried to run his wife over. And we caught him. People get caught for crimes in Ann Arbor, which is great. The big issue not so long ago was those street muggings that were going on last year. So we were keeping up with that. Actually, we figured out who these people were, had to figure out a way to catch them. I was actually looking at pictures of these people: Okay, this is the guy we're looking for.
HD: So those guys were the 'criminals of the week' for some week.
JH: Yeah, for some week.
HD: Okay, I'm just trying to get a idea.
JH: Some people call it an 'engine of crime'. And an 'engine of crime' person can do twelve B & E's in a week. That's the kind of person we're focussing on. How are we going to catch this guy? Very hard to catch them, but we do. But anyway, if the police chief were three blocks, four blocks away, would this meeting be any different? I don't think so. Those are the issues that we're kind of considering, because I adhere to that theory somewhat. In Ann Arbor, a lot of it goes back to the 60's. I was an anti-war demonstrator starting in '69, actually, before I even got out of high school in '69. And cognizant of those things. I remember when Doug Harvey, the Sheriff at the time, came charging down State Street with his dogs ...
HD: ... Oh yeah? Like what kind of dogs, big German shepherds?
JH: Yeah, it was quite a riot. Big German shepherds, and firing teargas all over. He came into the city uninvited by the Ann Arbor police.
HD: Now, who was this guy?
JH: Doug Harvey. He was the right-wing Sheriff at the time.
HD: Okay, so the Sheriff of Washtenaw County.
JH: Sheriff of Washtenaw County. So these are issues that are close to my heart, about keeping this kind of supervision and it's a factor for me in figuring out how that would work. And then there would be the eventual re-unification of City Hall on that site, is the plan that the task force talks about.
HD: I just worry, given that we're in this situation due to a temporary arrangement that became permanent, basically the recommendation is, Well, we're going to go for a temporary solution again.
JH: Well, a 'staged' solution. It all has to do with finance. And one of the things that everyone has to keep in mind is that municipal governments, there isn't a single one of them in Michigan that isn't under a whole lot of stress. Ann Arbor, people tell me that we're doing far better than most in keeping up with things, in handling things like that. I mean, we're actually able to move forward on things the City hasn't done for 30 years. We're building a new maintenance facility right now for 35 million dollars. We completed the Broadway Bridges. And we're even talking about now being able to finance a courthouse. So we've got that stuff in order. We're moving forward. The Free Press had a good article a few weeks ago, front page: Ann Arbor's really the only shining economy in the state. So we've got that stuff in line, but we don't have the money to say, what's the bigger [City Hall, courts, police all in one] solution? To say, how are we going to do that right now? Although we're talking about that. Councilmember [Leigh] Greden sent me some numbers today that he thinks we actually could do it. He is constantly ...
HD: ... 'could do it', as in have the whole City Hall solution??
JH: That we could have a plan in a timely way to do the whole City Hall solution.
JH: So we're still talking about that. One of the things is, I'd love to see us make a decision on this by the end of the year and move forward. There's some Councilmembers who want to make a decision sooner than that. But his plan would actually work with this plan, because it would mean a re-unification of the City Hall and the courts and the police on a much more advanced timetable.
HD: Is he going to be presenting ...
JH: ... basically he wrote me with brainstorming.
HD: Well, I'm intrigued, and for one thing I think it would be great if we could go for something that's not staged, so that we avoid ending up in a permanent situation that was not intended to be permanent ...
JH: ... we'd all love to do that ...
HD: ... and that would also address this issue of civilian control of police forces.
JH: That's a real issue. And don't for a minute think that we're not thinking about that. That's a lot of what I think is behind Councilmember Carlberg's objections. But there's that overriding need to do something, because of the situation we're put in by Washtenaw County. So we're going to be making these decisions pretty darn soon.
HD: So you mentioned engine of crime and that reminded me of something that I wanted to try to broach with you. At the Granholm [campaigning] stop [at Sweetwaters Cafe], I showed up to that thing mostly based on Paul Schreiber's encouragement. He told me, Yeah, you should go down there, Granholm doesn't travel with a posse, it's totally conceivable that you could actually try to invite her face-to-face to come ride the teeter totter. So I went down there and I didn't realize there was a secret entrance to Sweetwaters, so I was totally out of position. She went in the other door, while I was stationed by the regular door. So I saw the bus driver, and that's why the 'engine of crime' made me think of this [Ed. note: the 'engine' part is what's salient; Granholm's campaign bus driver did not in any way resemble a criminal element; indeed, he appeared friendly enough to simply approach], standing out by the bus all alone, and I thought, Well I'll talk to that guy, he looks lonely. And I asked him, you know, Are you gonna be driving this bus straight through til Tuesday? And he says, No, only til Monday when the election is. And I said, Well, I think the election is on Tuesday, isn't it? And so he whips out his cell phone and checks [the built-in electronic calendar] and says Oh, the 7th is on Tuesday, you're right. And I said, Yeah, well, I think it's on a Tuesday every year, isn't it?
HD: And he says, No that couldn't possibly be true, it's bound to work out to be some other weekday some year. And then when I get home, there's this newspaper article--you may have already read about it, too, do you know where I'm headed with this?
HD: Well, there's an online initiative where they invite people to submit video of themselves asking public figures the question, Why do we vote on Tuesday? And just getting their answers. So if you get like George Bush or other really huge people, there's like 5000 bucks to be won. I don't know if you're on the list or not, and I don't have the video camera turned on, but what would your answer be? Why do we vote on Tuesday? What is it about Tuesday?
JH: I don't particularly like it. I would point to a system in other countries and in Canada, there's municipal elections in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, right now, a city I know something about--I'm on the board of directors of the Lake Superior Conservancy and Watershed Council, we meet there. In fact, I have a meeting coming up on the 11th. I just read their paper, but they have an election coming up in November here--I think it's on the 13th--and they had pre-voting for the last two Saturdays.
JH: So you could go in and pre-vote on a Saturday, and your ballot is kept, sort of like an absentee. It's not counted until the election day, so they spread out the election. It's kind of silly that we have the whole damn country voting on one day.
HD: Okay, yeah, but why is it Tuesday? See you're kind of dodging the question [laugh].
JH: I don't know the historical relevance of Tuesday and why it was chosen.
HD: Fair enough. I don't think anybody does. The one person in Washtenaw County who, if I had to bet money, ...
JH: Larry Kestenbaum.
HD: Well, that's who I was going to say. So maybe I'll just email Larry and say, Larry, what would your answer be? Alright. So are there any other things you wanted to clarify, before we dismount from the teeter totter?
JH: Well, I was reading Tom's thing and you know he said something about 'alienation' or 'arrogance' or something, and said the Ann Arbor News wrote this? Well, anybody who's paid attention has known that I have not had a good relationship with the Ann Arbor News for years [laugh]. And so people can say negative things quoting the Ann Arbor News for a long time. And there's not much I can do about that. But I do my best to get out in the public. And if any neighborhood group ever wants me to come speak to their association, give me a call! I'll do it! Anybody wants to meet with the mayor, it's very simple. It's just right down there at City Hall, all you have to do is call. And I try to respond to people who write me. It's funny, because I'm much better with email than I am with snail mail. But I think I get to about 90% of them. If there's a particular issue going on, I can't always get back to everybody, because there's just a volume that's involved. But accessibility is really important to me. And being available, I think, is one of the top things that I try to do, and I try to be available all the time.
HD: Alright, well I would just point our your relationship with the Ann Arbor News is not completely in the toilet, because they ran your picture on the front page of the Sunday Edition of the paper last week in connection with the rail project. And they didn't have to do that.
JH: They didn't have to do that, that was nice of them. I think John Mulcahy is a good reporter. The reporting about the City has gotten a lot better over the last few years. It has to do more with the editorial page. And that's historically, not speaking so much of the current editorial page. The other thing is, if I were going to say something about the city, we have so many exciting initiatives going on and so many great things, simple things like the Clean Communities Program, which I'm really proud of, having started that. But also so many other things. Rail has got to be a part of our future. It can save us so much money, it can clean our air, it can reduce congestion, it can make it possible for people to get to work in Ann Arbor when gas is six bucks a gallon someday.
HD: Like in fall 2007?
JH: [laugh] Exactly. The stuff we're doing with energy, we're attracting attention all over the country for our LED street lights. Not the traffic signals, but LED street lights. We're the first city in the nation to go with that. We going to meet the Mayor's Green Energy Challenge of 30% renewable energy for City government. Ann Arbor being on the cutting edge is important. I've always said, being a high-quality-of-life city, an innovative city, is very important to our economic future. It attracts people like Google to come here. So all of this fits in together and I talk about that stuff all time. So thanks for the teeter talk on it!
HD: You bet. And any time you'd like to come back, just shoot me an email.