Monday, August 21, 2023

Ann Arbor City Council Preview: August 21, 2023

The Y Lot. CA-9 is the sale of the Y Lot to the Ann Arbor Housing Development Corporation.

Gentle reader, it's #a2Council Night in Ann Arbor. Here's the agenda

The evening kicks off with a modest, 13-item consent agenda. Interestingly, street closures are back at the top of the consent agenda, after two meetings at the end. Wild times. CA-1 through CA-4 are all street closures. CA-1 is Festifall. CA-2 is for the Eli Lilly Mobile Research Unit. CA-3 is for the UM Show Your Love A2 Party. CA-4 is for the Neutral Zone's 25th Anniversary. 

Perhaps more interestingly, CA-9 is the sale of the Y Lot (350 S 5th) to the Ann Arbor Housing Development Corporation. This will be used to build a large building that includes a substantial portion of subsidized housing. You love to see it. Some people have questioned why the city is not just giving the property away to the Ann Arbor Housing Commission. The reason for that has to do with the bonds that the city took for the property sale. In order to protect the tax-exempt status of these bonds, the city has to sell the property at fair market value. You can read more in the administrator's report to council

There are three public hearings on the docket this evening. PH-1/B-1 is for a batch of routine township island annexations. PH-2/B-2 is the second reading of the ordinance adding the Home Energy Rating Disclosure requirement to the city's building code. PH-3/DB-1 is on the Brownfield plan for 303 N Fifth, and 312, & 314 Detroit Street. 
There are two ordinance first readings on the agenda this evening. C-1 is on rezoning 2670 & 2690 Ann Arbor-Saline Road from R1C to Office. C-2 is to make some tweaks to the city's recreational Cannabis law. Specifically it adds some new rules for Cannabis microbusinesses among other things. 

On to the resolutions. DC-1 is to appoint Vanesa Jackson to the Human Rights Commission as a non-resident elector. DC-2 is to approve the FY24 contract with SPARK. DC-3 is a resolution to urge the legislature to end the sale of flavored tobacco in the state. DC-4 is a resolution to approve disbursements from the community events fund. 

And that's all there is. What items are you most looking forward to seeing? Hopefully we will see you there. The CTN stream starts at 7 pm. Make sure you follow the action on the #a2Council hashtag or on 

Monday, August 7, 2023

Ann Arbor City Council Preview: August 7, 2023


Gentle reader, it's #a2Council night in Ann Arbor. Here's the agenda

The evening kicks off with a deep 21-item, consent agenda. This meeting continues the new tradition of placing street closures at the end of the agenda. To wit, CA-21, a street closure for the Go Blue Mix, Sept. 2. 

There is one public hearing on the docket this evening. PH-1/B-1 is on changes to Transportation Commission. Specifically, it's a resolution that changes the rule that only seat on the commission be reserved for someone who owns a transportation business. This seat has been extremely difficult to fill and has been vacant since Jim of HEH chose not to be reappointed. 

There are three ordinance first readings on the agenda tonight. C-1 is the first reading for the South Town rezoning. This is a really cool project encompassing the entire block bounded by State, Henry, White, and Stimson. It will replace several old houses with a super environmentally friendly midrise. 

C-2 is the first reading of an ordinance that makes some minor changes to TC-1 Zoning. C-3 is the first reading of an ordinance to add a chapter on home energy rating disclosure (HERD). 

Closing out the agenda, we have the resolutions. DC-1 is a resolution to appoint Julius Buzzard to the Greenbelt Advisory Commission. DC-2 is a resolution to approve Kerrytown Concert Houses request for a liquor license. DC-3 is a resolution to study Ann Arbor's response during severe weather emergencies. DB-1 is new bylaws for transportation commission. 

And that's all there is. What items are you most looking forward to seeing? Hopefully we will see you there. The CTN stream starts at 7 pm. Make sure you follow the action on the #a2Council hashtag or on 

Thursday, August 3, 2023

Letter to the Editor: A Tragedy at Ann Arbor Public Schools, and a Call for Accountability

Editor's Note: from time to time we make the decision to run a letter to the editor anonymously. In this case we are doing so due to the author's genuine fear of retaliation. 

Content Warning: This article contains references to physical abuse of a young child with autism in Ann Arbor Public Schools. Some of the links on this article also contain videos of the assault itself. 


A recent lawsuit against Ann Arbor Public Schools revealed that, in 2021 Rochanda Jefferson, a bus aide, assaulted a 7 year old boy with autism. This happened on an AAPS bus run by Durham School Services. There were multiple witness report yet the bus aide was allegedly allowed to continue to supervise him and other children for weeks after the incident. The district administration failed in its duty to report any suspicion of child abuse immediately. This crime, and the district's response, are evidence of a failure of leadership at a district level. We as a community must act and make changes to ensure it is never allowed to happen again. AAPS leadership may not have physically struck the child themselves, but they are accountable for their failure to act. 

There must be consequences for those who are in a position to have done more. Those who could have broken the chain of abuse but chose to remain silent, or worse, covered up or downplay the abuse. It is time to call upon Superintendent Jeanice Swift to resign, or if she refuses, be terminated for cause. The School Board, which has a duty to oversee the district's leadership, must act. To do so, they must hear from families and the AAPS community to make it clear we no longer find this leadership acceptable. 

The board can be contacted at The next meeting is on August 23rd at 6pm, 3700 Earhart Road, where the Board will perform an evaluation of Superintendent Swift's performance. Those wishing to provide public comment must sign up in advance at this site

Since the lawsuit was filed on July 26th, more information has continued to come out in various news reports, including this piece on WXYZ news (CW: contains video of assault), This Detroit Free Press story (CW: includes video of assault), and this MLive report. You can also read the court filings here.  

    An Overview of the Timeline of the District Response as alleged:

  • Since 2020 - Rochanda Jefferson is moved around on AAPS buses 3 times over a year and a half, once after threatening a teacher
  • 12/14/2021 - Jefferson, an aide on a special needs bus, assaults a young boy with autism, on a bus with other special needs students. 
  • 12/15/2021 - Multiple witnesses notify the staff and leadership at AAPS of the assault
  • 12/15/2021 - Staff notifies the principal at Carpenter Elementary by written report
  • 12/15/2021 - Report filed with Child Protective Services (CPS) by an unidentified person
  • 12/16/2021 - The child's teacher contacts mom to say she is unhappy that Jefferson remains on the child's bus
  • ~4 weeks later - AAPS administration reviews tape of assault and removes aide from bus, and files report with CPS
  • 1/18/2022 - Child's teacher emails Carpenter Elementary principal that she feels she can no longer keep the assault from the child's mother
  • 1/19/2022 - Carpenter Elementary Principal emails mother to notify her of "incidents" involving her son
  • 3/15/2022 - Police inform mother of assault charges, provide with video, the first time she learns the extent of the violence against her child.
  • 6/28/2023 - Jefferson is convicted of 4th degree Child Abuse in criminal court
  • 7/26/2023 - lawsuit naming AAPS, Durham School Services, and Principal filed

Note, nowhere in this timeline was the AAPS Board of Education notified of the assault. Multiple sources indicate that the Board was not notified until after the lawsuit was filed last month. 

Administrative Response: Smokescreens and Deception

Under the leadership of Superintendent Dr. Jeanice Swift, the Ann Arbor Public Schools administration has developed an organizational culture of self-preservation. As many AAPS parents know, district press releases and emails are carefully crafted to say a lot of words without acknowledging any culpability when something goes wrong. In this particular circumstance, the press release states that AAPS "removed the offending individual from duty on the day the incident was observed on the video and contacted Child Protective Services immediately." Note the language, meant to imply the district acted immediately. In fact, the lawsuit reveals the district waited 5 weeks until it viewed the video of the incident, and forced this child, and the children who witnessed the violence witnesses, to ride the bus 17 more times with the now-convicted abuser. Rather than come clean and allow healing to begin, district leadership has doubled down, saying it followed appropriate procedures.

How can these procedures be appropriate if a child has been assaulted, it is reported immediately to leadership, and this child was forced to continue to ride the bus with his abuser 17 times?

Beyond the mishandling of the incident itself, there is the district's incredibly poor communication with the boy's mother, Jaime Nelson. This looks like it could be a deliberate coverup. After the assault occurred on December 14th, it took the administration until January 19th to communicate with Nelson. Even then, it was a smokescreen of half-truths. The Principal of Carpenter Elementary sent Nelson an email full of passive voice, avoiding blame and providing no hard details. The email said "there have been two incidents shared that have resulted in unsafe conditions" for her son. Nelson asked to see a copy of the video of the incident and was rebuffed, only getting access months later when police became involved.

And finally, district leadership has not given any indication that children affected by this assault, either directly or as witnesses, have been appropriately debriefed or counseled. After assaulting the young boy, Jefferson intimidated everyone else on the bus too, saying "That’s OK he’s going to jail. You’re old enough to go to jail. You don’t have to be no certain age to go to jail, they got children's jail for kids." A lot of children on the spectrum take these threats literally, especially at this early age. As witnesses to this violence, the district owes these families the clarity and resources they need to process what was likely a traumatic event. Has this taken place? The district press releases refer only to the investigation of the event itself, not how it helped children and families cope with the emotional fallout. Given the fact that the event was hidden from the boy's mother for weeks, it appears likely that the other families were also kept in the dark.

AAPS district leadership's mishandling of the aftermath of this assault has compounded the suffering of these vulnerable children and their families. Such a failure of leadership, and a failure of organizational culture, cannot go without consequences for those in whom we place such trust. When AAPS should have provided healing and clarity to the affected families, it sought to deny responsibility, bury the details, and eventually hide behind a smokescreen of carefully-worded press releases.

Either district leadership incorrectly believes it acted appropriately, or they are actively trying to escape blame. Both are unacceptable.

As news broke, it also became apparent that the School Board had been kept in the dark regarding this case. School Board President Rima Mohammad tweeted that the board "recently learned of the bus incident that occurred in December 2021," while trustee Jeff Gaynor asked questions in a Facebook post about why there was such a delay in reporting the incident:

A statement from Board President Rima Mohammad, alluding to being recently informed of the student's assault 

A statement from Trustee Jeff Gaynor, expressing frustration over the statement released by AAPS leadership

It is time to hold district leadership accountable. It's time Superintendent Swift stepped down. Email the board or sign up for public commentary and let your voice be heard.

A Time to Live our Values

This is far from the only recent evidence of incompetence by AAPS leadership. It's not even the first or second time a child with autism has been assaulted by staff at AAPS. Whether it's the recent botched investigation into allegations of a hostile racist environment at Pioneer High, or the many recent examples of children on the autism spectrum being denied required IEP services,  Ann Arbor Schools has a long way to go when it comes to proving it means it, when it says "we live by the deeply held core values of welcome, embrace and celebration of all in our community." It is time we sought new leadership for our schools, and demand an administration that stands for accountability and openness. 

We can move on from this, but not by forgetting it happened. To begin a culture of open and honest communication, and begin healing from these traumatic events, we need a new start.

The AAPS Board of Education can be reached at

The Path to Progress in Ann Arbor: Prioritization and Accountability

Traffic backup on Washtenaw Ave.
If you lived here, you’d be home by now (photo by author)

Editors note: this is a guest article from former planning commissioner and Ward 2 Councilmember Kirk Westphal.

"Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction." - John F. Kennedy

Ann Arbor city government is in uncharted waters. Voters decisively changed the composition of City Council over the past two elections. All members of the conservative faction that briefly held a majority on Council from 2018-2020 were off Council by 2022. This faction notably fired the City Administrator and made decisions that many characterized as housing-averse, car-centric and anti-pedestrian. Ann Arbor voters delivered a decisive rebuke of these conservative policies.

For the first time in years, Council appears to be in genuine, unanimous agreement on certain basic values beyond providing the typical essential city services. These are the issues that have previously divided Council; for example, quickly adding housing supply to address the affordability crisis, eliminating road violence (aka Vision Zero), expanding non-car options for travel, and making systemic changes for a more equitable and sustainable future. Councilmembers frequently express urgency about these issues, even calling some of them a “crisis.”

Barack Obama said, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” Ann Arborites have taken this to heart over the past two elections, and you could argue that there’s never been a more, “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for” political moment on the local level.

But we’re not seeing the values expressed by Councilmembers and the public translate into action.

This isn’t necessarily a matter of budget priorities. Budgets matter a lot, and councilmembers have been willing to put financial resources behind their values as a sign of their urgency. But the act of allocating money doesn’t move us forward as a community. To make our money work, Council needs to publicly articulate their priorities, create realistic and measurable goals, monitor progress, take economic development seriously, and make sure we can attract and retain the best staff possible.

How should we fix this?

1. Set Council priorities