Interview: Sally Hart Petersen— “A Real Democrat Is Running In Ward 2!”
by P.D. Lesko
Second Ward City Council member Tony Derezinski has get-togethers for Ward 2 constituents in the know at bars, and in March had a Ward 2 meeting at his home where, again, those in the know showed up and got to rub elbows with AATA Board member Jessie Bernstein. Derezinski marches in the city’s 4th of July parade every year, unlike his Council colleagues who participate only when running for office.
Derezinski (pictured, left) served in the Michigan Legislature when Gerald Ford was in the White House. His attendance record on City Council is abysmal, according to information available on the city’s web site. He has spent his time on Council voting in lock-step with the Hieftje Hive Mind Collective—all of whom are charter members of the Ann Arbor Council Dems for ALEC Club. Along with Ward Five Democratic candidate Chuck Warpehoski, Derezinski is a player in the effort to “re-imagine” Washtenaw Avenue using the oldest Republican game plan in the book: the public-private partnership. Derezinski supports using public tax dollars to fund development done by private developers—who then realize all of the profits. If there are losses, the public is on the hook.
ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, loves the public-private partnership model, the use of which Derezinski recently identified to the Press as his “major accomplishment.” Progressive political organizations, however, don’t have a lot of love for ALEC, the businesses and politicos who are members of ALEC. Think Progress describes ALEC is a secretive collaboration between conservative politicians and big business. The Center for Media and Democracy has won awards for exposing the cozy relationships between big business, developers and state governments that Reimagining Washtenaw hopes to rely upon, and local Democratic politicos throughout Washtenaw County are trying to sell to the public.
Sally Hart Petersen’s campaign web site has a catch phrase: “A Fresh Voice for Ann Arbor.” She was described by one Ward 2 resident as a “real” Democrat. Why? One reason could be because when Derezinski was collecting campaign funds for his Council run, Washtenaw County campaign finance reports reveal that he accepted large donations from the Chair of the Michigan Republican Party and the man’s wife.
There are crystal clear political differences between Petersen and Derezinski, many of the same differences that surfaced in the race between Second Ward Council member Jane Lumm and her opponent, long-time incumbent Stephen Rapundalo, whom Lumm trounced in November 2011.
For example, on his campaign web site, a sparsely populated and sporadically updated blog, Derezinski, like Fourth Ward Council incumbent Margie Teall, is suddenly not-so-public about supporting the city’s controversial Percent for Art program. The two have been strong supporters, going so far as to vote this past May 2012 to take money from the water, sewer and road repair millage funds to use on art installations. Petersen told AnnArbor.com: “She believes the city’s Percent for Art Program is well intended, but she’s concerned about the process by which art projects are chosen and what she perceives to be a lack of public involvement.” Derezinski has also been a vocal supporter of using acres of river-front parkland as a construction site for a parking garage for the University of Michigan (where he is employed as a part-time lecturer). Petersen does not. Rather than build a new train station for Amtrak, she would like to see the existing Amtrak station refurbished and expanded.
The differences between the candidates are clear. Derezinski is hauling around much of the same political baggage that did in former Second Ward Council member Stephen Rapundalo in November 2011, including his support for a city income tax.
Sally Hart Petersen answered A2Politico’s questions via email.
A2Politico: Why now? Why run for City Council at this moment in time?
Sally Petersen: Running for City Council is something I have thought about for quite some time. But it was about a year ago on a long marathon training run, the switch finally flipped. Maybe I was just dehydrated at the time =), but I found myself debating city issues in my head on these long runs and the belief grew in me that I could contribute something unique to the City Council table. I am a Democrat with an MBA; a combination not currently represented on Council. I expect that my experience in business and non-profit leadership will prepare me well to tackle the City’s challenges with a focus on bottom-line fiscal sustainability and transparency. And the timing now is right for me. I will have two children at Huron in September, so necessarily my tenure as Tappan PTSO President is ending. I am deliberately creating room on my plate ( I recently resigned from the Racquet Club of Ann Arbor Board) in order to take on the work of the campaign, and ideally one day soon, City Council.
A2Politico: Councilmember Derezinski is solidly behind the public-private partnership model to reshape the Washtenaw Avenue corridor? Do you support public-private partnerships in development, such as this one?
Sally Petersen: There seems to be a school of thought that public-private partnerships don’t work. Could this be because the two parties engaged don’t truly appreciate each other’s core competencies? I spent four years in Columbus, IN working for Cummins Engine Company, and have witnessed the numerous benefits to the community when a corporate partner steps up. Midland Michigan is another positive example of public-private collaboration. Regarding Washtenaw Avenue, I don’t think the City can develop the corridor without private sector investors. As with any large scale capital project, a strategic plan needs to be thoroughly vetted by both sides before commitments are made and work begins. The roles and expectations of the partnership need to be clearly understood. If the private investors (developers) are putting up the capital, the public sector needs to make sure the process runs smoothly, eliminating potential roadblocks and red tape along the way. The City of Ann Arbor needs to ensure it is easy for the private sector to do business with us.
A2Politico: Which downtown projects built during the last few years, exactly, can you identify as ones that would qualify as “over-development.”
Sally Petersen: Evidently, I need to clarify what I mean by “over-development.” I don’t think the downtown area is currently over-developed, but I fear there is a particular “over-zelousness” for development without a clear and consistent strategy within or between projects. It appears that the lack of a plan for a structure on the liberty lot, and the fact that the University pulled out of the Fuller Road Transit Center project is a result of not having a strategic, actionable pan that is fully agreed upon with the City’s partners in these projects. We seem to have gone too far down the road before we realized that the original projects, as intended, weren’t economically sustainable.
Development is good, but I envision a more balanced approach to development downtown that makes best use of the vacant spaces by combining a mix of green and commercial space. We are fortunate to have a University in our midst that spins off a new company every 4-5 weeks. Many of these companies provide commercial support to the University’s core mission of education, research and healthcare. The commercial real estate in downtown Ann Arbor provides fertile ground for the birth and growth for many of these companies which typically employ fewer than 100 people at the outset. We don’t need to build skyscrapers on every open lot in downtown Ann Arbor to attract companies, we need a balanced of medium-sized commercial space immersed in a downtown that is walkable, healthy and green.
A2Politico: The saying goes that it’s not possible to “cut one’s way to profitability.” Would you favor crafting and implementing a PILOT (payment in lieu of property taxes) program to collect revenues from the non-profits that do business in Ann Arbor to increase tax revenues?
Sally Petersen: I don’t think the University of Michigan would ever go for a PILOT program. I recently met with Jim Kosteva, Director of Community Relations at the University of Michigan and he identified for me the key interests of the University: Education, Research, and Healthcare. One of the reasons it is difficult for the City to collaborate with the U is that there are few areas of mutual interest. Regular communications do occur at the functional level, between the AAPS and DPS, and between our respective transportation and constructions divisions. But I sense that the tone of these communications is typically reactive and defensive, with both parties protecting their turf, so to speak.
On the one hand, Ann Arbor needs to appreciate that the presence of the University of Michigan in our city creates goodwill among property owners. For example, during the boom years of 2001 to 2008, Ann Arbor property values increased generously by 42.9%, compared to other Michigan cities such as Farmington Hills (25.3%), Livonia (23%), and Kalamazoo (29.6%). During the bust years between 2008 and 2011, Ann Arbor seems protected with property values falling only 5.4% compared to Farmington Hills (25.5%), Livonia (19%) and Kalamazoo (6%). What’s more, the University added close to 9,000 jobs between 2001 an 2011.
But that’s not to say that the City should be at the University’s mercy in collaboration either. We need to recognize that our goals are not necessarily mutually exclusive either. If the City and University of Michigan worked together better, perhaps opportunities for GILOT (Goodwill in lieu of taxes) could be explored with some innovation and creativity. It is time for the University and the City to work together to create an intentional culture of collaboration and innovation. At the Mackinac Policy Conference, I spoke with EMU President Sue Martin and Washtenaw Community College President Rose Bellanca about Town Gown relationships. I learned that a culture of collaboration within Ypsilanti exists, and it begins with the Regents. This is an area I would like to continue to pursue with the University of Michigan.
A2Politico: There have been long-time complaints of ethical lapses on the part of City Council members in their campaign fundraising, appointments of friends and business associates to city boards and commissions, and voting on resolutions that impact their full-time employers. Would you support an ethics ordinance like the ones in San Diego and Chicago?
Sally Petersen: This is my first foray into city politics and I have not been privy to ethical lapses among City Council members. I think its fare for residents to demand transparency when such threats occur. It is my understanding that the mechansim to protect and promote transparency is though FOIA. Back in 1991, the first course I took at Harvard Business School was Business Ethics. I learned quickly that you cannot “teach” ethics and I don’t think you should try to legislate it either. Either one is an ethical being or not, and while there are always shades of grey, ethical people tend to rise to the top, are easy to identify, and should be easy to elect!
A2Politico: There is a political push afoot to hand the $10 million dollars in perpetual millage money paid by taxpayers to AATA to a county-wide transit authority. Do you use AATA regularly? Would you favor handing over our millage money to such an authority which may or may not use the same amount for transit within the city limits?
Sally Petersen: I do not use the AATA and I don’t think I am the intended customer. As a stay-at-home (but never actually “at home” for very long), I put about 200 miles on my car per week within or just outside the city. I don’t think any transit system other than my own auto could support my needs. That said, who are the intended and projected customers for a regional transit system? I am not an expert on transit systems, but through my discussions with Ward 2 residents I have learned that the current hub and spoke model of transportation may not be feasible if the City hopes to expand coverage. In general, I am in favor of enabling more people to come to work, live and play in Ann Arbor. But, we need to better understand who our customer is, and what the most efficient transportation model is to get them here first.
A2Politico: Council member Derezinski supports the new pedestrian ordinance that requires motorists to stop and allow pedestrians entering a crosswalk to cross the street. A law that has resulted in much confusion on the part of drivers and multiple accidents on major roads. Do you support the new ordinance?
Sally Petersen: State law requires motorists to stop for pedestrians as they enter a crosswalk. What the city tried to do was to broaden the defintion of “approaching a crosswalk”, and yes, this was confusing until they repealed that portion of the ordinance. Pedestrian Safety is a key component of my message. Whether it is state law or a city ordinance, requiring motorists to stop is not easily enforceable, and does not protect pedestrians or drivers. I think we need to just use commone sense, regardless of who has the right of way. In Williamstown, MA, albeit a much smaller College town, the city has painted “Stop, Look, and Wave” at major road crosswalks. This cautions the pedestrian from entering the crosswalk until they’ve made eye contact with the driver. You can see a picture of such a cross walk on my website: wwwa2sally.com. Essentially, this simple signage places the responsibility for safety on both the pedestrian and the motorist, regardless of right of way.
A2Politico: Ann Arbor is exempted from the city’s own living wage ordinance and currently employs hundreds of temp workers who earn low wages and no benefits. These temps (often the same people) are hired year-after-year to save the city money. The majority of the city’s low-paid temps are women. Do see you this as an acceptable strategy used to makes ends meet?
Sally Petersen: I need to know more before I comment. What percentage of these low wage temps are college students? What kind of the jobs are the temp workers doing? Are any of these seasonal jobs?
A2Politico: Would you vote in favor of a budget that further reduced the city’s police and /or fire staffing levels? What are your thoughts on public safety funding and staffing?
Sally Petersen: I don’t think we need to reduce the public safety staffing levels because the levels of overtime indicate we are still understaffed. But I am not sure we need to increase to the level the national standard dictates either. What is the optimal number of staffing for a city such as Ann Arbor where the incidence of violent crime and fire may also be below the national standard? The maximum number identified by the national standard ma be different from the optimal number for Ann Arbor. Answering this question for our constituents would be a priority for me if elected to City Council.
A2Politico: At the moment, there is an ideological/political split on City Council between John Hieftje and those whom he supports politically, and those Council members whom he does not support politically. Council member Derezinski is solidly on the side of Hieftje and his allies. Where will you fit in, politically/ideologically, do you think?
Sally Petersen: I am a Democrat, like the majority on City Council, but my ideology of fiscal sustainability may feel a bit more conservative than the majority. My goal is to represent a “fresh voice” on City Council, and a fresh perspective and agenda that resonates with Ward 2 residents. As I answered in Q1: I bring experience and education not currently represented on City Council. I expect my role on City Council will create a “new normal” that is characterized by a greater diversity of perspective as we resolve the City’s challenges.
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