Thursday, July 26, 2007

Questions for City Council Candidates

I am planning to prepare a short questionnaire to send around to all of the City Council candidates asking them where they stand on dog park issues, what they may have already contributed, and what they plan to do for dog owners as Council Members. This is intended to get a feel for where they all stand in advance of the upcoming elections and also to give a forum for sitting members to explain their perspective on the current situation.

As I'm sure you can tell from my earlier posts, I have strongly ambivalent feelings about the current Council. I know they are the most dog-friendly Council Ann Arbor has had in recent memory and I believe that they are currently working in our interests. I also feel that they have come late to the table, not always understood our positions or urgency, and not been pro-active enough in promoting off-leash play. Thus I look forward to providing an open forum for them to explain in their own words what many of us saw as foot-dragging and broken promises. This exercise should be productive for all of us in establishing common ground for future discussions.

I have prepared a few questions, but I'd like your input. What sorts of things would you like to ask the candidates? Send me some short questions relevant to the topic and I'll include them in my questionnaire. Consider it an action item for the next couple of days. I'm hoping to send it out in the next couple of days, so do it quickly if you want to be included in the final document.

You can post your suggestions in the comments or e-mail me privately at

I'll post the results here for everyone to see.

Upcoming City Council Elections

I have been focusing on City Council lately in part because there is a round of elections coming up this fall and several Ann Arbor wards will be contested. Primaries will be held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday of August and general elections on the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November. There is still time for candidates to file petitions to run as independents.

Wards with primaries:
First Ward:
  • Sabra Briere - Democrat
  • John Roberts - Democrat
  • Richard Wickboldt - Democrat

Second Ward:
  • Stephen Rapundalo - Democrat Incumbent

Third Ward:

  • Leigh Greden - Democrat Incumbent
  • LuAnne Bullington - Democrat
Fourth Ward:
  • Marcia Higgins - Democrat Incumbent

Fifth Ward:
  • Wendy Woods - Democrat Incumbent
  • Mike Anglin - Democrat

Currently there are no independents or non-Democrats running and Wards Two and Four have no challengers.

I have been hard on the City Council in the past and I stand behind everything that I have written. However, I do believe that things could be much worse. We have a council that does not oppose dog parks and this has not always been the case in the past. Further, every member has at some point or another stated that she or he supports the Parks system and dog runs specifically.

Thus, I strongly urge you to investigate all of the candidates in your ward and not to vote a pure anti-incumbent ticket unless the challengers appear to be genuinely better candidates. I do not plan to endorse any candidate in any ward but I hope to follow up this post with more details on the individual candidates' positions. It would be wonderful to get some members on Council who will aggressively and actively support our needs, but there have been far worse Councils than the one we have now.

Also, I strongly urge any Ann Arbor resident who is interested in public service to consider running as an Independent. Particularly in the Second and Fourth Wards where there are currently no challengers. If you are interested in making Ann Arbor a more friendly community for dog owners, I think you could garner an awful lot of support and these local elections are often decided by small margins with low turnout.

If you wish to run as an independent, you must gather 100 signatures from within your ward on forms that you can obtain from the City Clerk's office. Filing deadline for Independents is August 8 so get started today.

More information on City elections can be found here. Contact information for the candidates who have filed so far can be found here. A map of Ward boundaries can be found here.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Plans In The Works

I have said on a number of occasions that plans are great, but they do very little for us if they can never be realized. I think though that the city has a great deal of momentum toward realizing some plans right now. Here is a section of a status update I recently got from PAC:
Christen [Smith] told PAC that City Council (CC) will be voting on authorizing off leash areas at Swift Run, Olsen, and temporary sites at Southeast and Leslie Parks (among other things having to do with dog parks) at their early August CC meeting.
There are still plenty of things that can slow down the realization of an off-leash area and I am still disappointed that we had to wait this long to get approval for the Southeast temporary dog run (not to mention being a year behind schedule on Swift Run). But this is one major hurdle that will be cleared next week for four separate plans.

Also in this status update were a few details on the Olsen Park plan. That plan is supposed to be put on an expedited schedule, but again we'll have to wait and see since we've heard things like this before. The final plan will not include the existing picnic table and shelter as part of the off-leash area. However since Olsen is not on a capped landfill like Swift Run, it will be much easier to modify in the future and there may be a possibility of adding a shelter structure to the dog run later.

This all looks good, but I'll really believe it when I am watching my dogs play at one of these locations.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Letter to the Editor

Council Re-Modifies Ordinance, Removes One Hurdle

I had to leave Monday's City Council meeting after the first hour. It turns out that a little after I left, something was brought up regarding the recent dog park ordinance change.

As you will recall, Council originally modified PAC's ordinance change resolution in such a way that gave Council final say on placement and regulation of any off-leash area. This week councilmember Lowenstein reopened that ammendment and suggested removing the regulation of off-leash areas from Council control and returning it to city staff. The idea is that rules and regulations may need to be tweaked and changed occasionally and therefore Parks & Rec needs the ability to do it without waiting for approval.

I don't think this will have a noticeable impact on the timelines that we're looking at right now. Neither Southeast Area temporary park, nor the permanent Paw Run facility is likely to be expedited. From the discussion, it sounds like this was how they originally intended things to work, but simply worded it incorrectly the first time.

I'd say this is a minor change in the bigger picture, but a positive one. Staff should be in control of these things and it keeps us from hitting unexpected delays later.

If you'd like to watch the discussion, it is at about EDIT 1:49:00 /EDIT in this video. Here is the official Council Meeting Packet that documents what part of the city code was changed. It's under section C-3.

Thanks Glenn and Christina who both tipped me off and sent the video link.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

City Council and Responsibility Part II

Yesterday I wrote that City Council and the Mayor bear the ultimate responsibility for the never-ending dog park delays because they refuse to actively represent our needs, but rather wait passively for solutions to come to them.

The second reason is much more immediate and has to do with the recently-passed ordinance change. You will recall that the resolution forwarded to Council by PAC gave Parks staff the authority to designate off-leash areas in city parks according to a set of guidelines, but Council changed the language giving themselves the final approval. As I wrote at the time, I was not entirely surprised by this. Some people are apprehensive about dog parks out of unfamiliarity with them and it is in the nature of a political body to retain as much authority as possible.

Having reserved the right to yay or nay off-leash areas, however, Council brought upon itself the responsibility to do so expeditiously. The day after the ordinance change was approved, Parks held a public meeting to discuss a temporary off-leash area at Southeast Area Park. We were told that this was to be something of a stop-gap measure that could be enacted quickly and relieve some of the pressure until the permanent Swift Run facility could be completed. Public response to the Southeast Area plan was positive and we were told that once Council approved the plan, work could begin immediately.

That was June 19th. It is now 28 days later and Council has still not heard the proposal for approval. For four weeks now the only thing keeping work from starting on an off-leash area has been lack of Council approval. I had been told earlier that the plan would be on tonight's Council agenda. Now we are being told that Council has decided not to consider it this week, but wants to wait two more weeks so that they can consider all of the dog park proposals at the same time. That is to say that they are not going to consider the temporary stop-gap solution until they can consider the final city-county agreement for the Swift Run facility at the same time. This is sort of like not applying a bandage to a cut until you can get a doctor's appointment to decide whether or not you need stitches. Thus City Council is responsible for the ongoing delays by actively inserting itself into the process of establishing an off-leash area and then allowing that extra decision-making step to linger and delay a project for an additional six weeks.

At the June 4 Council meeting, when the ordinance change had its first reading, I addressed Council and asked them to take head of our pleas and to actively represent the needs of dog owners in Ann Arbor. The response then, and again this week as we seek answers for the delays, has been that they are doing all they can and that if we simply wait, a plan will eventually reach Council and be enacted. They seem to be saying that we shouldn't expect any more than passive representation.

If any member of City Council wanted to actively represent dog owning voters, she or he had the opportunity over the past month. Any one of them could have taken this issue upon themselves as they would a neighborhood request for a new swingset and they could have actively requested the plan from Parks staff and put it on the Agenda for tonight, or even two weeks ago. Just the same they could have at any time over the past several years pushed PAC and Parks staff to move more quickly to meet our needs. The Swift Run plan wasn't even considered until the County approached AAParks and suggested it.

If they intended for Swift Run to be open last Autumn as they told us last Summer, Council would have pressed PAC for the ordinance change and a final rules resolution a year ago. But they didn't. Not a single Council member has actively represented our needs as voters and taxpayers. They have passively waited for these things to come before them at which point they have been generally supportive. The primary active thing they have done was to add the final approval roadblock, which is the main reason we are not playing at Southeast Area park this afternoon rather than going to address City Council once again.

Please remember this and feel free to plagiarize it or draw from it this fall as we enter a new City Council election cycle. Let your friends know where the responsibility lies and let the candidates know that you hold them accountable. And consider these issues when you are in the voting booth in November. We deserve elected officials who will stand up and represent our needs!

Active Representation

I went to City Council last night and spoke with the members from my ward. They were eager to let me know that things are moving forward on the Southeast Area plan and that all of the dog park issues are moving as quickly as they possibly could. Both of my members genuinely seem to want this to happen and expressed their belief that we have no risk or returning to the back burner.

Similarly, Christina has been getting responses to an e-mail she sent to Council earlier in the week. Those responses emphasize that things are moving more quickly than ever before and are on a pretty high priority. The common theme is that no Council member wants us to underestimate the city's commitment to providing a dog park.

This is great and I don't doubt that most are in favor and nobody on Council is outright opposed to off-leash play right now. I also realize that things have been moving more quickly over the past two months, but this does not absolve Council of responsibility for the delays. Much of the work that they're scrambling to complete now - the ordinance change, rules, agreements, etc - should have been done long ago. They only have to work fast now because this wasn't completed last summer as it should have been to meet the initial target for Swift Run of fall 2006.

Beyond all of that, the frustration that we have been trying to express has to do with the difference between active and passive representation. Most Council Members may be in favor of dog runs, but their pattern has been one of passively waiting for plans to come to them rather than actively supporting our needs and pushing for resolution to the issue. Realistically I wonder how much work would be going now if we hadn't been making noise all summer. I seriously doubt that any temporary solution would be in the works.

I addressed Council last night on this issue, but unfortunately didn't get through the entire statement that I prepared. So I'm posting it here. Enjoy.

Hello and thank you for hearing me today.

I'm hear to speak with you again about the ongoing struggle to get an off-leash dog area in Ann Arbor.

First let me say thank you for passing the ordinance change to make this possible. Many of us saw that as a sign of hope that progress will be made on this issue and the unanimity of it is most encouraging.

The day after the ordinance change became policy, Parks staff held a community meeting about a plan to construct a temporary off-leash area at Southeast Area Park. This is to be a sort of stop-gap solution until the permanent Swift Run plan can be completed. The response at that meeting was overwhelmingly positive and we were thrilled that the city was finally taking action.

You will recall, however, that this body amended PACs ordinance change resolution taking the authority for establishing off-leash areas out of the hands of Parks staff and putting it in the hands of City Council. In so doing you placed an extra hurdle, not necessarily an unreasonable one, but a hurdle nonetheless in the road to resolving this problem that we've been struggling with for so long.

It has now been four weeks since that public meeting and the only thing keeping work from beginning on the off-leash area is Council approval. I had been told that you would hear the plan this week, but when I checked the agenda Friday, I didn't see it. So I did some checking around and I was told that Council has decided not to hear this plan until August 6 so that it can be heard at the same time as the final city-county agreement for Swift Run.

That is to say that you are actively delaying the stop-gap solution until we are closer to enacting the permanent plan. Doesn't that seem a bit like waiting to put a bandage on a cut until you can make a doctor's appointment to determine if you need stitches?

When I spoke to this body way back on June 4, I asked for you to heed the urgency of this issue and to actively represent the needs of dog owning taxpayers. The response then, as every other time that I have asked about this issue, has been that plans are in the works and that if I just wait a little bit longer, something will happen.

This is not active representation. If you were serious about representing dog owners, you could take a pro-active role in making sure that plans are developed, reach council, and are approved. But your history is one of passively waiting for plans to come to you. Even the Swift Run plan was initiated by the county who came to YOU with a proposal. If you were interested in actively supporting our needs, the ordinance change, rules agreements, etc would have been heard last summer since we were told that Swift Run was to be completed last fall. When Swift Run was not finished by last fall, an active representative would have gone to Parks and asked for something to be done quickly to meet the needs.

When the ordinance change came up, you actively inserted yourselves into the process. If you were concerned about actively representing dog owning voters, you would then have actively followed up on the Southeast Area plan to be sure that it got to Council quickly and that the extra hurdle you put in the process did not cause any more delays than necessary. But instead, you have actively put the plan off for yet another meeting cycle.

By the time you hear the Southeast Area plan, it will have been a month and a half. That's a month and a half of delay caused by this body's refusal to actively represent dog owners.

It is clear now that you don't understand the urgency of this situation or what we mean when we say that we desperately need a pro-active group of elected representatives. I am greatly disappointed in this body and I hope that some day you will understand that all we have wanted for these years of begging is for our elected representatives to recognize us as their constituents and to stand up and actively try to find solutions to our needs. Stop passively waiting for solutions to come to you, represent us now.

With the next Council election cycle coming up, many of us are considering whether we have the right representatives in office. For many of us, dog parks are a major voting issue. For some people it is the only issue. Before the last year's elections we were told that Swift Run was going to happen in October, conveniently right after the elections. This summer we are hearing strangely similar things. But actions speak louder than words and right now we are hearing that we are at the bottom of the priority list. Those of you facing contested seats this round may wish to consider this as November draws near.

Thank you for your time.

Monday, July 16, 2007

City Council and Responsibility Part I

There is plenty of responsibility to go around for the continuing delays in getting an off-leash play area in Ann Arbor. Ultimately, however, the buck stops with the Mayor and City Council.

The normal procedure for anything park related to become policy in Ann Arbor is for the staff of Parks & Rec and the Parks Advisory Commission to come up with plans and recommendations and send them to City Council for final approval. Some Parks staff have worked very hard on this issue and certain PAC members have supported us every step of the way, but overall they have not exactly been aggressive in promoting off-leash play.

Council itself has not generally been obstructionist over the past couple of years and in fact passed the dog park ordinance change unanimously last month. But they are still ultimately to blame for the long delay. I say this because a lack of off-leash play areas has been identified as a sore need for years now. I've previously documented some of this history, beginning in 1997 with the creation of Ann Arbor's first dog park task force and continuing through the most recent PROS plan and Parks millage. And yet Council has not been pro-active in finding solutions to the needs of dog-owning taxpayers.

Part of this has to do with the peculiar nature of the dog park movement. In the case of other Parks programs, a particular neighborhood will identify a need - a new playset or disc golf course for example - and approach their Council members about meeting the need. Those Council members will then act on behalf of their constituents, actively bringing the issue to PAC and pursuing it until the neighborhood is satisfied with a solution. They do this both because it is what good elected representatives do and also because they know that ignoring constituents is a good way to lose their seat on the Council.

The dog park movement, however, is not a neighborhood issue - it is a city-wide issue. Voters from all around the city want this to happen and are not particularly concerned about what Ward is chosen as the host. Thus no single set of Council members sees this as their issue and so none of them takes an active role in seeing it through. Paradoxically this means that an issue with broad appeal across the city is more difficult to solve than a local neighborhood issue.

The Swift Run plan is a case in point. That plan began with County Parks & Rec who approached Ann Arbor and suggested it as a joint project. If the County had not approached the City, we may still be without any plan.

This is the first reason that Council bears the ultimate responsibility for our continuing frustrations - none of them has sought to actively represent our needs, rather they wait passively for solutions to come to them.

To be continued...

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Parks Advisory Commission Seat Open

The Parks Advisory Commission (PAC) is currently looking for an Ann Arbor resident to fill a seat. This is an unelected body that considers issues related to parks and forwards them to City Council for final Approval.

The only requirements are Ann Arbor residency and a commitment to Parks Issues.

Contact Brigit Macomber if you are serious about serving. It would be great to have another pro-dog voice on the Commission.


Unfortunately I'll be unable to attend the meetings beginning in August so this is impossible for me.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Saline's Mill Pond Off-Leash Area Temporarily Closed

FYI - While the Saline Celtic Festival is going on this weekend, Mill Pond Park is closed to pets. Bummer, no swimming for us this weekend.

The play area at Pet Emporium remains open.

Presumably Saline will be back to two dog parks next week.

Meanwhile we'll still be at zero in Ann Arbor.

Canine Social Club at Huron River Days Tomorrow

EDIT: I originally wrote that this was happening Saturday, but it is Sunday July 15 at 11:00 AM. I'm sorry for any confusion and I hope this didn't cause anybody any inconvenience.

The Canine Social Club will have a table at the Huron River Days festivities tomorrow. It isn't listed on the official HRD website, but there will apparently be a dog walk at 11:00 AM Sunday starting from the Perk & Paddle Cafe at the Gallup Canoe Livery.

If you're looking for something to do tomorrow, swing by and meet the good people of the CSC. You can sign up for their e-mail list if you haven't already and talk to them about the never-ending struggle to get a dog park in Ann Arbor.

I'm planning to stop by with my pooches to enjoy the festivities and I'll probably swing by the CSC table for a few minutes to say hi. Hope to see you there!

Council Delays Southeast Area Park Plan

I was optimistic after a few good steps that I actually thought the city had made dog owners a priority. But now I realize that I was fooling myself. City Council has once again delayed the Southeast Area Park off-leash area plan. I had originally been told that they were planning to hear it at the meeting next Monday (the 16th). But when I checked the meeting agenda on the city's website yesterday, it was nowhere to be found. So I did some checking and now I'm told that Council will not hear the plan until August 6.

You will remember that the public meeting for Southeast Area Park was June 16 and that we were told at the time that the only thing left keeping work from beginning was City Council approval. It is just ridiculous that this should have to wait more than a month and a half to even be considered by the City Council. They have broken a series of public promises about opening a dog park, they know that we are frustrated, this plan was supposed to provide temporary relief until a more permanent plan could be put in place. But it is clear now that they don't really care about dog owners and they don't care about the broken promises.

One other point bears remembering right now. The only reason that Council has to give its approval for this plan is that they insisted on that as a condition for passing the off-leash ordinance change. The ordinance resolution that PAC forwarded to Council allowed Parks staff to make the final approval decisions. This is how most other facilities are approved in city parks. In its reading at Council however, it they decided to change it so that they could have the last say.

I understand that some people have anxiety about dog parks, even if it is misplaced. But by inserting themselves into the process, City Council has added an extra layer of bureaucracy. Thus I believe that they brought a responsibility upon themselves to make sure that this extra layer doesn't translate into serious delays. They have not lived up to that responsibility. Rather they have already let it cause at least a month and a half delay in a project that was supposed to quickly relieve pressure caused by the city's previous delays and broken promises.

At the council meeting where the ordinance change had its first reading I addressed council. Among other things I asked them to become pro-active supporters of dog-owning taxpayers once the resolution was passed. I let them know that we feel neglected and barely tolerated and that we need our elected representatives to actively represent our needs. In their discussions it was clear that they believe they are doing all they can for us and don't see how they could help any more. They could help by taking seriously the responsibilities of being the final arbiter of dog run projects. That would mean actively bringing them to the table for approval and not allowing the extra hurdle that they created to cause serious delays.

Remember this when you speak with Council Members or candidates for local office and remember this when you vote in the local elections this fall.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Status Update

First let me apologize for my very light posting lately. Been traveling and otherwise distracted, but I should be back for a while.

For a status update of another kind - I recently came across a document with updates on the projects that city departments are currently working on. There is a brief mention of the dog park plans which I'll post here in full:
  • Work on the Swift Run Dog Park facility continues. Design for the facility is complete. The design process has included community input at public meetings and design meeting with special interest groups. The Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission and PAC recommended approval of an inter-governmental partnership agreement for development and operation of the Swift Run Dog Park at their June meetings. A Memorandum of Agreement between the City and County for maintenance of the facility has also been developed. City Council is expected to consider the partnership agreement at its July 16, 2007 meeting. Staff will also propose providing a temporary off-leash area at Southeast Area Park that will serve the community during the late summer months as the Swift Run site is under construction. The temporary site at Southeast Area Park will include temporary fencing, signage, and trash containers, all of which will be removed from the site when the Swift Run Dog Park is completed. Staff is also initiating planning for an off-leash area at Olson Park.

This seems fairly promising. Not much new information, but it's a nice snapshot of exactly where we are right now.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Southeast Area Park Plan To Be Considered July 16

I am hearing now that the plan for a temporary off-leash area at Southeast Area Park will be heard by City Council at the July 16 meeting. As far as I know nothing is official yet since the agenda hasn't yet been released, but it seems that the plan has been forwarded by Parks & Rec without going through PAC. It would have been nice to see this yesterday, but at least it doesn't have to wait until August.

Once Council approves the plan I think it will go ahead fairly quickly. There are no other public approval hurdles and it was my impression from the public meeting that bids would be taken in the interim. Construction should be very quick since it is a temporary fence with no brush-clearing or earthwork to be done.

If all goes smoothly, we could be playing off-leash at Southeast Area Park by the end of the month.