The Experiment with Government by Anecdote is Over

The Experiment with Government by Anecdote is Over

Congratulations to Lisa Disch (Ward 1), Linh Song (Ward 2), Travis Radina (Ward 3), Jen Eyer (Ward 4), and Erica Briggs (Ward 5). Full disclosure: I volunteered some time for Mz. Briggs’ and Mz. Eyer’s campaigns.

I’d like to think that people have been peeking into local politics more since 2016 and 2018. With more than a doubling of turnout since 2016, it seems like people are looking under the hood locally. It is clear people didn’t like what they saw and wanted change.

PrimaryWashtenaw County Voter Turnout
August 201648,276
August 201898,173
August 2020111,693

Tell me if you’ve heard this before: “I’ve gotten lots of phone calls and emails from constituents with concerns about this.” Anne Bannister was probably the worst offender in this arena. Jane Lumm also liked to use this tactic. They would echo sentiments from constituents who already agreed with them. The height of this anecdotal absurdity came during the water rate discussions and the firing of Howard Lazarus.

Lumm and Bannister found themselves in the curious position of trying to claim that the new, 4-tier water rate structure was unfair to homeowners. When asked how many homeowners actually hit that 4th tier, City staff reported that it was less than 5% of single-family homeowners. 5%. Lumm and Bannister were fighting for the highest water consumers to be subsidized by the other 95%. Never mind the many condo and co-op residents who benefited from the new, lower water rates on multi-family. (They also never got rid of that 4th tier since two follow-up studies to the one that recommended 4 tiers agreed with the original conclusions.)

This anecdotal positioning repeated with the firing of City Administrator Howard Lazarus. Attempting to flex their 7-4 majority, they voted to fire Lazarus. Despite an outpouring of correspondence saying the firing was hasty and without good reason, the anti-party majority forged ahead. They tried to justify their reasoning, but were bound by a non-disparagement clause in the separation agreement. It included an extra payout since Lazarus was let go without cause (in the legal sense of the term). With no material breach of contract and no disparagement allowed, we were left with innuendo and rumor as to the ‘real cause’ for firing. Of course, there was nothing substantive to say since there was no substantive reason to fire Lazarus.

Issue after issue, they pushed the anecdotal governance model. Whether it was for re-configuring streets, 40/40/20, creating bike lanes, or supporting more housing, they always found a way to create a narrative that supported their position. It seems the voices they listened to were an increasing minority of the electorate.

I think it’s fine for a leader to have moral courage to take an unpopular position, but they need to bring people along with them or maybe compromise to move things forward. That is not what happened here. They drew on those constituents that supported their position and ignored those who disagreed.

Most voters probably weren’t aware of these incidents. Perhaps this sort of hyperlocal, concierge politicking works when voter turnout is below 20%. Most of the credit goes to the 5 candidates who worked hard to get their message out: Ann Arbor is a welcoming, progressive place. We want our local government to reflect those values.

Of course, the hard work to hold City Council accountable continues! I am optimistic about the 5 new Council Members. Now it is time for them to show us how they will lead.