Ward 3 Council Candidates Go Head-to-Head: Kunselman vs. Ackerman

Ward 3 Council Candidates Go Head-to-Head: Kunselman vs. Ackerman

by Dave Alexander

This year, Ann Arbor CTN has produced short (2-3 minute) videos in which all the candidates running in the Aug. 8 Democratic primary election have a chance to introduce themselves and their campaigns to Ann Arbor voters. The videos, produced by CTN staff, allowed candidates to make use of a teleprompter. Candidates took advantage of multiple takes to be able to offer up to voters finished campaign videos with high production values.

In Ward 3, Stephen Kunselman and Zachary Ackerman are running in the Aug. 8 Democratic primary election.

Zachary Ackerman is a one-term Council member and Kunselman is a four-term former Council member who lost to Ackerman in the 2015 Democratic primary election.

According to his campaign website, Kunselman was first elected to City Council in 2006, serving one term. He regained a seat in 2009 and served three terms until 2015. During his tenure on Council, Kunselman served on the Planning Commission, the Environmental Commission and the Parks Advisory Commission. As U-M’s Energy Conservation Liaison, Kunselman disseminates information for improving energy efficiency of building operations, serving as a liaison between departments, and conducting the planning, development, and implementation of training, educational and awareness programs for energy conservation.

Stephen Kunselman co-sponsored a Council resolution which imposed term limits on the mayoral appointees who sit on the Downtown Development Authority Board. He was also the author of the city’s 2008 backyard chicken ordinance. Since 2009, Ann Arbor has issued 107 backyard chicken permits, but officials admit that there are many more backyard chicken flocks than permits granted.

In April 2017, Kunselman cited City Council’s lacks of “direction and leadership” as one of the reasons he decided to seek election to local office once again.

“It all comes down to failed leadership of the City Council,” said the former Ward 3 Council member shortly after announcing he had qualified to have his name appear on the Aug. 8 Democratic primary ballot. “The closure of our Materials Recovery Facility (the MRF) and the need for expensive interim hauling contracts to transport our recyclables out of state, tripling the expenses, is a glaring example of lack of clear direction and leadership. It is easy to blame City staff, but accountability lies with City Council.”

In his CTN video, Stephen Kunselman tells voters, “After talking with downtown business owners, neighbors and supporters, it became increasing clear that our city government is going in the wrong direction. Too many important issues are not being adequately discussed at Council meetings and far too often our elected representatives are dismissive of any alternative views and compromises.”

In 2017, Ward 3 Council member Zachary Ackerman voted against a resolution which would have released public records related to where officials are planning to propose a new train station be built. On April 17, 2017, Ackerman voted to sell the Library Lane land for $10 million to a Chicago developer. Emails, texts and electronic messages released in response to Freedom of Information Act requests submitted by The Ann Arbor Independent revealed that at the Ward 3 Council member had worked with Ward 5 Council members Chip Smith (D) and Chuck Warpehoski (D) to stage and script the public comments made by homeless individuals at the Council meeting.  The Council members wanted it to appear as if the homeless supported the sale of the Library Lane parcel and the construction of luxury housing.

Kunselman also tells voters in his video that Ann Arbor City Council’s “secretiveness and lack of transparency are especially troubling.”

“I am proud of the honesty, integrity, transparency and fiduciary responsibility I brought to our government,” says Kunselman. He says, “But it was the vote by City Council against releasing the communications between the City and the Federal Railroad Administration regarding the effort to plan for a new train station that was really upsetting to me….For what can be so secretive about a proposed train station location that would lead City Council to vote against the most fundamental value of our community: open and transparent government?”

In Nov. 2015, shortly before he would leave City Council, Kunselman voted against a resolution which stipulated that “any sale or lease of development rights to any portion of the city-owned lot on Fifth Avenue would be put to an advisory vote of the citizens to inform council’s decision.” The resolution ultimately failed.

When Kunselman ran for Council in 2009, he vowed to adopt “a council code of ethics.” At a 2009 candidate forum Kunselman said, “Council must adopt a code of ethics that sets high standards of integrity and honor to the position of councilmember.”

He won the 2009 election, but his City Council legislative record shows no resolutions proposed by Kunselman aimed at adopting a code of ethics for council members.

With respect to campaign finance, in his 2009 campaign Kunselman said, “I pursue money and campaign funds from Ward 3 residents and the residents of Ann Arbor. I do not pursue campaign financing from city unions, from my employer, or from outside the city by any great means. And I think is important that our campaign financing for city council races be relegated basically to our community, not outside influences like developers and law firms that have deep pockets.”

In his 2011 run for Council, Kunselman told voters he wanted to focus on “general governmental accountability” and he stressed “that anything that’s developed on the [Library] lot should not have a public subsidy.” In his 2011, 2015 and 2017 races, Kunselman said that, “City Council should not try to pick winners and losers in the private sector” when selling public land for development.

In 2015, then Council member Kunselman told voters at a candidate forum: “The greatest differentiator between me and my opponent is in approach to local government. I believe that at the end of the day your local representative has to work for you, and so should make local government more accessible, more understandable, and more helpful.”

In Council member Ackerman’s 2017 CTN video, below, he says, “I am still committed to making City Hall more accessible, more understandable, and more helpful to you, the resident.”

In his primary election campaigns between 2006 and 2015, campaign finance records show Kunselman accepted two $500 and two $1,000 donations from the same local Ann Arbor developer. In his 2017 campaign, Kunselman returned a check sent him by that developer. Of the $4,135 raised by Kunselman for the 2015 primary election campaign, the candidate spent only $982, primarily on printing costs and website hosting.

Kunselman’s CTN video appears below:

Zachary Ackerman ran against Stephen Kunselman in 2015 and beat the four-term incumbent by 40 votes. Ackerman raised $8,990 for the primary election, more than twice the $4,135 raised by Kunselman. For his primary election campaign, Ackerman spent almost eight times more than the incumbent. In his 2015 race, Ackerman was quoted in the media as saying he wanted “to change a ‘demonizing culture’ on council and work toward consensus.” Ackerman repeatedly alleged Kunselman was too combative.

Web server records turned over to The Ann Arbor Independent in April 2017 revealed Council member Ackerman, as well as three other Council members had, over the course of four meetings examined, spent hours browsing Facebook and Twitter during public meetings. In addition, in violation of Council rules, server records showed Ackerman sending emails in secret during Council meetings. 

Of the $8,990 Ackerman raised for the primary election, $1,000 came from Ackerman’s parents and the candidate self-funded $550. Of the remaining $7,440 in cash raised, $2,765 came from out-of-state donors and Ann Arbor residents outside of Ackerman’s Ward 3. In addition Ackerman, who said in 2015 interviews that he was running a “grassroots campaign,” paid $2,433 to a political consultant, Alex Yerkey. Ackerman in 2017 has again said he is running a “grassroots” campaign. Campaign finance disclosures are due to the Washtenaw County Clerk’s office in late-July.

Ackerman’s video begins, “I believe we need to invest in our infrastructure and basic services. We need to invest in building an affordable housing market.” In 2015, Ackerman told the media, “The council has committed to 2,800 units of affordable housing over the course of the next 20 years, and that’s a really big hill to climb in a very short amount of time.”

In a 2015 endorsement of Ackerman, Christopher Taylor told MLive: “Zach shares my approach to local government — take care of the basics and improve quality of life. Fix the roads, rebuild infrastructure, extend neighborhood safety, beautify parks, promote affordability, reduce traffic, protect the environment.”

Ackerman, in his 2015 League of Women Voters candidate forum told voters, “I think the magnitude of the issues we’re dealing with when it comes to funding our roads, funding our basic services, maintaining an inclusive and diverse community through affordable housing, needs a new approach.”

Ackerman’s legislative record available on the city’s website shows the candidate sponsored no ordinances, budget amendments or resolutions during his 18 months in office that funded or increased funding to the city’s infrastructure or basic services, including police, fire, sanitary sewer and storm water sewer replacement, solid waste, or parks. During the term Ackerman has been in office, Ann Arbor has rehabbed its low-income housing stock, but the city has built no new affordable  or low-income housing developments.

In his video, Ackerman goes on to say, “We introduced a new roads plan…..We unrolled a new urban forestry plan….”

In both instances, the Council member takes credit for the work of city staff and residents.

With respect to the “new roads plan” Ackerman says “we” introduced, his involvement consisted of a vote on Council to approve the 2016-2023 Capital Improvements Plan prepared by others.

The Municipal Planning Act (PA 33 of 2008) requires the planning commission of a city to “annually prepare a capital improvements program of public structures and improvements…in the general order of their priority, that in the commission’s judgment will be needed or desirable and can be undertaken within the ensuing 6-year period.”

The capital improvements plan (CIP) outlines a schedule of public expenditures for a six-year period. It does not address all of the capital expenditures for the City, but provides for large, physical improvements that are permanent in nature that are needed for the functioning of the community, including transportation, parks, utilities, and municipal facilities improvements.

Ackerman was appointed to be the City Council’s representative to the Ann Arbor Planning Commission in Dec. 2016. City Council votes to approve and fund the CIP. City staff member Deborah Gosselin, a systems planning engineer, is in charge of the capital improvements planning process.

The Ann Arbor Urban and Community Forestry Plan was adopted in 2014, while Ackerman’s opponent Stephen Kunselman was still on City Council. Kunselman voted to adopt that plan. In his video and on his campaign web page, Ackerman is attempting to take credit for a forestry plan adopted while his opponent was still in office.

On his website, Ackerman writes that he wants to, “[h]old City Hall to higher customer service standards.” The budget that Ackerman voted to approve in May 2017 reduced staff for the city’s customer services area, but increased funding for customer services to $299,000 per year.

Ackerman, prior to his election to Council, was a student at the University of Michigan. He currently works for Denison Consulting in Ann Arbor.

In his video, Ackerman goes on to say, we “need to invest to invest in progressive action on the environment….” Ackerman’s legislative records shows of the 27 resolutions and ordinances he has co-sponsored, all but two of the resolutions related to the environment which he co-sponsored were symbolic:

  • Resolution Committing the City of Ann Arbor to Adopt, Honor and Uphold Paris Climate Agreement Goals
  • Resolution Authorizing a Commitment to Pursue Community Solar Options that are compatible with the City Council “Resolution Authorizing a Commitment to Making the City of Ann Arbor a Solar Ready Community”
  • Resolution in Support of the Regional Transit Authority (RTA) Ballot Proposal
  • Resolution Opposing Oil Transport through the Enbridge Energy Line 5 Pipeline

In his 18 months on City Council, the majority of the remaining resolutions the Ward 3 Council member sponsored and co-sponsored were also symbolic and non-binding:

  • Resolution of Intent Regarding Potential Washtenaw County Millage to Support Community Mental Health Department, County Sheriff Operations, and Policing Jurisdictions Rebate
  • Resolution Committing the City of Ann Arbor to Adopt, Honor and Uphold Paris Climate Agreement Goals
  • Resolution Affirming The City of Ann Arbor’s Participation in the Welcoming Communities Campaign
  • Resolution of Opposition to the Establishment of Any State-wide Discriminatory Laws by Constitutional Amendment or Legislation
  • Resolution in Support of the Regional Transit Authority (RTA) Ballot Proposal
  • Resolution Opposing Public Act 269 and Requesting Appeal of the New Language in Section 57 of the Act
  • Resolution to Encourage Support to Fund the Fire Protection Grant Program
  • Resolution to Oppose Michigan House Bill 4425 Amending the Michigan Vehicle Code
  • Resolution Opposing Elimination and Reduction of U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Programs Which are Vital to Washtenaw County Residents

On his campaign website and in his CTN video the Ward 3 Council member characterizes his legislative record and accomplishments as “successes.” Ackerman says, “I am proud of our successes, but they also highlight the reasons that make me say: As a community, we still have more to do. As your representative, I still have more to do.”

In his 2017 CTN video, Ackerman also tells voters, “I’m still committed to an approach to leadership that will always seek your guidance.”

In Aug. 2016, Ackerman voted to reject a Council resolution that called for putting a question on the Nov. 8 ballot to ask voters whether the city-owned Library Lot on Fifth Avenue should be developed as a central park and commons.

In April 2017, public records, including emails, text messages and instant messages turned over to The Ann Arbor Independent in response to a series of FOIA requests revealed that Ackerman and two other Council members had worked, in secret, over the course of a month to stage the support of homeless individuals at a public Council meeting and script comments delivered by homeless individuals at a Council meeting in support of Ackerman’s vote in favor of selling the Library lot land to developer Core Spaces.

Ackerman’s CTN video appears below:

6 Responses to "Ward 3 Council Candidates Go Head-to-Head: Kunselman vs. Ackerman"

  1. Pingback: 2017 City Council Aug. 8 Primary Election Coverage Round-up | The Ann Arbor Independent

  2. ward4voter   July 21, 2017 at 12:12 pm

    Thanks for this close look at what these candidates are saying and what they’ve actually done. Will you be publishing similar articles for the candidates running in Wards 4 and 5?

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    • The Ann Arbor Independent Editorial Team   July 24, 2017 at 4:29 pm

      @ward4voter Thanks for asking! Yes, there are plans to publish “Head-to-Head” articles about all of the candidates. The Ward 4 candidates are next.

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  3. Burns Park   July 20, 2017 at 2:19 pm

    Kunselman is no great prize, but Ackerman has done practically nothing that he said he’d do and the MAYOR assured Ward 3 voters in an email that Zach Ackerman would do. Now Ackerman wants to be reelected because he has so much left to do? Fool me once shame on you. Fool me twice shame on me.

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  4. justsayin   July 20, 2017 at 11:28 am

    So the mayor’s kid Zach is taking credit for a 2014 urban forestry plan launched when Steve Kunselman was still in council? Then there’s the creepy plagiarism of Kunselman. If Ackerman has to copy Kunselman’s ideas and Kunselman’s words, it’s time to have the original back on council instead of the plastic imitation.

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  5. Rajan Ravi   July 20, 2017 at 10:54 am

    Great article! It’s about time the actual records of those running for city council were included in articles about their candidacies. The campaign finance info is also much appreciated. I am so disappointed when reading articles in MLive that don’t look at what these elected officials say they will do when they run and then what they actually do. Mr. Ackerman had a chance to do what he promised he would do when he ran, yet his record shows he wasted everyone’s time and money. These are just the kinds of facts voters need to make informed decisions.

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