Getting to know Ann Arbor City Council candidate Angeline Smith

Angeline Smith with her adopted retired racing greyhound Larry. (Angeline Smith)

ANN ARBOR – Angeline Smith (D) is running to represent Ward 1 on Ann Arbor City Council.

In 2004, Smith founded accounting and consulting firm Angeline & Associates LLC that serves local small businesses and nonprofits.

She currently serves on the board of the Arrowwood Hills Housing Cooperative and serves on committees at both United Way of Washtenaw County and the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation. She volunteers as a reading tutor for third and fourth graders at the Family Learning Institute and has served more than a dozen other area nonprofits on both a board member and volunteer basis over the years.

She enjoys cooking, solving puzzles, describes herself as an avid planner and has adopted two retired racing greyhounds.

The following interview was conducted via email.

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

In the next few years, the Ann Arbor City Council must work collaboratively with city residents to update our comprehensive plan and, in doing so, determine how to best address land use and infrastructure issues that have arisen due, in part, to our growing population. Ann Arbor is the eighth-most economically segregated city in the country. And in my opinion without some good old democratic government intervention, this trend will continue for years to come. Updating our land use plan will be an opportunity to make some hard decisions about our current zoning laws, for example, and to determine what changes might be warranted to ensure more inclusionary housing practices going forward.

Besides inequitable and unaffordable housing issues, I believe that Ann Arbor City Council is faced with addressing the growing calls from residents to reimagine what public safety looks like in our city. Public safety isn’t just what we do in response to a crisis - it’s also what we do to prevent them from happening in the first place. Broadening our understanding of public safety to include interventions that reduce the need for armed emergency responses is a critical first step to protecting both civilians and law enforcement within our community.

I support the implementation of unarmed response programs as an important part of addressing these issues. This will contribute to decriminalizing mental illness and substance abuse and to putting more emphasis on public safety and less on policing.

With the majority of its revenue coming from property taxes, one of Ann Arbor City Council’s primary roles is to allocate the funds needed to provide our residents with adequate city services such as road maintenance, trash, recycling, water, sewage, and public safety.

My strong financial management background and experience leading my clients through rigorous budgeting processes will transfer seamlessly into the role of Council Member.

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

Ann Arbor’s 1st Ward is unique in that it was the most racially and socioeconomically diverse Ward for many years. One of the reasons for this is that the homes in my area never had the deed restrictions that other homes had across the city. These were racial covenants in property deeds that prohibited any race other than the Caucasian race from occupying these homes except for “domestic servants.” However, this diversity is fading fast as many people of color and of lower socioeconomic means are being pushed out due to gentrification.

Affordable housing isn’t just a problem for poor people any more. Increasingly, more and more people in the middle-class are also suffering from housing cost burden. As wage growth stagnates and housing costs continue to climb, it is critical that we find innovative ways to address this crisis in an equitable and inclusive manner to ensure that Ann Arbor isn’t just a place where people can live, but that it’s also a place with rich cultural diversity.

What could Ann Arbor do better?

Ann Arbor engages citizens in various ways through their appointments to boards and commissions charged with finding solutions to many issues. We even have City Council Members represented on these boards and commissions, which is a commendable form of community engagement. But I believe the City can do better in this area.

Public service and community engagement are inextricably connected and the combination of the two is critical to ensure effective and proactive governing. One without the other leads to apathy on the part of the people and a lack of accountability on the part of the elected officials. In addition to creating roles for citizens on boards and commissions, I think the city also has an obligation to go to the people and meet them where they are.

Sociologists define community engagement as a strategic process with the specific purpose of working with identified groups of people, whether they are connected by geographic location, special interest, or affiliation to identify and address issues affecting their well-being. This form of community engagement is desperately needed in Ann Arbor.

Why did you decide to run for City Council?

As an African American woman, accountant, and full time business owner living in a housing cooperative that is one of the last bastions of affordable housing in the city that also includes ownership and not just consumption I would bring a unique perspective to the Ann Arbor’s Council table. When I hear the talk of affordable housing in our city, it is inevitably a reference to housing the unhoused or the poor. This does not afford one an opportunity to acquire wealth even if it is in the form of increased equity in a slither of property they can truly call their own.

While housing the unhoused is a critical service that our city must endeavor to provide, it is, in my opinion, charitable housing. It’s checking a box. I believe we can do better. We can go further. Limited equity housing cooperatives where the residents also own shares in the corporation that can appreciate in value over time, in my opinion, is a more aspirational affordable housing goal.

I’m running to be a voice for people like myself that grew up with very limited resources and therefore, upon graduating from high school, had no springboard from which to leap into a den of opportunity. The voice I bring says we, too, want a piece of the American dream. We’ve gone into considerable debt to educate ourselves to be competitive in our respective fields. And now many of us, even in our mid-fifties, are nursing student loan payments that, in many cases, prevent our ability to make mortgage loan payments. We too have a place here in this city.

As an Ann Arbor City Council member, I want to use my voice to make a way for that place. I want to elevate the conversation from giving back, to sharing the wealth. It can be done. But it takes a paradigm shift. And I’d like to help facilitate that shift.

What do you love about Ann Arbor?

I love college towns in general. Prior to starting my firm, I traveled as a consultant for KPMG consulting working with universities across the country as they upgraded their grant administration processes. I traveled from university to university on a full time basis. What many of these places had in common was diversity in all areas. They were rich in culture which manifested through their cuisine, their music, their art, and traditions. Ann Arbor is not unlike these towns. It is filled with many transplants from all over the world who came for one reason or another and decided to make this city their home.

I decided to relocate here from Detroit in 2007, three years after opening the doors of my accounting and consulting firm. Though I work with small for-profit businesses, my primary client base includes nonprofit organizations. In Michigan, Ann Arbor is ranked 130th of 1091 cities in Charities & Non Profits per capita, and 101st of 1091 cities in Charities & Non Profits per square mile. Therefore, I saw Ann Arbor as the perfect place to be both close enough to my family in Detroit and close to a large pool of potential clients.

Finally, having worked in Ann Arbor for The University of Michigan as an accountant for a brief time in the mid-nineties also informed my decision to relocate here to grow my practice and make Ann Arbor my home.

The City has its problems just like any other. But over the past 15 years, I have found it to be a great place to call home. I look forward to the opportunity to serve here.

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