Four Years Later Ethics Problems Still Haunt EMU Governmental Relations Director
The only former Ann Arbor City Council member having a worse time of it politically than Downtown Development Authority Board member Joan Lowenstein (former Ward 2 Council member) is former Ward 3 Council member Leigh Greden. Lowenstein, who has contributed to and backed a bushel of losing Council candidates in Wards 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 since 2009, burst a gasket in December 2011 when former Council pal Stephen Rapundalo was knocked off by Independent Jane Lumm. JoLo published a diatribe in The Ann magazine in which she insulted Ann Arbor voters who backed an Independent over Republican-cum-Democrat Rapundalo as “old,” “stingy,” and “Republican.” In reality, Rapundles, as critics called him, was thrashed by his opponent because he lied about her voting record on his campaign web site, and perhaps because he was a closet Republican finally outed by every news site in town for parading as a Democrat. He lost because he shot himself the foot by accidentally sending an email to AnnArbor.com which read, in part, “As for the Mallet’s Creek project — be sure to involve me in any meetings, etc., if there are any, before the election — just so I look like I’m engaged.”
Former Ward 3 Council member Leigh Greden endorsed Ward 3 challenger Julie Grand. For about three weeks.
On June 19th, A2Politico came out with “Money and Buildings Crowd Behind PAC Chair Julie Grand in Ward 3 Race”:
Among Grand’s listed supporters are lots of the usual suspects, including former Ward 3 Council member Leigh Greden. One wonders whether Grand really believes she’ll be able to avoid being tainted by an endorsement from Greden. His final evening as a Council member was taken up by a speech in which he says he “owes everyone an apology” for dragging colleagues through an embarrassing email scandal. Thanks to Greden’s use of email during public meetings, the city was forced to settle an Open Meetings Act lawsuit which revealed alleged violations of the OMA, as well as vote-rigging and secret deliberations. It was his involvement in that email scandal that, according to newspaper accounts, prompted Ward 3 voters to boot him from office.
On July 10th, A2Politico revealed that sometime between June 19th and July 10th Grand had “disappeared” Greden from the list of supporters on her campaign website.
On September 3rd, John Hieftje planned to nominate Greden (left) to serve on the Ann Arbor Housing Commission. To get an idea how hard new City Council members Ward 1 Sumi Kailasapathy and Ward 2 Council member Sally Hart Petersen have pushed John Hieftje and their colleagues to pay closer attention to conflicts of interest, Greden’s initial appointment to the AAHC board in January 2011, was unanimous. Prior to the September 3, 2013 Council meeting, Hieftje came under pressure to withdraw Greden’s name from consideration. Council members had problems with Leigh Greden’s current professional conflicts of interests, as well as concerns about his behavior on City Council during a 2009 email scandal which triggered an Open Meetings Act lawsuit that the city settled.
Just weeks before Ann Arbor City Council members found Greden an unsuitable candidate, the Ypsilanti City Council and that city’s Mayor Paul Schreiber had no problem reappointing Leigh Greden to a board in that city. Schreiber, who told A2Politico Greden was an “asset,” recently reappointed Greden to the city’s Downtown Development Authority Board of Directors. Greden, about whose ethics and professionalism Ann Arbor City Council members had voiced concerns, serves as the Chair of the YDDA.
This was another reason Ann Arbor council members objected to Hieftje’s attempt to nominate Greden.
One Council member commented: “Leigh Greden is a governmental relations official at EMU and the Chair of the Ypsi DDA. To me, that creates a serious conflict of interest. Are his loyalties with Ypsilanti? I think so. Then we have his ethics problems revealed by the email scandal. The newspaper said he was rigging votes. We need transparency on Council and on our city’s boards and commissions.”
According to documents provided to A2Politico, AAHC executive director Jennifer Hall, after learning that Council members had serious reservations about reappointing Leigh Greden, emailed Council members telling them that they “had” to approve Greden’s nomination. Otherwise, she wrote, her life would be made difficult. The email from a staffer who has no direct authority over City Council and over whom Council members have no direct authority triggered complaints to Ann Arbor City Administrator Steve Powers.
Jennifer Hall explained her email message: “It’s hard to train a new board member in the complicated issues surrounding RAD. Leigh was instrumental in explaining RAD to the current board members and getting them to the point they were comfortable with it,” explained Hall.
RAD is a new program from HUD that allows housing agencies to “seek private financing to rehabilitate units.” While Greden helped the Ann Arbor Housing Commission “embrace” RAD, not everyone is enthusiastic about the program. Sarah Carpenter, executive director of the Vermont Housing Finance Agency, many see the RAD program as part of a trend of HUD “walking away from their obligation to provide funding to those projects.”
The other fear is that RAD allows a second financing option whereby a developer creates a funding package in exchange for an ownership interest. Developers could claim a partial or majority interest in the project and possibly serve as property manager for what was previously housing overseen by the city.
There are Council members who wonder if Hall’s inappropriate efforts to influence the votes of City Council members were the result of pressure from John Hieftje. A2Politico filed a Freedom of Information Act request for materials related to the attempt to reappoint Leigh Greden.
For the remaining members of the Hive Mind Collective on City Council, this was yet another political body blow. Coupled with the Albert McWilliams DDA Board appointment debacle, and the August primary election loss of Ward 4 Council member Marcia Higgins, John Hieftje is now unable to populate boards and commissions with cronies. Come November 7th, should Ward 2 incumbent Jane Lumm win re-election, which she is expected to do, current DDA Board members will have run out of stalling tactics. With the election of Ward 4 Democrat Jack Eaton, it is expected that the move to slow down the DDA’s capture of tax dollars as well as impose term limits on current DDA Board members (several of whom then would be forced to step down) would gain speed.
The Ward 1 City Council race could play an important part in the efforts to bring the DDA Board—a group Ward 3 Council member Stephen Kunselman has referred to as a “shadow government”— to heel. Ward 1 incumbent Democrat Sabra Briere was caught by AnnArbor.com attempting to sabotage efforts to impose term limits on DDA Board members. Ward 1 challenger Jeffrey Hayner, an independent, has said that he favors “terms limits for all city boards and commissions.” Should Hayner succeed in toppling the three-term incumbent, he will most certainly support efforts to impose term limits on the members of the DDA Board.
As for Leigh Greden, he remains Chair of the Ypsilanti DDA, head of EMU’s governmental relations office and, A2Politico recently discovered, the treasurer of 55th District State Representative Adam Zemke’s Engineering Michigan’s Future Fund PAC. Zemke’s PAC was formed in October 2012 and in February 2013 the PAC recorded a modest $2,000 donation from local philanthropist Peter Heydon. Such PACs are used by local state-level representatives to accept donations from individuals, PACs and others whose contributions might raise uncomfortable questions. For instance, Ann Arbor State Senator Rebekah Warren’s Envision Michigan PAC recently accepted a $250 donation from the Government Consulting Services PAC. That company is owned by Kirk Profit, the lobbyist employed by Washtenaw County, Washtenaw Community College, the cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, as well as the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University. Profit’s company topped Michigan Campaign Finance Network’s list of lobbying firms that spent the most money wining and dining state representatives. Senator Rebekah Warren and new Democratic state Representative Gretchen Driskell were the only two Democrats who made the Michigan Campaign Finance Network’s 2012 Silver Spoon Supper Club list, which lists the Michigan state legislators who accept the most “itemized hopsitality” from lobbying firms, including Kirk Profit’s firm.
Welcome to Washtenaw County politics smarmy side up: A state senator accepts donations, meals and other forms of “itemized hospitality” from the firm that lobbies on behalf of the universities, cities and county that representative is paid to represent. A local politico caught rigging votes and scripting debates via email scores the top government relations job at the university whose president’s embarrassing behavior made the pages of The Chronicle of Higher Education after she was involved in a drunken dust up in public. Not only is the rejection of Leigh Greden’s appointment a welcome development, it marks what we can only hope is the first of many successful efforts to stop the rampant cronyism practiced by John Hieftje virtually unchecked for the past dozen years.
One Council member put it like this: “Leigh Greden is the past. It’s time to look to other community members for their input and participation.”
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