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.
Today I will be reviewing the Ward 1 candidate debate for Ann Arbor City Council. The debate once again was rather low key with some very low ball questions. There is an incumbent, but the challenger did not attack her record. I have paraphrased the answers below.
There are two candidates running for the council seat in ward 1.
Sumi Kailasapathy (D) incumbent DINO
Don Adams (D)
Questions/Issues consisted of:
- What in your background, training, experience or platform makes you the better candidate for Ann Arbor city council?
- 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
- Your ward has at least one major corridor to the city. How can it be improved for safety, efficiency and beauty.
- Amtrak Station: What is your site preference?
- 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) What in your background, training, experience or platform makes you the better candidate for Ann Arbor city council
Kailasapathy: She is CPA who has experience in public accounting. Currently head of audit committee and sits on budget committee for the city. Says she can help citizens understand accounting and budgets. She was also an activist for amnesty international and can help citizens stand up for their rights.
Adams: He currently works with many elected officials while doing advocacy work for people with traumatic brain injuries and with veterans. He serves as an executive board member for the AAPS PTO Council and co-chaired the Northside Elementary School PTO.
This is a super low ball question. No right or wrongs answers. However since Kailasapathy is an incumbent, she can be challenged on what she claims. She claims that she can help the citizens understand accounting and budgets. Really? Half the time when she is questioning Tom Crawford, the city CFO, at council meetings it sounds like she does not understand government accounting. It appears that she does not trust what he tells her. I trust Mr. Crawford. Accounting has different specialties with different rules. Just like when you go to the doctor to see a specialist. They are trained in everything, but really only know one area in detail. She just might not understand the nuances between governmental (public sector) and business (private sector) accounting. At least that is how here public questioning of the city CFO appears to me.
2) Is the role of government customer service?
Kailasapathy: We should treat residents as our customers. They pay taxes in in return they want services from the city government. Residents expect first class services. We should respond to their needs. Residents think the number one need is the roads. We should fix the roads.
Adams: Yes, government is customer service, we work for the people who live in Ann Arbor. At the same time government is about being collaborative. We are obligated to deliver basic services and be fiscally responsible but should also be collaborative. We just don’t represent just one ward, but we also represent Ann Arbor as a whole.
Who would actually say that the role of government is not customer service? Stupid question. What I did like is how Adams included collaboration in with the roles of government. Collaboration is important. How I think he meant collaboration was with the rest of the city…not just representing an isolated ward with specific issues. I like that approach. That is actually how I think council should be… more collaborative about all the issues and how the city as a whole is effected. However I wouldn’t mind if he would have thrown in collaboration with other governmental units such as neighboring municipalities, the UofM, and even the county and state, like he says in his closing statement. Nice job thinking out of the box for a newbie candidate.
3) How can you improve a major corridor into the city
Kailasapathy: The point of the North Main corridor study was to understand not only the transportation issues, but how the development was going to happen in that area. We need to look at it as a multi-modal corridor . We need to make sure pedestrian safety is ensured, bicycle paths, and non-motorized transportation is also undertaken. We don’t want to view a corridor as primarily serving cars. These corridors go through neighborhoods with speeding cars through them, and her concern is that corridor studies don’t give respect to neighborhoods.
Adams: The river is beautiful at M14 and Barton How can the road be improved? He said the road is connected to Northside which is a school that will see a large increase in its population. There needs to be a discussion about traffic calming.
Kailasapathy must not realize that the corridor studies actually take the complete streets philosophy to heart and will do all those things she mentioned. She thinks that corridor studies don’t respect neighborhoods? Corridor studies are done to help the growth and changes fit into the area appropriately Without the study you get random development without a plan and without the complete streets philosophy. No planning or poor planning is what does not respect a neighborhood. She does not want a corridor to primarily serve cars, but that is exactly what main corridors into a city are supposed to do. These main roads funnel cars in a specific direction so that the cars don’t cut through slow neighborhood streets. Kailasapathy gave a predictable response based on a recent study that was done in the area, but got mixed up with what the intent of a corridor study is supposed to accomplish.
Adams response shows a true outsider to politics. You want someone who thinks neighborhood and not just simply downtown, then his choice of the M14-Barton corridor to answer this question shows this. Yes, it is an entry to a part of the city, but not to downtown and not one that many people think as a main corridor, but he does. It showed that he is open to a new way of thinking that is specific for his neighborhood.
4) Amtrak station: where should it be located?
Kailasapathy: The first question to ask is if we actually need a new train station. Many people feel we can upgrade the station where it is. Her concern is with the development of parks. Once we allow for parkland to be repurposed, then we set a precedence of development of parks and she is not sure whether this is the path we should be taking.
Adams: He supports that the voters get to decide location. We have about 70,000-plus people driving into Ann Arbor almost every single day. Getting those cars off the roads, getting that congestion out of Ann Arbor, I would like to see as well.
Of course we must have a train station question. This is the question that will probably be the one that will make you choose your candidate in this race.
Kailasapathy, of course, is on the “we shouldn’t build on parkland” side. Of course she never mentions that the fuller road site near the hospital is a PARKING LOT. Not grass, not an athletic field. It is a parking lot that the Parks Commission in the city leased to the University for University employee parking. This lease agreement was established over 20 years ago in response to a compromise that the parks commission and the University made together in exchange for the University not chopping down 2 trees that were in the way when the road around the VA hospital was relocated. For over twenty years, the residents of Ann Arbor did not use this as parkland and I bet many did not even know about the lease arrangement. But now suddenly, she thinks it is a dangerous precedent for the city to repurpose the parking lot and use it for another public use such as a train station. The precedent that this spot was inconsequential for parkland use was set when the parks commission traded the site for 2 trees.
I think the Fuller road site is the perfect location, but won’t go into detail here. It will be the subject of a future post.
Adams actually represents my viewpoint. If you can get some of the commuters who drive into our city off the roads and into trains, then we get less congestion, less pollution, and less wear and tear on the roads.
5) Balance between downtown and neighborhoods: How do envision your responsibility to your ward as well as to the city as a whole?
Kailasapathy: Neighborhoods feel they get less services and less focus of priorities for their needs. Right now development is not focused on organic growth, but it is growth on steroids. We are basically feeding to get this quick unnatural effect of growth going. Too much growth negatively affects the neighborhoods near downtown. When I walk on Traver parking is an issue there. Northside has become a cut thru from Pontiac trail to Barton.
Adams: For downtown, development must have a tax base to support the community. He will ensure that community needs are addressed at the same time the downtown needs are addressed.
Kailasapathy is using the term organic growth incorrectly. She refers to it as natural growth, but does not understand what that means in city planning. Organic growth in a city is the opposite of planned growth such as height limits, zoning, complete streets. It is basically build whatever, wherever you want. Good urban planning can help retrain organic growth. That can’t be what she means because she has always advocated for no growth, not unrestricted growth.
She might be referring to the rate of organic growth in a business sense where the definition is just a natural growth for a company without takeovers, acquisitions or mergers. The city has no direct influence on the development of privately owned property. The market does that. They cannot legally speed up or slow down development on private land. We have a master plan and zoning laws that say what can be built. If somebody follows those laws then they can build what they want on their land. The only exception is when the city owns the land such as the library lot or the Y-lot. Only then does the city have a say.
Our zoning laws are not exactly lax, they don’t encourage developers to come in and build whatever they want. In fact Ann Arbor is known as a hard place to get a development approved. Ann Arbor is a popular place to live, so you will get lots of growth. When the growth stops, we should probably worry.
Adams on the other hand, linked growth to new tax revenue which can support the needs of the city. I whole-heartedly agree.
6) What is the one question you wish the LWV would have asked today
Kailasapathy: Spending priorities of the city. Sometimes they are misaligned with what the politicians and the citizens think the priorities are.
Adams: Selling the library lot. The is concerned about losing the tax revenue if the library lot is made into a park. Downtown development contributes to a healthy tax base that pays for services throughout the city. He said it would be a waste of money if the city didn’t sell the air rights for a development, which he said could bring in millions of dollars that could be used to fund human services, affordable housing, public safety and other basic services.
Simply, Kailasapathy’s statement about spending priorities makes sense, but there is an unsaid point that needs to be made that shows the difference between a democrat who thinks government can do more than the basics and the conservatives/republicans who think only spending on basic services at all times. The community is never asked on the survey should spending be on ONLY basic services, it asks about specific services. But t Kailasapathy and the rest of the Teapublicans believe that only the priorities listed at the top of the survey should be what the city provides. How the questions are asked is important. What choices are presented are important.
Government can and should do more than the basics. Yes, we want out basic services covered, but we can also have other things too. We don’t have to wait until there is a cop on every corner before adding something extra such as supporting social services, art, economic development, etc
Adams suggesting the library lot as an additional question was impressive for a newbie candidate. It is controversial and not an easy topic. Adams seems to get the link between new development and tax revenue. We can’t have all our parks and services without tax revenue. As companies have moved out of the city recently (eg Pfizer), new development has allowed us to cover the lost tax dollars. I agree with him.
Kailasapathy and I do not tend to see eye to eye on anything. I don’t like how she questions staff at council meetings with a tone of distrust. I don’t like how she was against the transit millage as she said at the Ann Arbor Dems debate. I think she is shortsighted and always looking for technicalities to catch someone on without looking or even considering the big picture.
Adams is new on the scene. I have only met him once, but he seems genuine and sincere in wanting to serve on council. I think that his chosen profession dealing with people with traumatic brain injuries and veterans is honorable and shows what type of character he has. I like that he gets the fact that increased development results in increased tax revenues which leads to more and better services for the residents. I think he will be a fresh voice on council.
MOTL endorses Don Adams for Ann Arbor City Council Ward 1.
Here is Don Adams closing statement:
“The government is obligated to deliver on basic services, which we are currently doing,” But there are some other services…or needs or concerns….that we also must work out with our ward, and Ann Arbor as a whole.”
1 League of Women Voters website
2 Ryan Stanton, “1st Ward candidates for Ann Arbor City Council differ on Library Lot, new train station“. Mlive.com, July 9. 2014.