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June - July 2017

Final Stages of Crafting the Ballot Language


This description begins with June 7, 2017. At this time the Washtenaw Board of Commissioners (BOC) were making final decisions on a ballot proposal. These decisions were preceded by several years of discussion that are reflected here only to the extent they influenced the final outcome.  Members of Citizens for Mental Health & Public Safety do not have adequate resources to go further back in time.

For those readers most interested in the essential facts rather than the more complete description, focus on a) the July 3, 2017 Intent Resolution noted below that plays a key role in the current controversy and b) the omission of any mention of climate change actions in the ballot language approved on July 12 by the BOC despite their knowledge of the July 3rd Intent Resolution. The narrow 5-4 margin of BOC approval on July 12 and the WISD approval of a ballot measure on August 8, as described in the last paragraph, were contributing factors.

On June 7, 2017, the Ways and Means Committee ("Ways & Means") approved language for a ballot proposal. (see Ways & Means Minutes 6/7/17) The "Supplementary Materials" packet for this meeting includes the rationale for the ballot proposal. As the reader no doubt expects, these materials describe financial stress in the areas of public safety and mental health services. The proposed language was amended slightly, and the resulting version passed 6 - 2 (Commissioners Deatrick, LaBarre, Martinez-Kratz, Morgan, Ping and Smith yeas; Commissioners Jamnick and Jefferson nays; Commissioner Brabec absent).

The ballot language approved by Ways & Means on June 7 was similar to the final language with two major exceptions. First, the millage was to be levied for ten years, in contrast to eight in the final language. Second, funds allocated to local jurisdictions with their own police departments were to be allocated on the basis of taxable values, in contrast to population in the final language.

The approval of Ways & Means foretold members of the Ann Arbor City Council that the City might receive substantial unrestricted revenues from the County Millage. Two things would be required.  1) The BOC would need to approve the ballot proposal, which seemed likely. 2) Voters would need to approve the ballot proposal, which was uncertain but possible.

On July 3, 2017 a majority of the Ann Arbor City Council passed a resolution of intent to spend the millage funds as follows: 40% on affordable housing, 20% on bicycle and pedestrian safety and 40% on climate action change. (See yeas and nays by clicking on "Action Details" on the Legislation page.) Bicycle and pedestrian safety and affordable housing are related to public safety and mental health services. Climate change actions are unrelated to either mental health or public safety. This was the key vote affirming a portion of the Mental Health and Public Safety Millage revenues of the City would be used for climate change actions. Subsequent Council actions reiterated and embellished this vote but did not affect the percentages.

On July 10, 2017, Andy LaBarre, Chair of the BOC, circulated a memorandum to members of the BOC and to "Staff and Public" including a sequence of four drafts of the ballot proposal. Draft #1 is the version approved by Ways & Means, and #2 is a minor modification to improve the language without affecting the substance. In his introductory paragraph Chairman LaBarre indicates he made "a few edits" to #2 to produce #3. The edits include a shift from the use of taxable values for allocation among the seven jurisdictions to the use of population. Most people would describe this as a very significant change. Draft #4 is a clean copy of #3, that is, #3 shows the additions and deletions while #4 shows the result.

On July 12, 2017, the BOC discussed and debated draft #4 offered by Chairman LaBarre. The discussion and amendments included much attention to the the basis for allocation to the seven jurisdictions and the term of the millage. The motion to amend the resolution by substituting "taxable value" for "population" as the basis for allocations was defeated 2-7 (Commissioners Martinez-Kratz and Ping yeas; Commissioners Brabec, Deatrick, Jamnick, Jefferson, LaBarre, Morgan and Smith nays). The motion to change the millage period from ten years to eight years passed 8-1 (Commissioners Brabec, Deatrick, Jamnick, Jefferson, LaBarre, Martinez-Kratz, Ping and Smith yeas; Commissioner Morgan nay). The motion to begin the levy in December 2018 rather than December 2017 passed 6-3 (Commissioners Brabec, Deatrick, Jefferson, Martinez-Kratz, Ping and Smith yeas; Commissioners Jamnick, LaBarre and Morgan nays). (BOC minutes of 7/12/17)

The resulting resolution, including the ballot language, was approved 5-4 (Commissioners Brabec, Deatrick, LaBarre, Morgan and Smith yeas; Commissioners Jamnick, Jefferson, Martinez-Kratz and Ping nays). (Approved Ballot Proposal)

The BOC knew on July 10 and 12 that a majority of the Ann Arbor City Council intended to spend a portion of the millage revenue on climate change actions. The BOC decided, perhaps implicitly rather than explicitly, not to reflect this in the ballot language. This decision may have been necessary to achieve approval. The margin was razor-thin. Whatever the reason, the decision contributed to longer-term controversy by not communicating in the ballot language a known third purpose -- supporting climate change actions -- to be funded by millage revenues.

On August 8, 2017, the WISD Board approved, with no dissenters (one absence but he was in all likelihood also a supporter), placing the Special Education Millage Renewal on the November 7, 2017, ballot.

The events of July 12 and August 8 probably contributed to the lack of awareness in the public about the County Mental Health and Public Safety Millage. The narrow margin by which the BOC approved the resolution added to doubts the County Mental Health and Public Safety Millage would pass in the November election. The decision of the WISD Board meant the ballot would have two countywide issues on the ballot. Many public officials attempt to avoid placing two millages for equivalent, or roughly equivalent, jurisdictions on the same ballot.  The fear is that voters will support only their favorite of the two. The Special Education Millage Renewal had much stronger Board support than the Health and Safety Millage. People widely believed this was also true among likely voters. Thus, the WISD Board action signaled more problems for the Health and Safety Millage in the eyes of many people. The lower the probability of the passage of the Health and Safety Millage, the more likely people were to give it little attention.

City Council resolution
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