TT with HD: Christopher Taylor
[Ed. note: The meeting at Northside Grill referenced in the conversation below is described in detail in an article published in The Ann Arbor Chronicle. The CTN Conversations episode with Christopher Taylor, which is mentioned below, can be viewed online through CTN's video on demand service.]
HD: You have excellent posture.
CT: Ah. Thank you. It comes from being tall.
HD: Does it?
CT: My choice is to have good posture or not good posture.
HD: I don't think I follow that.
CT: Well, I mean [laugh] ...
HD: ... oh, you're saying that if you don't have the posture, then it's highlighted. So either people will say, ...
CT: ... Who's that slouching dude? ...
HD: My, what awful posture you have, or else ...
CT: ... my, you have good posture!
HD: So let's get some tottering motion going here.
CT: Yes, let's totter away! I sort of feel like I'm not going to level.
HD: Let's see, you need to be heavier.
CT: Ah, yes. I need to be back. I need to be heavier? [laugh] I'll work on being heavier!
HD: Well, virtually heavier.
CT: Running for office I must have lost 10 pounds.
CT: During that summer, oh yeah.
HD: And you're not just talking about like the water loss from a given session of walking ...
CT: ... no, I'm talking down to 178.
HD: Wow. Are you back up to 188?
CT: I'm close. It was a combination of leaving work at 5:00-and-change, seeing kids and wife, going out walking, and then having dinner late and spotty.
HD: So, did you take your kids out on the campaign trail at all--door-to-door?
CT: No. They never went door-to-door.
HD: Was that on principle, or it just didn't occur to you, they had other things to do, or?
CT: It was not principle. They occasionally drove on through on the way to a place where they knew I was going to be in an area ...
HD: ... oh, so they would drive by and wave at you?
CT: Yeah, they were eager to see me do my thing. But no, they never went door-to-door.
HD: By the way, welcome to the teeter totter, I don't think I formally welcomed you.
CT: Why, thank you. I am going to need to get farther back.
HD: Even further??
CT: Even further. Because I feel like I need ...
HD: ... I could also scoot forward.
CT: That's true.
HD: Oh, wait now I feel like you have an advantage. But that's the beauty of it, we can adjust ...
CT: ... in real time! There should be some formula. There should be marks on the totter.
HD: Well, there is a formula!
CT: You raise an excellent point [laugh] The formula should be made plain on the totter.
HD: You mean like mark it out?
HD: And we could actually weigh people in before they mount, and we can calculate where they should theoretically sit.
HD: Or, we could just do it this way.
CT: We could! [laugh] Let's!
HD: You know, as preparation for this, I watched--using the video on-demand streaming Web feature of CTN--the entire episode of Conversations with you.
CT: Yes, indeed.
HD: Did you watch it back yourself?
CT: I have not watched it back.
HD: Because you were there, it you know what happened!
CT: I was there. Let none deny it.
HD: So what I would like to do with you is to go through that line by line, let's go through that line by line and dissect it. Does that sound like fun?
CT: Why don't we. You're the boss.
HD: No, I'm just kidding. But one thing that I did want to ask you about that, just a silly question, there are these two beautiful CTN mugs on the table--do you get to take one home?
CT: There is no swag.
HD: There is no swag??!
CT: There is no swag at all.
HD: Are you kidding me??
CT: There is a green room with a couch, but that is about as far as it goes.
HD: And there is not like a nice bowl of fruit, or whatever?
HD: And you didn't get presented with a T-shirt or a mug?
HD: Did you ask for one?
CT: I did not ask.
HD: Maybe they would've given you one if you had asked.
CT: It is conceivable.
HD: You can't take that orange mug home with you, by the way. Just to be clear.
CT: Yes, to someone who has set someone up with a mug, I'm not so sure you should be suggesting thievery at media venues!
HD: Another thing that I did as preparation is that this morning, I got this Twitter thing--you know what Twitter is, right?
HD: I Twittered out a question, Christopher Taylor is coming over, does anybody want to suggest a question, and here is--I'm going to read verbatim a question: "Does someone have to die before the city will install a light at the Jewish Community Center stop on AATA Route 5?" It's a yes-no question!
CT: [laugh] Yes, or no? Well, it is a yes or no question, ...
HD: As a city council member you don't have the luxury of just responding yes or no and leaving it at that [laugh].
CT: I don't know. That's a good question. My suspicion is that there are criteria for placement of streetlights ...
HD: ... yeah, I imagine there are, I don't think you can just call up and say ...
CT: ... I want a streetlight!
HD: ... yeah, and then Sue McCormick will have a crew out there ...
CT: ... this afternoon ...
HD: ... and using our zonal maintenance, while they are out installing a new streetlight, they will fix the road, and trim the bushes and trees ...
CT: ... do all things good in this area. There surely are criteria. Whether or not that section meets those criteria or not, I don't know.
HD: You know what's interesting, at the Transportation Plan Update Workshop last fall, someone asked essentially the same kind of question about a location on Geddes. And Eli Cooper, the city's transportation program manager, was there, and he scribbled down the location. And I guess that's a location that had been looked at, or is under review, and he was going to add that to the mix. So anyway I think Eli Cooper is the guy.
CT: Yes, I think that's probably right. So, the JCC? [Ed. note: Later that day, CT sent an email to city staff with an inquiry about this.]
HD: Yeah. I wouldn't be able to tell exactly where this is off the top of my head. It says the Jewish Community Center stop on ATAA Route 5--so what intersection that is I don't know. I'm sure that somebody who knew the area would be able to figure it out.
CT: So that's the one Twitter??
HD: Now, well I mean it was only like 10 minutes. There could be others accumulating right now.
CT: Fair enough. I'm sure there are.
HD: Now before the last council meeting you said there had been three cases so far--maybe there's more since then--of trying to solve some constituent's problem, or problem that a constituent brought to you that you were not able to get resolved to the constituent's satisfaction or to yours?
HD: Does that sound familiar?
CT: No, it doesn't, actually!
HD: It doesn't?
HD: Huh. So you have a perfect record??
CT: I wouldn't say that. It's the enumeration ...
HD: ... oh, okay I have this recollection of standing outside the elevator, David Nacht was there ...
CT: ... yes ...
HD: ... and he was asking you how things were going, and I thought you said that there had been three cases ...
CT: ... of dissatisfied constituents, where we didn't get there? Huh. It's conceivable that I was being jocular and flip.
HD: Well, that would fit with the convensational context that I recall.
CT: Well, without regard to that, there are cases where things didn't work out.
HD: Right, I mean if you were to say that you had a perfect record, I would skept.
CT: No skepting is necessary. You know, I think we were talking about disappointing people. The issue of the proposed Germantown historic district, that's one instance. Some other folks had some concerns about specific site plans that were important to either their business or their residence. Third-party site plans that they were unhappy with, that met code in all the various respects, and we are incapable of principled opposition. Those sorts of things. So it's a question of getting used to disappointing people. It's the nature of the multiplicity of the job.
HD: So there's these were cases where it was a "whole council" issue? At opposed to at the budget retreat, one of the things that you talked about being satisfying to you was being able to solve individual constituents issues--there was something involving tree roots and the sidewalk?
CT: Yes, that's right. I'm in the middle of one thing that may not work out, but those sorts of very tactical, one-on-one type of concerns or questions or issues are a satisfaction. And you know, frankly, whether or not--I can't believe I said "frankly" ...
HD: ... really?
CT: Yeah, I don't really--what does that mean?
HD: It's like saying: "I'm going to tell you the truth now."
CT: I know. The reason, we all have things that we say in ticks, but that is not one of my ticks.
HD: Maybe you're picking it up from me.
CT: Do you say "frankly"?
HD: I don't know, I hope I don't. I hope I would not have that verbal tick. But you know, listening back to these conversations you are horrified at your own verbal sort of--for example "sort of"--the number of instances of "sort of" and "kind of" that I delete for myself and for other people ...
CT: ... I throw myself on the mercy of DragonSoft--DragonSpeaking Soft ...
HD: ... oh what is it called exactly? Killing me Dragons Softly? I know what you mean though, it is actually that engine. It's MacSpeech, but they use the Dragon...
CT: ... Naturally Speaking ...
HD: ... yeah, that's industry-standard state of the art, top of the line speech recognition engine.
CT: Where were we? Oh yes, the pleasure is working with the residents. And even if it doesn't work out for them, even if they're incapable of having their issue resolved in a way that--I'm not going to say "that is satisfactory to them," because part of the satisfaction, I think, is their participation in the process.
HD: And the fact that somebody made a full effort on their behalf?
CT: That's right. And even if it doesn't work out for them, even if the result is different from that which they had hoped at the beginning, I think having the issue addressed and understanding the reason for the policy and for the practice, is a benefit to them, I think. And it's a pleasure being part of that process.
HD: Parallel with the idea of asking people who follow The Chronicle on Twitter the questions they would like to have me ask you, we are putting together a survey at the Ann Arbor Chronicle--which we will unleash in the next couple of weeks or so. Can you think of any questions that you would like to have the citizens of Ann Arbor respond to, just survey-wise?
CT: What is the purpose of the survey?
HD: I would say it's similar to whatever purpose the Citizens Survey would serve that was already sent out by the city. Just to get a sense of people's attitudes on a variety of different topics--where they see the problems in Ann Arbor, where they see the good things in Ann Arbor, things like that.
CT: One thing that interests me is, there are so many people that feel a part of Ann Arbor, and I think that is one of our great strengths. Some folks, like in the preservationist community, believe in many respects that the thing that makes Ann Arbor great is the historic districts that we have, or the historic housing stock that we have--whether it's in a historic district or not--and the look and feel of that, and what that means to the community. And so that is something that makes them invested in the town in a very important way for them.
HD: It could be also that you know, once you develop a certain amount of investment chronologically, there is an inertia.
CT: Yes. "What I love about Ann Arbor is that I have been here for more than 10 years!"
HD: Right! And I no longer have to apologize for the fact that I'm a new arrival. That is very much I think part of the mentality of community discussions.
CT: Residence cred.
HD: Mean, people preface their remarks by establishing where they stand with respect to that standard. "I'm a lifelong Ann Arbor resident" is, of course, the diamond standard.
CT: Ah, yes.
HD: And even if you came as a student and stayed, and even if you are now 70 years old and you were a student back whenever that would have been, that's not as good as somebody who grew up here and never left.
CT: Which is funny, for a town that is filled with transients. Obviously, the university is a great draw, and people come and stay. But people come and stay, and come and go on a relatively regular basis. So that there should be such a stock in longevity is interesting.
HD: So we could maybe formulate a survey question along those lines. Or maybe just make that a part of the demographic part: How long have you been in Ann Arbor?
HD: Because to me it's an important question if you, say, complain about how something is done in Ann Arbor, are you comparing that against some absolute standard of acceptability. Take snow removal.
CT: Whatever raises that issue for you? [laugh]
HD: I don't know!
CT: Why should that come to mind?
HD: Do you get lots of e-mails and phone calls about that?
CT: I do get a decent amount of them, yes.
HD: What I mean is there is some abstract standard for what snowplowing should look like ...
CT: ... I believe it is June. The streets in June, I think is the standard.
HD: They should be clear of snow by June??
CT: No, they should be as clear as if it were June. [laugh]
HD: [laugh] Yeah, okay, or the other thing would be, compared to other snowy places you have lived. You can't really compare it to something like sunny Southern California.
CT: No, not so much.
HD: You know, just so you have a sense of where people are coming from. Are they comparing it to Madison, Wisconsin, when I was a student there, versus Well, I grew up in Ann Arbor and it's way better than it used to be.
CT: They are six and eight, so they can wield a shovel. Whether or not that results in effective snow removal depends upon many factors. [laugh]
HD: [laugh] And among those factors are? The motivation and inspiration at the given moment?
CT: They are great and enthusiastic. All other things being equal, if I exhort them,"Why don't you give the sidewalk a shot?" then they could be very excited about doing that. The nature of the snow is important. Is it fresh on the pavement? Has there been some freeze-thaw. But I think in the abstract, fresh snow on regular pavement, and under 3 inches, I think you can get some good labor out of them.
HD: So you don't have to incentivize them in any particular way?
CT: No, no, no.
HD: The sheer fun and delight of doing it is enough?
CT: Yeah, the obvious fun and delight!
HD: Yeah, I forgot about the obvious fun and delight. Yesterday I noticed there were a lot of people out on Liberty doing the really hard kind of snow shoveling, which is not the nice fluffy flakes that are falling today, but it's chipping off the stuff that has been trampled down. And the reason they were doing so, you could tell--it was kind of hilarious, actually--to ride up and down Liberty. I counted between here and Stadium [Boulevard] about a half a dozen people out shoveling. And what they all had in common was this big white piece of paper posted on their door from Community Standards--I could see the little green tree emblem from the city. So that seems to work to propel people into action. Although, I have to say, I felt bad for some of these people who were out there with not snow shovels generally, but other more serious implements, real shoves, rakes, and picks and I don't know what those things are called ...
CT: ... a chipper?
HD: It's got a straight blade for edging lawns or something. So I guess in the long run that will have an effect, maybe next time they will get to it sooner. So it will be better for the next snow. But for the immediate case, our system doesn't respond in a timely way. If you've got snow on the sidewalk, the idea is that you've got to get it off sooner rather than later. I guess in that respect, I guess, I would favor something more along the lines of the graffiti ordinance. Where it's not that you can be fined, it's that we're just going to go ahead and do it for you, if you don't do it. And the difference with snow would be that we're going to do it really fast--you don't get a week the way you do with the graffiti ordinance. We're just going to send a crew through, and if you don't have it done they're just going to shovel it and bill you.
CT: That's an interesting question. I don't know, snow is different from graffiti in that regard because of the compacting issue. Its timeliness is very important.
HD: For graffiti maybe there's a time element for certain kinds of things, so if you were to get after it right after the guy sprayed it may be it would be easier to remove, but I think generally speaking, once it's there it's as hard to get off now as if you wait a week.
CT: I would not say so. Is there anything else that you have?
HD: No. I don't think so. The one sort of major topic that could take like three or four hours ...
CT: ... yes?
HD: The city-university relationship.
CT: Yes, that's a good one.
HD: That was a dominant topic last night at the Northside Grill.
CT: Yes, of course it was.
HD: I thought it was an enlightening meeting. There were two bits of interesting information that came out of that meeting. One is that city staff meet with university planning staff--not on a scheduled regular basis--but it works out to be about once a month.
CT: Pretty often, yeah.
HD: Yeah, according to Wendy Rampson [city planner]. I had no idea. And I think most people probably had no idea that there is ...
CT: ... that they actually do talk to each other ...
HD: ... that they go and actually sit in the same room. And the other thing was that the university's planning process seems to go by the principle that a project doesn't actually exist until it's been submitted to the regents and approved by the regents. So for the university rank-and-file staff planners, they don't really feel--and this is the analysis of the Ann Arbor city staff, this is not UM staff saying this--but they are saying that from where they said it seems like ...
CT: ... I'm sorry, what? The creaking of the timbers ...
HD: ... yeah, let's pause for a second. So for somebody like Wendy Rampson, she was saying that it seems to her anyway, that the university's planning staff are somewhat reluctant to really even talk about projects that are only in the conceptual stage, that are are just sort of in the state if you know "we should do something over here that might look like that," that are active discussions that they are having, but haven't been put before the regents. So they don't want to talk about a project as if it exists, because you don't do that until the regents of the university have approved it, and there is an actual budget and you are authorized to spend time doing it and to engage contractors and so forth. So to me, I thought well, that's just a cultural issue, that could be worked on, surely.
CT: What she's saying, that it sounds like there's a conceivable Catch-22, that once the regents have given their approval, then you are locking in ...
HD: ... well, right, once it gets to that point ...
CT: ... there is a momentum to it.
HD: There is little that can be done.
CT: The regents have already approved it!
HD: Well yeah, I did not attend the Wall Street meeting but I edited a piece that my colleague wrote about it, I guess it became somewhat of almost point of comic relief, the frequency with which Jim Kosteva was saying "regentally approved project."
CT: Regentally?? Nicely done!
HD: So there is this notion that once a project has achieved this status, then there is no going back and there is nothing anyone can say or do. And before that point the project doesn't exist. So the problem to solve from the city's perspective and from the citizens' perspective, it seems to me, is that that stuff has got to get onto the community radar well in advance of it coming to the regents. And that seems to me like a culture change. I mean presumably the planners there are writing this stuff down, they are exchanging information in e-mails and whatnot. So the nice way of approaching this would be to say, Why don't you just unilaterally change the culture. The not-so-nice way it would be for the city, just like any citizen, has the right to execute a FOIA.
HD: The city could have a standing FOIA that it executes on a daily basis: We would like all the communications among the university planners for today. And just do that. [laugh]
CT: The city, too, is FOIA-able.
HD: Indeed. And your point would be? That there could be a FOIA war between the university and the city?
CT: You are suggesting a FOIA war.
HD: Well, then maybe somebody besides the city should do that.
CT: Oh, I see, so we need a FOIA shill. Like a scrappy online publication, for example. If only we had one. Seeking to make its name in town. Do you like being "scrappy"?
HD: Scrappy. That's not a word I would distance myself from. [Ed. note: Another way of saying that is: "I don't mind being called 'scrappy'."]
CT: No, I don't think you want to be around for three years necessarily and be "scrappy" but I think between four and five months you can be "scrappy."
CT: The notion of university and city relations is obviously something that lots of people care about and it is of tremendous importance.
HD: You spent some time at the university!
HD: Yes, 12 years, in fact.
CT: Nicely done!
HD: I did watch that thing [on CTN]!
CT: You did, indeed watch that thing.
HD: So what was your subject before law?
CT: I came here as a music student. So I have a BMA in vocal performance. Along the way in my sophomore year, I decided I liked reading more than practicing, so I decided to get an English degree in addition. So I have two undergraduate degrees there. And then around my 10th semester--because it takes a little while for those to go through the system--singing wasn't going to do it, and English, I didn't want to be an English professor, and didn't know exactly what to do. My then-girlfriend, now wife, suggested, you really like history, why don't you take a history class? So I took a graduate history class with Brad Perkins, who unbeknownst to me was the graduate chair ...
HD: ... when you are at that point in your studies you typically have no idea ...
CT: ... who is who.
HD: Who is who, and what their significance is, and you realize 10 years later, oh my god ...
CT: ... that was lucky! [laugh] So in my 10th semester I take this graduate history class, a diplomatic history historiography. I like it, he likes me, I get into the history Ph.D. program on a not-candidate-for-degree basis for a year--I didn't really have any history material as an undergraduate. After a year, I shifted over into the regular program, pre-lims and orals four years later on a legal history dissertation. So I decided well, if I'm going to be a history professor and a law professor shouldn't I know something about the law? So I've got go to law school to augment the dissertation. Went to law school, I liked law better than history and thought I was better at it. When you are a lawyer you can say, Let's move back to Ann Arbor! And make it so!
HD: Whereas if you are an academic historian you say, Where is there some one-year appointment ...
CT: ... Southwest Missouri State! Woo hoo!
HD: Yeah, let's go there for a year, and then let's go somewhere else for a year, and then maybe we can get an assistant professorship job that's tenure track, wherever that might be, and then maybe you get tenure and maybe you don't.
CT: Exactly. Volitionally and professionally this was a much better fit. So I went to law school and decided to stick with it. So that gets you your 12 years.
HD: That's plenty.
CT: It is plenty.
HD: So you have some affection for the university as an institution.
CT: Oh, absolutely. And my father-in-law is an emeritus in the psychology department, so I'm certainly not contra-U whatsoever. I think the city and the university have some common interests and need to work together. It's difficult being co-equal. The university and the city obviously exist in separate spheres. So physically the university is within the city, so that creates a certain tension naturally. But they are constitutionally separate.
HD: It seems to me that also acknowledging what their mission is, with respect to education, or--in the case of the Wall Street project, that's not an educational mission, it's a healthcare mission--so whatever the specific mission is probably the most effective argument that would win the day for a regent would be an argument that is based on consistency with the university's mission.
CT: Exactly. "You could do it better for you," is the way to get something changed.
HD: And not just "You could save money if you built a Fuller transit station," but "Here's at least a back-of-the-napkin analysis of exactly how you can save money." I mean I don't have the wherewithal to put together a back-of-the-napkin notion of how the economics of that might work ...
CT: ... I would say you don't have the experience, I wouldn't say you don't have the wherewithal.
HD: Well, I might be able to find some guy who could do it. By posing a question on Twitter, maybe. [laugh] But anyway, it seems to me that that has a better chance of being persuasive. Than, say, appealing to the city's Northeast Area Plan.
CT: It's complicated because everybody has a short-term interests and long-term interests. Or maybe more accurately short-term needs, which need to be filled.
HD: Yeah, it is more than interest, it's an actual need they've got. These patients ...
CT: ... they are not going to walk there.
HD: Right. And they are not going to ride their bicycles there. Sort of by definition. You can be the biggest fan of alt transport--but yesterday we took a nice car trip because that's the nature of what it means to be a patient. You need to be in a car.
CT: And on some level what we do with our planning documents, that's obviously within our sphere. And I don't think that they are persuasive documents, as you are suggesting with the university, because they have their own sets of interests and needs. It can be part of making the case for why the university should act in one way or another. They serve to lay the groundwork in the areas where we control, where our interests are predominant. So if we can establish that the landscape is going to be as our plans suggest in our sphere, that provides some species of a base from which we can have conversations about it. Mutual solutions to mutual issues.
HD: What you think about this as an argument for the potential of being persuasive to the university? We say Look, you do have this mission and obviously that has to be the metric by which we evaluate a particular construction project. But there is some sense in which--let's call it "quality of life," because I don't have a better term--people will read this and make fun of it.
CT: I absolve you, in the moment. I absolve you!
HD: So anyway quality of life, there is this notion whatever it means. The quality of life that Ann Arbor offers surely is a part of the university's mission because if you want to attract top-level faculty ...
CT: ... well, it is a means to achieve the university's mission.
HD: Right. So let me rephrase. It's not that preserving quality of life in Ann Arbor is a part of the university's mission, but it feeds the university's mission.
CT: Yes. If we were a fill-in-the-blank town, without having anything in mind for fill-in-the-blank, this is not a dig at anyone ...
HD: ... it could become one, though? If you put your mind to it! [laugh]
CT: [laugh] I leave that to your constant reader. Yes, if we were less attractive, then the university would have a harder time attracting more people.
HD: There's limits to the persuasiveness of that argument as I see it. You can accept that as, Okay, that's a matter of degree. Maybe we wouldn't get in some cases the very best faculty member. Still, it's not going to depend on the quality of life in the region for the vast majority of cases. We will still, in virtue of our academic resources, our research facilities, and of the other high-quality people at the institution, attract good people, that's really what makes the difference. And if we have a job to offer that will also make the difference, because nobody else has that job. Because that's the difficulty in the academic sphere, you don't take them geographically really, right?
CT: When you are entry, certainly not. You go where you can. But recruiting senior faculty, recruiting middling faculty--not in the sense of quality, but in seniority--in these sorts of issues, less so. Judging from my own secondhand experience, of course, in the law school--one hears about competition with schools in some quarters more geographically-attractive locations. Fighting against NYU, fighting against Stanford. These are places are, again with respect to some folks, difficult to fight against because of the areas in which these schools exist.
HD: So shall we let that be the last word?