Lanx Satura [sat-ahyuhr]: Ann Arbor’s Mayor Hieftje Talks About Crime Spree
John Hieftje sat down to an interview with AnnArbor.com’s “editorial board,” almost one year ago to talk about the city’s budget. The city’s CFO Tom Crawford tagged along, primarily to nod, as it is commonly known around City Hall that Crawford uses his fingers to count, and that certain staffers in the finance department do all the heavy lifting. Third Ward Council member Christopher Taylor also participated in the interview. Taylor, a member of the Burns Park Players, evidently thought it was a open call for actors. It wasn’t until after he’d finished a slightly modified rendition of the Elvis Presley classic “I Can’t Help Falling In Love With Me,” that the “editorial board” members asked Taylor to have a seat.
Taylor, an entertainment lawyer, is a self-proclaimed city finance expert. In an open letter to AnnArbor.com, Taylor explained to city residents that the city’s debt position was, actually, nothing to fret about—despite the fact that it had doubled.
It was later revealed that Taylor had understated the city’s total debt by $215,000,000 and that the debt had not doubled, but had quadrupled to close to half a billion dollars.
In the interview with AnnArbor.com, John Hieftje talked about cuts made to the city’s police and fire departments. Hieftje told AnnArbor.com that Ann Arbor residents had nothing to fret about with respect to cuts made to the fire department. He said: “We’re getting some pretty good opinions that our initial response times probably won’t be affected on the fire side.”
The “pretty good opinions,” it was later revealed by the AnnArborChronicle.com were coming from the executive directors of several local social service non-profits. AAChronicle revealed the executive directors, all of whom earn at least $80K per year, would give “pretty good opinions” on just about anything Hieftje told them to protect the money from the city to their organizations. AnnArborChronicle.com writer David Askins happened to be perched on a commode in the men’s washroom at City Hall and capitalized on an opportunity to “chronicle” a “closed-session meeting” between Hieftje and several unidentified executive directors about “pretty good opinions.”
Alas, a $54,000 December 2011 report on the city’s fire services done by consulting firm International City/County Management Association found that: “The department fails to meet national standards for response times,” and that there is “a significant fire problem within the city.”
In the April 2011 interview, Hieftje also told the “editorial board”: “We’ve been pretty comfortable in reducing police numbers,” he said, pointing out crime is going down and the University of Michigan now has 54 of its own officers. And we’re studying the fire side, looking very intently at it. So we’re pretty comfortable with what we’re doing.”
A2Politico decided to ask Hieftje to revisit his April 2011 comments in light of 82 break-ins in the first 49 days of 2012, a string of unsolved serial rapes and the sudden resignation of Police Chief Barnett Jones. Hieftje spoke to A2Politico by phone from his vacation home in Northern Michigan where he lives smugly off the grid.
A2P: Let’s begin by talking about crime in Ann Arbor. Chief Jones told 150 city residents in a recent meeting that there have been 82 break-ins and home invasions in the first 48 days of 2012, up from 49 break-ins and home invasions over the past two years. Under your administration the city has reduced the number of police officers from 241 to 121. Do you think there might be a connection?
Hieftje: No connection. Not at all. 82 break-ins? Not at my house. You know, Downtown Development Authority (DDA) Board member Joan Lowenstein said it best in that essay she wrote. That crime stuff is just all the old, Republican, conservative naysayers in Ann Arbor talking. It’s Newcombe Clark all over again. [In 2010 at a candidate debate, it was reported that Hieftje angrily told Downtown Development Authority Board member Newcombe Clark, who was running for City Council, "You're trying to scare people." Hieftje played down Clark's comments on recent robberies and concerns about other crimes as "political rhetoric."]
A2P: Chief Barnett Jones also recently talked about the serial rapist who hasn’t been caught. He said: “We’re still living this case. We’re still living this case because this is someone who brought fear to our community, more fear to our community than I experienced in this community in the last six years.” Again, might there be a connection between cuts made to police staffing and the ability of the AAPD to check out the hundreds of tips called in and investigate the rapes?
Hieftje: No connection. Not at all. Serial rapes? Not at my house. Listen, I’ve consulted with Chief Barnott Jaynes very closely on these serial rapes. Let’s talk fear. Council member Jane Lumm scares me to death. Not that I think Jane has anything to do with crime in Ann Arbor. I hope not. Single-stream recycling. Listen, Ann Arbor is America’s best cities for singles. I don’t have all the facts and figures, but some of those singles need to walk around in groups after dark.
A2P: The Fifth Avenue underground parking garage….
Hieftje: Let me say that I never supported that project, never voted for it, never thought building another underground parking garage was the right thing for Ann Arbor….Wait is this Ryan Stanton from AnnArbor.com? It’s not, is it? Let me circle back and rephrase my last comments. I may have, ahem, indeed voted in support of that project under duress. I was being pressured by certain people in the community and on Council. Have you seen [First Ward Council member and DDA Board member] Sandi Smith when she gets ticked off? She’s almost as scary as Jane Lumm. However, I came to see that we had no other choice but to spend that $50 million we didn’t have on a garage we didn’t need. Otherwise, the Circuit Court judges would have had nowhere to go. Wait. That’s why we built the new city hall we couldn’t afford and didn’t need. Bike paths.
A2P: What I was going to ask is that with the rise in crime and with a serial rapist on the loose do you think it might discourage women from using the new underground garage when it opens?
Hieftje: Oh. No, women have nothing to worry about. Again, Chief Joiynes and I consult regularly on the fact that the increase in rapes, assaults, break-in and home invasions in Ann Arbor is nothing for anyone to worry about. Newcombe Clark and the old, conservative Republican naysayers who live here now are really just trying to scare people.
A2P: Residents often complain about having to wait for hours for officers to show up to crime scenes and car wrecks. The head of the patrol officers’ union said in July 2011: “Ten years ago, we used to catch people. Now we just don’t even have the staffing to set up a perimeter or bring in a K-9 unit — we’re so reactive now.” Shouldn’t residents in the city expect pro-active and as opposed to reactive policing? The cops are saying they don’t have enough officers to catch the bad guys and investigate the crimes.
Hieftje: I think one accident is too many, but as we look at all of the statistical evidence, accidents continues to go down in the city. Of course, there’s going to be peaks and valleys, and periods where things seem to be picking up a little bit. But when you sit down at year’s end, I think we’re going to arrive at another year where we see accidents down in the city. [A2P can't make this stuff up. This is a quote from Hizzoner.]
A2P: Chief Barnett Jones is retiring after six years. Fire Chief Dominick Lanza quit rather than makes cuts to the fire staffing he deemed too deep. This might lead one to conclude that the professionals see cuts made to safety department staffs not only unwise but downright dangerous. Lanza has said as much in comments from beyond he has posted to AnnArbor.com.
Hieftje: Over the past years, I’ve become extremely close to Burnett Jaynes. He has worked very hard keeping a straight face while telling the public that these cuts have had no impact on public safety. I told him he should try out with the Burns Park Players. He sings and dances around the truth better than Chris Taylor. All I can say is that with his $20,000 pension, along with the other ones he has from his previous jobs, I think he’ll be quite comfortable in his next position. I’m proud Ann Arbor taxpayers were able to help him out with that five-year-pension-vesting program.
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