Library Tax Proposal Goes Down In Flames—And the Political Firmament Trembles

by P.D. Lesko

On November 6, 2012 the firmament trembled in Ann Arbor—the political landscape opened up and swallowed local politicos and their monied donors whole, casting the owner of Main Street Ventures, members of the Downtown Development Authority Board of Directors, and local political bigwigs down to Dante’s 4th Ring of Hell, where the avaricious suffer their punishment, as they roll weights back and forth against one another. They share eternal damnation with others who lived greedily and insatiably. The proposal to float a $65 million dollar bond to raze and rebuild the downtown library was defeated by a vote of 41,359 to 33,604.

The local political Hive Mind Collective, along with the monied drones who make the (modest four-figure) donations to fund the politicos’ ALEC-inspired public-private partnership schemes, took a brutal beating at the polls in Ann Arbor on November 6th. The Our New Library PAC pulled in almost $71,000 as of October 26, 2012. A2Politico is willing to bet the farm that when next we read campaign finance disclosure forms from the group they will have amassed and spent over $100,000 on an effort to milk taxpayers out of $100-$130 million dollars for a library without a plan. The Our New Library PAC, formed in July 2012 to support a $65 million dollar bond proposal to raze and rebuild Ann Arbor’s downtown library, was funded with a potentially problematic (to the IRS) $25,000 from the Friends of the Ann Arbor Library, as well as $5,000 from Main Street Ventures doyenne Ellie Serras, $5,000 from narrowly re-elected AADL Trustee Prue Rosenthal, $5,000 from the AADL’s legal firm Dykema Gossett (which stood to benefit from the project in the form of legal work necessary to complete the proposed project), and even $5,000 from Zingerman’s Bakehouse. This was one of the more interesting donations, and one that offered up a fun game of connect-the-political-dots. Follow closely. In October 2010, Zingerman’s owners raked in $1.1 in publicly-funded brownfield tax credits from the Michigan Economic Development Authority to subsidize their expansion.

In July 2010, the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority $407,000 in support of Zingerman’s brownfield development plan, which would reimburse Zingerman’s $817,265 through the money generated from the tax-increment increase on the expanded deli’s higher property taxes. The brownfield money funded by taxpayers helped Zing’s recapture costs associated with the demolition, underground water retention and improvements to the existing facilities. Taxpayers also footed the bill for Zingerman’s $100,000 tab for LEED certification—which is purchased, not magically bestowed by the U.S. Green Building Council, as local politicos prefer to have taxpayers believe. The AADL project raked in thousands more from local developer Peter Allen, $2,500 from Edward Surovell Realtors, $1,000 from the library’s own Executive Director Josie Parker.

However, it is the PAC’s July 2012 Quarterly Statement, filed shortly after the Our New Library PAC was formed that tells the real story of who was behind the brilliant idea to tear down a perfectly good building, the majority of which was updated in 1991 with taxpayer funds, and provide the community with a 400-seat auditorium, and video production lab, a catering kitchen, and a cafe, among other “possibilities” listed on the Our New Library’s website, as well as the AADL’s own website. Never mind that the AADL’s own 2012 survey revealed the majority of patrons borrow books, DVDs and CDs and that visits to the downtown library remained static—600,000 per year—between 2008 and 2012. In July 2012, the Our New Library PAC was funded with a modest $7,500 donated by DDA Board member Leah Gunn, Maria Serras, and former Washtenaw County Drain Commish Janis Bobrin. Gunn, or so, a Board member from the Friends of the Ann Arbor Library explained, pushed the nonprofit’s Board to cough up $25,000 for the Our New Library PAC. It’s a donation equal to 16 percent of the group’s 2011 revenues, according to 990 tax forms filed with the IRS—an amount critics claim skirts awfully close to violating IRS rules governing what a non-profit may spent in support of a ballot proposal. The $25,000 donation was made without consulting the group’s membership, and without the benefit of a public hearing. It infuriated some local donors to the group, and it remains to be seen if the Friends of the Ann Arbor Library will see a backlash.

While the large donors are interesting, donors who contributed smaller amounts to the PAC contribute to the story of the continued political slide of the Hive Mind Collective. These are the political appointees, and political hangers-on—locals who can be counted on for $50-$100 donations to Borg Queen John Hieftje, as well as to the campaigns of the drones he supports for election to City Council, drones whose candidacies have been, for the most part, unsuccessful—beginning with the 2009 defeat of Ward 3 Council member Leigh Greden. Since his embarrassing defeat as a result of his own unprofessional conduct and misuse of Council email, that resulted in an Open Meetings Act lawsuit that taxpayers were forced to settle, Greden has been careful about keeping political contributions to his friends hidden. However, the Our New Library PAC scored a $100 donation from the former Council member who was caught crowing to colleagues via email during an open meeting that all he cared about was “money and buildings.” Trevor Staples, a Ward 5 drone on whom Hieftje has relied to vocally support challengers to Council incumbent Mike Anglin (with whom Hieftje has a strained relationship), donated to the PAC.

Joan Lowenstein, a former Ward 2 City Council member and current DDA Board member donated $100 to the Our New Library PAC. Lowenstein, in response to the ouster of former Council colleagues Stephen Rapundalo in 2011, published an essay in The Ann in which she called Ann Arbor voters “old, stingy, xenophobic and Republican.” In April of 2010 when JoLo spoke in support of a development project, she stepped forward to urge City Council members not to give in to the 5th Ward “sulkers.” In 2011, she endorsed Ward 5 City Council challenger Neil Elyakin against incumbent Mike Anglin. Elyakin, evidently, had no clue that the “sulkers” in his Ward might not take kindly to being insulted by his political supporter.

Ray Detter and Eunice Burns each donated $25 to the PAC. Detter is up to his neck in local politics, as a Hieftje appointee to the Downtown Citizens Advisory Council. The group, not surprisingly, has rarely met a downtown development project it couldn’t support. Well, until a huge development project was proposed for the corner of Division and Huron, in Detter’s own backyard. Former Ward 1 Council member Eunice Burns was appointed by Hieftje to a seat on the innocuous-sounding Local Officers Compensation Commission. It was Burns, in 2003, who helped more than double John Hieftje’s salary from $18,800 to $40,000. In 2009, Burns voted to raise Hieftje’s salary again to $42,436. Laura Rubin heads the Huron River Watershed Council, and she donated $50 to help the AADL sell its millage proposal to taxpayers.

Jeremy Peters came through with a modest $25 donation in September 2012. However, taking a page out of Joan Lowenstein’s book, Peters took to the Web with an October 3, 2012 blog post for Concentrate Media’s online magazine—a company funded, in part, by the MEDC—that purported to objectively examine the “real cost” of political obstructionism. In his piece Peters writes, “It would behoove those in local government inclined to nitpick and place barricades in front of progress to realize the effect of their actions ” The November 6th vote was, then, was a barricade to Peters’ thesis statement and his head, tossed by the “nitpickers” who, he whined, “come to the table hell-bent on the goal of preventing a certain thing (be it a train station, an apartment complex, a structure, a park, or an improvement) from happening.” Peters ended his blog post with this: “I don’t pretend to think that each representative isn’t doing what they think is in the best interests of all of their constituents (not just the vocal ones) but another head check would serve us all, and our futures (and those of our children) well.” Warm, fuzzy, almost, well, Republican in its understated appeal to “family” and “family values.” Peters, single, has no children.

DDA staffer Susan Pollay came through with $100, as did DDA Board member John Splitt. Public-Private Partnership Sugar Daddy former Ward 2 Council member  Tony Derezinski, tossed out of office by his constituents in the August 2012 primary election, gave $100 to the Our New Library PAC, as well.

Together with the implosion of the multi-million dollar AATA county-wide transit debacle, and the ouster of Council members Leigh Greden in 2009, Stephen Rapundalo in 2011 and Tony Derezinski in 2012, the defeat of the AADL bond is yet another crippling blow to the battered local Demublican Cube and the drones who inhabit it. If you need more proof that the Hive Mind is rattled, A2Politico was told that long-time Ward 4 Council member Margie Teall, who escaped defeat at the hands of neighborhood activist Jack Eaton by only 18 votes in August 2012, has taken to attending neighborhood meetings. Alas, A2Politico was also told that her own constituents rarely recognize her or realize that their City Council member is in attendance.

So what does the defeat of the AADL bond proposal mean? It means that in August 2013 City Council members who have regularly voted with the Hive Mind in support of trains, new taxes, and against public services, parks, the environment and local transportation (Ward 1: Sabra Briere, Ward 4: Marcia Higgins) may well find themselves targeted by the same group of city-wide political activists who targeted Leigh Greden, Stephen Rapundalo and Tony Derezinski. For taxpayers this means more Council members committed to improving infrastructure, providing services, funding parks, improving local transit and protecting the environment, before funding corridor studies aimed at using local tax dollars to fund development and transportation schemes.

This is another huge win for determined neighborhood activists, people who care deeply about environmentalism, fiscal responsibility, education, and who are willing to put up their own money and weather the sloppy reporting of AnnArbor.com to inform voters about the issues. Ward 2 resident Kathy Griswold (left) spear-headed the effort to help Ann Arbor residents understand that there were viable options (renovation) to the AADL bond request. Griswold, who put up $7,000 of her own money charged to a credit card, along with a small group of volunteers, helped initiate and sustain a city-wide debate about whether the AADL Board and the AADL Executive Director were engaged in what can only be described as empire-building and “mission creep.” Does a public library provide reading materials or does a public library provide double shot espressos and iced lattes? It was a robust debate, and voters came down on the side of caution, despite a very slick six-figure marketing campaign disguised as a hipster grassroots movement in support of technology, LEED certification and more space for “the kids.”

Did the Friends of the Ann Arbor Library violate IRS rules in donating $25,000 to the Our New Library PAC? Did Josie Parker violate the AADL privacy policy and misuse the AADL resources and patron list to send out uniformly favorable “information” about the bond proposal? Did Our New Library PAC media company Elevated Works and owner Peter Baker engage in media manipulation by posting dozens and dozens of comments in favor of the AADL, its Board and the bond proposal to AnnArbor.com posts about the bond proposal before Baker was outed on October 26, 2012 when campaign finance forms revealed he and his company had been paid over $32,000 by the PAC for media work? It’s unclear if anyone will file complaints with the IRS or FTC against the Friends of the Ann Arbor Library and/or the AADL and Executive Director Josie Parker in response to alleged violations of federal law in the course of this campaign.

One thing is clear, local politicos, including the DDA and developers, the AADL Board and Josie Parker wanted to get this $65 million dollar bond passed, and they were stopped short by a determined woman willing to weather intense criticism aimed at her by the local media, the opposition, and their monied supporters. Library supporter Kathy Griswold came to the table hell-bent on the goal of educating voters. This is just the kind of story about neighborhood activism one imagines the Chicago neighborhood activist Americans re-elected to the White House yesterday would be delighted to hear. It’s a story worth re-telling.






Short URL: http://www.a2politico.com/?p=14636

15 Comments for “Library Tax Proposal Goes Down In Flames—And the Political Firmament Trembles”

  1. Jeremy Peters has just replaced Tony Derezinski on the City Council Agenda tonight as a mayoral nominee for appointment to the City of Ann Arbor Planning Commission.

    He has no qualifications for this position that I am aware of.

  2. I don’t see any way to get in the way of this train. Middle Kingdom sold for $1.3 million! Any developer is going to want to maximize his profit potential on that lot regardless of what civic-minded people would like.

    The LEAST we can do is insist on some design standards to keep from having skyscraper boxes built next to our still-beautiful downtown. Coming up with those standards is another matter. I assume the people who would be placed in charge of that are the same DDA crew?

    Having just read “The Architecture of Community” by Leon Krier has given me a sinking feeling that all the wrong forces will be brought to bear.

    Nice places can be made not nice easily. How do citizens go about enlisting some expert opinion.. like Krier?

    On an unrelated note: it is disconcerting that when I type into the reply box, the typing eventually heads off the page and I cannot see what I’m typing no matter what I do. Is this a feature or flaw?

  3. @timjbd it’s not clear whether the DDA is aware of the fact that, as a group, they are despised for being arrogant and out-of-touch. Part of the reason is evident in the Connecting William Street “plan.” Those are public parcels, and why they are not first being considered for CIVIC uses has been raised repeatedly by folks who pay attention to local politics. The DDA is an unelected board loaded with people who don’t give a rats bahookie about downtown merchants, but rather see real estate development and increasing their own pot of money to spend as the over-arching raison d’etre.

  4. This library proposal AND the Blake Transit Center Proposal both fall within the boundaries of the DDA’s “Connecting William Street master plan:


    Why were these two proposals pushed entirely separate from the Connecting William Street planning?
    Or is this how they plan on realizing the master plan? One-off, totally incongruous designs that have to be pumped or defeated one at a time?

  5. I’m unsettled by the implicit homophobia in this article. I know Mr. Peters and his wonderful girlfriend. I find it a bit odd that you refer to Mr. Peters as an openly gay man (which is factually inaccurate as he is straight) but you don’t refer to heterosexuals mentioned as “openly straight.” Are you trying to make sexual orientation an issue here? Sexual orientation should have no place in this article about a library.

    • @Andrew, Jeremy Peters talked about being gay and running for office at a political gathering with others present. If he has a girlfriend, I would point out that Rock Hudson had one, as well. If Peters is now bisexual, good for him. He has twice the opportunities to find just the right person. If he isn’t gay anymore he should feel free to email me directly, and I’ll revise this piece. He also intimated that he has children (he doesn’t) in an article he wrote for Concentrate. Perhaps he was just joking about being gay, or joking about having children.

      Homophobia is an irrational fear of homosexuals. I’m really not afraid of Jeremy or my partner. I am afraid of people who engage in sleazy political name-calling (as he did in Concentrate), and particularly those who do so without being absolutely honest about their connections and motives.

      Thanks for your comment.

  6. If only your research skills matched your vitriol: Jeremy Peters isn’t gay. Never was. Your hatred prevented you from being able to see those facts, though.

    • CGinSF: Don’t need research skills for that one. Peters said it himself, in public. I don’t hate him; I think he’s a clever political climber who tried to trash good people and didn’t imagine anyone would connect the dots between his various political activities. A2P did.

  7. While certainly a little fruity, Jeremy Peters isn’t gay – certainly not opely. I see you have a “fact check” bit up there… I vote “whopper of the week.”

    • @Tor, “Fruity?” Really? Really?!? That’s so gay. Please see the comment I posted below. Thanks for popping by and for nominating this piece for Whopper of the Week.

  8. @Larry you’re assuming Kathy will be open to being co-opted. I’m not at all sure she would be. Other than that, your comment is right on the (millage) money, as it were, I think.

    • These sorts of things SHOULD be very hard to push through. The need for it must be so compelling, that it stands on its own merit. A new library fell very far short of that.

  9. This outcome shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone. Millage increases with organized opposition (signs, ads, literature) almost never pass. It doesn’t particularly matter who the opponents are or what motivated them.

    Nor does it help the proposal (any tax proposal) if every community leader and authority figure supports it. I don’t think any recent local tax proposal has had as much
    widespread official support as the February 2005 jail millage, and that went down like a rock.

    The way to pass a millage, anywhere, even in Ann Arbor, is to neutralize or co-opt potential opposition.

    I expect Kathy Griswold is going to get a lot of invitations to lunch from city and county leaders in the next few years. She has become the millage gatekeeper.

  10. Just a reminder – Kathy Griswold borrowed $7,000 to finance the early efforts of the campaign against the library bond. Obviously a lot of voters agreed with her position. If you can afford to do so, please contribute to the Protect Our Libraries campaign:


    She helped save us more than $100 million.

  11. Great opening paragraph!

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