Monday, November 21, 2011

Conflicts of Interest at AATA?

As I pointed out to a friend and fellow activist Sunday night, the current dispute over the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority's Board of Directors decision to reject a proposed bus advertisement by Blaine Coleman raises the matter of conflicts of interest in the AATA's decision-making process. After huddling in a closed session with AATA counsel Jerry Lax, the Ann Arbor Chronicle reports that the Board voted unanimously, with Board chair Jesse Bernstein and member David Nacht present and voting, to support a resolution endorsing a rejection of Coleman's proposed "Boycott 'Israel,' Boycott Apartheid" ad by the AATA's advertising contractor. It doesn't seem likely that the entire Board would go against the advice of legal counsel and, thus, it's reasonable to conclude that Jerry Lax supported the resolution too.

The problem is that Lax, Bernstein, and Nacht are, apparently, supporters of Israel, the very entity targeted by Coleman's ads. The Washtenaw Jewish News reported in December 2009 that Jerry Lax has served on the boards of the two local pro-Israel outfits: the Jewish Federation of Greater Ann Arbor and Temple Beth Emeth. Lax also added his name to a campaign advertisement of "Michigan Jews Who Support Senators Obama & Biden". Here's part of the text of that ad:

Stay focused on the issues:

Israel's security:
"Let me be clear. Israel's security is sacrosanct. It is non-negotiable."
Barack Obama, speech to AIPAC, June 4, 2008.

Iran's threat: "There is no greater threat to Israel – or to the peace and stability of the region – than Iran ... and my goal will be to eliminate this threat." – Barack Obama, speech to AIPAC, June 4, 2008.
Yes, those were the first two issues in the ad. No wonder those Michigan Jews supported "The First Jewish President."

As to AATA Board chair Jesse Bernstein, well, he's also on the Board of Directors of the Michigan Israel Business Bridge. 'Nuff said, right? Okay, but it won't hurt to mention that Bernstein is also a donor to Kehillot B'Yahad/Congregations Together (KBY), whose aims include: "STRENGTHENING THE JEWISH STATE". Bernstein also happens to be the chair of a Temple Beth Emeth's Long Range Sustainability committee. David Nacht's LinkedIn profile identifies him as a supporter of the Anti-Defamation League, a former Board member of Temple Beth Emeth, and a donor to the Jewish Federation of Washtenaw County.

Inquiring minds want to know how much these guy's--all three associated with Temple Beth Emeth--support of Israel may have colored their judgment in favor of violating the First Amendment rights of Coleman. The vote also potentially put the AATA and, thus, taxpayers on the hook for an expensive legal fight it seems likely to lose.

12/11/2011 Update: Just days after this post was published the ACLU announced that it is bringing suit in federal court against the AATA on behalf of Blaine Coleman. It's a real shame and a bit of a mystery that the Board of Directors are not named as defendants in the complaint.

See also: "Is Judge Goldsmith Biased in AATA Suit?"

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