Getting to know Ann Arbor City Council candidate Dharma Akmon

Dharma Akmon is running to represent Ward 4 on Ann Arbor City Council. (DOUG COOMBE, Dharma Akmon)

ANN ARBOR – Dharma Akmon (D) is running to represent Ward 4 on Ann Arbor City Council.

Originally from northern Michigan, Akmon moved to Tree Town in 2002. She holds both a Masters and a Ph.D. in Information from the University of Michigan School of Information.

Akmon is an assistant research scientist and the Director of Project Management and User Support at the University of Michigan’s unit of the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research.

Having previously served as Treasurer, she is Vice President of the Ann Arbor District Library Board of Trustees.

The following interview was conducted via email.

What do you feel are the biggest issues in Ann Arbor that City Council can tackle in the next few years?

1.) Strong city services, such as clean water, a trusted public safety system, and roads that are in good repair and safe for drivers, pedestrians, cyclists and bus commuters. 2) Housing affordability: Too many people who work in Ann Arbor can’t afford to live here, pushing them into surrounding communities where they must commute to earn a living. We must work to ensure our city is one that people from all walks of life can call home. 3) Immediate Climate Action: Ann Arbor has boldly committed to community-wide carbon neutrality by 2030 through the A2ZERO plan. I will support policies that align with this plan and prioritize equity and livability.

As important as the issues themselves is how we work on them. We need elected leaders who collaborate, problem-solve, and build effective working relationships through respectful communication. Good governance means being responsive, effective, transparent, ethical, and accountable, all in service to residents and responsible stewardship of the city. I am committed to these values, which I have demonstrated as an executive leader and as a public library trustee.

In your opinion, what are the main issues in your ward? How do you propose to solve them?

I have been knocking on doors across the ward since March asking people to share their concerns and issues. Residents frequently talk about poorly maintained roads, speeding and hazardous driving on neighborhood roads, and frequent power outages. But, by far, they are most concerned about the high cost of housing. We need to make our housing market accessible to those who want to live here and to those who work here. To get there we will need to pursue the following as co-equal priorities: 1. Supply: create abundant housing of all types. I support building housing and mixed-use neighborhoods along our transit corridors; 2. Stability: I support the creation of strong tenant protections, such as an enforceable early leasing ordinance, that help to address displacement and provide stability for renters; and 3.Subsidy: Ann Arbor’s affordable housing millage (passed overwhelmingly in 2020) will allow us to better provide housing to those who can’t afford market-rate housing. I’m especially supportive of the development of city-owned properties for this purpose.

What could Ann Arbor do better?

We need more equitable engagement with the communities that make up Ann Arbor. I’m concerned that we rely too much on impersonal surveys and people initiating contact with the city, both of which limit who we engage with on city issues. True community engagement means that we meet people where they are and on their terms. It means building relationships and listening. That may require us to think creatively about partnering with existing civic infrastructure to reach new communities. Our Ann Arbor Public Library is a really good example of what sustained, inclusive, equitable, diverse community engagement looks like and is a huge part of the reason it’s so valued in our community. Because we partner with other local community organizations, build relationships through robust and highly diverse programming, and listen and pay attention to what the communities that make up our city need, we’ve been able to develop a range of amazing, highly responsive services that change with residents’ needs. As a council member, I would work hard to reach out into the communities that make up our ward and city to build relationships and listen so that we can be responsive to issues impacting residents’ lives.

Why did you decide to run for City Council?

My interest in local politics was ignited in the aftermath of the 2016 Presidential Election. Searching for a meaningful way to respond, I quickly decided that it was in my own local community that I could most make a positive impact, and that’s when I began moderating local candidate forums and ran for the Ann Arbor District Library Board of Trustees, where I now serve as Vice President. My parents–both staunch Democrats–instilled in me from a young age that government at every level exists to serve the people. I’m running because our residents deserve strong city services and good governance; because people who want to live here increasingly can’t afford to, and because we’re at a critical crossroads with climate change. To address our challenges, Ann Arbor needs leaders who collaborate, problem-solve, and build effective working relationships. I’ll work across the table to ensure we have excellent city services, housing for people from all walks of life, and that we make tangible progress on our commitment to climate action through measures that improve our lives now.

What do you love about Ann Arbor?

I love Ann Arbor’s walkability, vibrant cultural amenities, parks and green spaces, and the sense of community I’ve found here. I also love that there is a community group for seemingly every obscure interest from salamanders to toy and homebuilt film cameras.

Find her campaign website here.

About the Author:

Sarah has worked for WDIV since June 2018. She covers community events, good eats and small businesses in Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in Applied Linguistics from Grand Valley State University.