Ward 1 Sabra Briere Gets A Challenger for City Council Seat
by P.D. Lesko
At the 4th of July parade as the Backwards Clown Brigade chuckled along the parade route, a man seated on the curb turned to his wife and said, loudly enough for others to hear, “The Backwards Clown Brigade. Ann Arbor City Council.” People around the man chortled. Ann Arbor City Council members, who are paid $15,500 each year for their part-time positions, have no paid staff and no offices. They answer their own constituent emails (or not), and send out their own constituent communications (or not). They have no orientation to their jobs, and receive precious little training in the principles of city management and finance.
For many of the Council members, the lack of training shows. It is not only a failure of the system, it contributes to power struggles over scraps of information and access to city staff. Yet, Council members allocate $350,000,000 in revenues each year, evaluate the City Administrator and City Attorney, and are expected to plow through City Council meeting packets that can be 400 pages long, read and understand audits and complex financial information. Then, they sit through interminable Council meetings with agendas jammed with upwards of 80 items, presided over by an ineffectual mayor who rarely starts meetings on time.
It’s no small wonder local residents aren’t lined up to run for City Council. At a June 8 Ann Arbor Dem candidate forum, Ward 1 Council member Sabra Briere stood and, in a tone that can only be described as cloying, apologized to those present because she wasn’t opposed in the August Democratic primary election. Sabra Briere need fret no longer. She will be opposed in the November general election by Jeffrey Hayner, an independent candidate and long-time Ward 1 resident. He turned in his petitions on Friday and the City Clerk verified them. Hayner, a small business owner who works in the trades, sits on the Board of the PTO Thrift Shop and has lived in the area since the 1980s. He and his wife Lea have two kids who attend Ann Arbor Public Schools.
Hayner is running as an independent because he wants to represent all of the Ward’s residents, not just Democrats (Hayner is a long-time Democrat), and because he believes City Council needs more independent voices, such as that of Ward 2 Council member Jane Lumm.
“I want to make sure we (the taxpayers) get the best value for our tax dollars, you know?” His blue eyes meet yours, waiting for you to agree, or not. He is the kind of person who welcomes the opinions and ideas of others.
Hayner continues: “I want to protect the parks, and we need to have people on Council who think before they vote. This whole A2D2 zoning mess was created because people didn’t think things through. That has happened a lot on Council. I don’t dislike Sabra. I just think it’s time to have more people on Council who are going to focus on the basic stuff, roads, pipes, the bottom line. She’s out there talking sidewalk gaps and tax hikes to pay to fix them, and that’s what she wants to do, but that doesn’t pay the bills, if you know what I mean.”
Briere voted in favor of the A2D2 zoning and then in a July 2013 video posted to AnnArbor.com said that perhaps Council should have done a better job thinking through the whole zoning package. It’s classic Briere, and what Ward 2 Council member Jane Lumm has dubbed, “Fire, Ready, Aim,” leadership.
Hayner, who has extensive experience in construction and industrial design, tried for several years to volunteer to serve on various committees related to neighborhood issues, but found it tough to get a foot in the door.
“Who do you gotta know to get involved in these committees? They always seem to appoint the same people,” said Hayner, who recently met with John Hieftje about an appointment to the Ann Arbor Art Commission and whose proposed appointment will be presented to Council.
“I love art, and I want to be on the Art Commission to bring a different perspective to these projects, I have industrial design and building experience. We need more common sense. We don’t need to be spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on art just to spend the money.”
Hayner also volunteered to work on the North Main – Huron River Vision Task Force.
“I’m really interested in proposals that could impact the river,” he says. Hayner lives near Northside Elementary School and Bandemer Park.
“We need to be talking about the 1,4 dioxane, about our water, and I mean now,” says Hayner.
Unlike Briere who, in six years in office, has never put forward a resolution aimed at improving water quality of the Huron River that runs thorough her Ward, Hayner is running because he is concerned about the 1,4 dioxane plume. He suggests the city needs to be much more proactive in pursuing potential legal and environmental remedies of the cancer-causing 1,4 dioxane contamination.
“That’s our drinking water, you know?” says Hayner eyebrows raised, leaning in.
Hayner is supporting Ward 4 challenger Jack Eaton who, like Hayner, supports protecting parkland from leasing and development without a vote of the city’s residents.
Briere 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 Hieftje’s train station to nowhere, money that could have been used to fund services.
In June 2011, as citizen and the Huron Valley Chapter of the Sierra Club objections to using parkland for parking and “transit” became more insistent, Briere told AnnArbor.com: “The real issue is whether the city government can treat parkland as fungible. Because the city’s zoning language sees ‘public land’ as encompassing all publicly owned land, including parks, it is possible to repurpose public land and parks to have multiple uses. The solution I see is rezoning — a change that would separate parkland as its own use, without other uses possible.”
Briere sidestepped her yes vote in support of making parkland “fungible,” as she puts it. She then suggested a solution to the “real issue as she sees it” which she has never tried to implement.
“Listen, Sabra does her newsletter,” says a politically-involved Ward 1 resident. “She answers emails. She goes to meetings. She’s at the Northside for coffee regularly, and that’s all well and good. But I’ve started feeling as though it’s a snow job. I hate to say that. It’s her votes….” The woman’s voice trails off.
Briere won her City Council seat in 2007 by getting 421 votes in a 3-way Democratic primary race. In 2009, she was opposed by Mitchell Ozog, a candidate whose heavily accented English made him difficult to understand and whose grasp of the issues was minimal. Briere ran unopposed in 2011.
She was elected as a “neighborhood activist,” and has come to be seen as a Council member who has abandoned her base. In turn, her campaign finance forms reveal her base has abandoned her. It remains to be seen from whom Briere will raise funds, because over the past three years not only have her votes alienated neighborhood activists, her behavior has alienated her Council colleagues.
One Council colleague has dubbed her “Hieftje-lite,” while another describes her as a library lady with a knife under her skirt which she will plunge into anyone’s back.
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.
At a recent City Council meeting, astonishingly (or maybe not), Ward 1 Council member Sabra Briere used her speaking time to go around the table and say something nice about everyone. John Hieftje was delighted. The rest of her colleagues looked shocked with strained smiles plastered on their faces. Ward 2 Council member Jane Lumm politely said thank you.
Briere even had a kind word for Ward 3 Council member Stephen Kunselman to whom 90 days earlier she’d flatly refused to apologize for stabbing him in the back in emails to the Director of the Downtown Development Authority, Susan Pollay. After secretly (and privately, or so thought Briere) insulting Kunselman, Briere told AnnArbor.com, who had revealed her comments in a batch of emails turned over in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, “It honestly doesn’t make me happy. I’m not a gossipy person and it sounds gossipy.” When asked by the AnnArbor.com writer if she regretted being unkind, Briere stood by her remarks about Kunselman. She told AnnArbor.com writer Ryan Stanton, remarkably: “I still like and respect Kunselman, but I was just calling it like I see it — and being as honest as I can be.” Briere’s refusal to apologize harkens back to 2009, when former Ward 3 Council member Leigh Greden, caught making unkind comments about his Council colleagues (including Briere) behind their backs in emails sent during open meetings, told the Ann Arbor News he “refused to apologize.”
Sixty days later, Ward 3 voters booted Greden from office; he was only able to get 39 percent of the vote.
At the June 8th Ann Arbor Dem candidate forum, Briere described herself as a “bull” who charges forward. She then described herself as someone who works with her colleagues “quietly behind the scenes.” The contradiction is interesting, and telling. Like the city’s Mayor Pro Tem Marcia Higgins, Briere has burned political bridges and several of her Council colleagues question her sincerity, honesty and express frustration with what they see as the Ward 1 Council member’s inability to put her own political ambitions aside long enough to get the work done.
Jeff Hayner really isn’t interested in Briere’s dysfunctional relationships. Rather, he is concerned with the $15,000 sidewalk gap project Briere voted in favor of recently.
“$15,000 for that project just doesn’t make sense. That’s way too much money for engineering,” says Hayner, whose company has done flatwork, and masonry repair. “I know it’s only $15,000 dollars, but man that’s our money, and that kind of waste of taxpayer dollars adds up, you know?”
Short URL: http://www.a2politico.com/?p=15147