A2Politico Grillin’ the Media: The Ann Arbor Observer and “A Leap of Faith”
Let me preface by saying that I read the Ann Arbor Observer cover-to-cover every month. I have done so for more years than it’s anyone’s business to know. I believe the AAO sits in a unique position in our community as a monthly publication with the time and page count to delve into and investigate what can be complicated issues, particularly political issues. It’s a journalistic Grande Dame navigating the dark, dangerous alley of periodical publication. As someone commented to me recently, the issues keep getting thinner. I know the company has been forced to lay-off staff to make ends meet, and fortunately did not make a move to new digs that might have spelled financial ruin. Publisher Patricia Garcia and Editor John Hilton, who own the monthly tabloid, bought it from the Hunts, who founded it. It is my sincere hope that Hilton and Garcia will have an asset to pass on when they are ready to retire. They’ve worked hard and deserve to reap some financial reward.
Now, all that being said, the political reporting in the January 2010 issue was something I might pull from the lint trap on my dryer. David Askins gets better results from free-lance political-reporter-about-town Judy McGovern, I think, because with one sorry exception about which I wrote here, the AnnArborChronicle.com sticks to, well, chronicling information and events. I read McGovern’s piece for the January 2010 Ann Arbor Observer, titled “Leap of Faith,” and thought I saw a faint trace of lipstick on the page where Mayor Hieftje and city transportation czar Eli Cooper got big editorial smooches—instead of having to answer probing questions about some very serious transportation decisions.
First of all, the piece skims right over the unprecedented gift of parkland by our City Council members to the University of Michigan for an 800 space parking garage. Don’t you feel generous? If the land had been sold to the University, Mayor Hieftje and Council would have been forced to bring the question before the citizens for a vote. But the Charter amendment Hieftje crafted several years ago to “protect” parkland from being sold without the permission of residents says nothing about just giving it away or leasing our parkland. Now you know why. Feeling tricked yet? You should. The omission regarding the giveaway and leasing of parkland was absolutely deliberate. McGovern skips right over the gift of the public parkland to U of M, and moves right into swallowing the explanation of elected and city officials as to why taxpayers should not only give the University of Michigan parkland, but also pay $14 million tax dollars toward building a parking garage for the university’s employees to park in.
The $14 million contribution is from a city whose elected leaders are “struggling” to keep from closing public pools and senior centers. It’s a $14 million dollar gamble by a City Council that last year cut two dozen police, and this year pink-slipped 14 firefighters. It’s a $14 million dollar crap shoot from a City Council that has repeatedly voted to backdoor tax residents by hiking water and sewer rates. The “gamble” was described by McGovern as a “bet that parking cars is the key to improved train travel.” Eli Cooper, transportation manger for the city described the millions as a “down payment to lure additional transportation investment.” Since when do Ann Arbor taxpayers give land to the University and pay to build parking garages for the billion-dollar free-loaders on State Street? That’s not fiscal collaboration; it’s a scene devised by the Marquis de Sade, and our Mayor and Council are the firm bottoms ready to be whipped by the dominatrix at her mansion on South University.
Mayor Hieftje told McGovern no money for the project would come from the General Fund. Do you remember when he told us building the Fifth Avenue Temple to the judicial goddesses—currently $3 million over budget—would result in no cuts to services and would cost no more than the amount of the bonds borrowed by the city? Do you remember when last ran for re-election and said it was ridiculous to believe candidates who alleged that there was a cabal controlling things on Council, and that there were secret back room political deals being made by that cabal of Council members? Pardon me if I doubt Mayor Hieftje’s assurances concerning the safety of the taxpayers’ money in the general fund from his model train fetish. We’ve got our very own King John on the throne, and his Fair Fraser of Nottingham.
Interestingly, James Kosteva, U of M’s director of stiff-arming, buddying up to, and above all pacifying Ann Arbor City Council was quoted as saying, “At Fuller we have 20,000 workers within a quarter-mile of their destinations—the medical center and Wall Street.”
According to the article “thousands” of U of M employees live along the commuter train corridor. This past summer, City Administration Roger Fraser presented a “study” to Council that claimed 70,000 people commute into Ann Arbor daily to justify putting a city income tax on the ballot. While campaigning against Leigh Greden, Third Ward’s Steve Kunselman asked where the city got its data? Kunselman then pointed out that the “study” contained no source for the figure of 70,000 commuters descending on Ann Arbor daily. McGovern didn’t bother to ask Kosteva exactly how the University had determined that “thousands” of its employees live along the proposed train corridor, or how University officials know those same people would be inclined to take a train to work. For that matter, does Madam Minerva, Dean of Prognostication at U of M, use her crystal ball to figure out who’ll be employed at U of M in the future, and where they will live?
Then there was the Mayor’s blowsy assurance that funding light-rail was “right up AATA’s alley.” Judy McGovern didn’t pause, journalistically, for a second. She might have asked the Mayor how funding trains is right up AATA’s alley when only 51 percent of Washtenaw County residents surveyed said they would support a 1 mill regional transportation tax for AATA to administer regional transportation, including light-rail.
The only thing that’s right up AATA’s alley is Hieftje, the Grand Poobah of New Urbanism’s grandiose scheme to bring light-rail to Ann Arbor to encourage growth.
The scheme is little more than ass backwards transportation policy, and a waste of Ann Arbor’s taxpayer money. Even my tot knows that when playing the computer game Sim City, one never invests in a train system until one’s simulated city has reached a critical mass of Sim (simulated) citizens. What Hieftje and Cooper are trying to sell us are Sim employees at the University of Michigan who may or may not live along the Sim train corridor.
The Ann Arbor Observer gave us Sim coverage of the giveaway of public park land and the potential throw-away of $14 million in public tax dollars on bicycle parking and a gamble. Judy McGovern didn’t question the gamble or the leap of faith in any way. Writing with religious reverence about a prayer and a crap shoot that a parking garage will attract future funding for light-rail transportation, was a disservice to the Observer’s readers, who deserve more objective and critical coverage of such issues. What we don’t need is more Sim coverage of what may be turning into yet another very real and expensive political boondoggle.
A2 Related Poll: On October 16th, I posted a poll. If you’d like to see the results thus far and vote in the poll, visit the link: Weekend Poll: Should Mayor John Give Dame Mary Sue Parkland at Fuller Park For Her Parking Garage?
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