Gentle Readers, the Nov. 5th election is fast approaching. In an effort to help those of you who may still be undecided, Damn Arbor is publishing a series of interviews with City Council Candidates. Here is our interview with Ward 1 Incumbent, Sabra Briere. If you are a City Council Candidate and would like to do an interview with us, please check your email inbox. DA: Tell us a little about yourself. Who are you? Why are you running for city council?
SB: I'll break this into two questions.
My name is Sabra, but that doesn't tell you who I am. Nor does the list (which follows) explain that. Far too deep philosophically for my this morning.
I am the product of my parents and experiences. I read constantly, and learned to cook, garden, and work with fiber from my parents. I used to be able to fix a car - but cars have changed while my skills haven't. I am an early adopter of technology. All of these can be attributed to my parents.
I've lived in other places, and decided Ann Arbor was home. I have traveled to other countries and other states. I have worked hard, in low-paying and high-paying jobs. I learned to accept responsibility for my actions and in-actions. These and other experiences led me to the following conclusions: I enjoy new experiences, but view change with caution. I'll always try to find a way to solve a problem and make something work. I'll ask questions, and decide for myself whether I agree with others' conclusions.
I am a political junkie, because I need to know and understand in order to help shape change. And since I expect but don't always welcome change, shaping it helps me accept it. I think politics is about people - not ideas, not agendas, not parties or factions - it's about working effectively and collaboratively toward a goal.
As for why I ran - and serve, and wish to continue serving - I've summed it up in that last statement. I believe in working toward common goals. And while stating that goal can be difficult, if we can start with WHY we want to accomplish something, we can then discuss the HOW and WHEN. I prefer to put ego aside and work with others; that means, if someone has a good idea, I'll support or try to improve upon it. And if someone has an unworkable idea, I'll try to help get it to work or find another solution - as long as we agree on the goal.
DA: According to Facebook, our prime demographic is 25-34. What do you have to offer for Ann Arborites in that age range?
SB: I was involved in Ann Arbor politics by the time I was 25, not just voting, but taking an active role in elections and issues. I thought it was my civic duty - and I still think so. For those who are now getting involved in our community - whether through an issue, or through an organization - I'm open to finding ways to reach a shared goal. I bring some experience to any discussion, but also bring an open mind - not vacant, of course, but collaborative. Mostly, though, I'd like to increase ways for people to get involved in running our community - through serving on boards and commissions, volunteering for task forces, or engaging in other acts that requiring learning about and knowing about the community.
One of the most significant ways to be involved in local government - actually voting in Council races - is also one of the easiest. Yet - national politics excites; local politics doesn't. When a voter realizes that a vote in local government actually changes the nature of that body, and therefore can change the direction of the City - that's real power. I'd be excited to see the folks living and working downtown actively engage in selecting members of Council.
I'm not an economist or an entrepreneur, but I still understand that having sufficient employment opportunities for lateral moves to other organizations creates the type of job diversity that we need. I support efforts that create a variety of jobs at all levels - to ensure lateral moves as well as advancement while staying within our community. I'd really like to reinforce the fact that Ann Arbor is a great place to stay, not just a great place to live for a while.
I also bring a sense of ironic humor to any discussion. I try to keep that under control, of course, but don't always succeed.
DA: What are your 3 biggest goals for your next term if you are elected to City Council?
SB: Each time a new Council member is elected, it changes the dynamics of the group. For the next few months, I'll continue as I have but hope to learn how that dynamic works. No member of Council does anything alone - it takes collaboration and understanding to move an idea forward.
I will continue to focus on neighborhood infrastructure - street surfaces, storm sewers and rain gardens, sidewalks and bike paths, traffic speeds and parking. These infrastructure elements require time and planning and the work is never finished. One area improves for a few years - but then, the street surface deteriorates, new and improved practices require making changes (think about how many times the City has redesigned the ramps at corners in an effort to really get it right), and then it's time to start over.
I will continue to emphasize City services - that is, the areas where City staff members interact with the community: trash, compost and recycling collection; construction and other activities that require permits or licenses; parks and recreation; police and fire. While these services have never been forgotten, the City Council has been trying to get positive customer service back on the agenda - and reminding City staff that their primary customer is the resident.
There are two discrete areas that need significant improvement in our local government - (1) interacting with the community at the best time for planning, and (2) collecting and using data so information is available to help drive service improvements.
Today, one staff member has become an effective meeting facilitator. But the community expects to be part of the discussion about infrastructure improvements, park use and design, new development location and design . . . each change suggested requires community input. To do this well, we cannot begin the work and then present it as a fait accompli. But working with the community is clearly still a concept in progress. And we need more staff members who are trained and experienced at working with the community in positive ways.
Data collection seems like a no-brainer. I've learned, however, that it isn't something the City has done consistently. For instance, the City produces a budget each year; incorporated into that budget is a plan for infrastructure improvements. But there is no tracking of which improvements were actually completed, which were delayed, and which need additional funding. A street project could be approved - implicitly, because it was in the capital improvement plan - but not constructed. Tracking this seems to me to be obvious. Another area of data collection - one that the City and the Police are working to improve - is to track what each police officer is doing, when. For instance, a certain amount of time must be spent on administrative tasks; another amount might be allocated to attending community meetings, patrolling at an event, monitoring traffic speed at a specific location, or following up a lead in an investigation. As we look at ways to ensure effective police coverage, I look forward to having more effective scheduling and staffing tools for the Police Chief to use.
I've been an advocate for improved community engagement and data collection since I got to Council; I expect to continue in this direction.
DA: Here’s a reader submitted question: What's something that you'd like to do that might not be super popular right away, but would be good for the long term future of Ann Arbor?
SB: Being good for our community and being popular - two very different ideas.
What I think would be good for Ann Arbor: run an effective educational program on transit through a variety of media on: pedestrian safety, street speeds and design, whether and when to let a car engine idle, alternative fuel vehicles and how to make them work for us. Would this be popular? Hard to tell; most of the people I know are interested in these topics, but don't know how to move forward toward implementing change at the governmental level. Also good: developing some form of PACE program for single family/duplex structures. It's hard to invest in energy-saving options when the payback is low and the impact is moderate. Some folks indicate that this program would be selecting 'winners and losers' and that the government should stay out. Would this be popular? I don't know, but I am convinced it would be desired.
I'd also advocate for some type of incentive for new retail development/renovation that encourages creating more affordable retail space downtown and in various locations. Having prime retail space rent for prices that are competitive with Manhattan's rents makes no sense in our community. Whether this would be popular, I don't know, but I think we need to address both affordable retail - in order to encourage local entrepreneurs - and affordable housing.
DA: What’s the best way for your constituents to engage with you? And another reader submitted question as a follow up: Do you tweet?
SB: I don't think there is any single best way to engage with me. Some folks call me up - I'm actually listed in the phone book, and I include my cell phone number in every communication. Some come talk with me at The Northside Grill on Mondays (I'm there nearly every Monday from 7:30 to 9 am). Some - many - send me emails. I try to respond to every email - and do respond to each one that raises a concern or offers a solution. While I do tweet, those tweets are not very interesting. Mostly, they point folks toward my newsletter or some new blog post. I try to keep the blog away from local politics.
DA: What would you like to see in Ann Arbor in the next 5 years?
SB: I would like what most of the people I know would like - more of the same. We want small town connections and big city services. I want to see improved access to the North Main parks; the Allen Creek Greenway plans implemented, at least in part; improved shared walking/biking routes to connect residential areas with parks and other destinations; improved stormwater handling mechanisms; some plan to clean up the water at the Allen Creek's outlet before it gets to the Huron River . . . I'd also like an improved transit system that allows residents to retire a car - this means, runs frequently at night, on weekends and to destinations that residents want to get to - the stores on Stadium, for example. And of course, I would like the pressure toward redevelopment to slow. I accept that redevelopment is something property owners and builders want but continue to feel that much currently being built is not a benefit to the community. I hope we find a way to encourage thoughtful redevelopment that enhances our quality of life. Well, there you have it, gentle reader. Stay tuned for more council candidate interviews.