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In an unprecedented turn of events, there will be three contested primary races for Ypsilanti City Council positions as well as a three-way race for Mayor.Colorful Ypsilanti celebrity David Kircher has filed to run against Mayor Pro-Tem Trudy Swanson in Ward 1 as has Juanita House.
Incumbent council member Bill Nickels will face a challenger in the form of John Bailey, a member of the ZBA.
Ward 1 Councilmember Lois Richardson, Ypsilanti Housing Commission President, Paul Schreiber, and local businessman Steve Pierce will face off for Mayor.
Finally, in Ward 3, yours truly, Brian Robb will be facing challenger Rod Johnson in the battle of East Cross versus North Grove.
Thursday night I was interviewed by Dan DuChene of the Ypsilanti Courier for an article he’s doing on the Council race in Ward 3.
He asked me the standard questions you would expect a reporter to ask a candidate; How old am I ? How long have I lived here [nearly 12 years]? Married [no, but Kate has been my partner for 13 years]? Children [no]? Pets [two cats]? Why am I running [I’m passionate about Ypsilanti and we need a new perspective on the way business is conducted at City Hall]? What’s important to me [transparency, communication, accountability, listening]? How was I different from Rod Johnson [I couldn’t answer this as I don’t know where Rod stands on any of the issues]?
I tried to lay out my platform as best as I could. I said transparency is very important. Government should be boring. There shouldn’t be any surprises. We need to engage the community about the issues and listen to what they have to say.
Then he started asking specific questions about Water Street, an income tax, relations with EMU, the candidates for Mayor, and busing.
I told him I thought Water Street could be a success even though it hasn’t been to date. I’m excited that there is what seems like a very qualified and high-profile developer on board, but I will be even more excited when an agreement is reached between Joseph Freed & Associates and the City. I said the area is right next to downtown and should be a jewel for the City. Cleaning up polluted land is not a bad thing. When he asked me what I could bring to Water Street, I said that should I be fortunate enough to get elected, an agreement will have already been signed prior to me taking office. I added that we need to make sure there are no more surprises to the general fund and the budget like the buy-out of Biltmore Properties.
I said I was absolutely against an income tax. I think his question was, “Are you in favor of an income tax?” I said, “Absolutely not!” I hope he wrote my response and put the exclamation point at the end. I said that the City’s budget problems are mainly caused by the State and the way they fund cities. It’s a structural problem that we can’t solve. The only way we can fix it is if we make the people in Lansing understand how big of a problem it is. If we pass an income tax, we are sending the message that we can fix the problem ourselves. That’s just arrogant. We can’t cut our way out of the problem. We can’t tax our way out of the problem either. Only our legislators in Lansing can help us. I tried to explain that the City needs to cooperate with the County. I praised the City for already doing so with IT and payroll. I said the bully pulpit was the City Manager’s office. There are cities over Michigan just like Ypsilanti that are struggling. Mount Clemens put an income tax question on the ballot in 2004 only to remove it before the election. Mount Clemens also eliminated their recreation department to save money. Royal Oak investigated selling their City Hall to make money. Warren laid off 25 firefighters to combat being underfunded. The City Manager needs to get to know the City Managers of these cities. We need to build a coalition. When we speak in Lansing as a singular voice, no one is listening. We need to change the way we’ve been trying to solve this problem. I also added that the income tax only gets us to 2013 or 2014 before falling back into the red. I can’t support a plan that doesn’t deliver what it’s supposed to be promsing. Finally, I said the tax was regressive and penalized 67% of the people who live in the City because they are renters. One thing that I failed to point out, however, was that even though there is a very large percentage of renters, the houses are still owned and therefore a 2.0 mill rollback would be a windfall for landlords.
I went to college in a college town, and I picked Ypsilanti partly because it was also a college town. In my opinion, EMU positively adds to life in Ypsilanti. I’ve seen relations grow between the two organizations in the time I’ve lived here. I think they can continue to grow. Building relationships takes time. There will be a new mayor this year. Add that to a relatively new EMU president, and you have to expect the need for time in order for the new relationship to flourish. Fallapalooza was a very good building block in the relationship. Ypsilanti cannot be successful without EMU being successful. The opposite is just as true.
I’ve been a regular at City Council meetings for almost two years. I’ve seen Councilmember Richardson work. I appreciate her style. She can be forceful when it comes to policing, building inspection, and accountability. I really respect that. I agree with almost all of Paul Schreiber’s views. We’ll see where he stands on an income tax when it comes time to be counted. I just hope he’s doesn’t give one of those wishy-washy answers like, “The people should get to vote on the issue.” You’re either for it or against it. I absolutely stand by all the work he’s done with the Ypsilanti Housing Commission. Word on the street is that Emmanuel Ku will not be allowed to buy Parkview. Well done. Finally, Steve Pierce is my friend. I didn’t side with him on the churches, union halls, schools, etc. in the downtown. I think we need to protect the Business District. I understand his views, but I think he’s wrong. I also think I could change his mind. Steve’s been vital in YpsiCrime.org as well as the East Cross FreeNET. I could work with him. I could work with any of them.
Busing is an issue that’s near and dear to my heart. Mr. DuChene asked me about busing and I told him that public transportation is important to being a healthy city and that Ypsilanti should do whatever it takes to properly fund the AATA subsidy. I said how great Keep Ypsi Rollin’ was for shining the spotlight on this issue and how KYR single-handedly saved busing in Ypsilanti for at least 2006-07. He asked me about the millage and I said that I couldn’t agree with it. With the service agreement going down to $117K and the millage expected to generate around $230K, I said that everything above the POSA would have to be set aside for public transportation and if we couldn’t find ways to spend it (like bringing back the Library route), the money would be untouchable. I also said City Council needs to come to the table with a counter-offer because the KYR proposal is the only solution we’ve seen to date. We need to save busing.
Rod Johnson is the head of the Planning Commission. I am not. Mr. DuChene asked me if that was intimidating. It’s very impressive that Rod is the chair, but this campaign should be about ideas. If Rod has better ideas than me, he should get elected. He shouldn’t be elected because of a title. I’m the President of the Historic East Side Neighborhood Association. Impressed yet? I started YpsiCrime. It was the second site of it’s kind in the world. I beat the drum that it was mentioned in a New York Times blog once. Still not impressed? You shouldn’t be. I need to convince you that my ideas are better than Rod’s. That’s how I want to impress you.
I’m very proud of YpsiCrime. It’s a great example of how the City should be leveraging the community. I started the site because there is this misconception about how unsafe Ypsilanti is. I tried to disprove it with data. The City is not in the business of marketing itself. That’s not their job. But I can make it my job. The City needs to reach out to other organizations so we can build momentum. It’s sounds corny and all, but Ypsilanti won’t be successful unless we make it successful. Our people are our greatest asset. We need to use that asset wisely.
The last thing I talked about was technology. The City still records meetings on cassette tapes. I can’t buy a new car that has a cassette player in it, but the City is still using that outdated form of technology. Technology makes our lives simpler. If the Clerk recorded the meeting minutes digitally, we could not only podcast them, but we could save the time in transcribing them so the Clerk’s admin could do more important work for the City than transcribing cassette tapes. It’s just one example, but it’s a great example. In a time when resources are limited, we need to maximize them. There are easy ways to do that. We need to start doing them.
This was a brain dump. Hopefully Mr. DuChene captured the same things I did. We’ll know Thursday.
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