Archive for February, 2012

Art Commission Retreat Set for Feb. 26

The Ann Arbor public art commission has cancelled its Wednesday, Feb. 22 meeting in lieu of a retreat scheduled for Sunday, Feb. 26 from 1-5:30 p.m. The retreat will be held at the NEW Center, 1100 N. Main St. in Ann Arbor.

No agenda has yet been posted for the retreat, but it was discussed at AAPAC’s Jan. 25, 2012 meeting in the context of developing an annual art plan for fiscal 2013, which by ordinance must be delivered to the city council by April 1. In addition to shaping the annual plan, the aim of the retreat is to develop a master plan that would provide a broader conceptual framework to guide AAPAC’s decisions.

The retreat will be open … [Full Story]

In it for the Money: Time with AT&T (Part 2)

Editor’s note: This column appears regularly in The Chronicle, roughly around the third Wednesday of the month. 

David Erik Nelson Column

David Erik Nelson

This installment of the column is published in two parts. Mostly that’s because Nelson wrote too many words this month. Part 1 of the column documented Nelson’s experience with AT&T customer service, as he attempted to get an unjustified service call charge removed. Nelson was ultimately successful in getting the charge removed.

Left unpaid, Nelson would have faced the standard legal methods available to businesses to recover payment from non-paying customers, including being turned over to a collection agency. 

I hate to be accused of mincing words, so I’m gonna put aside my usual genteel beat-around-the-bushiness and just say it: What AT&T is doing is straight up extortion.

A person [1] with whom I have a very shallow business relationship sends me a letter demanding money, either in the form of cash, or in a greater sum of my time. If I don’t pay up, he is going to pass my name to his “collection agency,” who will then hound me until I give them the money they want, and do me lingering economic harm even after they get the cash. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Council OKs Street Closings

At its Feb. 21, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council approved street closings for several upcoming events: Box Cart Race/Soap Box Derby (Saturday, March 24, 2012); Take Back the Night Rally and March (Thursday, April 5, 2012); Tour de Kids Competitive Bike Race (Sunday, June 10, 2012); Monroe Street Fair (Saturday, April 7, 2012); Taste of Ann Arbor (Sunday, June 3, 2012); Ann Arbor Marathon Running Event (Sunday, June 17, 2012); 12th Annual Mayor’s Green Fair (Friday, June 8, 2012); and Rolling Sculpture Car Show (Friday, July 13, 2012).

Of the events, only the marathon is new this year.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Ann Arbor OKs Legal Services Contract

At its Feb. 21, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council authorized a $50,000 contract for legal services with Stevenson Keppelman Associates. The contract will cover work related to pension and retiree health care issues. It will be paid out of the city’s risk fund.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Ann Arbor OKs Accounting Help

At its Feb. 21, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council approved an amendment to an existing employee contract for extra help in the financial services area as the city heads into peak season for preparations to finalize the fiscal year 2013 budget. FY 2013 begins on July 1, 2012.

The existing contract with Diane Koski started May 2, 2011 for $23,400. The amendment extends the contract for an additional $15,600 for a total of $39,000. She is paid for actual hours worked at a rate of $15 per hour. The staff memo accompanying the resolution indicates that the financial services unit needs the extra assistance due to a resignation in accounting services.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Ann Arbor to Abate Unsafe Buildings

At its Feb. 21, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council approved a $250,000 allocation for the demolition of buildings that the city deems dangerous under Chapter 101 of the city code. The city would like to target buildings that are diminishing the quality of neighborhoods, dragging down property values and attracting nuisances. The appropriation is from the city’s general fund, changing the budget, and thus requires an 8-vote majority. The city expects to be able to reimburse the general fund from the proceeds of a lawsuit settlement related to the old Michigan Inn property on Jackson Avenue.

Mayor John Hiefjte described the possibility of establishing such a fund at city council’s Dec. 19, 2011 meeting. He portrayed the idea as arising out of a conversation he’d had with Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3).

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Ann Arbor OKs Painting Water Equipment

At its Feb. 21, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council approved a $139,000 amendment to an existing contract with E & L Construction Group Inc. to repair and paint key facilities at the city’s water treatment plant. The specific items needing their structural steel components repainted are clarifiers. A clarifier settles particles out of fluid.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Council OKs Emergency Management Director

At its Feb. 21, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council authorized the appointment of Rick Norman as the city’s emergency management director and approved the line of succession to that position. Norman has previously held positions with the American Red Cross and with Ionia County in a similar capacity. [To be clear, this is a position with responsibilities for developing plans and implementing contingencies for manmade and natural disasters; it's not an emergency financial manager position.]

The line of succession to the position is: Sgt. Edward Dreslinski, Mary Joan Fales (assistant city attorney), Lt. Myron Blackwell, Matthew Schroeder (Ann Arbor firefighter), Andrew Box (Ann Arbor firefighter) and Matt Naud (environmental coordinator).

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Council Supports Clean Air Campaign

At its Feb. 21, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council passed a resolution expressing its support for the educational efforts of the Clean Air Promise Campaign and to support clean air policies and “other protections that scientists and public health experts have recommended to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to safeguard our air quality.” The Clean Air Promise Campaign is a nationwide effort to protect the health of children and families from dangerous air pollution.

One of the co-sponsors of the resolution, Sandi Smith (Ward 1), told The Chronicle in a phone interview the week before the meeting that the resolution is not intended to supplant the possibility of enacting an ordinance that would regulate the unnecessary idling of vehicles in the city. The resolution was co-sponsored by Margie Teall (Ward 4) and mayor John Hieftje.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Les Voyageurs Addition Gets Initial OK

At its Feb. 21, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council gave initial approval to a rezoning request and a site plan for an addition to the Habe Mills Pine Lodge – owned by the Society of Les Voyageurs. The rezoning was unanimously recommended for approval by the Ann Arbor planning commission at its Jan. 19, 2012 meeting. The property owned by the society, at 411 Long Shore Drive near Argo Pond, is zoned public land, even though it’s owned by a private entity. The society is asking that the land be rezoned as a planned unit development (PUD), which would allow the group to build a a 220-square-foot, one-story addition to the rear of the existing lodge, on its east side.

Rezoning changes the city’s ordinances, thus requires an initial approval by city council (first reading) followed by a final vote at a subsequent meeting.

The nonprofit society is a University of Michigan student and alumni club, focused on nature and the outdoors. Named for French-Canadian voyageurs of the Great Lakes fur trade, it was founded in 1907 and is one of the university’s oldest fraternal student groups. The lodge was built in 1925 – about the same time as the city’s first zoning ordinance and zoning map. Five student members live at the lodge, and society alumni gather there for potluck Sunday dinners from September to April.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Biercamp Rezoning Denied

At its Feb. 21, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council denied a request from the owners of Biercamp to rezone the parcel where the artisan sausage store is located from TWP (township district) to C3 (fringe commercial district). At its Sept. 8, 2011 meeting, the city planning commission had unanimously recommended denial of the rezoning request.

The property is located at 1643 and 1645 S. State St., south of Stimson and next to the Produce Station. The parcels currently house a new business – Biercamp Artisan Sausage and Jerky – as well as an auto repair shop and furniture manufacturer. Biercamp owners Walt Hansen and Hannah Cheadle wanted to rezone the property to C3 (fringe commercial district), so their business could sell a wider variety of merchandise, including products not made on site.

At the council’s Oct. 3, 2011 meeting, councilmembers had finally voted on a rezoning request in the same vicinity, from Treecity Health Collective. The medical marijuana dispensary was denied its rezoning request, which it had sought in order to qualify for a medical marijuana license issued by the city. The council had postponed their Treecity vote from their Sept. 19, 2011 meeting. Councilmembers had wanted the extra time to ensure that they would be handling Biercamp and Treecity in a parallel fashion.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Flood Maps Get Initial OK

At its Feb. 21, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council gave initial approval to an ordinance change that will adopt a new Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM).

By way of background on those maps, the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) makes flood insurance available for properties in participating communities – Ann Arbor is a participant. If a building has a federally-backed mortgage and it’s located within the “1% annual change floodplain” (previously called the “100-year floodplain) then flood insurance is required.

Ann Arbor’s most recent FIRM dates from Jan. 2, 1992. In 2004, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) began a map revision process for Washtenaw County. Various drains in the city were re-analyzed, using updated data, and on July 27, 2007, FEMA issued preliminary maps. After required public review, appeal and revisions, on Oct. 3, 2011, FEMA issued a letter with a final determination, indicating that the new maps would become effective on April 3, 2012. [.pdf of Oct. 3, 2011 letter] [.pdf of Dec. 20, 2011 reminder letter]

Compared to the previous 1992 maps, 321 parcels are no longer analyzed as lying within a floodplain. However 116 parcels that were previously not analyzed as in a floodplain are now in a floodplain, according to the new maps. Building-wise, 452 structures are no longer analyzed as lying within a floodplain, while 88 buildings are now in a floodplain, according to the new maps. [See also Chronicle coverage: "Column: Digital Information Flood."]

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Gott to Be Nominated to AATA Board

Added to the agenda of the Feb. 21, 2012 meeting of the Ann Arbor city council is the nomination of Sue Gott to replace Rich Robben on the board of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. Gott has served as the University of Michigan’s university planner since September 2002. She has also served as an adjunct professor with UM’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. In the private sector, she was a senior planner at the consulting firm JJR Inc.

Gott is described in her standard bio as a “third generation Ann Arborite.” She is a 1982 graduate of the University of Michigan.

Robben, whom Gott would replace if her nomination by mayor John Hieftje is confirmed by the Ann Arbor city council, … [Full Story]

GSRA Bill: UM Regents Debate Opposition

University of Michigan board of regents special meeting (Feb. 21, 2012): The board and UM president Mary Sue Coleman met via conference call on Tuesday morning in a brief but contentious meeting that focused on Senate Bill 971. It’s a bill that would make explicit that graduate student research assistants (GSRAs) are not entitled to collective bargaining rights under Michigan’s Act 336 of 1947.

Sue Scarnecchia

Suellyn Scarnecchia, UM's general counsel, was one of the few executives in the room at a Feb. 21 special meeting of the board of regents. All regents and UM president Mary Sue Coleman participated via conference call. Scarnecchia was asked by some regents to weigh in on the legality of the meeting, in the context of compliance with Michigan's Open Meetings Act.

Ultimately, the board voted 6-2 to formally oppose the bill, which was to be considered later that morning at a senate committee hearing in Lansing. [The committee later in the day voted to recommend the bill for passage by the full senate.]

The board’s two Republican regents – Andrea Fischer Newman and Andrew Richner – dissented. It was a vote along the same party lines as action taken at the regents’ May 19, 2011 meeting, when the Democratic majority of the board passed a resolution supporting the right of GSRAs to determine whether to organize. Coleman, who chairs the regents’ meeting but is not a voting member, had spoken against the resolution prior to the May vote. At subsequent regents’ meetings, several students and faculty have spoke during public commentary in opposition to the board’s action.

Much of the Feb. 21 special meeting focused on whether the meeting itself was legal. It was convened by invoking a rarely used bylaw that allows either the president or three regents to call a special meeting for emergency action. However, the meeting was apparently not publicly noticed 18 hours in advance, as required by the Michigan Open Meetings Act.

The university’s general counsel, Sue Scarnecchia, was asked by some of the regents to weigh in on the legality of the meeting. She stated that the meeting had been called legally, based on her reading of the regental bylaw. She did not comment explicitly on how compliance with the bylaw might relate to conformance with the OMA.  [Full Story]


Nearly a packed hearing room on the fourth floor of the state house (rooms 402 and 403) and three speakers opposed to SB 971 as well as three in favor. I spoke as University of Michigan graduate student body president on a neutral platform. Many people submitted comment cards to the committee voicing their opinions on this issue for the record.  Democrat members in opposition and Republicans seemingly in favor of codifying rules that have been in place since the 1981 MERC ruling. [See also: "UM Regents Oppose GSRA Senate Bill"]

SB 971 was amended and recommended for passage by the full senate.

Column: Digital Information Flood

At the city council’s Jan. 23, 2012 meeting, Dan Rainey – the city of Ann Arbor’s head of information technology – was on hand to receive an award recognizing the city’s use of digital technology. The award was for 5th place in the 2011 edition of the Center for Digital Government’s Digital Cities Survey.

Parcel Flood

Screenshot from the city of Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County mapping website. It shows the new floodway and floodplain boundaries for the new FEMA maps, highlighting the buildings and parcels that are no longer in the floodplain, according to the new maps. The parcel with extra highlighting (yellowish green) is one of special interest for this column.

Yet among the nearly 12,000 words in The Chronicle’s report from that meeting, there’s no mention of the city’s Digital Cities award. The decision not to include that award in the meeting report was not one about which I agonized; it was not made on the basis of some high-minded journalistic principle. From a purely practical point of view, the award was likely a victim of my finite stamina for writing about a city council meeting.

But one reason I don’t mind omitting that kind of award from a meeting report is that it really does not matter to me where Ann Arbor ranks on that survey. What matters to me is the fact that the city’s investments in the realm of digital technology make life in Ann Arbor as a local journalist easier than it would be otherwise.

And that, I think, is best illustrated with a specific example. It’s an example I stumbled across a couple of months ago. But because it overlaps with two agenda items on the city council’s next meeting, on Feb. 21, I thought now would be a good time to share it with readers. One of those agenda items involves demolishing derelict houses, and the other involves the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) flood maps.

This tale begins on Facebook and ends in the bucket of a big yellow backhoe. [Full Story]

UM Regents Oppose GSRA Senate Bill

At a special meeting convened at 8 a.m. on Feb. 21, University of Michigan regents voted 6-2 to formally oppose Senate Bill 971, which would make explicit that graduate student research assistants (GSRAs) are not entitled to collective bargaining rights under Michigan’s Act 336 of 1947.

Opposing the resolution were the board’s two Republican regents, Andrea Fischer Newman and Andrew Richner. The meeting was held via conference call. None of the regents – nor UM president Mary Sue Coleman, who chaired the proceedings – were physically in the boardroom at the Fleming administration building, though several staff and members of the media attended to listen in to the call.

The bill, which was introduced on Feb. 15 by state Senate majority leader Randy … [Full Story]

UM Regents to Hold Special Meeting

A special meeting of the University of Michigan board of regents has been called for Tuesday, Feb. 21 at 8 a.m. to consider the need for emergency action as permitted by regents bylaw 1.01, according to UM spokesman Rick Fitzgerald. No information was given regarding the topic of the action.

The bylaw states: ”Emergency action may be taken by the board between meetings if and when any matter arises which, in the opinion of the president, or any three members of the board, requires official action by the board prior to the next meeting. An affirmative vote by telephone, email, or facsimile from five members is required for action.”

The meeting is open to the public in the boardroom of the Fleming administration building, … [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Budget Outlook OK, CFO Cautious

Ann Arbor city council working session (Feb. 13, 2012): At a working session last Monday, the council took its first look at the budget for fiscal year 2013, which starts July 1, 2012. Continued from a budget committee meeting on Dec. 12, 2011 was the theme that this year is the second year of a two-year planning cycle – and the city financial staff are approaching it that way.

Chief Financial Officer Tom Crawford

City of Ann Arbor chief financial officer Tom Crawford before the Feb. 13, 2012 working session. (Photos by the writer.)

With the exception of one significant change – adding one police officer instead of cutting nine – the blueprint for this year’s budget will, with some slight revisions, follow the plan put in place last year. That includes a plan to eliminate five firefighter positions, pending labor negotiations with the firefighters union.

At the December budget committee meeting, city administrator Steve Powers described this year as taking a “breather” – while stressing that the review of the organization is an ongoing process.

The relative luxury of essentially following the second year of a two-year plan is made possible this year by positive news and outcomes on several fronts.

But at Monday’s working session, the city’s chief financial officer, Tom Crawford, urged a cautious approach, given pending uncertainties about the basic structure of funding local governments in Michigan. Among those uncertainties is the future of the personal property tax, which could drop the city’s general fund revenue by $1.76 million, if that tax were to disappear completely. He advised the council not to use one-time positive outcomes to increase expenditures. Instead, he recommended that the city should strive to increase its fund balance reserve to 15-20% of expenditures – it currently stands around 13%, or $10.5 million. The general fund budget for the city this year calls for $78,321,015 in expenditures.

One of those positive outcomes is the retiree health care funding level for FY 2013, recommended by the city’s actuary – $12.4 million. The city’s planned cost for FY 2013 was $15.3 million. But Crawford is recommending that all but $400,000 of that $2.9 million savings should continue to be paid into the city’s voluntary employees beneficiary association (VEBA), to reduce unfunded liabilities and to guard against future liabilities. The potential $2.9 million savings is a citywide figure.

But as a result of another VEBA-related policy choice that Crawford is recommending, the city’s general fund – out of which basic services like police, fire, planning, and the like are paid – would see a roughly $1 million boost. That policy change would start treating retiree health care as a true pre-funded system, instead of the current pay-as-you-go hybrid. The current hybrid pay-as-you-go approach places a higher burden on those funds that have a relatively large number of associated retirees – workers who were paid out of that fund while they worked for the city. [As of December 2011, the city's general fund had 366 active employees and 532 retirees.] Crawford’s recommended approach focuses on the gaps in pre-funding, which puts the financial burden where most of the liability is currently accruing – active employees. And that would translate to a $1 million general fund savings, compared to the current approach.

Crawford put specific pieces of positive budget news in the context of general positive news, suggesting that the city has now seen the worst of the 2008 economic downturn. Unemployment numbers are dropping – in the Ann Arbor area, unemployment stood at 5.5% in December. And state sales tax receipts are coming off depressed levels – that’s important, because the “revenue” in state shared revenue (the amount the state distributes to local units of government) comes from state sales tax receipts.

Among the specific pieces of positive news Crawford presented to the council was the expectation that the city would break even on the current budget year (FY 2012), which ends June 30, 2012. The city had expected to tap the general fund reserve for $1.1 million this year. In the previous year (FY 2011), the city also essentially broke even, when it had anticipated needing to spend $1.5 million from its fund balance reserve.

Compared to what was anticipated in the two-year plan for FY 2013, on the revenue side several categories are expected to increase. Additional expenses, compared to the two-year plan, include adding a police officer instead of eliminating nine positions.

The net effect of all the changes from the two-year plan is a $1.6 million surplus of recurring revenues against recurring expenses for FY 2013. Of that surplus, Crawford is recommending that the council allocate $150,000 for a pilot program for recruiting police officers. But the rest he’s advising the council to add to the fund balance reserve to guard against leaner years projected in FY 2015-16.

The police recruitment program would allow potential hires to work under the direction of an Ann Arbor police officer before being hired on as a sworn officer. The program’s rationale was described by police chief Barnett Jones at the Feb. 13 working session as stemming from the hiring process to fill nine officer positions that came open at the end of 2011, due to retirements.

Jones gave a presentation of year-end crime reports showing that crime in major categories is trending down for Ann Arbor. Despite the net gain of 10 officers now anticipated for FY 2013, compared to the AAPD staffing levels in the two-year plan, the department’s 118 sworn officers leave Jones 32 short of the 150 that he described at the working session as the “perfect” number of officers for Ann Arbor.

After the jump, this article includes charts and graphs of crime reports, more detail on the impact of retiree health care on the budget, the budget outlook for FY 2013, and the city council’s work schedule for ratifying the FY 2013 in late May. [Full Story]

Library Board OKs Website Policy

At its Feb. 20, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor District Library board unanimously approved a terms-of-use policy for its website. Board members had received a presentation about the proposed policy at their Jan. 18, 2012 meeting. At that meeting, Eli Neiburger – AADL’s associate director of IT and product development – described the policy as a fairly standard attribute of corporate websites. It defines the legal relationship between the website’s users and its owner, and is put in place in case there is any problem regarding the website’s use or content.

The five-page document cover guidelines for AADL and user-generated content; how copyright complaints will be handled; the policy for website registration, accounts and passwords; issues related to points awarded … [Full Story]

A2: Camp Take Notice

The World Socialist website posts an update on Camp Take Notice, a tent camp on the outskirts of Ann Arbor built by people who are homeless. From the report: “Rick, 50, who asked not to be photographed, explained that he was a plumber until 2008, when the construction industry collapsed. After this devastating decline in his income, Rick fell behind on his child support payments for his two sons and was jailed as a result in 2010. In August, realizing his bleak job prospects and wary of being a burden to his family, Rick decided to come to Ann Arbor to live at the camp. … Rick said he came to Ann Arbor because it was ‘the best city … [Full Story]

County Policy Issues: Salaries, Animals

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Feb. 15, 2012): Two major items – and underlying policy related to them – took up much of the Feb. 15 county board meeting.

Mark Heusel

Mark Heusel, vice president of the board for the Humane Society of Huron Valley, with his daughter at the Feb. 15 Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

After months of uncertainty and sometimes heated negotiations, the county approved an agreement with the Humane Society of Huron Valley through 2012, along with a strategy for a longer-term solution to the county’s animal control services.

A work group, led by the sheriff, is now tasked with determining the cost of animal control services. The work group will involve other jurisdictions in the county that have animal control ordinances – like the city of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti Township – but do not currently make financial contributions to the county’s animal control services. The group will present a report to the board by Sept. 15 that recommends a final cost methodology and budget for 2013, based on an agreed-upon scope of services.

In an amendment to the resolution that was proposed from the floor, the board also created a separate task force to develop an animal control policy for the county. The policy will be used to guide the scope of services for a request-for-proposals (RFP). Meetings of the task force will be open to the public and to any commissioner who wants to participate. The task force will submit a preliminary report to the board by May 15, with a final report due by Oct. 15.

Following a lengthy discussion later in the meeting, the board also gave initial approval to an administrative restructuring proposal that included a net reduction of four positions, an estimated annual savings of $326,422, and creation of a new “cross-lateral” team of four current senior managers. The issue of pay increases – given as a result job reclassifications – prompted debate about whether the county’s current policy treats employees equitably at the low end of the pay scale.

Commissioner Ronnie Peterson voted against the restructuring. He objected to the 4% increase that will be given to the cross-lateral team, saying the raises aren’t justified in light of concessions that union employees gave in the most recent round of contract negotiations. A final vote on the proposal is expected at the board’s March 7 meeting.

In other board action, commissioners approved allocating $200,000 to the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti convention and visitors bureaus (CVBs) as part of funding for a Pure Michigan campaign focused on the Ann Arbor area. The funding comes out of revenues from the county’s accommodations tax. The Michigan Economic Development Corp. (MEDC) is developing a Pure Michigan pilot program, entitled “Sense of Place,” to combine support for tourism and economic development. The Ann Arbor/Washtenaw County area has been chosen as the first region to be featured as a partner in this program, which will include a $1 million national TV ad campaign.

The board approved several other items during the Feb. 15 meeting, including: (1) labor agreements with the final four of 17 bargaining units representing county employees; (2) a change in board rules allowing commissioners to abstain from voting; and (3) a Whitmore Lake improvement project. [Full Story]

Argo Dam

Kayakers enjoying the new Argo rapids. [photo] [Editor's note: The city has set up an online survey for gathering input on a name for this new amenity.]

AAPS Kindergarten: All Kids, All Day in ’12-13

Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education special meeting (Feb. 18, 2012): The AAPS school board approved an administrative recommendation to move to a district-wide all-day kindergarten program at a special meeting on Saturday afternoon.

Board of Education All Day kindergarten

Clockwise starting at left: AAPS board members Deb Mexicotte, Christine Stead, Andy Thomas, Glenn Nelson, and Susan Baskett. (Photo by the writer).

The weekend meeting was scheduled when it became apparent at the board’s Feb. 15 committee-of-the-whole meeting that all trustees were in full support of the recommendation. The board wanted to be able to begin telling families about the change sooner. The board does not typically take action at committee meetings, even if a quorum is present. That’s why a special meeting was called for the vote to take place.

All-day kindergarten for all AAPS students will replace the matrix of district kindergarten choices currently offered, which includes the following options: half-day morning; half-day afternoon; all-day; extended-day (morning kindergarten, followed by afternoon childcare with the same teacher and an aide); and “K Care” (childcare through AAPS Rec & Ed to complement half-day kindergarten). Currently, the options available at each school are different, can change each year, and can cost extra.

The board’s vote means that next year, all AAPS kindergarten students will participate in a full-day program at no additional cost to families. [Full Story]

A2: Argo Bypass Survey

The city of Ann Arbor wants help in naming the new Argo Dam bypass, which includes a series of pools instead of the previous canoe/kayak portage. An online survey is asking people to select their top two choices for a name from a list of options. You can also write in an alternative option. (The Chronicle suggests “Argo Chutes.”) Deadline to complete the survey is Feb. 26. [Source]

AATA OKs AirRide; Survey Results Positive

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (Feb. 16, 2012): The board’s monthly meeting began with a presentation from Hugh Clark of CJI Research Corp., which conducted a survey of Washtenaw County voters in late 2011 to measure their attitudes toward paying an additional 1 mill tax for countywide transit.

Transit Tax Graph

Survey results on the question of supporting a 1 mill tax for transit. (Image links to .pdf with higher resolution image.)

The results were generally consistent with those of a survey conducted two years ago by the same company. Asked toward the start of the interview if they would support a 1 mill tax for countywide transit, 54% of respondents said they definitely or probably would. Asked the same question toward the end of the interview, after receiving additional information, that figure nudged upward to 59%. That compares with “before” and “after” percentages of 51% and 58% two years ago. The geographic differences fell along predictable lines, with support strongest in Ann Arbor and weaker in the outlying townships.

Clark told the board that the four take-aways from the survey results are: (1) the AATA is highly regarded; (2) the public remains supportive of transit, even at a rate of a 1 mill tax; (3) the most compelling reason people give for supporting a tax for countywide service is to provide door-to-door service for seniors and people with disabilities; and (4) the most compelling reason people give for not supporting a tax for countywide service is a concern about taxes – not the efficiency of the AATA in its use of tax money. The board also heard caution during public commentary about the interpretation of survey results – they hadn’t yet seen the impact of negative advertising on any ballot proposal.

The survey comes in the context of an effort to establish an expanded countywide governance structure for the AATA, which might include asking voters to approve additional transit funding.

In its main business of the meeting, the board passed two resolutions that establish service between downtown Ann Arbor and Detroit Metro Airport. It’s expected to begin in April. One resolution set the fares for the service – basic one-way fare is $15 – while the other approved the contract with Indian Trails (Michigan Flyer) to provide the service based on a per-service-mile dollar cost. The service will be branded as “AirRide.” At the board table, David Nacht recalled how he’s wished for the moment when the AATA could offer such a service between Ann Arbor and the airport since the time he’d been appointed to the board – nine years ago.

The airport service is part of the AATA’s effort to expand services, as well as its governance and funding base, to a geographic area beyond the city of Ann Arbor. Of the $1 million the AATA has budgeted to spend from its reserves for the fiscal year 2012 budget, around $300,000 will go to support the airport service – though board members discussed the possibility that up to half of that could be recouped after-the-fact from federal or state grants.

In the context of the AATA’s effort to expand to countywide governance, the board passed a resolution at its Feb. 16 meeting expressing a basic policy position that a possible new regional transit authority – encompassing Washtenaw, Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties – should not be allowed to have a negative impact on the AATA’s own provision of local transit services. The new RTA is described in a set of bills currently being considered by the Michigan state legislature. The boards’ resolution also explicitly states that any new RTA needs to have a funding strategy that is above and beyond current levels of funding for transportation.

Two days earlier, according to a report from the Michigan Information & Research Service (MIRS), Washtenaw County commissioner Conan Smith testified before the senate’s transportation committee that he’d be open to giving up one of Washtenaw County’s two seats on a 10-member RTA board, in order to get the legislation passed.

In other business at the meeting, the AATA board also approved a $95,500 increase to the budget for its consultant on the countywide expansion effort. And the board authorized its annual application to the state for operating assistance – including a budget for expanded services.

Also discussed at the board meeting, though no formal vote was taken, was the AATA’s policy on the number of bags that passengers are allowed to carry on when using the A-Ride – the AATA’s paratransit service. Previously there was a two-bag limit. The policy has been revised so that the limit is not expressed in terms of a number, but rather in a way essentially stipulating that a passenger’s bags should not impinge on other passengers’ space – it’s a shared ride service. The change in policy was prompted by public commentary delivered at AATA’s November 2011 board meeting from a visually-impaired passenger who’d been denied a ride by the AATA’s contractor for the service, because he’d had too many grocery bags. [Full Story]

Packard & Henry

Eastbound Packard at Henry. Two or three car rear-ender. 10:15 p.m. Feb. 16. Two young women sitting on curb with arms around each other. Lots of broken glass and crumpled cars but no injuries. Not sure if pick-up was involved or just helping. [photo]