Ward 1 Incumbent’s Loopy Fundraising Letter Includes Outlandish Claims
Ward 1 City Council incumbent Sabra Briere has started her re-election campaign, and if her fundraising letter is any indication, this campaign is going to be a doozy. Her fundraising letter made its way to A2Politico via a third party who found her claims in the letter sufficiently outlandish to merit passing it along to A2P for comment. Among those claims, Briere tries to alarm prospective donors by claiming her opponents in the November general election could be funded by “big out of town developers” and by “major financial and political interests” who, Briere claims, “she hasn’t supported.” (A2P Notes: To download and read the fundraising letter in PDF format click here.)
One wonders just how much interest big out of town developers and major financial interests will have in the 20-something University of Michigan undergraduate running as an independent candidate from the Mixed Use Party in Ward 1. Jaclyn Vresics is an honors student majoring in Screen Arts and Cultures. While Briere suggested to AnnArbor.com that the Mixed Use Party might be more accurately identified as the Beer Pong and Red Solo Cup Party, the student candidates are interested in expanding affordable housing, protecting parkland and open spaces and making common sense changes to the city’s zoning regulations.
Vresics, whose LinkedIn profile reveals she “designed a commemorative rubber duck for Wal-Mart, which was then manufactured” will no doubt be receiving a large donation from the Walton family PAC, if we believe Briere’s take on her race. All Vresics needs to do is to lock up the support of the NRA first. Making Change at Walmart, a group of advocates, Walmart workers and others aimed at transforming the company analyzed the Walmart PAC’s donations and found that the PAC supported candidates backed by the NRA 78 percent of the time. Why? Because Walmart is the nation’s largest seller of guns and ammo. Then again, the Walmart PAC has a proud history of funding candidates who support regressive environmental policies. Briere’s votes to zone the city’s parkland for transit uses, including but not limited to bus stations, train stations and municipal airports, her votes to use parkland for parking, her support of single-stream recycling, which has resulted in more garbage going to the landfill and not less, as well as her refusal to support a proposal to allow voters to weigh in on whether parkland should be leased for development, make her just the kind of candidate the Walmart PAC loves to support.
In her fundraising letter, Briere tries mightily to make it appear as though the federal government is to blame. She writes, “I made certain that, if the federal government recommends we change the use of Fuller from park to transportation, the voters will decide, not Council.”
Briere (left) voted to zone parkland for transit in July 2010. Then, she went on to vote in favor of using Fuller Road parkland to build a 900 car parking tower next to the Huron River. She also supported spending General Fund money on John Hieftje’s train station to nowhere, money that could have been used to fund services. She has voted repeatedly to allocate money on the Fuller Road project despite the fact that neither City Council nor the city’s voters have ever voted in favor of using the parkland for anything other than, well, parkland. In July 2012, Briere 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. Briere not only voted 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, she did so despite the fact that a few days before she voted to torpedo the parkland protection proposal, she asked to co-sponsor it.
AnnArbor.com’s government reporter has written about “tension” between Briere and her Ward 1 Council colleague Sumi Kailasapathy. Political insiders have noticed that Briere now regularly votes with the Hive Mind Collective. When presented with an opportunity to take back road repair and sewer fund money from the Percent for Art Fund, Briere voted against the proposal. Kailasapathy voted to return the money to the road repair and sewer funds. When a proposal to reinstate leaf collection was put forward, Briere sided with Hieftje and voted no. Kailasapathy voted yes.
Briere’s other challenger, Jeff Hayner, is just as unlikely to draw big dollar donations from the make believe “major financial and political interests” whom Briere tells prospective donors are lining up to toss her out of office. Rather than pretend bug-a-boos, it has been Briere’s refusal to behave collegially, her anti-neighborhood, anti-environment, anti-safety services voting record that have Ward 1 residents, her own Council colleagues and political activists across the city looking to toss her out on her ear.
Council colleagues have described the Ward 1 3-term incumbent as a “library lady” who has a “knife hidden under her skirt” which she will not hesitate to plunge into their backs.
That’s exactly what she did to Ward 3 Council member Kunselman in April 2013. AnnArbor.com revealed that a Freedom of Information Act request for emails sent to Downtown Development Authority Executive Director Susan Pollay turned up emails between Pollay and Briere in which Briere counseled Pollay and the Board of the DDA on how to best thwart Council efforts to slow the DDA’s capture of tax dollars, and to impose term limits on DDA Board members. The push for greater accountability is coming from Briere’s Ward 1 Council colleague Sumi Kailasapathy, Ward 2 Independent Council member Jane Lumm and Ward 3 Council member Stephen Kunselman. Ward 4 Council member-elect Jack Eaton spoke in favor of the efforts to slow the DDA’s capture of tax dollars, as well as term limits for DDA Board members during his recent successful campaign. In August 2013 he ousted 14-year incumbent and Mayor Pro Tem Marcia Higgins in what can only be described as a political round-house punch that leaves John Hieftje reeling with just four reliable allies on City Council. Those allies include Briere, Ward 3 Council member Christopher Taylor, Ward 4 Council member Margie Teall and Ward 5 Council member Chuck Warpehosk.
Like Ward 3 Democratic challenger Julie Grand, who promised to “listen,” Briere earnestly assures prospective donors, “I respond to calls and emails.” Ann Arbor is the 5th largest city in Michigan, and home to one of the most well-respected public universities in the world. What we need are candidates for local office who can offer up intellectual gravitas, economic insights and/or creative public policy initiatives. We need candidates who realize that U of M faculty, staff and students who live in the city are important members of our community. U of M expanded its own recycling program recently, and that’s a crying shame. Ann Arbor taxpayers invest $11 million every year in solid waste and recycling; our MRF is losing money and contracts to surrounding facilities. The amount of garbage U of M generates has risen steadily since 2005, and its overall recycling rate has dropped significantly and steadily since 2000. The Council Committee dedicated to town-gown relations has not met a single time since November 2012.
This is a pressing environmental challenge and a financial opportunity to increase city revenues.
Briere’s “I respond to calls and emails” is akin to throwing one’s unqualified support behind blinking. “I respond to calls and emails.” Blink. Blink. Blink. Isn’t responding to constituents what elected officials are expected to do? She sends out an electronic newsletter. Blink. She has helped “hundreds” of constituents. Blink. Blink. This is the best she’s got? These are the reasons a six-year incumbent offers to voters in support of re-election? The Ward 1 incumbent may as well include among her accomplishments: “I don’t Tweet nude photos of myself to U of M undergraduates, and “I haven’t ever used taxpayer funds to pay an escort service.” There. Don’t we all feel better?
The most absurd claims she leaves until the very end of her fundraising letter. She writes that her opponents “could” be funded by “big out-of-town developers and major financial and political interests.”
The truth is more interesting albeit less convenient for Briere.
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 five years representing Ward 1 she 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 campaign donation 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.
If anyone has taken money from developers, financial and political interests, it has been Sabra Briere. Her fundraising letter hides a simple fact. Over the past 18 months, Sabra Briere has been 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 parkland 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 neighborhood activists.
Her latest turn at the Theater of the Absurd? Two weeks after a University of Michigan student was killed using one of the new pedestrian crosswalks on Plymouth Road, Briere grandstanded at Council meeting claiming that “Most accidents between pedestrians and cars are downtown at a stop light or stop sign, and most of the time the driver simply didn’t see the pedestrian who was legally in the crosswalk.”
A comment posted to AnnArbor.com in response to Briere’s pontificating was to-the-point: “More importantly – the statement distinctly gave me the impression of justifying the crosswalks and not addressing the problems with them. And that this comes a mere 2 weeks after a young lady has died, I find distasteful in the least. I would have hoped council had the tact to perhaps first examine closely what is wrong with the crosswalks.”
A week later, AnnArbor.com posted a piece titled, “Number of pedestrian-vehicle crashes up in Ann Arbor since adoption of crosswalk ordinance.” In that piece, a city staffer was quoted as saying, “It’s difficult for city traffic engineers to know where pedestrian-car crashes take place the most on the city’s roadways. Pedestrian and bike crashes are a lot less frequent. We have a hard time really tracking them and seeing where hot spots are. With vehicle crashes, it’s easier because there are more of them and we can trend them a little better.”
If city officials have a hard time tracking pedestrian-car crashes (which is outlandish enough), one is left wondering exactly how Sabra Briere managed to conclude “Most accidents between pedestrians and cars are downtown at a stop light or stop sign, and most of the time the driver simply didn’t see the pedestrian who was legally in the crosswalk.”
An AnnArbor.com commenter picked up on the fact that Briere’s mid-Council meeting defense of the pedestrian crosswalk ordinance was based, perhaps, on spurious data. The commenter writes, “Thank you, Kyle. Now we have the other viewpoint in contrast to Mrs Briere’s comments the other day, which did not seem to be accurate to me. The picture does seem to point to certain factors such as the responsibility of City Council in designing these walkways and then the lack of enforcement. I would not like to see the City sued, but on the other hand I think such a suit might be justified.”
Another commenter was less diplomatic: “Eli Cooper, Sabra Briere, and John Hieftje need to be replaced. Traffic engineers need to be consulted before City Council closes down any more traffic lanes to cars or creates any more ridiculous pedestrian/crosswalk ordinances.”
Sabra Briere’s fundraising letter talks about her vision for Ann Arbor, and the fact that her opponents’ visions for Ann Arbor are “much different” than hers. She’s right. Hayner supports protecting parkland from development and repurposing, wants to fund safety services so that citizens once again have proactive policing and a fire department whose response times meet national standards. He supports sensible spending, crafting and implementing an ethics policy for Council members, and increasing transparency when it comes to mayoral appointments. If these ideas sound appealing, it’s because newly-elected Council member Jack Eaton built upon them in his successful bid to unseat the 14-year incumbent in his Ward. Sabra Briere’s “vision” for Ann Arbor is simply out-of-step with what voters have indicated they want, and with Ward 1 residents’ main challenges and concerns (crumbling roads, property values, rises in property crime and larceny, long-term blight, safety services, parks and the infrastructure, particularly the storm water and sewer systems).
Sabra Briere’s severely myopic campaign website lists her voting record on development projects around the city, all of which she categorizes as “controversial.” However, the chances are very good few Ward 1 voters could identify The Moravian, City Place or even 413 E. Huron as development sites, much less roiling controversies.
Just months former Ward 2 Council member Stephen Rapundalo was defeated by Independent Jane Lumm for saying the same thing, Sabra Briere told AnnArbor.com in 2012 “Yes. We need a new train station.” She was doing her part to support John Hieftje’s delusions of grandeur and rail.
In 2009, Briere expressed “disappointment” that the Library Lane underground parking garage wasn’t going to be bigger and cost $6 million dollars more. In 2010, she voted in favor of extending a no bid contract for Recycle Ann Arbor, and in 2011 supported a $10 million dollar taxpayer bailout of Recycle Ann Arbor. If Sabra Briere joins the growing list of long-term City Council incumbents whom Ann Arbor voters have chosen to replace, if she loses her bid for re-election to City Council, it will be because of her votes and her inability to listen to the electorate. Briere has chosen to undermine and alienate many of her Council colleagues, her political allies and to ignore many of the important issues that matter to Ward 1 residents. If there were any better evidence of this fact, you’ll find it in the final sentence of her fundraising letter in which she characterizes herself thusly:
“I not only listen,” she writes, “I hear.”
After a 2012 Hieftje-backed proposal to raise taxes to fund the Percent for Art program was roundly defeated by voters, in order to justify voting against a resolution to end the Percent for Art program, Briere was quoted by AnnArbor.com as saying, ”When we represent our constituents, we don’t represent only those who agree with us. We represent those who disagree with us. We don’t just represent the majority. We represent all the minority voices as well. I would really like an opportunity to hear those minority voices.”
She was brutally mocked in the news blog’s comment section: “Beautiful. Ms. Briere, why don’t we put the Per Cent For Art up for a public vote? If the Councilwoman doesn’t think the recent millage failure was a direct result of the fiasco of the recent projects slipped through under this program (City Center Water Fountain, City Center Shiny Glass Project Behind A Metal Detector), both of which were championed by the Ann Arbor Public Arts Commission supporters like Margaret Parker and Marsha Chamberlin, then she needs to get out and talk to the voters of the 1st Ward. She’s beginning to sound like the Mayor.”
Ward 1 residents will tell you that in addition to sounding like the Mayor, Briere has been “listening” to the public like John Hieftje, as well.
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