Archive for February, 2010

First & Liberty

City salt truck driver giving the hill a little manual dose of salt from the truck bed. Ann Arbor police patrol car providing traffic control. [photo]

Heritage Row Gets Postponed

Ann Arbor Planning Commission meeting (Feb. 18, 2010): After a public hearing on the latest iteration of a controversial South Fifth Avenue housing project, planning commissioners voted to postpone action on a project now called Heritage Row.

A public hearing notice duct-taped to a tree

A public hearing notice duct-taped to a tree on Fifth Avenue, announcing the Feb. 18 public hearing of the proposed Heritage Row development. (Photos by the writer.)

Developer Alex de Parry is asking to rezone the seven-parcel site, with plans to restore the historic houses there and build three 3.5-story buildings behind them. Commissioners generally were favorable toward the project, citing benefits of restoring the older homes, among other things. A fair amount of  their discussion involved what color of brick to use on those new buildings.

The public hearing drew several neighbors who raised concerns they’d voiced over de Parry’s previous project in the same location, called City Place. Several mentioned the new buildings as being too large for the neighborhood. Another concern: An historic district study committee hasn’t finished its report, which could affect the project.

But before they considered Heritage Row, commissioners discussed proposed changes to Plymouth Green Crossings, a mixed use complex off of Plymouth, west of Green Road. The developers, represented by David Kwan, are asking to alter their original agreement with the city.

Economic conditions, including the departure of Pfizer, have slowed plans to complete the project, which was to include a total of three buildings and a standalone restaurant. Two buildings have been constructed – tenants include Sweetwaters and Olga’s – but a perceived lack of parking has stymied attempts to fill the retail space, Kwan said. He and his partners hope to put in a temporary parking lot on the land that originally was slated for the restaurant.

One commissioner wasn’t too excited by Kwan’s idea. Concerns were also raised about payments to the city’s affordable housing fund, which are being spread out over several years. [Full Story]

UM: Football

Sports Illustrated is one of many media outlets reporting on Tuesday’s news that the NCAA found UM’s football program violated restrictions in how it conducts practices under coach Rich Rodriguez: “Michigan has 90 days to respond to the allegations, after which it is expected to appear before the NCAA Committee on Infractions at its Aug. 13-14 meeting in Seattle. Based on the NCAA’s stated timeline, the school will likely learn of its sanctions roughly two months later, around the same time we’ll find out whether Rodriguez will finally produce a winning Big Ten football team in this, his third season.” [Source]

State Street

More work on the Museum of Art expansion. They do a lot on this part of the building. [photo]

Next AATA Meeting on March 24

In our last report on the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board, we incorrectly reported the date of its next regular meeting. The next meeting of the AATA board is March 24, 2010. We note the mistake here and have corrected the original article.

UM: Ice Dancing

The Michigan Daily reports on UM students Meryl Davis and Charlie White winning the U.S. Olympic silver medal in ice dancing on Monday night. The article reports that White told NBC: “If there’s one thing that can top a Michigan football game it would be an Olympic medal.” [Source]

Washtenaw: Rail

The Livingston Daily Press & Argus reports that despite not getting federal funding via a TIGER grant, the north-south rail line between Ann Arbor and Howell, known as WALLY, will move ahead. The article quotes Michael Benham of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, who’s coordinating the project: “We weren’t really counting on this. This was considered a big bonus if we got it.” [Source]

Saline: Schools

Scot Graden, superintendent of Saline Area Schools, writes on his blog about a Feb. 22 meeting to discuss the closing of Houghton School: “At the meeting I was again struck by how important it is to have the engaged participation of the community. I feel fortunate to be in a district that has involved community members willing to come out on a cold winter night and discuss these important issues.” [Source]

Column: Chartering a Course Through Data

At the Ann Arbor city council’s Feb. 16 budget committee meeting, committee members were introduced to the city’s new data catalog. Even though it is only February, I think this will be the most significant project undertaken by the city in all of 2010.

Ann Arbor police service calls for Jan. 3, 2010. This map was built by The Chronicle in about 15 minutes using data from the city's online catalog. (Image links to fully interactive map hosted at

At the same meeting, the budget committee also continued its discussion about the content of the monthly financial reports that the city charter requires the city administrator to provide to the council.

What ties these issues together is the idea that there’s information the city will be routinely pushing out, without anyone needing to make a special request for it.

In the case of the data catalog, it appears at first glance that the project is a kind of bonus for the citizens of Ann Arbor. That is, it could be thought of as something the city is not required by law to do, but which it’s doing anyway in the interest of transparent government.

That’s different from the monthly financial statement, which the charter explicitly requires. That issue came to the surface during the budget committee meeting, during a verbal exchange between Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) and the city’s chief financial officer, Tom Crawford. The exchange found Taylor appealing to an English word only rarely deployed as a verb: “I guess I’d stickle.” [Full Story]

Board Renews Library Building Discussion

The Ann Arbor District Library board is reconsidering plans to rebuild its downtown building – a move they had tabled in late 2008 because of economic conditions.

At a Feb. 18 working session to discuss AADL’s strategic plan, board member Ed Surovell pushed the board to act. “We are not in charge of our budget or our reserves or our fate because the building is falling apart,” he said. “On any given day of the week, it could be closed for an extended period of time because something deadly goes wrong with it.”

If they move ahead, the project would likely include asking voters to approve a millage that would fund construction.

Concerns over the library’s main building, located at Fifth and William, were part of a wide-ranging discussion as the board and key staff members worked through the draft of a strategic plan for July 1, 2010 through June 30, 2015. Other topics included phasing out the Dewey Decimal System as the primary way to classify materials, marketing to those who don’t use the library, and adapting products and services to reflect changing technology. [Full Story]

Main & Washington

People gingerly picking their way through the wide, deep slush puddles surrounding the curb.

A2: Hockey

An Ann Arbor-based program gets mentioned in a Wall Street Journal report about the U.S. Olympic hockey team’s victory over Canada: “The victory, although not for a medal, partially validates a controversial approach taken by the team’s general manager, Brian Burke, who opted to recruit young, physical and talented NHL stars with built-in chemistry from years of playing in the country’s national development program in Ann Arbor, Mich.” [Source]

A2: Snow Plowing Status

The city of Ann Arbor’s website includes a snow plowing status report that “will be activated during the city’s response to a significant snow event, which requires an accumulation of at least four inches of snow.” As of noon on Monday, it hadn’t yet been “activated” – but will likely include updates soon, given weather conditions. [Source]

County Reviews Major 2010 Initiatives

Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners working session (Feb. 18, 2010): At Thursday’s meeting, commissioners reviewed 23 major initiatives underway in 2010, getting updates from the administration and giving feedback to help guide the work.

Discussion ranged from concerns over upcoming statewide changes at the MSU Extension program, which commissioner Leah Gunn described as a “decimation,” to staffing levels at the soon-to-be-completed jail expansion. The board also discussed adding other initiatives to the list, such as developing an integrated funding model for local human services nonprofits. That effort includes the county, the city of Ann Arbor, the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation and the Washtenaw United Way.

For this report, we group the topics thematically into three broad categories: public safety, administrative, and finance. [Full Story]

UM: David Brandon

USA Today profiles David Brandon, looking at his ties to UM over the decades and his plans as new athletic director, starting in March. Saying he won’t play Monday morning quarterback about UM football coach Rich Rodriguez, Brandon adds: “What I will tell you is one of my most important responsibilities is to try to pull the University of Michigan family back together to the extent that there’s any scar tissue or divisiveness that’s built up over any issue.” [Source]

UM: Auto Industry

The Columbus Dispatch reports on lessons learned from Honda’s “epic fail” foray into social media – via a Facebook page for the Accord Crossover. The article quotes UM marketing professor Christie Nordhielm: “As usual with hot new tactical tools, the strategy tends to get lost sometimes.” [Source]

AATA Board Treasurer: Where’s My Report?

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (Feb. 17, 2010): Although little business was transacted by the board during Wednesday’s meeting, members engaged in what David Nacht called a “healthy conversation” on the subject of the treasurer’s report. At issue was whether the agenda should contain a slot for the report.

Ted Annis Jesse Bernstein

At left: Ted Annis, AATA board treasurer, and board member Jesse Bernstein, right. (Photos by the writer.)

The discussion began with a gentle ribbing of the board’s treasurer, Ted Annis, who was asked: “Have your feelings been hurt?” It ended, however, with a serious philosophical discussion about the difference between a body consisting of appointed board members compared to one composed of elected officials.

Over the next few months, the board will begin a conversation in earnest to change its meeting location to the Ann Arbor District Library and its time to Thursday evenings.

A development not explicitly discussed at the board meeting, but nonetheless connected to it, is the fact that the AATA will begin providing board packets in their native digital text – until now, the documents have been available in electronic form, but only as image scans. [Full Story]

A2: City Budget

In an email to constituents and city council colleagues, Sabra Briere – who represents Ward 1 – has circulated a “budget white paper.” The paper, in part, lays out a case for putting a Headlee override before voters as an alternative to proposing a city income tax: “I do not support a city income tax, and will not vote to put it on the ballot.   … I do support putting a ‘Headlee override’ on the ballot for citizen consideration …”

A Headlee override would reset taxes up to their original rate before they were rolled back by the Headlee Amendment, and would thus yield an additional $6.1 million in revenues per year for the city. Voter approval in August 2010 … [Full Story]

Main Street

People happily strolling in sun downtown; a man playing accordion leaning against Selo/Sheval wall.

UM Regents OK Upgrade to Campus Bus Stop

University of Michigan Board of Regents meeting (Feb. 18, 2010): Nearly 10 minutes after the scheduled 3 p.m. start of Thursday’s meeting, UM’s chief financial officer Tim Slottow joked to president Mary Sue Coleman, “I don’t think we have a quorum yet.” None of the regents had arrived.

Hank Baier

Hank Baier, associate vice president for facilities and operations, gave regents an update on plans for a Central Campus Transit Center on North University Avenue. (Photos by the writer.)

Enough of them showed up a few minutes later to begin the meeting that had a relatively light agenda and lasted about an hour.

Of note for city residents was a briefing on what’s called the Central Campus Transit Center, a $4.5 million project to build larger bus shelters and make changes to North University Avenue, narrowing the road and adding bike lanes.

Regents approved the appointment of Phil Hanlon as provost, to replace Teresa Sullivan, who’s leaving later this year to become president of the University of Virginia.

They also heard a presentation about the extensive accreditation process that’s underway. Occurring every 10 years, the process includes a site visit in mid-March by members of the Higher Learning Commission. There’s a distinct lack of suspense – it’s unlikely that UM will fail to achieve accreditation. But like any good student, they’re trying for the highest marks. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Council Delays Vote on Pay Cuts

Ann Arbor City Council meeting (Feb. 16, 2010): Looming budget decisions were a prominent part of the council’s meeting. Around a dozen speakers addressed the council during a public hearing on housing and human services needs – the input will be used by the office of community development in making recommendations for city general fund expenditures.

Jim Mogensen

Jim Mogensen, speaking about the University of Michigan shouldering a half-million-dollar cost for the Central Campus Transit Center that the city would ordinarily have paid: "Look, it's not free." (Photos by the writer.)

The approval of a contract extension for the city’s public art administrator generated a great deal of discussion – partly concerning the dollar amount of the contract – and was passed despite dissent from three councilmembers.

But the council postponed a resolution that would have cut the base salaries of the city administrator and the city attorney by 3%, and would have directed the administrator to cut the salaries of non-union employees by 3% as well.

Another prominent theme of the meeting was real estate and infrastructure. Council approved the acquisition of a property within the city limits – a portion of the Black Elk’s site on Sunset Road – using greenbelt millage funds. They also approved the capital improvements plan (CIP), modified to delete an item for the extension and shifting of a runway at the Ann Arbor municipal airport. [Full Story]

Chelsea: Jiffy Mix

Saturday’s entry on the Michigan 1001 Daily Photo blog highlights the distinctive tower of the Chelsea Milling Company, which features an image of a box of Jiffy Mix corn muffin mix. “Free tours are scheduled Monday through Friday mornings where they entice you with fresh baked goods and give you a wonderful 66 page recipe book! Our tour guide, Lynn, obviously has a passion for her work.” [Source]

A2: Dingell

The Detroit Free Press reports that U.S. Rep. John Dingell is officially running for his 28th term in Congress. He announced the news Saturday morning at a pancake breakfast fundraiser for the UM College Democrats, at Arbor Brewing Co. in Ann Arbor. The article also quotes Ron Weiser of Ann Arbor, the state GOP party chairman: “Every seat is vulnerable. You just have to look at what happened in Massachusetts.” [Source]

UM: Kwame Kilpatrick

The Detroit News reports that former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick failed to make his entire $79,011 restitution payment by Friday’s deadline, and is being charged with violating his probation. The article quotes UM law professor David Moran, who says if you can’t afford restitution payments, you can’t be jailed: “But if a judge finds that a defendant can pay the restitution but isn’t complying, usually the remedy is jail time. Judges have other options, too, such as setting up a payment plan or garnisheeing wages.” [Source]

County Board Gets Update From Sheriff

Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners (Feb. 17, 2010): In an extensive presentation to the board, sheriff Jerry Clayton laid out changes he’s made in his department since he took office just over a year ago, and discussed his goals and priorities for the coming years.

Gene DeRossett, Elmer White, Derrick Jackson, Jerry Clayton

Sheriff Jerry Clayton, right, talks with Derrick Jackson, director of community engagement for the sheriff's department, before the Feb. 17 county board of commissioners meeting. Behind them are Gene DeRossett, left, chief administrative officer for the 14-A District Court, and Elmer White, who gave an update on the USS Washtenaw exhibit. (Photo by the writer.)

One of the most significant changes was financial. In 2009, overtime hours dropped 36%, leading to nearly $1 million in savings during the year. The department also raised $1 million in new revenues, exceeding Clayton’s projections.

Beyond that, Clayton presented his broad philosophical approach to managing law enforcement in the county, and discussed some of the challenges he faces in light of the current economy.

Law enforcement also came up in a separate discussion during the board’s Wednesday meeting, as commissioner Wes Prater raised concerns over the county’s internal financial controls. Though he’s been agitating for action on this front for several months, his decision to ask the board to form a review committee was prompted by the recent arrest of a county employee charged with embezzling over $100,000.

Commissioners also spent considerable time on Wednesday debating the process of formally revising their priorities. The effort is aimed at adapting the priorities to reflect the county’s diminishing resources. While commissioners agreed that community input was crucial, there was no clear consensus about what the process for gathering that input should be, or how much time it will take.

Finally, the board got a brief update on the Wireless Washtenaw project, a coda to a report given at their Jan. 20 meeting. The firm that’s handling the project, 20/20 Communications, is partnering with Southfield-based Internet 123 and plans to submit a revised business plan for Wireless Washtenaw within 60 days. [Full Story]