“Ann Arbor is getting screwed–again!”
That’s Barbara Bergman’s pithy summation of the redistricting plan the county board of commissioners approved in May, which shrinks the body from eleven members to nine.
“It was stupid,” says Bergman, a twenty-year board veteran. “There’re more people in the county, and now we’re going to have fewer representatives? The original plan called for twelve districts, which allowed everybody [currently on the board] to return. But the nine-district plan means two have to leave–and that means weakened urban representation, because one’s from Ann Arbor.”
And when Ann Arbor loses a vote, “it’s poor people who are really getting screwed,” Bergman continues, “because there’ll be less money going for human services and more money going to supplement police services.”
At least Bergman’s district will still exist when the new board is elected this fall. Leah Gunn’s district won’t. If the sixteen-year board veteran wants to stay on the commission, she’ll have to run against a fellow Democrat–which Gunn says she won’t do: “I’m in the same district as Yousef [Rabhi], so I’m retiring.”
Gunn says she’s not worried about yielding her seat to Rabhi. Though he was still a U-M undergrad when he was elected last year, Rabhi has already established himself as a strong advocate for human services. “Yousef is great,” Gunn says. “He’s been doing a great job, and I’m sure he’ll continue to do a great job.”
Gunn isn’t the only human services advocate who won’t run again however: Barbara Bergman won’t, either. “Twenty years is enough,” Bergman says. “I’ll be seventy-seven when I go off the board, and it’s time for younger people.” And just as Gunn has someone she wants in her seat, Bergman has someone in mind for hers: Andy LaBarre.
“I’m very seriously thinking about it, and it’s very likely I’ll run,” says the twenty-nine-year-old Ann Arbor native. A former staffer for congressman John Dingell, he’s currently vice president of government relations for the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Regional Chamber of Commerce. “I’ve received lots of encouragement from Barbara Bergman and Leah Gunn, and I should know relatively soon.”
Conan Smith, the fourth Ann Arbor commissioner and current board chair, says he’s “disappointed we’re losing people, especially people with great talent like Leah and Barbara … One of the great tragedies is what the loss of Leah and Barbara means to human services in this county.”
Bergman says human services funding is at risk because some commissioners prefer to fund what she calls “extreme discounts on police services to the townships. The pittance of money we have for human services doesn’t begin to meet the needs of the vulnerable people, and we’re handing it over to the police services because two urban commissioners consistently vote [with rural commissioners] to supplement police services.”
The commissioners in question, Ronnie Peterson and Kristin Judge, represent Ypsilanti city and township and Pittsfield Township, respectively. Pittsfield and Ypsi have their own police forces–but Ypsi Township is by far the biggest user of the county sheriff’s services, and the biggest beneficiary of the subsidies.
This article has been edited since it appeared in the July 2011 Ann Arbor Observer. The list of urban commissioner supporting police services subsidies has been corrected.