Drama, censorship, and racial slurs punctuate final Ann Arbor board meeting of 2020
ANN ARBOR, MI – After a year filled with drama and a recent city council retreat where Ann Arbor board members have expressed a desire to move beyond personal bickering and attacks, the last board meeting of 2020 was filled with more drama.
It started near the start of the virtual board meeting on Monday night, December 21, when a speaker criticized board member Jeff Hayner, D-1st Ward, for make an addition to his house without a permit.
This prompted Hayner and two other council members – Ali Ramlawi, D-5th Ward, and Kathy Griswold, D-2nd Ward – to speak to resident Adam Goodman and repeatedly call to order, suggesting that the mayor should stop it.
Goodman’s remarks, which could barely be understood amid the commotion, were irrelevant to board business and in violation of board rules, they argued.
“Please, Mr. Mayor,” Hayner said.
“Come on,” Ramlawi said.
“We have rules to follow,” Griswold said.
“Council members, there is a member of the public speaking,” Mayor Christopher Taylor told them, refusing to strike his hammer or stop Goodman from criticizing Hayner.
“And you wonder why it’s so dysfunctional,” Ramlawi said of the council meetings.
This led to a council debate on speaking rules and censorship which ended as council members dealt with the business on the agenda. But he resumed at the end of the meeting, which lasted after midnight.
In addition to the evening’s drama, remarks were made by a speaker who, during a public hearing on water tariff increases, used a racial slur and cursed the council. This elicited firm responses from the mayor and council.
The appellant’s language was disgusting and unacceptable and will not be tolerated, Taylor said.
The mayor took a different stance on Hayner’s criticisms and the allegation that he dodged taxes, which Hayner has denied.
Council members who argued the mayor should have intervened point to council rules, which state that the mayor can call to order anyone who engages in personal attacks unrelated to council business, uses language obscene, speaks longer than expected, or disrupts the meeting. Failure to comply with a call to order may result in a speaker’s microphone being cut off, loss of remaining speaking time or expulsion.
“I ask you to apply this rule,” Hayner told the mayor, arguing he was being slandered.
Board member Erica Briggs, D-5th Ward, has publicly apologized to Goodman, her constituent, for the three board members who interrupted him as he attempted to speak.
“I couldn’t even listen to the commentator. I think it’s inappropriate for us to censor members of the public like that, ”Briggs said.
There are 10 public speaking slots allocated at the start of each meeting and people must call the city clerk’s office in advance to register and speak. Goodman took one of the 10 places, while several other residents who wanted to talk couldn’t get places, Ramlawi complained.
“What a horrible way to start a meeting,” he said.
Hayner wasn’t the only board member to be criticized by speakers on Monday night.
Mozhgan Savabieasfahani, a recent candidate for the 4th Neighborhood Council, has widely criticized the council, accusing the council of favoring “the billionaire class” and “money-hungry private developers”, while “pretending” for affordable housing .
Claiming that people are being forced out of town because it is unaffordable, she called Taylor a “heartless beast” and “shame on mankind” and told the council: “Voters will deliver inhuman beasts like you in the trash of history.
No one on the board attempted to disturb Savabieasfahani or call to order while she was speaking. Savabieasfahani regularly speaks at council meetings, strongly criticizing the mayor and council.
As for the council rule regarding when the mayor can interrupt speakers, it appears there are differences of opinion on what constitutes a personal attack, Briggs said. She has always heard speakers make sharp remarks about board members on policy matters, she said.
“And it can be uncomfortable at times, but I’ve never heard the mayor ask them to stop, and I think that’s appropriate unless we get into obscene or grossly indecent language,” Briggs said. , suggesting that the board needs to have a more in-depth discussion. on what the personal attacks rule means.
Some council members are very concerned as the issue runs deeper, Griswold said.
There is an organized effort to spread false information about council members, and she received death threats earlier this year, after there were repeated attempts to hack into her home computer system, he said. she said, adding that she was now paying an additional $ 300 per year for a firewall.
“It’s not just casual comments that are allowed to slip. This is an organized effort to attack, ”she said, arguing that this is something the council as a body needs to address.
Council member Julie Grand, from Ward D-3, said she looked forward to working with her colleagues on new council rules to “raise the level of conversation at this table” and for council members to take responsibility. responsibility for their behavior.
Before the end of the meeting, Griswold thanked his colleagues, staff and the community for their commitment to local government this year.
“While tonight’s meeting was not cordial, we have accomplished a great deal this year,” she said.
Griswold concluded by sharing a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt: “Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, and small minds discuss people.”
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