– We Agree: Things Go Better with Transparency – Or – When a Picture Says No Words

Screen shot of e-mail from FRA to Ann Arbor city staff, showing redaction.

Screen shot of e-mail from FRA to Ann Arbor city staff, showing redaction.

 

Candidates for Ann Arbor City Council participated in a forum hosted by the League of Women Voters (LWV) on Tuesday, July 12. The candidates, seeking to represent citizens in Ward 1 and Ward 4, were asked to address questions regarding the location of the proposed Ann Arbor Amtrak Station. In addition, they were asked to respond to the staff decision to withhold the draft report on location alternatives for the proposed station, as well as to comment regarding the staff decision to withhold comments from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).

We support release of the information about the draft report, and the comments made by the Federal Railroad Administration to the public. Why?

  • The most recent public meeting on the project was May 15, 2015, nearly 14 months ago, and no additional information has been provided to the public since that time. It is past due time for a project update.
  • One budget estimate for the project is in the range of $50 million, a significant expense, regardless of whether the source of funding is federal, state, or local. We deserve to understand what is being considered before being asked to pay for a new station.
  • According to their statements during the June 6 City Council meeting, no council members are aware of the contents of the report, or apparently of the discussions among city staff, MDOT, and the FRA. Council members who voted to allow staff to proceed without releasing information, and candidates who agreed with the approach of not releasing information, are essentially agreeing to lack of oversight of a large, costly, complex project.

Given the budget magnitude, and the city’s stated high priority for the project, we feel that members of the public deserve to know more details, and at a point at which our involvement can influence the outcome.

Lack of transparency elicits lack of trust. We agree with two readers who commented on the MLive report of the LWV forum, quoted in part:

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“I see little reason for this issue to have any information that should be withheld.  Keeping some information secret makes people wonder what it is and IMO the biggest problem might be costs which if released might create more opposition.”

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“I believe that the Council has already indicated that it will let the voters decide on any plans to build a multi-million dollar train station. Even if this vote does not happen, don’t the voters have a right to know about the various considerations on all sides before some deal is baked? At this point it is not even clear that the Council members know what facts lie behind all those black stripes. So the city staff is putting forth its position to the Federal Railroad Administration, which is obviously pushing back on some points, and neither the Council nor the voters know what either side (including the one that is ostensibly their own) is advocating. Amazing!”

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We recommend that you read the MLive article, and consider how each candidate responded. Some candidates spoke clearly about how they would make decisions.

Please read on:

http://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/index.ssf/2016/07/train_station_transparency_are.html#incart_river_home

 

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