Archive for September, 2012

Sixth & Madison

Life-size sculpture of a nude woman on the front porch. Looks like it’s been there a while, but this is the first I’ve noticed. [photo]

County Board Puts Off Vote on Act 88 Tax Hike

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Sept. 19, 2012): After passing a tax increase to support services for indigent veterans, county commissioners debated and ultimately postponed action on increasing a tax for agriculture and economic development – also known as the Act 88 millage.

Veterans attending the Sept. 19, 2012 county board meeting saluted during the Pledge of Allegiance.

Veterans attending the Sept. 19, 2012 Washtenaw County board meeting saluted the American flag during the Pledge of Allegiance.

The indigent veterans tax was uncontroversial. Several Vietnam veterans attended the meeting and spoke passionately about the need to support soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. The tax was increased to 0.0286 mills, to be levied in December 2012. The current 0.025 mills brought in $344,486 in 2012. The increased millage is expected to raise $390,340 in revenues for use during 2013.

But a proposal by Conan Smith to increase the Act 88 millage generated debate, primarily related to procedural issues. On Sept. 5, commissioners had given initial approval to a tax of 0.05 mills, unchanged from the current rate. At the time, Smith raised the possibility of an increase to 0.06 mills and a change in the way the millage revenues are administered, but he made no formal amendment. The board set a Sept. 19 public hearing for the 0.05 mills, and several representatives from groups that receive revenue proceeds spoke in favor of the tax.

Later in the meeting – after the public hearing – Smith made a formal motion to amend the resolution, raising the tax rate to 0.06 mills, a 20% increase that would bring in $838,578. Ronnie Peterson objected to the process, saying that although it might be legal, but was not moral. Wes Prater said the move lacked integrity. Smith argued that the law didn’t require any public hearing at all, and that the board was going above and beyond its obligations. He pointed out that he had notified commissioners of his intent on Sept. 5, and had passed out a memo about his proposal at the Sept. 6 working session. [See Chronicle coverage: "County Tax Hike for Economic Development?"]

Ultimately, a majority of commissioners voted to postpone action on Smith’s amendment until Oct. 3, when they also voted to set a second public hearing on the 0.06 mills proposal.

Also generating considerable debate was a resolution related to animal control services. The resolution, brought forward by Barbara Bergman, directs county administrator Verna McDaniel to begin negotiations with the Humane Society of Huron Valley toward a new contract for services. It further states that if McDaniel doesn’t believe sufficient progress is being made by Oct. 30, then she’s authorized to issue a request for proposals (RFP) to seek bids from other organizations. It passed on a 10-to-1 vote, with dissent from Alicia Ping.

Much of the debate over the second resolution centered on the fact that formal recommendations from the tasks force haven’t yet been presented to the board. There were also questions over how much flexibility McDaniel will have in her negotiations. The current 2013 budget has allocated $250,000 for animal control services. This year, the county is paying $415,000 to HSHV, down from $500,000 in 2011. Commissioners expect that the final amount negotiated for 2013 will be higher than the budgeted $250,000 – and if that’s the case, the board will need to amend the budget.

Ping objected to the process, saying that it could undercut HSHV’s position if the board eventually decides to issue an RFP, because other bidders would know how much HSHV is willing to bid. She also objected to taking action without knowing the task force recommendations. “This whole process is flawed on its face,” she said.

The board took a range of other actions, including changes to an ordinance for the county’s natural areas preservation program. Commissioners eliminated a previous restriction that only 7% of millage funds could be used for management or stewardship. In addition, they approved an amendment by Conan Smith eliminating a separate requirement for allocating 75% of the millage to the acquisition and maintenance of natural areas and 25% for agricultural land. Now, allocations can be made at the discretion of the county parks and recreation commission.

Commissioners approved a variety of state grant applications and reimbursements, as well as the 2012-2013 budget for its community support & treatment services (CSTS) department. Three resolutions of appreciation were also presented during the meeting – to Rodney Stokes, former director of the Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources; Susan Sweet Scott, a long-time county employee; and the Ann Arbor alumnae chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority for 50 years of service in Washtenaw County. [Full Story]

First Wave of Ann Arbor Absentee Ballots Sent

The Ann Arbor city clerk’s office has sent out the first wave of 3,697 absentee ballots for the Nov. 6, 2012 general election. Registered voters who want to apply for an absentee ballot have until Nov. 3 to do that. Detailed information on applying for an absentee ballot is available on the Ann Arbor city clerk’s website.

A spreadsheet containing names and addresses of voters to whom absentee ballots have been sent is provided free of charge by the Ann Arbor city clerk to anyone who signs up on the email list. Summing the columns in that spreadsheet yields a breakdown by ward of the initial wave of 3,697 ballots as follows: Ward 1 – 454; Ward 2 – 987; Ward … [Full Story]

First & William

Twenty-five or more folks having a Big Green Picnic, “a joyfully subversive act” to promote the Greenway.

In it for the Money: School Transportation

Editor’s note: Nelson’s “In it for the Money” column appears regularly in The Chronicle, roughly around the third Wednesday of the month. Sometimes it’s later, like this month.

David Erik Nelson Column

David Erik Nelson

Over the last couple years school busing has been drastically altered in most Michigan districts. As a consequence most schools – including my son’s school, Bryant Elementary, which is only K-2nd grade – expanded their “walking zone” (kids that get no busing) to 1.5 miles. Do you know how long it takes a five-year-old to walk 1.5 miles? [1]

If you live at the far edge of the “walking zone,” you aren’t going to be walking – especially once our autumn rains arrive – you’ll be driving your kid to school.

Spoiler alert: Bryant Elementary was built in 1972 and renovated in 1983. So it’s not designed to have dozens of cars drop off individual children each morning – it’s designed for all of the kids to arrive at once in four big buses. An efficient set of buses has been converted to a frustrating, time-gobbling traffic jam. [Full Story]

UM: President’s Pay

The Dayton Daily News publishes an investigation of expenses related to Ohio State University president E. Gordon Gee. The report makes comparisons to other universities: ”At the University of Michigan, President Mary Sue Coleman’s travel and entertainment expenses from 2007 through 2010 totaled $410,235. Upkeep and utilities at the university-owned house runs an additional $100,000 a year and if Coleman takes someone to lunch or dinner, she pays the tab out of her own pocket… Coleman’s compensation package is $860,782 a year and includes housing and a car. Her employment contract does not call for first class airline tickets or private jets, as Gee’s does.” [Source]

AATA Projected FY 2013 Budget Takes Dip

While the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority’s draft budget had shown a small surplus for the upcoming 2013 fiscal year, the budget that the AATA board will be asked to approve at its upcoming Sept. 27 meeting will now show a $300,000 deficit.

The draft AATA budget provided on Sept. 12 to the city council as a communication item for its Sept. 17 meeting showed a surplus of $22,692 over the budgeted expenses of $33,344,048. However, on Sept. 14 the AATA was notified by the Michigan Dept. of Transportation (MDOT) that a new interpretation of the state’s operating assistance formula would reduce AATA’s assistance by $803,500. The AATA financial staff responded by reducing expenses, but left about $300,000 to be covered by the fund … [Full Story]

Round One of Building Demolition Hearings

Ann Arbor building board of appeals meeting (Sept. 13, 2012): At its Feb. 21, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council established a $250,000 fund to pay upfront costs – if necessary – to undertake demolitions of dangerous buildings. And at its Aug. 9, 2012 meeting, the council authorized signing contracts with four different demolition companies to do the work on an as-needed basis.

Dangerous Buildings Sign

Sign posted at the old Chinese restaurant in the Maple Village Shopping Center. (Photos by the writer.)

That set the stage for the building board of appeals to hold a first set of four show-cause hearings earlier this month.

If the board finds that the property in question is a dangerous building under the city’s ordinance and Michigan’s building code, and orders the property demolished, then a property owner has 20 days to undertake the demolition or appeal the board’s ruling to the circuit court.

Because the city now has demolition companies under contract and the funds set aside to pay for upfront costs, it can back up the demolition order if a property owner fails to comply with it – by going ahead and taking the building down. Although the city would pay the initial cost, the property owner would be assessed and invoiced for the cost of the demolition, which includes an administrative fee.

So it’s more cost-effective for property owners to demolish buildings themselves, compared to having the city do the work. When the owner of one of the four condemned properties arrived late a few minutes after the Sept. 13 hearings had concluded, Ann Arbor’s chief building official Ralph Welton told him: “We’d much rather you knock it down.”

That property was a residential garage, located at 2415 Dorchester Road in the southeastern quadrant of the city. The garage has apparently become a home to chicken hawks, which roost in the open roof.

The other three properties on the board’s agenda included two houses – one at 3123 Cherry Tree Lane, off Packard near US-23, which had additional construction done on the property in a non-compliant way, resulting in conditions the city found to be dangerous. The other house on the board’s agenda was 3010 Dexter Road, on the city’s west side.

In fairly straightforward fashion, the board found all three residential properties to be dangerous buildings under the local and state code, and called for their demolition.

The one property for which a representative of the owner was on hand was 175 N. Maple, where a former Chinese restaurant is located inside the Maple Village shopping center. That hearing took the longest of the four. The back-and-forth between the owner’s representative and the board resulted in a 30-day timeframe set by the board for a plan to be submitted to rectify the conditions, and subsequent to that plan approval, a 60-day window to effect the remedy. The owner’s representative came from Brixmor Property Group, a portfolio company of the Blackstone Group real estate fund.

It was evident that the board was handling the first round of show-cause hearings for the city’s recent efforts. To craft the wording of the board’s first motion of the meeting required a group effort, including much consultation with city attorney staff and Welton. [Full Story]

A2: Selma Café

Photographer Myra Klarman documents a recent Friday morning at Selma Café, the weekly breakfast fundraiser on Ann Arbor’s Old West Side. Lisa Gottlieb’s home, where the event is held, will be on the Old West Side Homes Tour on Sunday, Sept. 23. Selma organizers are also holding a local music fundraiser on Saturday, Nov. 17 to support the café’s efforts to become a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. [Source]

ArborWiki Editing: Easier, Prettier, Wikier

ArborWiki – Ann Arbor’s local online encyclopedia that anyone can edit – is now easier to edit. So it’s easier for people to contribute information to it. Gone is the arcane syntax of the old software platform (MediaWiki). It’s been replaced with new software called LocalWiki, which has been developed with support of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, as part of its Knight News Challenge.

Editors who want to update a bio of a local politician, add a local restaurant’s birthday deal, or make a map of great sledding hills can now add links, bold text, make lists or include maps in the same way they use most any other modern word-processing software.

Launched in the … [Full Story]

Column: Enjoy Denard Robinson’s Time at UM

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Last week, the University of Michigan football team beat up University of Massachusetts, 63-13. Okay, U-Mass was pretty bad. Even the lowly Indiana Hoosiers crushed them the week before. But the Wolverines did exactly what they were supposed to do, and they did it very well.

Many Michigan fans complained anyway. This is not uncommon, or even unexpected. A few years ago, Michigan blew out 15th-ranked Notre Dame team 38-0, the first time Michigan shut out over the Irish in over a century. The next day, I challenged listeners on a sports talk show to find something to complain about. I thought I was joking. They did not, and had no trouble filling two hours with a steady stream of original complaints.

Michigan backers are intensely loyal, and they do not believe in winning at all costs, but some act more like opera critics than fans, less interested in cheering the team on than pointing out where the coaches and players could have done better. They are not happy unless they are not happy.

So, the day after Michigan slaughtered U-Mass, I was not surprised to hear fans complain about quarterback Denard Robinson’s performance. Mind you, Denard ran for over 100 yards and a touchdown, and passed for almost 300 yards, and three touchdowns.

And that, to one caller, was the problem: “I’m tired of living and dying with Denard.” In other words, Robinson was too good for that fan’s taste. [Full Story]

Stamps: $32.5M Gift to UM Art School

The University of Michigan School of Art & Design will be renamed in honor of Penny and Roe Stamps, following a $32.5 million donation to the school from the family’s foundations. The news was announced at the Sept. 20, 2012 meeting of the UM board of regents, who voted unanimously to rename the school. A total of $40 million has been committed to the A&D school, including a $7.5 million match from UM.

The Stamps have already given millions of dollars to the university for a range of projects, including the Stamps Auditorium next to the Walgreen Drama Center on north campus, a commons area at the Ross Academic Center, the Penny W. Stamps Distinguished Visitors Series, the Art & Design … [Full Story]

UM Regents Amend Operating Agreement

An operating agreement for the Michigan Advanced Development and Manufacturing Center (MADMC) was amended by the University of Michigan board of regents at its Sept. 20, 2012 meeting. According to a staff memo, the change aims to ”provide potential MADMC leadership candidates with the level of management independence and operational flexibility needed to effectively direct a manufacturing start-up enterprise.” The memo states that MADMC is pursuing “contractual opportunities that would utilize the assets at NCRC.” The NCRC is the North Campus Research Complex, which the university bought from Pfizer in 2009.

MADMC has been a low-profile venture, and hasn’t been explicitly discussed by the regents. Formed in March of 2012, it was created by UM to seek a U.S. Dept. of Defense … [Full Story]

UM President Coleman Gets 3% Raise

University of Michigan president Mary Sue Coleman is getting a 3% raise, bringing her salary to $603,357. The UM regents unanimously approved her salary increase – $17,574 higher than her current salary – at their Sept. 20, 2012 meeting. Regent Martin Taylor made the motion, praising her work and saying he wished they could do more. However, the raise – which Taylor described as “modest” – reflects a range of other factors, including tuition costs, state funding and other challenges.

As she’s done in the past, Coleman told the board that she planned to donate the increase to student scholarships for studying abroad. Taylor joked that regents should try doubling her salary, since she ends up giving increases back to the … [Full Story]

UM Regents Approve Ferdon Land Sale

University of Michigan regents have authorized the sale of a residential property at 1019 Ferdon in Ann Arbor for $530,000. The action took place at the board’s Sept. 20, 2012 meeting.

According to a staff memo, the 2,200-square-foot house was built in 1930 by Hartwig H. Herbst, and later bequeathed to the university. Since 1973, it has been used as temporary housing for deans, administrators, and faculty relocating to Ann Arbor. It had been listed for sale at $529,000. A tentative closing date is scheduled for Oct. 4.

A friendly amendment by regent Andrea Fischer Newman directed the funds to support the university endowment, rather than the general fund.

This brief was filed from the Michigan Union’s Anderson Room on the Ann Arbor campus, where … [Full Story]

UM Infrastructure Projects Move Forward

A $7 million project to replace two chiller units for the University of Michigan Willard H. Dow Laboratory and the Chemistry Building at 930 N. University, where the lab is located, was approved by UM regents at their Sept. 20, 2012 meeting. It was one of two infrastructure improvements on Ann Arbor’s central campus that were authorized by the board.

According to a staff memo, until 2010 there were three steam-absorption chillers for the building. One was replaced in 2010, and the $7 million project aims to replace the other two with new electric chillers, pumps, piping, controls, and a new electrical substation. Staff estimates there will be a $600,000 annual energy savings after the replacement.

Regents also authorized a $1.2 million project to replace two … [Full Story]

Major UM South Quad Renovation OK’d

A $60 million renovation of the South Quad residence hall will move forward, following approval by the University of Michigan board of regents at their Sept. 20, 2012 meeting. Regents also authorized hiring SmithGroupJJR to design the project.

The dormitory, built in 1951 and located at 600 E. Madison, houses about 1,180 students as well as the university’s honors program. The project would entail renovating 106,700 square feet of the building’s first two floors, and includes expanded student dining facilities, community spaces, updated bathrooms and other infrastructure upgrades.

In brief remarks to the board, Royster Harper – UM’s vice president for student affairs – described the work that would be done, saying it would begin in May of 2013 and take about a … [Full Story]

10 UM Conflict-of-Interest Items OK’d

Ten items disclosed under the state’s Conflict of Interest statute were authorized by the University of Michigan board of regents at their Sept. 20, 2012 meeting. The law requires that regents vote on potential conflict-of-interest disclosures related to university staff, faculty or students.

The items often involve technology licensing agreements or leases. This month, all items were approved unanimously and related to the following businesses: Newline Builders, Horsley Archaeological Prospection, ArborMetrix, DDM System Inc., Edington Associates, OncoFusion, PsiKick Inc., Vortex Hydro Energy and Wolverine Energy Solutions and Technology Inc.

In addition, regents approved lease agreements with 15 firms that are part of UM’s Venture Accelerator program, located at the North Campus Research Complex, 1600 Huron Parkway – the former Pfizer facility. [.pdf of ... [Full Story]

UM: Government

Tom Ivacko, a program manager at the University of Michigan’s Center for Local, State and Urban Policy, writes a guest column in Bridge Magazine that looks at how transparency in government is affected when local units of government consolidate services. He writes: “As public services are increasingly delivered through a web of temporary agreements among differing sets of local governments, what happens to accountability and transparency? If your police protection is provided by a consortium of cities A, B, and C, while your fire services are provided by cities A and B with Township D, and your parks are maintained by City A along with County E and Township F, a new fog of government could descend. Who is responsible, … [Full Story]

UM: Business

Writing in The Atlantic, Alexis Madrigal describes his experience hanging out at TechArb, a “start-up accelerator” for University of Michigan students: ”What I couldn’t help thinking, while talking to these brilliant students, was how deeply start-up culture has penetrated general culture. The idea that building a business is something exciting and rewarding rather than a way to pay the bills is startling. ‘You ever been to a U of M football game?’ [Shiva] Kilaru asks me. ‘That’s the energy we bring to entrepreneurship.’” [Source]

State Grant Amount Misstated

A report on the Sept. 11, 2012 meeting of the Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission misstated the amount of a grant from the Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources Trust Fund. The county is receiving a $2.275 million grant, which requires $975,000 in local matching funds. WCPARC approved those matching funds on Sept. 11. We note the error here, and have corrected the original article.

Board Briefed on Noon Hour Supervisor Contract

A proposal from Professional Contract Management, Inc (PCMI) to provide outsourced noon hour supervision in the Ann Arbor Public Schools was the subject of a briefing given to the board of trustees at its Sept. 19, 2012 meeting. PCMI’s proposal, made in response to an Aug. 8, 2012 RFP, was the only one received by the district.

PCMI’s bid is to charge the district 25.83% of the gross wages to be paid to the supervisors themselves. According to the staff memo accompanying the briefing item, that’s roughly 7% higher than bids the district has seen for similar services in the past. AAPS has used PCMI for substitutes and coaches in the past.

Compared to current costs, which depend on hiring AAPS employees … [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Schools Briefed on Sexual Health

A sexual health program for preschool through 2nd graders and a 15-minute video about puberty designed for 5th through 8th graders were the subjects of a briefing given to members of the Ann Arbor Public Schools board of trustees at their Sept. 19, 2012 meeting.

The briefing was followed by the first of two required public hearings on the adoption of the two instructional programs. No member of the public spoke at the 9:45 p.m. public hearing. The second public hearing will take place at the board’s Oct. 10 meeting, when the sexual health instructional programs will be voted on by the board.

The program for younger children – preschool through 2nd grade – is called Body Safety Training. A sample … [Full Story]

AAPS Briefed on Seat Time Waiver

Students enrolled in a sufficient number of online classes in the Ann Arbor Public Schools will likely again be eligible this year to be counted as part of a school’s enrollment for the official count of students. Local districts receive an allocation from the state each year based on the number of students attending class on designated count days.

The AAPS board of trustees was briefed on the issue at its Sept. 18 meeting, because the district is required to re-apply for its “seat time waiver” program by the Michigan Department of Education and must now have board approval. All districts with such programs were required to re-apply by Sept. 15, 2012 in order to receive full funding for eligible students. AAPS … [Full Story]

County to Start Negotiating with Humane Society

Generating considerable debate at the Washtenaw County board’s Sept. 19, 2012 meeting was a resolution related to animal control services. But it passed on a 10-to-1 vote, with dissent from Alicia Ping. The resolution, brought forward by Barbara Bergman, directs county administrator Verna McDaniel to begin negotiations with the Humane Society of Huron Valley toward a new contract for services. It further states that if McDaniel doesn’t believe sufficient progress is being made by Oct. 30, then she’s authorized to issue a request for proposals (RFP) to seek bids from other organizations.

The issue of how to handle animal control services for the county has been a contentious one, dating back to budget cuts proposed in 2011. The county currently contracts … [Full Story]

Econ Development Tax Increase Postponed

The handling of a proposal to increase a tax for economic/agricultural development drew criticism from some Washtenaw County commissioners, ultimately leading to a postponement of the item that was discussed at the county board meeting on Sept. 19, 2012.

The millage for economic development and agriculture is authorized under the state’s Act 88, and has been levied by the board since 2009. That year, it was levied at 0.04 mills. It was raised to 0.043 in 2010 and 0.05 in 2011. Because the Michigan statute that authorizes this millage predates the state’s Headlee Amendment, the board can levy it without a voter referendum.

On Sept. 5, it had been given initial approval by commissioners on a 7-to-3 vote, with dissent from Alicia … [Full Story]

Small Tax Hike OK’d for Indigent Veterans

A small tax increase for services to support indigent veterans got final approval at the Sept. 19, 2012 meeting of the Washtenaw County board of commissioners. The Michigan statute that authorizes this millage predates the state’s Headlee Amendment, so it can be approved by the board without a voter referendum. Several veterans spoke during a public hearing about the tax, many of them making an emotional appeal to support the funding.

The tax to support services for indigent veterans was increased to 0.0286 mills, to be levied in December 2012. The current 0.025 mills brought in $344,486 in 2012. The increased millage is expected to raise $390,340 in revenues for use during 2013.

According to a staff memo, the increase is needed because of … [Full Story]

Fourth & Catherine

About 10:15 p.m.: Trio of musicians playing in front of People’s Food Co-op.

Change to Natural Areas Ordinance OK’d

An amendment to the ordinance for the county’s natural areas preservation program received final approval from the Washtenaw County commissioners at their Sept. 19, 2012 meeting.

The change removes the previous restriction that only 7% of millage funds could be used for management or stewardship. The Washtenaw County parks and recreation commission had been briefed on the proposal at its May 8, 2012 meeting. At that time, the proposal would have raised the limit from 7% to 25%. The ordinance amendment eventually approved by commissioners eliminated all percentage restrictions on set-asides for management and stewardship.

According to a staff memo, the goal would be to use $600,000 per year for management and stewardship. Of that, roughly $240,000 would be used for ongoing stewardship activities, and … [Full Story]