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You can still sway
City Council, if …

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Editor’s note: The author has been involved in Ann Arbor politics for decades. We asked her to comment on changes she might have seen in the way business is conducted at City Hall, and in Ann Arbor’s “values” over the years. In other words, are there lessons to be learned from the deer debate?

By Margaret A. Leary

In 2002, well-organized neighborhood associations and citizens were able to stop an ordinance change intended to increase the supply of affordable housing, persuading City Council to end the process before it even came to a vote. Yet in 2015, citizens who seemed just as strongly opposed to the deer cull failed to stop it.

What do these varying results tell us about Ann Arbor’s politics? Here’s my perspective.

It’s still possible to sway the City Council, as was done in 2002 and again in 2011, when the council pulled the plug on a process to select a developer above the Library Lane underground parking structure.

It helps when those objecting are part of politically active organizations, like the neighborhood associations in 2002.

Even if not previously politically involved, a group that is informed, prepared, motivated and understands the process can successfully propose and support action, as WC4EB did in the deer debate.

Success will most likely come to the group involved before the council makes a decision, as in 2002. In 2015, cull opponents were most numerous and active after the City Council’s August decision to proceed with a cull. That made their burden much heavier: They weren’t just trying to stop an action, they had to reverse it.

Timing and process matter. The affordable housing process took four years, from 1998-2002. During that time, a new mayor was elected and there were changes on the City Council, which diminished collective commitment and understanding. In the deer debate, the council assigned a staff member, hired a consultant and completed the plan in 12 months. (It’s worth noting that the city staff shrank from 1,005 in 2001 to 722 in 2015, according to the city’s budget summary, and the city is more apt to use consultants these days.)

Facts are more easily attainable in 2015 than in 2002. Even Mayor Christopher Taylor, who voted against the cull, admitted that no other effective, legal method was available. Information about deer is easily attainable via Google, websites, online surveys and groups like Nextdoor.com. This didn’t promote unanimity, but it did enable the council and involved citizens to gather information on both sides of the debate.

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