A2Politico

January 6, 2010

The Ladies Doth Protest Too Much: “There is No ‘Predetermined’ Outcome,” Claim Rapunds and Margie T. (With Poll)

At the January 4, 2010 City Council meeting, First Ward Council member Sabra Briere put forth one of her classic “resolutions.” She told the Press she didn’t want to step on the toes of anyone on the Library Lot RFP Advisory Committee, City Council, Santa and his elves, the Five Families of New York, or the entire populations of China and India combined. Sabra’s a politician, after all, careful never to step on anyone’s toes. Well, except the toes of those she represents in Ward One. Those toes get trampled regularly by Briere’s inability to represent the best interests of her constituents first, and worry about all those other toes at some other point in time. Lord knows Marcia Higgins isn’t worried about Briere’s toes. Higgins referred to Briere’s resolution as “insulting.” Briere wanted to have Council directly re-examine the two open space projects that were eliminated by RFP Advisory Committee.

The resolution was insulting and worthless. Worse still, Briere had all the evidence she needed to bring forth a different resolution. A resolution that would have shown her to be a leader and not scared of her own political shadow.

Briere could have come forth with a resolution to immediately disband the RFP Advisory Committee, rewrite the RFP with public input, and reissue it. She could have brought this resolution forward on the grounds that there is ample evidence that members of the RFP Advisory Committee, and members of our City Council engaged in ongoing private meetings and passed information to members of the Valiant Group—one of the six groups that submitted proposals. These discussions and meetings went on for months prior to the issuance of the RFP. Briere could have brought forth this resolution, based on the fact that there are members of the RFP Advisory Committee who, because of their ongoing communications with members of the Valiant Group, should not have been allowed to evaluate the proposals due to conflicts of interest. 

Marcia Higgins called Briere’s ineffectual and completely ridiculous resolution insulting, and then Marcia Higgins pulled the “trust” card.

Higgins lectured that Council and the public need to trust that the RFP Advisory Committee.

This advice came from a woman caught via FOIAed emails rigging votes for her own Council pay raise. Trust Margie Teall? Trust Stephen Rapundalo, Chair of the RFP Advisory Committee? That ship left the dock in June 2009 when the Ann Arbor News fingered Teall and Rapundalo (along with Higgins, First Ward Council member  Sandi Smith, Third Ward’s Chris Taylor, Second Ward’s Tony Derezinski and Fifth Ward’s Carsten Hohnke for allegedly deliberating via email during open Council meetings. The city is now embroiled in a lawsuit as a result of Teall, Taylor, Higgins, Derezinski, Rapundalo, Hohnke, and Smith’s alleged repeated violations of the Open Meetings Act.  

Second Ward Council member Stephen Rapundalo and Ward Four’s Margie Teall both told their colleagues on Council, and the turnips watching on CTN, that “the process” of selecting the proposal to recommend to Council is totally unbiased. The thought that the procedure is rigged or “fixed” is ridiculous, Teall and Rapundalo both said. 

The Process Queens doth protest too much. Here’s why.

Let me introduce you to the cast of characters on the RFP Advisory Committee:

Margie Teall – Council Member
Stephen Rapundalo – Council Member
Eric Mahler – Planning Commission
John Splitt – DDA
Sam Offen – Resident & PAC Member
Roger Fraser – City Staff
Jayne Miller – City Staff
Matt Kulhanek – Manager of the Ann Arbor Airport
Susan Pollay – DDA staff

Here’s the language from the resolution approved by Council on July 6, 2009 that outlines who will serve on the RFP Advisory Committee: The authorizing resolution (R-09-268, passed July 6, 2009)  contains the following Resolved 

RESOLVED, That the Mayor, prior to the deadline for submission of RFP’s for this project, will appoint an RFP Review Committee consisting of two members of City Council, one member of the Planning Commission, one member of the Downtown Development Authority, and one resident to review all properly submitted proposals. This committee will conduct a public meeting to solicit public input on the desired use of the site, as is consistent with current City practice. 

Anyone notice that all the members of the RFP Advisory Committee are appointed commission members or council members? If you did, move to the head of the class. Anyone notice the four staff who were magically added to the committee? Give yourself a gold star.

This change to the composition of the RFP committee was never brought to City Council for approval. 

At the January 4, 2010 Council meeting, Rapundalo, Higgins, Teall, Smith, Hieftje, Derezinki and Hohnke, all of whom voted against Briere’s resolution, talked about how important it was to respect the “process” and follow the rules. 

Again, the Ladies doth protest too much. 

This simple timeline taken from FOIAed emails should demonstrate just how our Mayor, City Council members and City Administrator have rigged the RFP process, and why it won’t be a shock if one of the losing groups files a lawsuit against the city.

January 2009: City Administrator Roger Fraser presents Council members with a plan for “a little convention center” at the Council’s retreat. The Ann Arbor News later reports that the plan is from the Valiant Group, of which Fritz Seyferth is a partner. According to Valiant’s proposal, Seyferth stands to split a $1 million dollar developer fee with his partners should the Valiant Group’s proposal be selected.

Setting the stage for the Valiant Group: Ann Arbor City Administrator Roger Fraser was in contact with the Valiant Group at least 9 months before the City Council voted to issue the RFP to develop the Fifth Avenue parcel. RFP Advisory Committee Council members Teall and Rapundalo were shown the Valiant Group’s plans for a convention center 9 months before the formal RFP was issued, and 13 months before the group’s proposal was submitted to the RFP Advisory Committee.

January 20, 2009: Via email Sandi Smith invites the Mayor, everyone on Council and Roger Fraser to a meeting at the DDA to talk about what they want to build atop the parking garage. No meeting agenda. No meeting minutes. No public notice of the meeting.

February 2009: Mayor Hieftje emails a constituent concerned with what will be built atop the underground parking garage. Hieftje writes that it will probably “be years” before anything is built on the Fifth Avenue parcel owned by the citizens of Ann Arbor.

February 11, 2009: Fritz Seyferth, partner in the Valiant Group, emails DDA representative and future RFP Advisory Committee member Susan Pollay. He writes,

“Susan,

Please call with any feedback you got on the meeting re what may go above the parking structure. We have received a more positive feedback from our concept from some on Council, so that is good.”

March 2009: Sandi Smith announces to Council that she plans to bring an RFP to Council for the group’s approval for the development of the Fifth Avenue library lot parcel.

April 6, 2009: Fritz Seyferth writes to DDA representative and RFP Advisory Committee member Susan Pollay:

“Susan -

Hope you are well.

Bruce Zenkel and Mike Bailkin (Seyferth’s Valiant Group partners) will be in town for University meetings. We would very much like to meet with you if you have time.

We would like to give and get updates on where we are on our projects…..

It was suggested I touch base with Sandi Smith….Any thoughts?”

Conflict of Interest/Ethics: Either Seyferth is lying to Pollay, or the Valiant Group met with “members” of Council and presented the Valiant Group’s “concept” for what was to be built atop the library lot months before the RFP was written and issued. Furthermore, Susan Pollay, a member of the RFP Advisory Committee, had contact with Seyferth prior to her appointment to the RFP Advisory Committee.

April 6, 2009: Susan Pollay schedules a meeting with the Valiant Group partners for April 21st or April 22nd.

April 21, 2009: Susan Pollay emails Fritz Seyferth:

Current design details [of the proposed underground parking garage] for your use….It was good seeing you earlier today. I look forward to talking to you again in a few weeks after your team has had another chance to meet with city folks.

May 5, 2009: Susan Pollay emails (in PDF format) Fritz Seyferth a dozen structural schematic drawings for the underground parking garage  for use in preparing the Valiant Group’s RFP. The drawings were provided by Michael C. Ortleib of the Carl Walker Company. 

July 2009: Ann Arbor City Council approves the issuance of an RFP for the development of the Fifth Avenue parcel.

Who were the members of Council with whom Seyferth met last February? Rapundalo? Teall? If so, neither has any business on the RFP Advisory Committee. Will those Council members with whom Seyferth met identify themselves? The DDA’s Susan Pollay should be replaced immediately, as should Roger Fraser, both of whom had extended and extensive contact with the Valiant Group’s partners prior to the issuance of the RFP.

Local blogger Vivienne Armentrout writes about the Valiant Group’s ongoing contacts with the Downtown Development Authority’s staff member Susan Pollay, as well Roger Fraser, City Council members, and other city officials. She refers to the contact as “the inside track.”

The inside track refers to a race where all of the runners start at the same time and one runner draws the inside lane. The Valiant Group was given a year-long head start in the race. The six proposals that came in on November 13th were, presumably, compiled between August 14th when the RFP was published, and November 13th, when it was due. Except for one, the Valiant Group’s.

All of this adds up to a rigged RFP process. It was rigged either through duplicity or sheer stupidity. Either way, Higgins’s demand that we trust the “process” is for suckers. The citizens of Ann Arbor deserve an honest RFP be written with public input, a fair and honest RFP competition be held, and an honest evaluation of the proposals submitted by a Committee comprised of individuals as per Council’s original July resolution, and headed by politicos we can respect and trust. That list certainly does not include Stephen Rapundalo or Margie Teall…..or Marcia Higgins, Carsten Hohnke, Christopher Taylor, Tony Derezinski or Sandi Smith—whose alleged Open Meetings Act violations for deliberating in secret via email during public meetings have plunged the city into a lawsuit.

 

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