Still Pulling Strings: “Baby” Leigh Chairs Ypsi DDA and “Writes the Script” For AA Pols Via Email
by P.D. Lesko
“This job has been extremely rewarding but also extremely stressful,” he says. “I have no future political plans. I am looking forward to time off. I am looking forward to practicing law.”—Leigh Greden, September 2009, Ann Arbor Observer.
In June 2009, the Ann Arbor News reported that Ward 3 Council member Leigh Greden played on Facebook during City Council meetings because, as he emailed to his colleagues, having to sit through the annoying trappings of office was supremely boring. When asked by the Ann Arbor News reporter if he regretted his unprofessional conduct, Greden replied that he “refused” to apologize. Then, the Ann Arbor News ran a follow-up story on Greden’s emailing using materials released in Freedom of Information Act requests. Greden and his Council pals were caught rigging votes, including a vote about their own pay raise, and conducting the public’s business under the cloak of e-mails sent mid-meeting.
In an email to his colleagues about the June 2009 Ann Arbor News articles, Greden predicted the whoop-la would blow over. While others fretted via email about the “public relations disaster,” Greden’s email response indicated he was unconcerned.
It was sometime after the second article came out that the Ann Arbor News reported that Greden had apologized. The Ann Arbor News had also identified him as the ring leader in an email scandal that snared all of the members of Council except John Hieftje, Ward 5 Council member Mike Anglin and Ward 1 Council member Sabra Briere. The latter two were deliberately excluded from the email exchanges because they were being derided and mocked in many of those sent between Greden and his Council pals). Greden became politically toxic. Representative John D. Dingell, Jr. came under intense criticism from locals for endorsing Greden in 2009, and by the end of Greden’s campaign Dingell’s name had disappeared from Greden’s literature.
In her 2013 Council Ward 3 City Council campaign, Julie Grand “disappeared” Greden’s name from among the list of supporters on her campaign website.
For Leigh Greden, June 2009 was the beginning of the end of his tenure on City Council. However, it was not the end of his efforts to exert a Mitt Romney-like right-leaning, “money and buildings,” influence over local politicos and public policy—influence embraced by John Hieftje, whom Greden’s FOIAed emails indicate he bullied into not vetoing the $50 million dollar city hall project, and whom Greden mocked as a self-important ninny.
Evidence suggests Leigh Greden is still pulling the strings, advising members of the Hive Mind Collective, pushing and shaping public policies and, yes, still up to his neck in behind-the-scenes emails with his former Council colleagues about the people’s business. Emails provided to A2Politico indicate Greden and several current Council members are using private email addresses much the same way they used their city and work emails addresses when outed by the Ann Arbor News in 2009. In early 2013, A2Politico filed a Freedom of Information Act request for all emails between Leigh Greden’s email address at EMU and all of Ann Arbor’s City Council members. The FOIA was denied because there were no emails from Greden’d EMU address to any of our City Council members at their aa.gov addresses. In April and May 2013, emails and other evidence surfaced that Greden and some of the same Council members caught up in the 2009 scandal were using their private email addresses to regularly discuss public policy and Council resolutions among themselves.
In New Mexico the use of private email for public business sparked a FOIA battle. The Attorney General of the state threatened to fine officials who refused to turn over emails related to the public’s business sent through their private email addresses. Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, and Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal have all gotten in trouble for it. In Washington, DC, a lawsuit just pushed the city council to stop the practice. Last July, DC Mayor Vince Gray issued an order strongly discouraging the use of private email accounts, saying that if they must be used, copies of any messages sent should also be sent to their government accounts. Local officials have tried it in Texas and California as well.
Greden’s legacy of “poker politics” lives on in Ann Arbor, despite his ouster from public office and the best efforts of citizens to demand that elected officials start putting the cards on the table for all to see. The problem persists, in large part, because Leigh Greden is still “writing the script” from behind the scenes well out of the public view.
Like in DC, it will take a change in City Council rules to expressly forbid Council members from using their private emails to conduct the public’s business or in order to avoid FOIA and public scrutiny. Barring that it will take a lawsuit to force Ann Arbor City Council members to stop using personal email accounts for official purposes. Members of the city’s many boards and commissions, including the AATA Board members, Park Advisory Commission, the Environmental Commission, the DDA and the Planning Commission are not required to use aa.gov email accounts. All members presumably use private email for official purposes and avoid FOIA. A resolution of Council could rectify this very serious oversight.
Council members elected in 2011, 2012 and 2013 want to relax the city’s FOIA policy, begin to pay down what could be as high as $400 million dollars in unfunded employee pension and health care liabilities, restore lost services, require the City Attorney to publish his opinions, and rebuild our decimated emergency services. All of those challenges stem directly from Leigh Greden’s influence on City Council, his votes and his single-minded focus on “money and buildings,” public-private partnerships, development, and developer subsidies at the expense of the city’s infrastructure, parks, roads and balance sheet. While Greden led Council’s Budget and Labor Committee, records show the city’s pension liability increased by $300 million dollars. Records also show that at the same time city services were being cut city managers were being given annual lump sum pay increases, car allowances, six-figure salaries and stays at 5-star resorts at taxpayer expense.
You might title a book about Greden’s particular brand of politics “1 Percent Politics for Dummies.” The Dummies in this instance would be the 99 percenters footing the bill—paying ever more for services and getting ever less for their money.
A political insider from the Hieftje camp who, for obvious reasons asked not to be identified, described a telling scene in 2011, almost two years to the day after Greden been tossed out of office. The former Ward 3 City Council member sat in former Ward 2 Council member Stephen Rapundalo’s living room as the vote tallies came in. The insider said: “Greden was distraught.” Rapundalo, a reliable Hive Mind drone was trounced by Independent Jane Lumm, who captured over 60 percent of the vote and raised well over $20,000 for her campaign.
In 2012 Greden helped Teall narrowly survive a challenge by 2013 Council member-elect Jack Eaton. Greden was at Teall’s election night party, again, tallying the votes. The picture, left, taken by AnnArbor.com’s Ryan Stanton, shows Greden tallying returns on August 7, 2012. Teall is just outside the frame to the left.
The photo appears on Stanton’s blog. There, you can find photos of Greden at political events in 2010, 2011 and 2012, such as Teall’s party. Stanton doesn’t mention Greden’s presence at the events in the pieces posted to AnnArbor.com.
For instance, at the July 2012 Grand Opening of the Library Lot underground parking garage Greden, who pushed hard for the project prior to his ouster, was there. In the AnnArbor.com piece about the sparsely attended opening, Greden’s presence went unreported by Stanton. However, Greden was photographed (below, right) for Stanton’s blog post about the Grand Opening event.
Greden Versus The Chicken Man
It was former Ward 3 Council member Leigh Greden who helped get rid of Ward 3 Council member Stephen Kunselman in 2008, by backing Christopher Taylor, who relentlessly mocked Kunselman’s efforts to get an ordinance passed to allow Ann Arbor residents to have backyard chickens and his desire to see a skatepark built in Ann Arbor. Taylor, who had no experience in city government, nonetheless earned the endorsement of the Ann Arbor News in 2008. The paper editorialized: “Taylor approaches the job in a professional, businesslike manner that will serve his constituents well and be a positive addition to council.” The same editorial also savaged Kunselman as a foul-mouthed micro-manager who belittled city staff.
A few months later, Taylor was embroiled in the email scandal that eventually triggered an Open Meetings Act violation lawsuit the city was forced to settle. “Professional, businesslike” Talyor was lampooned by the now defunct Ann Arbor News in an editorial cartoon that pictured him as a baby in a sailor’s cap sitting in front of a computer. The paper also lampooned Taylor’s fellow Ward 3 Council member Leigh Greden, former Ward 5 Council member Carsten Hohnke and Ward 4 Council member Margie Teall.
When citizens filed multiple Freedom of Information Act requests for the emails, it was revealed that Leigh Greden had sent an unflattering email about Stephen Kunselman’s mother to Council colleagues during an open meeting. In 2009 Kunselman wrapped himself in a somewhat ill-fitting Ethics Flag, and ran against Leigh Greden who, even with the endorsements and support of John Hieftje, former DDA Board member Leah Gunn, DDA Board member Joan Lowenstein, soon-to-be former Ward 4 Council member Marcia Higgins, Margie Teall, former State Senator Liz Brater and Representative John D. Dingell, Jr., lost the three-way race.
Voters exiting from the polls told AnnArbor.com they had booted him because of his unprofessional conduct related to the email scandal.
The Hardest-Working Member of the City Council
One month after Greden’s ouster, in an Ann Arbor Observer piece published in September 2009 written by former Ann Arbor News government reporter Judy McGovern, who broke the email scandal in June of 2009, John Hieftje called Greden “the hardest-working member of the City Council.” It’s a revolving crown that the Hive Mind Collective has passed around among themselves for years, obviously confident that no one in the local media would ever pick up on the trick much less enquire how all of them could be “the hardest-working member of City Council.”
In 2012, Hieftje called Margie Teall “the hardest-working member of the City Council.” In 2013, Marcia Higgins’s website said that Christopher Taylor had “graciously” referred to her, you guessed it, “as the hardest-working member of the City Council.”
One year after Greden told Judy McGovern, “This job has been extremely rewarding but also extremely stressful,” he says. “I have no future political plans. I am looking forward to time off. I am looking forward to practicing law,” he sat tallying the votes at former Ward 5 Council member Carsten Hohnke’s election night party. The photo, below right, comes from Ryan Stanton’s blog, and while Stanton covered Hohnke’s party for AnnArbor.com, as usual mention of Greden’s role was left out.
Greden had been employed part-time by Miller Canfield during his City Council service, and it was a time-release arrangement that was well worth it for the law firm. Miller Canfield was involved in multiple city real estate deals during the years its employee, Greden, was on City Council, and Greden routinely voted on resolutions that sent fees his employer’s way.
The Ann Arbor Housing Commission oversees the city’s 355 units of low-income housing. Greden, who’d emailed his Council colleagues in March of 2009 that “I focus on money and buildings. You guys can wear bandanas made of hemp and sandals with socks while you pass resolutions to make A2 a nuclear free zone,” was appointed to the Housing Commission in April of 2009, just a month after he made it clear he couldn’t give a rat’s bahookie about anything except money and development. However, what better way to boost development than to transition the city’s low-incoming housing into the hands of private developers? That’s exactly what happened in June of 2013 at the recommendation of the Housing Commission, and its Vice President, Leigh Greden.
Just five months after Greden assured McGovern he was “looking forward to practicing law,” he and Miller Canfield parted company. Greden landed an appointment at Eastern Michigan University as its chief of government and community relations. It was a somewhat surprising appointment for a man whom voters had thrown out of office because of his difficulty identifying and counteracting his own community relations disaster.
EMU president Susan Martin told AnnArbor.com, “Our government community relations offices were delighted to add Leigh Greden and Chad Wing today.”
Greden and Wing were not added to EMU’s community and government relations office. They were the office, an office staffed by Greden, Wing and an “Executive Secretary” in February of 2010. The office is still staffed by Greden, Wing and a secretary.
Greden Joins Ypsilanti Downtown Development Authority (YDDA)
In September 2010 Ypsilanti Mayor Paul Schreiber appointed Greden to that city’s Downtown Development Authority Board (YDDA). Greden neither lives in Ypsilanti nor owns a business in the city’s downtown. So how’d he get the appointment? A2Politico asked Mayor Paul Schreiber that question.
“The reason I appointed him is because EMU is in the downtown district. I talked EMU President Martin and she suggested Greden. I met with Greden and then appointed him. He was the president’s pick. He has talked about how the Ann Arbor DDA works. He’s got legal background.”
That’s a very sanitized version of a messy story. In fact, based on his performance in Ann Arbor politics, another mayor might have politely asked President Martin for her second pick.
Greden led Ann Arbor into well over $500 million dollars in general obligation and retiree pension and health care debt. Under his watch the Stadium Bridge safety rating plummeted, a fire station was closed, roads disintegrated, police lost the ability to reach out to the community and patrol proactively and fire response service response times worsened, according to a study conducted by Ann Arbor officials. He voted to hike water and sewer rates, and didn’t protest when the City Administrator was caught abusing his city-issued credit card. The Ann Arbor News revealed that in 2008, Greden and now Judge Christopher Easthope worked in Easthope’s campaign for judge via email mid-Council meeting, an alleged violation of state campaign laws. Both men could have reasonably been expected to realize they were not supposed to be planning campaign events in the middle of a City Council meeting.
Without this back story, Greden’s September 2010 appointment to the YDDA sounds all very straightforward. Schreiber appointed an EMU administrator to the YDDA Board beginning with Steve Holda in 2007 and then Bob Neely in 2009. It was Neely whom Greden replaced. There is a significant difference between Greden and his EMU predecessors, however. Holda and Neely each served one term. Greden was appointed in September of 2010, after he was booted from public office for unprofessional conduct. Then Greden was reappointed by Schreiber in July of 2013, despite the fact that over the past three years that Greden has chaired the YDDA the group has lost money and been forced to draw on its tiny reserve fund.
Nonetheless, Schreiber described Leigh Greden as an “asset.” He chuckled then added “don’t forget the ‘e’ and the ‘t,’ ok?”
The Ypsilanti Mayor said he has “been getting a lot of grief” for his board and commission appointments. When asked if Ypsi Council members had objected to Greden’s appointment in 2010 and subsequent reappointment in 2013, Schreiber explained, “there has been a lot of turnover of Council, people who were not there when the appointment was made.”
Why might Ypsilanti Council members and residents object?
Greden represents the interests of EMU and in many ways Ann Arbor. One look at the YDDA’s recent parking study, and it becomes clear that Greden is walking cash-strapped Ypsilanti down the same right-wing, high-tax, pothole-filled roadmap he pushed in Ann Arbor along with Hieftje and his political cronies on the Ann Arbor DDA.
Just as does John Hieftje, Paul Schreiber sits on the Board of his city’s DDA. He unconsciously zeroed in on the latest example of how Greden is attempting to recreate Ypsilanti in the image of Ann Arbor. “One of the recommendations of the parking study is to have our DDA do parking,” explained Schreiber. “We haven’t decided anything yet, but the idea’s out there.”
Ypsilanti recently began installing 505 LED streetlights at a cost of $555,000 without having a way to pay the bill. Then, the City Manager floated the idea of a special assessment district fee that would run through 2031 to pay for both the conversions and the cost of the electricity. EMU would be exempted from the proposed fee.
While Ann Arbor City Council struggles to rein in a DDA Board swimming in parking revenues and tax dollars, Leigh Greden is poised to move the YDDA into the position of having a larger budget and, one imagines, more political clout. Schreiber proudly points out how the YDDA Board has tried to save money while running a deficit. “We voted to move into City Hall,” he says. It’s a money-saving move Hieftje couldn’t sell to the Ann Arbor DDA which pays over $350,000 per year in rent.
State law forbids DDAs from running deficits. The Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority Board, which has raised parking rates and expanded its own budget for operations in recent years, is planning to take money from its reserve fund in order to cover loses associated with a heavy debt burden and high overhead costs. The Ann Arbor DDA Board members look for ways to make it appear as though they are competently managing the city’s 7,145 parking spaces and the public’s $17 million in parking revenues. It’s a losing battle. Board member Roger Hewitt (a restauranteur) told the public “…not to evaluate whether an individual structure is making money but rather whether the parking system as a whole is working. And the net annual income is nearly $800 per space ($784).” He said it as if bringing in $784 in annual revenue per parking space should be something to write home to mother about.
As it turns out, bringing in $784 in annual revenue per parking space is something to write about, because it’s 98 percent below the national per parking space average, according to the most recent data compiled by the National Parking Association.
At about $1 million dollars per year in revenues, the YDDA’s revenue is a fraction of the Ann Arbor DDA’s $20 million dollar budget. The YDDA’s Executive Director earns $54,000 per year, while the Ann Arbor DDA Director pulls down a six-figure salary and a generous car allowance. Ypsilanti’s parking is primarily comprised of on street and surface lots. The city offers loads of free parking downtown, and spends relatively little maintaining its parking meters and lots. The City Administrator ultimately controls parking, while the Ypsilanti City Council sets parking rates. It’s a system that YDDA Chair Leigh Greden’s parking study suggests should be changed. Meanwhile, in Ann Arbor, politicos whisper about the possibility of taking oversight of parking away from the Ann Arbor DDA, which would leave the group with just its TIF revenue and operating funds.
When Ann Arbor City Council members ponder dissolving the DDA they do so quietly.
“I’m ready,” says one Council member. “Just call the vote. I think the public wants to see us move parking back in house. We’d save money. Kunselman’s ‘shadow government’ comments are also resonating out there.”
Ann Arbor residents could do the same by initiating a simple ballot referendum. By collecting between 5,000 and 6,000 signatures from registered voters in the city over the course of a calendar year, the question of dissolving the DDA could be put on the ballot. Given the fact that the library bond proposal failed because the public thought the DDA was involved, or so said an AADL Board member when talking to AnnArbor.com, it’s not hard to imagine the public would vote to dissolve the DDA. Millions of dollars skimmed by the DDA would be returned to taxing entities such as the city and the county. City Council members would, once again, set parking rates.
In April 2013 the AnnArborChronicle.com filed a Freedom of Information Act request to see all emails between Leigh Greden and Susan Pollay, the Executive Director of the Ann Arbor DDA. After estimating that it would cost the blog $76 and change to have the information retrieved, redacted and copied, Susan Pollay sent along a subsequent email in which she writes: “Since sending you my email yesterday, it has become clear that there were many more files to be reviewed than I had first realized. We now estimate that it will require 6 hours of my time and 2 hours of time for the DDA’s Management Assistant for a total cost of $300….”
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