The Politics of Being Out of Touch: Leah Gunn Channels George H.W. Bush (With a Poll)

Remember when George H.W. Bush went to the supermarket and was amazed at that thing. You know that thing. That electronic thing that automatically detected the price of the object it scanned. The photo below is a classic.

Bush’s gaffe played right into Bill Clinton’s charge that Bush was out of touch with the common American who, well, had shopped for groceries since 1980, when scanners debuted. Failing to be familiar with this technology made Bush appear to be an elitist who didn’t even have to go to the grocery store, and thus someone who was unable to feel the financial pinch facing ordinary Americans. It sank his re-election campaign.

In Ann Arbor, we have our very own George H.W. Bush. He’s Leah Gunn, first appointed to the Board of the Downtown Development Authority in 1991, shortly after George H.W. Bush took office.

According to a piece posted to AnnArbor.com today, “An additional 150 parking pay stations are scheduled to be installed in downtown Ann Arbor over the next three years, replacing current on-street parking meters.” The reporter went on to write: The Downtown Development Authority’s Board of Directors unanimously approved spending $2.28 million on 150 more parking pay stations at its meeting last week. The rationale behind the purchase was the popularity of the 25 pay stations installed last summer.

DDA Board member Leah Gunn was quoted by the AnnArbor.com reporter as describing the parking pay stations and the accompanying numbered parking signs with the same incredible lack of understanding demonstrated by Bush at the supermarket when confronted by a scanner. Gunn reported to the DDA Board: “These are the little solar kiosks that go along with the little things that stick up with numbers on them.”

Yes, well. Those of us common suckers, who park downtown and have to pay to do so, know that the “little things that stick up with numbers on them” are the numbered parking spot markers. 

Gunn didn’t stop there in her addled presentation to have the DDA spend millions of our tax dollars on more of those doohickies for people to feed their hard-earned money into when parking at the on-street spots marked by those numbered thing-a-ma-bobs. She announced that the DDA should make the additional investment because, “We have found that everybody likes them.”

Everyone likes them? Everyone? Should our DDA Board make capital investments based on fiscal realities, or perceptions of popularity as presented by a woman who can’t properly identify the equipment she wants to spend $2.28 million dollars on?  

Come to think of it, perhaps the DDA should invest a few hundred thousand dollars in a course for Board members like Gunn so that they know the names of the objects (those little things that stick up with the numbers on them”) on which they are urging their fellow Board members to spend money? Frankly, it would have been nice to know just how Leah Gunn knows “everyone” likes the kiosks. Did she consult a psychic? Is she exceptionally perceptive herself? It would have been responsible and reasonable for someone on the DDA Board to have asked how in the name of George H.W. Bush Leah Gunn had reached her conclusion. Alas, no one on the DDA Board was the least bit curious to know from where Leah Gunn had gotten her kiosk use data. 

So, Ann Arbor’s DDA Board members present at the meeting agreed unanimously to spend $2.28 million dollars of taxpayer money because Leah Gunn told them “everyone” liked the parking kiosks. This comes on the heels of the DDA’s August 2009 40 percent parking rate hikes, which DDA Board member and First Ward Council member  Sandi Smith, I am sure, told the entire DDA Board “everyone liked,” when she proposed the resolution to jack up the parking rates. It was the same kind of reasoning used when Smith proposed the resolution to extend parking meter enforcement downtown until 10 p.m. “Everyone likes” to pay for parking until 10 p.m.

Then there is the underground parking garage, which “everyone likes,” that the DDA is buiding next to the Fifth Avenue library. Well, except the group of local business owners and environmental groups who, in August 2009, filed suit against the City over the construction of the underground garage, and the alleged secret email deliberations between City Council members concerning the garage vote.

Could it be that the entire Board of the DDA is out of touch with the reality that is the mission of the DDA? It was recently suggested to me that thanks to the current Board’s fiscal decisions over the past three years, the DDA is actually doing harm to the Ann Arbor downtown and the businesses there. It’s an interesting theory, and fodder for a future entry.

In the meantime, are you among the “everyone” who likes the new parking kiosks? Cast your vote.

[polldaddy poll=2503215]

Short URL: http://www.a2politico.com/?p=2599

19 Comments for “The Politics of Being Out of Touch: Leah Gunn Channels George H.W. Bush (With a Poll)”

  1. […] Apparently, he doesn’t buy his own gas or shop for food. According to rumor, President George H. W. Bush, had the same blind spot, but it won’t cost Bernanke. No Federal Chief has ever been fired by Congress. But which one of […]

  2. […] of discussion that needs to be held.”  This was, of course, a few months after I wrote a post about how Gunn recommended the DDA spend $2.28 million more solar-powered parking kiosks because, […]

  3. […] dollar purchase of additional parking kiosks, Gunn went before the DDA Board and gave the jolly explanation that they should pony up the money for the detestable and over-priced kiosks because, “We have […]

  4. 2hr free parking…interesting idea. I see two problems, though. First is logistics; how do you create & run a feasible program? (who are residents, how do you know they’re shopping, how do they get the credits, etc.) Second, the DDA might argue they need that money to pay for operations, maintenance, and capital expenditures. Before the DDA took over parking, they say the City robbed the parking fund, and many structures were falling apart.

    How about a more extensive validating system? You buy something; you get a coupon. Merchant gets sale, DDA gets money, patron gets stuff they don’t need.

    • You didn’t like Sausalito’s program? Parking is limited to garages WITHIN the downtown shopping district. Who’s a resident? Let’s send the permit out with the property tax bills. Better yet, one permit per registered voter. Watch City Clerk Jackie Beaudry clean up the voter rolls overnight! Kill two birds with one program. Yeah, yeah, the DDA has its expenses. Residency should have its perks, you know?

  5. I don’t mind the new kiosks. I do mind the lines that can form at them when 3-4 people pull into a lot at the same time. It can be torture to stand there and watch someone who can’t figure out how to pay. Meters were faster in and out. The question of whether the public was ever consulted is a good one. Why wasn’t the public consulted before this change was made? It’s our parking system and our money, after all. Perhaps the members of the DDA Board have lost touch with the reality that they are appointed to be stewards of the parking system, not dictators and arbiters. Why did we need the change to the kiosks? Was it because someone saw them at a trade show? I heard that’s how we got those horrid wayfinding signs.

  6. “She’s Leah Gunn”, not “He’s Leah Gunn.” (Or maybe you meant that, I’m not sure.)

    My August 2009 piece on the meters gives details.


  7. Hmm…..firefighters come immediately to mind, but as Chris Taylor is forever saying, these “pots” of money are not fungible. Sooooo how about DDA paying to shovel the downtown sidewalks and curb areas downtown so people can get to the downtown shops? How about free parking for residents at centrally-located downtown garages for two hours each day so A2 residents will be encouraged to shop downtown? How about money to plant native perennials in the planters downtown? Anyone have more ideas how that $2.28 million could be used to help downtown merchants?

  8. Cities who want people to come to them don’t go out of their way to make it more expensive and difficult to be there. What else could be done with $2.5 million?

  9. Strawman, anyone? The primary reason for the purchases isn’t popularity; it’s information. Your example of cash registers applies here, too. How much more information does the retailer have to determine demand, theft, turnover, pricing, etc.?

    The DDA is sprinting to Total Demand Management (TDM); TDM needs information; 20% of parking revenue comes from meters; and the old machines are dumb. It seems as though you’re the Poppy. (It feels good to be back.)

    Is $2.3m a lot? Yes, but if they last 10 years, that’s $125/month. DDA says it earned $255k on 1,715 spots in November, so that’s $150/month…ok, rates will have to go up, but hopefully, just on the most popular spots.

  10. When will City Hall and local politicians realize that this is the midwest?

    We prefer function over form. We want things that are well built and last a long time. We prefer “make do”, to the latest and greatest.

    We didn’t need a big new City Hall or a new parking structure.

    We don’t like fancy. The old meters worked fine.

    We don’t want a fancy fountain. We did just fine without one for a long time.

  11. Here’s a link to a November 2009 piece from the Kansas City Star about how the city of Kansas City decided whether or not to buy 150 multi-space parking meters. Hint: they surveyed 200 users and analyzed the data. (http://www.kansascity.com/news/columnists/steve_penn/story/1574313.html)

    Here’s a great quote from the piece: “What the public has to say about the experiment will help determine which of the machines is selected.”

    When was the public consulted in Ann Arbor before the DDA invested public money in the multi-space parking meters?

  12. According to the DDA board packet, Digital Payment Technologies got the contract. Their website is:

  13. The $2.28 million had BETTER include installation — but even so, if the meters themselves cost $2,500 each (which seems extremely high) that still leaves over $12k to install each one. I wonder who is getting the contract for this?

  14. I really dislike these new meters. They are not user friendly and actually make a simple thing more complicated. I appreciate your concern about putting more of these in around town.

  15. Calmic, you devil you, I didn’t think to do the math and look on Froogle to see if the thing-a-ma-bobs were going for more or less than the amount per, you calculated. Then, a whole scad of questions popped into my head. Does the $2.28 million amount include installation? How about a service contract and technical support? Well, I’m just going to have to think about this a bit more….It’s people like you who keep me on my toes. Thanks!

  16. Are the parking thing-a-ma-bobs gold plated? If your numbers are right, than $2.28 million for 150 meters = $15,200 per meter. How many years of parking will it take to get a simple pay-back?

  17. Very, very funny…over 2 million to collect money to pay for an object itself…

  18. Delicious. Wicked. Leah Gunn has been calling the shots for local Dems for a good long while. Leigh Greden was her creature. The problem with the DDA Board, as you have pointed out before, is that it is stacked with those who are simply not as concerned with the health and vitality of the downtown businesses as they ought to be. Is the current DDA Board doing more harm than good? This is, indeed, fodder for a future discussion. As for the kiosks, I believe they result in leftover money going to the DDA/city. This is wrong. They should be set so that if one arrives at a spot with time left, it registers at the kiosk when payment is made. On the plus side, I believe adjustments to the hourly rates may be made with the kiosks and so off-peak parking times could be made to cost less.

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