Ann Arbor Mayor Shares Updates From Mandatory Vaccines To A New Interim City Administrator
Life is always busy in Ann Arbor, and the city's mayor, Christopher Taylor, talks with WEMU's Lisa Barry about some of the many issues city officials are currently addressing.
Lisa Barry: There's always a lot going on in our community and always a lot to talk about in the city of Ann Arbor. This is Lisa Barry. And joining us now to keep us all connected and updated on the latest is Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us.
Christopher Taylor: Well, thanks for having me.
Lisa Barry: Let's begin with the recent decision on a new interim city administrator for Ann Arbor. What can you tell us?
Christopher Taylor: Well, we have made an offer to Milton Dohoney to serve as our interim city administrator. And I'm incredibly excited. We're moving forward on contract conversations. He's a gentleman of tremendous skill and experience and integrity. And I think he'll be an outstanding choice for the community.
Lisa Barry: Has he accepted yet? Are you still waiting for that, or is it a done deal?
Christopher Taylor: He has expressed his delight in the press and in private. But, of course, nothing's done until it's done. It's just a matter of form. And so, we're in the midst of putting together a contract, which I'm hoping to bring to the administration committee and to council in short order.
Lisa Barry: And just to be clear, he's interim. What happens after this?
Christopher Taylor: Well, the date is indeterminate, but, you know, he'll be here for as long as he's here. And, at some point, we will transition to a search for a permanent administrator, and he'll be a participant in that process, by which I mean he'll help us along in that process. And then, you know, eventually, there'll be a new administrator.
Lisa Barry: Could he be included in that?
Christopher Taylor: That has not yet been part of the conversation. I don't know if it fits into his hopes and dreams. But, you know, for right now, which is what I'm focused on, he has expressed his enthusiasm, and, certainly, I have a tremendous amount of enthusiasm for him and look forward to his arrival in Ann Arbor and to benefiting from his his expertise and skill.
Lisa Barry: OK, moving on, where are you in the city when it comes to mandating vaccines for city employees?
Christopher Taylor: So, we at the city have announced a vaccine mandate. There has been some conversation about that at the state level in connection with the recent budget. We are looking forward as to our options. As to where do I stand personally, I believe that a vaccine mandate for all city employees is a necessity. I am behind it 100 percent. People who interact with city employees have a right to know that the person they're dealing with is not a health hazard and is not a threat themselves to public health by having refused to be vaccinated. Employees have a right to a safe workplace. Members of the community who engage with city employees have a right to be safe, and vaccines are proven safe and effective against a deadly virus--a deadly and highly contagious virus. It strikes me as plain, simple, excellent, public policy. And I support a mandate 100 percent.
Lisa Barry: But it doesn't seem that simple. And you being a lawyer in your real life, I understand that council authorized the city attorney to look into legal challenges. Not all of the nine employee unions are on board with the vaccine mandate. Is this going to get too complicated? And the governor just signed a budget. So, there's a lot of different legal layers to what's happening here. Are you confident you're going to surpass all those? And it will it be in effect?
Christopher Taylor: We are looking at our legal options in light of the recent events out of Lansing and in the state budget. We also know that the federal government is moving forward with a vaccine mandate for employers of a certain size. And whether that applies to us, I guess the next question. So, you know, we are we're doing everything we can to ensure that we have a safe workplace and that the community members who engage with city employees know that they're going to be as safe as possible. It is a public health imperative. It's, you know, a public policy imperative. And it's something that we're going to work towards with diligence and as much speed as we can.
Lisa Barry: Speaking of imperative, drinking water is obviously important to Ann Arbor residents. And I recently saw an article where the city's water treatment plant was referred to as the aging water treatment plant. And I know there are some concerns about providing residents with reliable, high quality water. Where is the city and all of that?
Christopher Taylor: Sure. Well, I guess I'd characterize as we are focused on providing high-quality drinking water, because that's what we're doing now every day. And that's we're going to continue to do. And in order to do that over the upcoming decades, we need to plan, and we need to make sure that our infrastructure is up to the challenges that will be presented over the upcoming decades. And that's exactly what we're doing. So, we have a water treatment plant that is aging, that we're still using 1930s technology. And, you know, things have changed a little bit. The contaminants have changed. Our sensitivity and our concern about contaminants have changed. And so, what we need to do is we need to make sure that that our drinking water is ready for the next 50 years. And that's what we're going to do. So, we in the city have investigated, because it is a major strategic decision whether we have alternatives to fixing our own drinking water treatment plant. I think, you know, we have not had a council vote on the matter. If I have to take a guess as to where we're thinking that we had alternatives with linking up to Detroit water, and I'm not sure that anyone is going to be in support of that. We pretty sure are focused in the in the short, medium and long term is going to make sure that our water treatment plant, which is excellent and produces award winning water, is fixed and maintained and improved and will be ready for decades to come.
Lisa Barry: So much going on in Ann Arbor, but affordable housing is the concern that just doesn't seem to go away. Are you making any progress in chipping away at that problem?
Christopher Taylor: Yes, and you're exactly right. Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County, is the eighth most segregated county in the country, and affordability of housing in Ann Arbor is one of the leading drivers to that. And so, what we need to do is we need to make sure that we take as many steps as we can to increase the amount of housing in Ann Arbor to fight racial and economic segregation, and that we provide affordable housing in Ann Arbor. And that's what we're doing with our municipal risk loan lots. One lot in particular, the "Y" lot in downtown. We are moving forward with an entitlement of a substantial affordable housing project there. That would be a mixed use project. It would be a mixed income project, but it would have 40 percent of the units would be affordable. And it would be really a tremendous step, I think, for the community demonstrating the importance of affordable housing to our community and also would provide, you know, many, many units for people who work in Ann Arbor to be able to live in Ann Arbor, to people who live downtown without a car and close to business, close to shopping, close to entertainment. It would be a good thing for everyone. And I'm really excited about it moving forward.
Lisa Barry: Do you, as the mayor of Ann Arbor, ever hear directly from people who say, "I love Ann Arbor, I want to live in Ann Arbor, but I cannot afford to even rent in Ann Arbor?"
Christopher Taylor: Oh, yeah, all the time. And it's, you know, it's heartbreaking because people who grew up here aren't able to live here. People who work here aren't able to live here. And we want to Ann Arbor to be for everyone because it's not just for them, although it's for the people who are here. You know, an economically segregated community, a racially segregated community is bad for everyone. It degrades the life and the social experience for everyone. And it's just inequitable, and it's wrong. And we need to do everything we can to counteract it. And that includes the city taking strong and active measures to to produce affordable housing and to increase housing in the community.
Lisa Barry: Solar farm in Pittsfield Township. Is that a done deal?
Christopher Taylor: A done deal? No. But we are moving forward, and I couldn't be more excited. It's going to be a twenty megawatt plus solar array on the landfill out there in Pittsfield Township and working with our colleagues and pals in Pittsfield and working collaboratively to make sure that we have a solar array there that we can, you know, have low income residents--all residents in Ann Arbor--subscribe so that they too can have local efficient, renewable, energy and also use it to, you know, offset some of the municipal operations for Pittsfield and for Ann Arbor. It's a really exciting project. I just am so excited that it's going to be moving forward. We're moving forward to an RFP, and hopefully, you know, we'll get some good responses, and we'll ,you know, we'll take it from there.
Lisa Barry: Because at the same time, the City of Ann Arbor is exploring providing its own energy overall, correct?
Christopher Taylor: Well, that's right. And that's what this would entail. You know, we are going to be putting the solar array on top of the landfill, generating our own electricity. It's going to be a good thing to advance our community wide goal of of carbon neutrality by the year 2030. We don't have time to delay. We need to take action. We need to take action now and it needs to work. And that's what we're about to do.
Lisa Barry: And last but not least, we're talking to the mayor of Ann Arbor, Christopher Taylor. And it's time for the annual Mayor's Green Fair on Main Street. Tell us about that.
Christopher Taylor: Yeah. So, you know, the Green Fair has typically opens the summer festival season, but, you know, COVID. So, we're going to close it up this year. We are having the Green Fair. It will be on Main Street over the weekend. You know, the environs over the course of the pandemic have been really successful at evenings. And it's shown that it's it's safe to go down and congregate, you know, reasonably in the open, as we've been doing at restaurants and the like. And so, we're going to roll out with the Green Fair, and there will be municipal groups talking about what we at City Hall are doing with respect to promoting and achieving our carbon neutrality goals. They'll be, you know, dozens of organizations and and entities that provide advocacy and programs and projects that promote energy efficiency, promote zero waste, promote solar, promote geothermal, these sorts of things. It's really important that folks understand what's going on in Ann Arbor, what their opportunities are to themselves live a more, more sustainable life. You know, people in Ann Arbor are so excited about taking part in the A2Zero program, so excited about themselves reducing their carbon footprint and coming out to the Green Fair on Friday at six. We'll give people an opportunity to learn and see and, you know, take that next step themselves.
Lisa Barry: Apparently, your dog's excited, too.
Christopher Taylor: Well, you know, I don't know which one it is, but, you know, both of them are good environmentalists.
Lisa Barry: Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor, always a pleasure to talk to you, and thanks for taking the time to talk to our WEMU listeners as well.
Christopher Taylor: It's always a pleasure. Thanks for calling.
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— Lisa Barry is the host of All Things Considered on WEMU. You can contact Lisa at 734.487.3363, on Twitter @LisaWEMU, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org