“Dark Side” Beckons & Local Pol Answers The Call
Ward 1 City Council member Sabra Briere recently voted to kill a resolution intended to protect parkland from de facto sale through leasing—a strategy being used by John Hieftje and his Council pals to try to “repurpose” a several acre parcel of fragile river-front parkland on Fuller Road. First, Hieftje wanted to lease the land to the University of Michigan for a parking tower. That deal fell through (and, interestingly, Hieftje fell off the list of part-time faculty employed by U of M, though his wife remains a U of M temp at the School of Music). Now, Hieftje wants to use the Fuller Road parkland for a new train station. The move has miffed the local chapter of the Sierra Club. Club leaders have condemned the attempts to crib parkland without a public vote—as called for in the city’s Charter. The effort to “repurpose” parkland became a rallying cry for several candidates who ran for City Council in both 2011 and 2012, three of whom were successful in their bids, including Sally Hart Petersen, who ran against incumbent Tony Derezinski and Jane Lumm, who crushed incumbent Stephen Rapundalo. Both Rapunds and Tony D. had repeatedly voted in support of “repurposing” parkland.
Another incumbent who supported the parks-for-parking scheme is Ward 4 Council member Margie Teall. Her seat hangs in the balance on a 18 vote margin which will be decided at a September 4th recount.
Briere’s (pictured left) July 2012 vote against parkland protection, against giving voters the right to decide whether to include leasing as a part of the Charter protection that requires a public vote, might not seem strange unless you know that a few days before she voted to torpedo the parkland protection proposal, she asked to co-sponsor it. Why would Briere torpedo an effort to protect parks in a city where such behavior can cost a politico votes, friends and funding? More puzzling still, why would Sabra Briere vote against a proposed resolution which, just a week earlier, she had sought to co-sponsor?
It’s a story filled with small town political ambition and lots of not-so-Machiavellian plotting.
I live in Ward 1, near Bandemer Park and the Huron River—the Gelman/Pall 1,4 dioxane plume has contaminated the ground water within 3,000 feet from our house just on the other side of the river. Thanks to the spread of the plume, thousands of houses in Ann Arbor are now sitting atop brownfields, and the plume is heading toward our city’s largest drinking water source at Barton Pond. Incumbent City Council member Ron Suarez pulled out of the 2008 race after the deadline for removing his name from the ballot, infuriating many local Dems. The reasons for his withdrawl from the race were no surprise: he was being “Groomed” by the Hive Mind Collective. “Groomed,” as A2P readers may remember refers to a term coined by former Ward 3 City Council member Leigh Greden to describe the systematic exclusion and bullying of Council members who refuse to be assimilated. It is a term named for former Ward 1 City Council member Kim Groome, who, like Suarez, routinely infuriated Hieftje and the Hive Mind by refusing to vote in lock-step. Kim Groome left her Council seat (and Ann Arbor, along with her family) mid-term, without so much as a public fare-thee-well you SOBs.
Ward 5 resident, and former long-time Washtenaw County Commish Vivienne Armentrout, who recently ran for City Council a second time, described “Grooming” thusly in a 2009 blog entry:
Since the local Democratic party was mostly organized to support Democrats against Republicans in the general election, this put a monopoly in power, and they were able to enjoy several years unchallenged except by token and easily vanquished Republicans. Once in place, a Democratic incumbent was seldom challenged, and usually there was no contest even in a first election. This was made even smoother by a practice of appointing chosen candidates to fill vacated seats, so that there was an instant incumbent.
But a few wavelets began to appear in this smooth sea. The chosen candidates of the ruling coalition began to encounter challenges. In the troublesome First Ward in particular, first Kim Groome (2002) and then Ron Suarez (2006) were elected. They weren’t with the program (which I will characterize loosely as pro-development without arguing all the points). As a result, they were treated badly. Although I’ve never heard this directly from her, it is thought in some circles that Kim Groome was driven out of town by nastiness.
How does a group control unruly members? By the classic methods: shunning, nasty comments, and body language. In the case of an elected body, this is called “marginalization.” When the target speaks, everyone’s attention is elsewhere. Nasty comments are applied directly or to others. Smirks behind not-too-well held hands. Meetings are held without the target’s being informed. Appointments are made only to unconsequential committees. Emails and other messages are either not returned or are given short or nasty twists. Note the references to pandering (actually paying attention to one group or another) and the “Golden Vomit Award” given to Sabra Briere (I’m sure that whatever comments she was making at the time were considered and well-spoken). If this were a gang of chimpanzees, similar methods would be used, perhaps using more fruit and fewer electronics.
To most people who survived Junior High/Middle School, the “marginalization” Armentrout describes will sound familiar. Armentrout, it is rumored, left the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners after she was “marginalized” by her fellow Ann Arbor County Commissioners Leah Gunn and Barbara Levin Bergman—both of whom are retiring from the BOC after their current terms are up. Former Pittsfield County Commissioner Kristin Judge made no secret of being bullied and “marginalized” by Levin Bergman and Gunn, often via email. Like Groome, Judge left before completing her term.
Short of leaving office, as did Groome, Suarez and Judge, there is another way to deal with “marginalization” and that is to capitulate. In Vichy-controlled France during WW II such people were called “collaborators.” Women who collaborated had their heads shaved after the Vichy regime fell, so as to be easily recognizable. It was a particularly effective means of punishment—think The Scarlet Letter. As Armentrout’s entry, above, indicates yet another Ward 1 Council member was treated to “marginalization.” Sabra Briere won her first Democratic primary with only 421 total votes. Hers was a stinging defeat to the Hive Mind, who had appointed a reliable pal in 2005 to finish out Groome’s term. Their candidate pulled just 309 votes in a 3-way race.
Briere and Suarez—who routinely voted in opposition to Borg Queen Hieftje and the Hive Mind—were treated to much of the marginalization described by Armentrout, above. Both Council members (along with Ward 5 Council member Mike Anglin) continually questioned the need for a $50 million dollar city hall. While Briere refused to openly support a 2008 attempt to gather enough signatures to put the question to the voters of whether city officials should borrow money for the city hall project, she supported a signature drive behind-the-scenes. Briere’s husband, attorney David Cahill, worked openly to organize the drive. Ask Voters First was just the kind of political uppiness that Hieftje and his Hive Mind Collective can’t tolerate. Ron Suarez and Mike Anglin openly endorsed the effort organized and funded by a group of citizen activists, including A2Politico’s recipient of its first annual citizen activism award, attorney and CPA Karen Sidney.
The 2012 City Council campaigns that touched on the need for greater transparency (Sumi Kailasapathy, Petersen and Jack Eaton) in city government are rooted in revelations that came to light three ears earlier. In 2009, shortly before the newspaper closed, it was revealed by the Ann Arbor News that City Council members endorsed (and in several cases recruited) by mayor John Hieftje were using email during open meetings to make fun of citizen speakers, their Council colleagues, to rig votes and script debates, among other things. The misuse of email during public meetings represented a staggering lack of leadership on Hieftje’s part, and triggered an Open Meetings violation lawsuit which the city was forced to settle. More than that, it was clear that the city’s elected officials had repeatedly misled the public about plans for major development projects, including their desire to sell parkland, and build promptly atop the Fifth Avenue underground parking garage after its completion. Many of the same citizens who had supported Ask Voters First then pushed for the release of several years worth of emails sent during Council meetings. Sabra Briere and Mike Anglin were asked to co-sponsor a resolution to require city officials release Council’s emails.
Anglin brought forward the resolution (which failed) to release the emails to the public. Briere refused; keeping her seat on City Council had became more important than transparency in government. In 2009, when she ran for re-election, she called herself ”a neighborhood activist.” She said in a video interview, “My job is to make certain to listen what they’re (her constituents are) telling me….It’s really easy to represent my own views. That’s not my job.”
Watch the AnnArbor.com 2009 election season video interview with Briere below:
According to 2007 campaign finance forms filed with the Washtenaw County Clerk’s office, Briere raised a little over $3,900 from donors, the majority of whom resided in Ward 1. In 2009, Briere committed a campaign finance violation by taking $1,000 from local developer Dennis Dahlmann (She also took $300 from Dahlmann’s attorney, not a violation, but perhaps a not-so-subtle attempt to circumvent campaign finance rules). She also took a $150 donation from Charles Gelman, whose company (prior to its sale) was responsible for the contamination of the groundwater in and around Ann Arbor with 1,4 dioxane. In the video, above, Briere trades on the need to “clean-up” the river, but in five years representing Ward 1 has not crafted any resolutions regarding the 1,4 dioxane contamination or the lackluster clean-up efforts that have frustrated city residents.
By 2011, Briere was playing the game, albeit rather ham-handedly. She took a donation from state representative candidate Adam Zemke and then subsequently endorsed Zemke’s candidacy. In 2011, she took $500 from Dennis Dahlmann, the legal maximum donation. In September 2011, Council members voted a 10-0 vote to appoint four members, including Council Member Sabra Briere, to the city’s new Ann Arbor Medical Marijuana Advisory Board board. One month later, Briere took a $500 campaign donation from Mark Passerini, a University of Michigan graduate and co-founder of the OM of Medicine (medical marijuana) dispensary on Main Street. Passerini’s was one of the largest legal donations she received in 2011. Meanwhile, at an October 2011 fundraiser, Briere took in just $50 at an event attended by 20 people—a fundraiser that cost $264 to put on.
By 2011, Briere’s refusal to second his resolutions in favor of government transparency, in favor of reconsidering the use of parkland for parking, and the need to spend $1.2 million to run a sewer line to the middle of an empty field on Fuller Road, along with other run-ins, poisoned her relationship with popular Ward 5 Council member Mike Anglin. As a result, campaign finance forms show that donations from Ward 5 residents, those who’d supported her in 2007 and 2009, including numerous Ward 5 neighborhood neighborhood activists, dried up. In fact, without the donations from Dahlmann and Passerini, Briere would have raised $500 less in 2011—after years on City Council—than she had in 2007, the first year she ran. By 2011, Sabra Briere had told others that she wanted to run for mayor. In February 2012, she had told the local news blog. Another politico who boasted about running for mayor was former Ward 2 Council member Tony Derezinski, whose constituents booted him out of office six months afterwards in favor of “a fresh voice.”
It’s 2012 and Sabra Briere is now sucking up to Hieftje like a calf to the teet. Here’s what she told AnnArbor.com about Hieftje in February 2012: ”John raised the visibility — he increased people’s awareness — of this role. John has a national awareness and people on the national scene are aware of him. He’s gone to the national conference of mayors. He’s worked with people in Washington. Those are not necessarily things that previous mayors did and that’s an important aspect. It’s not the ceremonial position it was when Ingrid Sheldon or Ed Pierce were mayor.”
Sheldon’s supporters roll their eyes at Briere’s efforts to puff up Hieftje’s thin educational and mayoral record at the expense of his predecessors. A Sheldon supporter pointed out that, “While mayor, Ingrid served on the board of the Michigan Association of Mayors. She was president of the Michigan Municipal League.” Mayor Ed Pierce was a doctor who served as a state senator prior to his run for mayor. In Lansing, Pierce was the chair of the Health and Social Services Committee.
Briere’s votes in favor of using parking for parking, against the resolution to protect parkland from leasing, against using surplus funds to hire more police and firefighters, in favor tax increases, in favor of layoffs for firefighters, among others, have put her in Hieftje’s good graces, but at odds with Ward 1 constituents and those same political activists who supported Ask Voters First. This group of city-wide activists worked on the campaigns of 2010, 2011 and 2012 candidates who’ve succeeded in taking down four of Hieftje’s Council supporters. The losses began with the take-down of former Ward 3 Council member Leigh Greden. The losses accelerated with the heave-ho of Ward 1 Council member Sandi Smith, Stephen Rapundalo and Tony Derezinski. Hieftje no longer has a majority, endangering development and transit projects on which he has longed to fritter away as much as, perhaps, a billion in local tax dollars.
Sabra Briere, hauled some heavy water on July 9, 2012 when she signed on to co-sponsor Anglin and Lumm’s parkland protection resolution and then killing it one week later. The truth is that Sabra Briere has been hauling heavy water for Hieftje for some time, voting against Anglin, Lumm and Ward 3 Council member Stephen Kunselman, refusing to second their resolutions. The difference this time, however, is that in response to constituent questions and criticisms about the parkland protection vote Briere lied.
This is what she wrote to Ward 1 constituents on August 3, 2012:
The second resolution is to place a charter amendment on the ballot that would require voter approval prior to the City entering into any long-term (over 5 years) lease of park land for any purpose that isn’t park — or recreation — related. This item was on the agenda at the Council’s last meeting (July 16) and was postponed – and I moved to postpone it. When I offered to co-sponsor the resolution, it said one thing; when it was amended, it said something different. I didn’t really notice how different it was until the afternoon of July 16th.
In this video (City of Ann Arbor – Video (powered by LEIGHTRONIX) from the July 16th City Council meeting, Jane Lumm tells Council members: “This resolution is co-sponsored by Council members Anglin and Briere….You all received a copy of the resolution a week ago (July 9th). It is unchanged from that version.” According to city officials, Briere contacted them on July 9th and asked to co-sponsor the resolution along with Anglin and Lumm.
Briere’s claim to constituents that “when I offered to co-sponsor the resolution, it said one thing; when it was amended, it said something different. I didn’t really notice how different it was until the afternoon of July 16th” is an attempt to deliberately mislead not only Ward 1 voters, but people across the city to whom she sends out her e-newsletter. She seems to want to make it appear as though Lumm and Anglin’s resolution was flawed by changes that had been made to it between the day she offered to co-sponsor and the July 16th Council meeting in which she opened discussion on the resolution by torpedoing it. Along with the city’s attorney, Lumm had worked with a number of parks activists on crafting the proposed Charter amendment, including politically-powerful Gwen Nysteun (a former member of the city’s Parks Advisory Commission) and members of the local chapter of the Sierra Club.
Council member Briere did not reply to multiple email messages asking her to point out the differences she alleges in the her August 3, 2012 e-newsletter existed between the resolution sent to Council members by Lumm one week prior to the July 16th meeting and the resolution presented at the July 16th meeting. Software used to track receipt of email messages indicated that the messages had been delivered to Briere’s email account and opened.
Briere’s current term ends in 2013. It remains to be seen if she will join anti-parks, anti-environment politicos Greden, Rapundalo, Smith and Derezinski in the political landfill. Thanks to her shabby treatment of Lumm, Briere is earning herself a bad name in monied Ward 2. Trash-talking dead Democrat Ed Pierce, and trying to make Republican Ingrid Sheldon look like Forrest Gump in AnnArbor.com is unwise, to say the least. After all, it was Ingrid Sheldon who, 10 months after Briere called her a “ceremonial” figurehead of a politico, went on to help Independent Jane Lumm raise $24,000 which Lumm put to good use in crushing long-time incumbent Stephen Rapundalo.
This isn’t the first time Sabra Briere has mislead her constituents with her e-newsletter. She’s done it before. It is, however, one of her most brazen efforts to cover her political tracks. Anglin and Lumm both took on Hieftje and his Council drones in 2012 by donating to and supporting candidates opposing Hieftje picks in Wards 1, 2, 4 and 5. Lumm and Anglin’s willingness to openly confront Hieftje politically, coupled with their willingness to collaborate closely with members of the community on issues such as the environment, development, preservation, transportation and finance only adds to their collective power and popularity. Should Anglin and Lumm openly line up against Sabra Briere in 2013, and work to land money and support for a candidate opposing her, Briere would face a very steep uphill re-election battle. Her ability to rustle up support and fundraise is being hampered by her own voting record. In addition, over the past three election cycles Hieftje and his Hive Mind drones have never endorsed or donated to her campaigns.
Ronald E. Riggio, Ph.D. is a psychologist who has studied deception. He says, ”I’m more interested in the hows and whys of lies told by political leaders.” So why do elected officials lie? It’s pretty simple, explains Dr. Riggio, “So, leaders (and con artists) learn that they can lie and often get away with it.” Riggio goes to suggest a relatively simple solution. “Question authority! Become informed. Check the facts. Don’t simply believe what a leader says because he or she is in a position of authority and power. It is a good follower’s job to be a reality check on the leader.”
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