Let the Public Art Administrator Eat Cake!

nicubunu_White_cakeAt the February 3, 2014 city council meeting, the Teapublicans1 on council actually outdid themselves.  They fired the city public art administrator with a callous disregard for his livelihood and well being. This was no accident and was quite purposeful. They showed a complete lack of empathy to how this action would impact a real person’s life.  Marie Antoinette would have been proud.

Although there is still work to be done on the completion of some current art projects that are in the pipeline (monies previously earmarked and encumbered), the Teapublicans decided to use the approval of the public art administrator’s salary as a way to extort votes for a so-called compromise on a vote to return unencumbered funds from the percent for art program back to the funds in which they came.

I don’t use the word extort lightly.  That is what happened in my mind especially after CM Eaton reneged on the “quid pro quo” offer he made at the previous meeting.  This was one of those meetings where I was saying OMG…and throwing stuff at the TV.

There is a lot to go over so lets start at the beginning.

Background

On June 3, 2013 the Ann Arbor city council overhauled the city’s public art program.

Instead of automatically setting aside 1 percent of capital project dollars into a pooled public art fund — like the city had done since 2007 — city officials will now decide on a case-by-case basis in the future whether certain projects might be enhanced by having art “baked in” from the start.2

In a separate motion on that same day, the council also decided to return monies that were set aside in the FY 2014 budget for the percent for art program to their original funds.  They intentionally left funds collected in previous years in the fund so that projects could be finished up and a few new ideas that have been talked about could be explored.  Using some of the money for transitioning was also discussed at the meeting.

CM Lumm, Kailasapathy and Peterson supported a different resolution at this meeting that would have returned all the monies in the per cent for art program that were not already encumbered.  However their resolution failed.

To clarify: The difference between the two resolutions was the amount of money that was not encumbered and that were already collected in the percent for art fund.

The end result on June 3, 2013 was that only the monies that were set aside in the FY 2014 budget were returned back to their original fundsOther funds that were previously collected would remain in the fund for now.

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Last month on January 21, Council had been asked  to extend the Public Art administrator’s contract by six months for the purpose of finishing up projects that have already been started and are in different phases.3   This was for a small amount of funds ~18K.  Jack Eaton proposed a quid pro quo (yes he used those words) where he would vote for the extension of the public art administartor’s contract in exchange for others voting for the return of the unencumbered monies to their original funds.

Here is Jack Eaton proposing the deal in two different ways. (each video ~1min)

During the discussion, CM Briere brought up the fact that an ordinance change requires a first and second reading so that they could not actually vote for both of these on the same night at the next meeting. CM Peterson even stated at this meeting about them being two separate issues and two separate votes. The Mayor clarified that yes that is true but we could show intent for what we wanted to do when voting at the next meeting. CM Eaton was fully aware of this issue.

Now keep in mind that these are two separate votes and two different issues; the public art administrator’s contract and the retuning of unencumbered funds.  It is Jack Eaton who is purposely linking the two issues together.  CM Lumm who is sponsoring the resolution to return the unencumbered funds, up until now, has publicly said that she is in favor of finishing the other projects in the pipeline that have been started.  She just wants to return ALL the unencumbered funds.

If the council really was for finishing up the incomplete projects, you would think that they would be for the contract extension.  You can’t finish the projects without a staff member.

Arguments against the extension were claims that things were taking too long.  Some on council expected everything to be completed by now.

However, I would like to remind readers that there is only part time staff working on these projects.  We have a volunteer commission who serve on this commission in their spare time and who have full time professional jobs.  We only have a part time staff member who works on this who only gets paid ~18k/six months.  I would not consider that a whole lot of dedicated resources to something that council expected to be done quickly. 

Here is Margie Teal giving an explanation of why some councilmember’s expectations are way off.  She says in the video that CM Eaton’s deal is not one she would take. (video ~3min)

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Now we come to the  February 3, 2014 meeting.  Both issues are now on the agenda again.

During the discussions regarding the return of the unencumbered funds, both CM Taylor and CM Teall gave great speeches about why we still need to continue with the projects that are in the pipeline.  CM Teall goes into detail about how if you don’t fund something fully or give direction, you can’t expect things to get done on a timeline that is only expected in your own mind.  Both CM Teall and CM Taylor allude to the timing of this ordinance and the ramifications of the timing on the Public Art commission.   Watch here:(videos ~3 mins each)

Nonetheless, the vote passes with only dissent from CM Teall, as expected.

Next up was the vote for the public art administrator’s contract.  There is some discussion about a proposed amendment from CM Briere to pay the public art administrator from the general fund, but it fails.  The there is a move to postpone until the next meeting by CM Lumm.  CM Eaton then says if it is not postponed they will not have the votes to pass the extension of the public art administrator’s contract tonight. (Note:  Kunselman was absent from the meeting1.)

Say what?!?  CM Eaton what happened to your quid pro quo??!!  You got everyone to agree to pass the ordinance change regarding the return of the unencumbered funds on first reading.  Everyone voted in favor except for CM Teall who passed on taking your deal at the last meeting.

During discussion, it is realized that if this does not pass tonight that there will not be any remaining funds to pay the public art administrator.  He would essentially be fired.  This is not considered “laid-off” (where you get called back when more work is found for you) because the contract is not extended.  He is essentially terminated.

CM Teall and Taylor speak up and say that “It is not right” and “ that it will essentially “put the public art administrator out of work and that is not proper”.

Their words go on deaf ears with the Teapublicans.  They show no mercy, no empathy, no consideration for the fact that a hard working part time staff person is being used as blackmail to extort a vote on a different issue.

The postponement fails.  CM Eaton, Kailasapathy, Lumm, and Anglin voted against extending the contract.

There is a little bit of shock in the room when some of the councilmembers (the NON-Teapublicans) realize they don’t have the votes to approve the contract and that CM Eaton is going to renege on his deal.

Nonetheless, the vote to extend the contract fails, the public art administrator is terminated.

Immediately after the vote, CM Warpehowski chastises the council with:

 

“Shame on you…. you are going to kick him out of his job because you are fighting about a different issue.”

The lesson

The moral of the story is never trust a Teapublican.  President Obama learned the hard way, and now our Ann Arbor City Council is learning the hard way, that a Teapublican’s word is meaningless.  If you compromise with them, they will move the goal post.  If you give them 100% on an issue, they will incorporate another issue into the deal, so that they can get more.

The Teapublicans in congress are masters of this.  They claim they want compromise and when you do, they claim publicly that this is not what was discussed.  They spin the words to get you to think they are doing the right thing when they are really trying to manipulate you into thinking they are reasonable, right before they stick the knife in your back.

Remember when the Teapublicans in the House of Representatives closed the government (threw everyone out of work) over Obamacare?4  They refused to fund the entire government unless the funding for Obamacare was stripped form the budget.  I think CM Eaton, Kailasapathy, Lumm, and Anglin are channeling Ted Cruz, Paul Ryan, Michelle Bachman, and Eric Cantor.

Can’t you just wait for budget time?  What will the Teapublicans do to try and extort votes then?  Thankfully, they can’t completely close down our city government due to a stipulation in our charter.  If the budget is not amended and approved by the final meeting in May, the City administrator’s budget takes effect..

So I want to say to all the reasonable councilmembers who are on council.

STAND STRONG!

Do not compromise and trust people whose word has no integrity.  Learn from the mistakes that President Obama made.  Learn from the mistake that you just made. DO NOT capitulate in order to just appear nice and congenial when there are real consequences of the compromise that can’t be undone.

If you stayed up and waited through the closed session you will see mayor Hieftje call out CM Eaton on his breaking the deal that CM Eaton proposed during the January 21 meeting. Mayor Hieftje said that he expected  CM Eaton to reintroduce the issue at the next meeting since they voted on the reallocation of funds believing that the Eaton would vote for the contract. CM Eaton said he would call for reconsideration of the vote at the next meeting if the second reading of the reallocation of funds passed.

Excuse me, but that is not acceptable and in no way  makes up for the callous disregard of a staff member’s livelihood and job.  It does not make up for breaking a ‘deal’ or compromise’ that you, yourself, proposed.  Everyone at the table and everyone who was watching knew that it would take 2 readings to pass the resolution to return the funds  and that after the first reading there would be no more funds to pay the public arts administrator. There was not a way to do both on the same night without a consequence incurring (firing the public arts administrator for a minimum of two weeks).  CM Eaton and the other Teapublicans were aware on January 21 about this issue.  Mayor Hieftje said that as long as intent was in place that he thought there would be no problem with the deal.  Eaton was quiet when Hieftje said that statement.

Problem was, they were dealing with a Teapublican who had no intention of following through on February 3 even though the other councilmembers believed he would.

CM Briere made some final statements on the issue about how the city may now lose out because the public art administrator might not be so forgiving and might not come back.  The projects may never get completed.  It does not matter that the issue will be reconsidered at the next meeting, because the damage might be irreparable.

CM Teall was right when she said that this is a slap in the face to public art and IMO the public art administrator too. I was livid over the callous disregard shown.

I am sure the Teapublicans won’t lose any sleep over this.  After all, it is obvious that this is what they wanted all along.  The spout off talking points about how they are for public art they just want the private sector to pay for it.  The reality is if you were for it, you would pay for it.

Final thoughts

West Park  TreeFORMS, by Traven Pelletier

West Park
TreeFORMS, by Traven Pelletier

I am not going to go into the merits of public art here in this piece.  That could be a stand alone column in itself.  But I do want to mention that I am completely in favor of publicly subsidized art, would love to see public/private partnerships formed, and I do see the economic benefit in public art.

Art is supposed to be thought provoking as well as visually appealing.  If you are a person who thinks that a statue of an army general sitting on a horse on a pedestal in a park is public art, then you won’t understand what real public art is all about.  It is supposed to be different, it is supposed to make you think.

Radius,  by Ed Carpenter

Radius,
by Ed Carpenter

There has been a lot of talk at the council table in regards to monumental art.  CM Peterson wants to move away from monumental art all together.  I couldn’t disagree more.  Monumental art is what public art should be all about.  It should be permanent and add to the community infrastructure.  That is why I believe that the city has a responsibility to contribute funding for these public art pieces…they are part of the infrastructure.

Temporary art such as the Festifools event is great but in my mind should not be part of public art funding.  I love Festifools and attend every year, but it is entertainment using art.  I would like to see it funded through whatever fund helps pay for art fair, or contributes to the Michigan theater, etc.  I do think city council could help fund programs such as Festifools, I just don’t think it should be part of ‘public art’.  I think bringing in the temporary art in to the “public art’ debate just muddies the waters.

Allmendinger Park Nourishing Healthy Seeds

Allmendinger Park
Nourishing Healthy Seeds

As for local artist, I don’t know why some people get hung up on this.  The local artists can always apply when there is a request for proposal, but apparently not many do. The one project that was done by a local artist in Allmendinger park was extremely disappointing.  It is the poster child for why we should NOT hire local artist.  I thought it was horrible.  And this is me using nice words to describe how I really about it.

Now Cm Eaton made a lot of statements making fun of what he called ‘sewage’ themed art.5   And on the surface when you hear we are making art based on sewage…one pauses and says what?  But if you were open minded and then heard the description that was actually explained you might rethink the…”what”.

The city was looking into some sort of art exhibit at the sewage treatment plant for school children.  Buses of school kids visit the plant ever year.  The art project would show the beauty of how we can take wastewater and turn it into water that can be returned to the Huron river.  That actually sounds great to me since we have a stipulation that we have to have a “themed” art piece.  But if you are close minded and can’t see anything outside the box, you would not appreciate the description of this project.  All you would see is “sewage” and not the art incorporated in to the science that the kids would learn.

cubeJust think about how the Black ‘Cube’ near the Michigan Union would have been described before installation.  It is an 1800lb steal cube that spins on a pole.  Sounds boring until you see it by today’s standards.  Now people love it.  Everyone who can’t seem to visualize outside the box need to refrain from killing ideas that just might be great.  Councilmembers limitations should not affect the forward progress of the city.

The final thing I want to point out is that it is part of conservative ideology to be against public art.  Nationally the Republicans (not just the Teapublicans) have always been against anything having to do with public art or exposure to public art.  They have tried multiple times to defund NPR (National Public Radio) as well the NEA (National Endowment for the Arts).  These are avenues for the general public to be exposed on a regular basis to art.  That some of our local officials do not see the value in exposing our residents to some thought provoking art is right out of the conservative playbook.

Now I know that some of you out there truly feel passionate about not wanting tax dollars to fund public art.  That’s fine.  Just don’t pretend that you are liberal, open minded and ‘FOR’ public art when you are anything but.  Councilmembers actions should match their words….and they don’t.  If you are ‘for’ public art, you support public art…financially and otherwise.  Otherwise it is not “public”.

We now have quite a large number of councilmembers who are a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Ann Arbor residents…Wake up!  The Teapublicans have taken over your city council and are now actually doing damage

If you don’t want to lose everything that you hold dear about our city, wake up, listen, and pay attention to what your council is doing.

 ut comedat panem

-MOTL

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1 The Ann Arbor City Council Teapublican Caucus is made up the following councilmemebrs: Jack Eaton, Sumi Kailasapathy, Jane Lumm, Mike Anglin, Stephen Kunselman, and Sally Peterson.

However at this meeting Kunselman was absent.  In the past he had pledged support for the continuation of funding the public art administrator one more time.

Sally Peterson did vote for the continuation of the administrator’s contact but many of her statements are not in favor of publicly subsidized art in general.

Whether Kunselman’s and Peterson’s positions are being influenced by their mayoral bids is for you to ponder.

2Ryan Stanton, Ann Arbor says goodbye to controversial ‘Percent for Art’ program.  Ann Arbor News, June 4, 2013

3 Ryan Stanton, Debate renewed over Ann Arbor’s public art as council eyes $1.4M in unspent funding.  Ann Arbor News, January 26, 2014

4 Ian McCullough, “Why Did The U.S. Government Shut Down In October 2013?” Forbes, October, 03, 2013

5 Ryan Stanton, $448K for sewage-themed public art? Ann Arbor council member says no thanks.  Ann Arbor News, Feb 4, 2014.

 

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