League of Women Voters Candidate Debates Part 1: MOTL endorses Westphal for Ward 2

The League of Women Voters1 holds debates for candidates running for local and state offices a few weeks before each election.  This past week on July 8 and 9, debates between Ann Arbor city council candidates who are running in the August 5 Democratic Party primary were held.  Candidates from all the wards are asked the same core questions with a couple questions being more specific for their ward race.

lwv_logoIt’s that time of year again where we have the League of Women Voter debates for Ann Arbor City Council. Today I will be reviewing the Ward 2 debate.  The debate was rather low key with some very low ball questions.  Since there is not an incumbent , there is no prior voting record to critique for either candidate.  The result being a positive sounding debate with no negative comments between the candidates.  I have paraphrased the answers below with only a few direct quotes.

Ward 2

CTN video coverage of Ward 2 Debate

Ann Arbor News coverage of Ward 2 debate by Ryan Stanton

There are two candidates running for the council seat in ward 2.

Kirk Westphal (D)

Nancy Kaplan (D)

Questions/Issues consisted of:

  • Do you agree with Governor Snyder’s statement “The role of government is customer service” and how you affect this within your ward and the city of Ann Arbor at large.
  • Without the benefit of a daily newspaper, how do A2 citizens know what they don’t know?  What methods do you have or would you use to keep citizens informed about issues with the city?
  • Are there public safety issues in your ward/the city?  As a councilmember how would you address this and would you allocate resources for public safety?
  • What in your background, training, experience or platform makes you the better candidate for Ann Arbor city council?
  • Balance between downtown and neighborhoods:  How do envision your responsibility to your ward as well as to the city as a whole?
  • What is the one question you wish the LWV would have asked today?

 1) Is the role of government customer service?

Kaplan:  Yes, the role of government is the role of customer service. Listening to your constituents and knowing what they want and working with them to see if it can be achieved is certainly a very important factor.

Westphal:  I believe it has a key role in government.  Customer service is where most people interact with government.  It’s when government touches most people.   It can be done well, it can be done not so well.  We should have solid answers for people.  It is the key role, but it’s not the only role.

This was seriously a low ball question, but Westphal added something extra to his answer that separated him from Kaplan..  Did the LWV actually expect someone to say that government is not customer service oriented?  What I liked about Westphal’s answer is the last line he said:  It is the key role, but not the only role.

This answer shows the difference between the two candidates. Kaplan is not wrong, she is the status quo.  Westphal has more vision and more perspective on what government is and can be.

Since I know what he means when he says customer service is not the only role, but many of you might not, I googled this great article written by Mark Funkhouser, The Real Role of Cities“, that talks about how “the city’s primary responsibility is not simply as a service deliverer, but also as a convener, facilitator and a clarifier.”  Here is an excerpt from the article:

When the city-management profession was created a hundred years ago as a reform initiative, the primary motivation was to create local governments that were more businesslike, that delivered services more efficiently and effectively. Many of the first city managers were engineers by training. Today different skills are needed. The city manager of today must work to support effective citizenship. He or she must focus not only on stewardship, service and values but also on place, community and civics.

It’s not just the citizens that professional public administrators must pay attention to, of course. They work for elected officials, so they need to understand and appreciate the role of the politician. In that regard, Keene believes that the attitude of the public toward politics needs to be rehabilitated to reclaim a more honorable and mature place our civic life.

The actual work of politicians–to reconcile perspectives and reach real agreement–is, he says, both impossible and necessary, and citizens and civic leaders who are more interested in making a statement than in making a difference will doom their cities. Keene quotes Wallace Stegner, from Jean Bethke Elshtain’s 1993 book “Democracy on Trial”: “Civilizations grow by agreements, accommodations and accretions, not by repudiations.”

That’s a useful guide for the years to come. We’re going to be renegotiating the role of cities and who does what. In an increasingly crowded and complex world, we have to find new ways to learn to live together. The advantaged communities are going to be those that are really effective at reaching dynamic agreement.

This  vision is what I like and want for our city.  It’s the reason why I like Westphal as a candidate.  Cities can be and should be more than just customer service. 

2) What communications methods do you have or would you use to keep citizens informed of issues about the city?

Kaplan:  She began speaking about her CTN talk show that she used to have called “Other Perspectives”.  She would use regular email, send an update letter to constituents.  people can have her phone number.  She will hold regular meetings with constituents with the potential for a private meeting if necessary.

Westphal:  There are many media outlets, the info is out there.  What people are craving is somehow making sense out of it.  Context is lacking.  He would love to accomplish a citizens academy to show citizens how government works and to see how they can effect change and serve on commissions and boards and really get involved..

Kaplan again said a status quo answer.  I think everything she listed is expected from a councilmemeber.  Westphal, bypassing the status quo, once again went one step forward with his vision and mentioned this citizen’s academy that he would like to implement. He also mentioned this last year in his campaign against Jane Lumm.  I like the idea and think that it would be great to teach people how government works and what they need to know in order to work within the system and get something accomplished.

 3)Public Safety concerns and the allocation of resources?

Kaplan:  She said that she thinks we do have resources.  There are many parts of public safety.  Public safety on the roads mixing pedestrians and cars and bikes..  Then there are safety of burglaries and sexual assaults.  The police are doing their jobs.  And then there are the DDA ambassadors downtown  She thinks there are many ways to deal with people feeling safe in communities.

Westphal: He hears concerns when knocking on doors that we need to be looking at public safety more broadly. We have technically never been safer; crime is at a historic low.  However, what he hears most often is ‘what about these cars speeding through my neighborhood’. He thinks our needs are shifting and that we need to be flexible especially given our budget constraints.  He wants to explore the question more broadly about what safety is.

Kaplan answer was a little confusing to me was again a typical status quo answer with no vision on how to change things for the better.  Westphal does not get into specifics but does mention that he sees a shift in community thinking about how “safety” is interpreted.

 4)What in your background, training, experience or platform makes you the better candidate for Ann Arbor city council

Kaplan: She was a director of a physical therapy department so she knows budgeting and managing.  She was elected twice to the Ann Arbor District library board working with the budget and knows how to work with he community.

Westphal: “Looking at the business end of running a city I think so much of how a city runs is a lot of financial calculations, projections and best practices in how much to spend on police, fire, roads, and other infrastructure.  I happen to have an economics degree.  I can read a balance sheet, I know budgeting pretty well . I own and operates a small business.  I happen to be a professional urban planner.  I have the discipline to look at systems and how one area can affect many others.  If you  move one of these pieces, it affects all the other.  (He also kept emphasizing that although a higher education does not preclude you from serving on council it is helpful nonetheless.)

 Again, this was a super low ball question.  There is no right or wrong.  I obviously prefer Westphal’s background because I like leaders with a vision.

5) Balance between downtown and neighborhoods:  How do envision your responsibility to your ward as well as to the city as a whole?

Kaplan:  She believes the emphasis on downtown is too great and that we live in a community of neighborhoods and our neighborhoods need a lot of attention.  She speaks about a new development coming to north east Ann Arbor where we need to control traffic and the livability for the current residents.  Downtown is important, but our neighborhoods are the most important place because they is where we all live.

Westphal: ” We are incredible fortunate to have the downtown that we have.  Obviously neighborhoods are extremely important also.  Having a great downtown is an obligation and a blessing. From what I was told before I moved here, the downtown was not doing so well, sometimes we forget where we came from.  I think. a balance has been struck and it is working.  I thinks we need attention everywhere. Having a thriving downtown keeps our property values high.   It has been fashionable to pit one against the other, but it’s a marriage and we need both parties.”

Ahh…finally a real question.  This truly shows a difference in the two candidates.  Nancy tends to think we live in a type of suburb where the downtown is unattached to its neighborhoods. The downtown is not separate, but is a neighborhood also.  Just like, say, ward 3 neighborhoods have different wants and needs then ward 2 neighborhoods, the same goes for the downtown neighborhood.  Council should not be simply choosing which neighborhood gets what, they should be deciding what can be done for each neighborhood (including the downtown neighborhood) based on resources, time and necessity.  We don’t take equal turns giving things to each group.  Some sections of town might need more things than others.

Kaplan tends to not want growth.  I think with time comes change, with change comes growth.  It is inevitable.  Instead of trying to impede it, I like Westphal’s style of trying to manage it.

6) What is the one question you wish the LWV would have asked today

Kaplan: Spoke about growth in the northeast, about infrastructure and how it affects footing drains and traffic.  She said growth incurs costs.  She wants to have aesthetically pleasing growth.  She wants to have the river cleaned.

Westphal:  How do we get more voter turnout?  He thinks we have a pretty old charter and that we have a partisan system that puts our primaries in August. He thinks we need a charter commission and that we need to look at how our government is structured.

An issue I have with Kaplan’s answer is that how exactly do you have aesthetically pleasing growth.  Beauty is the eye of the beholder.  Whose preference should win out?  I love the design of the new police/courts building but others don’t.  Whose to say what aesthetically pleasing growth is?

And Kirk, Kirk, Kirk….oh I hate this answer (as you well know).  I wrote about how I feel about this issue here.  We could find common ground on this in the future.  I really don’t care about moving an election date or having an instant run-off necessarily, but I do want the party labels to remain.  I won’t go into anymore detail here about it since CM Warpehowski has announced at the last council meeting that he is looking into this issue.  So I will write about what is actually proposed at the council table at that time.

Nonetheless, I will tell myself that the only person who can agree with me 100% of the time is ..well…just me.  🙂

Concluding thoughts

Kaplan really does not present any ideas, let alone new ideas.  There is nothing about her that stands out.  I can’t even tell why she is running. She describes some issues and problems, but never says how she will attempt to fix or change anything.  Plus during the Ann Arbor dems debate on July 12, she admitted that she was not in favor of the Transit Millage that supported the AAATA expansion.  I could never support her.

Westphal has a much more forward thinking vision than Nancy Kaplan who tends to be for the status quo.  Westphal is thoughtful when considering new ideas and looks at the impacts of the implementation of the new ideas along with the ramifications of doing nothing.  He is the person I would like to see win this seat.

So, without doubt, MOTL endorses Kirk Westphal for Ann Arbor City Council Ward 2.

Here is Kirk Westphal’s awesome closing statement.

 “We have to find new ways to be efficient, but we can’t stop making targeted investments in our future.  To me, being fiscally smart doesn’t mean stuffing our money under our mattress. It means looking for long-term results.”

-Kirk Westphal




1 League of Women Voters website

2 Ryan Stanton, “2nd Ward candidates for Ann Arbor City Council share views on growth, downtown”. Mlive.com, July 9. 2014.

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