Time to make pickles – cucumbers are in. [photo]
An online survey about downtown zoning has been posted on A2 Open City Hall, as part of the current review of A2D2 (Ann Arbor Discovering Downtown) zoning. The survey closes at 5 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 2. Survey results will be part of the input considered by the city’s planning commission as it makes recommendations to city council about possible zoning revisions. Public forums, focus groups and coffee hours are other strategies that the city is using to solicit feedback – more details on that are on the A2D2 website. [Link to A2 Open City Hall]
Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority special board meeting (July 23, 2013): No regular board meeting was scheduled for July, but the AAATA board called a special meeting toward the end of the month, to handle some unfinished business. That included: (1) authorization of a contract extension with Select Ride to provide required paratransit service under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA); and (2) authorization of a contract to move a fire hydrant at the AAATA’s headquarters at 2700 S. Industrial Highway.
The possibility of the special meeting was indicated at the AAATA’s June 20, 2013 board meeting, when CEO Michael Ford mentioned that a special session might be called to handle some routine matters – as well as issues related to the addition of the city of Ypsilanti as a member of the AAATA.
Those related issues could have included a vote to place a question on the November 2013 ballot, asking voters in the cities of Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor to approve a transit millage to be levied by the AAATA. However, at the July 23 special meeting, Ford pointed toward a May election as more likely: “Obviously we’re going to be looking for a millage at some point in the near future. November was one opportunity, but I don’t think that’s probably going to happen,” Ford told the board. “I think we’re probably looking at May, to be realistic. We’re gearing up for some potential there.”
The two cities currently levy millages that are dedicated to transit, which are then passed through to the AAATA. The ability for the renamed AAATA to levy such a millage with voter approval was a power also enjoyed by the AATA, but was never exercised. The request for additional funding – through a levy by the AAATA – is based on an AAATA plan to increase and expand service in the two cities and through establishing longer-term purchase-of-service agreements with some adjoining townships.
The authorization of a $109,000 contract with Blaze Contracting to relocate the fire hydrant was the second time the board has authorized such a contract. Last year, the board approved a deal with RBV Contracting for the work. However, the contract was not awarded, because the necessary agreements with the University of Michigan, which owns adjoining land involved in the hydrant relocation, were not in place.
The board’s action to approve the Select Ride contract – which is valued at $3,016,871 for the coming year – came under time pressure to ensure that the AAATA could continue its paratransit service. The provision of complementary paratransit service for people with disabilities – as an alternative to the fixed-route service – is a requirement of the Federal Transit Administration under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Under the negotiated terms, the third year of Select Ride’s contract includes a one-time “stabilization payment” to Select Ride of $100,000 to be paid by July 31, 2013. The contract also includes a 5% ($150,000) increase for this final year of the contract. The staff memo in the board’s information packet attributed the increases to the rising consumer price index (CPI) and to fuel costs.
The state’s local bus operating (LBO) assistance – money from Act 51 that’s allocated to transportation agencies statewide using a complex formula – was a topic that arose during the July 23 special meeting in two ways. As a result of state legislative action, the AAATA now expects $800,000 of previous decreased funding from the state’s LBO to be restored. When the Michigan Dept. of Transportation applied the distribution formula last year, it resulted in about $800,000 less funding to the AAATA – and that had an impact on the AAATA’s FY 2013 budget. The agency is currently operating on slightly less than the 3-month cash reserve required under board policy. At the July 23 meeting, it was reported that a bank transfer of $500,000 had taken place, with the remaining amount expected later.
The LBO is also a source of funding that the southeast Michigan regional transit authority (RTA) would like to use to cover administrative expenses. The RTA was created in late 2012 through a lame-duck legislative action. The RTA is supposed to coordinate transit in a four-county region (Washtenaw, Wayne, Macomb and Oakland) that includes the city of Detroit. AAATA board members expressed some disappointment during their July 23 meeting that Gov. Rick Snyder and the state legislature had created the RTA without providing for adequate initial funding. The RTA could eventual obtain voter-approved funding through a millage or a vehicle registration fee.
AAATA board members objected to the fact that LBO money was being used for the administrative overhead of the newly created RTA, instead of being used to provide transportation “on the street” by the transit agencies in the four-county region. Those include DDOT (Detroit Dept. of Transportation) and the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART). The negative impact on the AAATA for the next year of funding for the RTA – using the state’s LBO assistance – is estimated at about $68,000.
Channel 7 WXYZ news van headed north stops for pedestrian in mid-block crosswalk.
The city of Ann Arbor is seeking input on a potential new dog park in Ann Arbor, via an online survey and two public meetings. The dog park subcommittee of the city’s park advisory commission will hold public meetings on Tuesday, Aug. 27 from 7-8:30 p.m. in the basement conference room of city hall at 301 E. Huron, and on Wednesday, Sept. 11 from 7-8:30 p.m. at Cobblestone Farm Barn at 2781 Packard Road. The online survey will be open through Aug. 12. [Source]
Washtenaw County board of commissioners special meeting (July 24, 2013): As the staff works on developing a budget to present on Oct. 2, county commissioners have set four broad priorities to guide that process.
Those priorities, listed in order of importance, are: (1) ensure a community safety net through health and human services; (2) increase economic opportunity and workforce development; (3) ensure mobility and civic infrastructure for Washtenaw County residents; and (4) reduce environmental impact. [.pdf of budget priorities resolution] [.pdf of budget priorities memo and supporting materials]
The vote on the budget priorities resolution was 6-1, with dissent from Dan Smith (R-District 2), who indicated that his No. 1 priority is long-term fiscal stability, followed by public safety and justice. Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-District 5) had left the meeting before the vote, and Alicia Ping (R-District 3) was absent. Although it was not part of the four priorities, a resolved clause was added during the meeting, stating that “the long-term fiscal stability of the county [will] continue to be of import throughout the budget development process.”
The resolution was brought forward by Felicia Brabec (D-District 4), who’s leading the budget process for the board. It also laid out a framework for developing strategies to measure the effectiveness of county investments in these priorities.
Brabec described this approach as “both a policy and a paradigm shift” that can’t happen overnight, but one that’s critical for the county’s future. The board is forming work groups focused on each of the four priorities, as well as on the topic of human resources. These work groups will be meeting to develop as many as five “community impact” goals in each category, in work that’s expected to continue into next year and beyond.
The July 24 meeting also included an update from county administrator Verna McDaniel about the county’s current financial condition and preliminary projections for 2014. At her last presentation, on May 15, 2013, McDaniel told commissioners that the county needed to identify $6.99 million in structural reductions for the 2014 budget. The approach to addressing this $6.99 million target depended on whether the county moved ahead with a major bond proposal to cover obligations to retirees, she said at the time. That bond proposal was put on hold earlier this month.
Now, the projected general fund shortfall is $3.93 million on a roughly $101 million budget. McDaniel indicated that the shortfall will be addressed primarily with operating cost reductions ($3.83 million) as well as $100,000 in cuts to funding of outside agencies, including support for nonprofits. The lower shortfall resulted from revised actuarial data that significantly lowered the contribution that the county is required to make toward its unfunded retiree obligations. Other factors include: (1) a decision not to make a $1 million contribution to the general fund’s fund balance; and (2) $2.4 million in higher-than-previously-anticipated revenue.
McDaniel noted that if the county had chosen to bond, then operational cuts would not be needed, and the fund balance contribution could be made. She also reported that the general fund budget doesn’t factor in serious state and federal cuts to non-general fund programs. “Revenue is needed,” she said. “We need to figure that out.”
Commissioners Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) and Conan Smith (D-District 9) both voiced interest in exploring possible new taxes. “I think it’s important that we strongly consider asking the voters of Washtenaw County if they’re willing to support some of the ongoing operations that we have,” said Rabhi, the board’s chair. “We need to pose that question at least to the voters in the form of a millage of some kind.”
Smith cited human services and public safety as areas that might gain voter support for a millage. During public commentary, representatives from SafeHouse Center urged commissioners to continue funding of that nonprofit, as well as for human service organizations in general.
The upcoming budget will be prepared without the major bonding initiative that until earlier this month was anticipated to occur later this year. The bonding was intended to cover unfunded pension and retiree healthcare obligations – for the Washtenaw County Employees’ Retirement System (WCERS) and Voluntary Employees Beneficiary Association (VEBA). The original maximum amount for the bonds had been estimated at up to $345 million, but updated actuarial data resulted in a lower estimate of about $295 million. During the July 24 meeting, commissioner Conan Smith said it’s unlikely that bonding could occur this year, although he’s still supportive in general of taking that approach.
McDaniel plans to present the 2014 budget to the board at its Oct. 2 meeting. Commissioners are required to adopt a balanced budget for 2014 by the end of 2013. At its May 1, 2013 meeting, the board had approved development of a four-year budget. However, commissioners have not yet decided whether to follow through by adopting a budget with that four-year horizon. And some commissioners – notably Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6) – have expressed skepticism about this longer-term approach. For the past few years, budget plans have been developed for a two-year period, though the board must confirm the budget annually.
Publishers Weekly reports on Peter Blackshear’s plans to open a new independent bookstore in Ann Arbor in August. Bookbound, to be located in the Courtyard Shops complex at 1729 Plymouth Road, will focus on bargain books and children’s books, with a small used book section. The article quotes Blackshear, a former Borders bookstore employee: “I’d dreamed for many years of having a store of my own. When Borders closed, I thought maybe there was a window of opportunity to start my own business.” [Source]
Electricians from the IBEW enjoying Ann Arbor and the National Training Institute held each year. [photo]
In a press release Sunday afternoon, July 28, 2013 the Ann Arbor Public School district has announced that Brian Osborne has declined an offer to become its next superintendent. AAPS board chair Deb Mexicotte is quoted in the district’s press release as saying, “… due to a developing family issue, concerns about moving his family from the East coast and his desire to continue the work he has started in his current district, [Osborne] has declined our offer …” [.pdf of press release]
Kids and parents attending the Chelsea Sounds and Sights Festival gather around four-foot diameter metal phonograph using cards as “needles” to pick up the sounds that inventor Michael Flynn has cut into the metal. There are four different tracks to choose from. [photo 1] [photo 2] [photo 3] [photo 4] [photo 5] Moment of Zen: father gives his little girl a kiss on the cheek and tells her, “Love is all you need” – which is one of the phonograph tracks.
Happened to sit in a seat at the Michigan Theater with an “Ann Arbor News Critic’s Seat” plaque on the armrest. Did not know about this designation. Looks like there are at least three. Best seats in the house? [photo]
A preliminary analysis of pre-primary campaign finance reports for the two contested races in the Aug. 6, 2013 Ann Arbor city council Democratic primary shows a total of $29,230 in cash was raised by the four candidates combined, with the average cash contributor donating a bit over $128.
The deadline for filing pre-primary reports was July 26, for the period ending July 21.
Voters in the Democratic primary for Ward 3 will choose between incumbent Stephen Kunselman and Julie Grand as the Democratic candidate to appear on the November city council ballot. Grand raised the most cash of any candidate, getting donations from 68 contributors averaging about $160 apiece for a total of $10,825.
Kunselman raised $5,855 from 54 contributors. While that’s roughly half what Grand raised, it’s about twice what he received in the pre-primary period in 2011 ($2,750). That was a three-way race between himself, Ingrid Ault and Marwan Issa. The average contribution to Kunselman’s campaign this year was about $110.
In Ward 4, voters will choose between incumbent Marcia Higgins and Jack Eaton. Fourteen-year incumbent Higgins raised the least cash of any candidate, receiving $4,592 from 26 contributors for an average donation of $177.
Eaton raised $7,958 from 82 different contributors for an average donation of $97. That’s the greatest number of individual contributors of any candidate. Eaton’s total this time around is about twice as much as he raised for the same period in 2012 ($4,305), when he ran a close but ultimately unsuccessful race against incumbent Margie Teall.
Of the 228 total contributors for all four candidates (including those who contributed to more than one campaign), The Chronicle counted at least 57 contributions (25%) from people who are either current or past elected or appointed officials – including appointees to committees. Those contributions were evenly distributed across candidates: Eaton (16); Higgins (13); Grand (14); Kunselman (14).
Some current councilmembers have lent their financial support to candidates. Ward 4 challenger Jack Eaton is supported financially by Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1), Mike Anglin (Ward 5) and Jane Lumm (Ward 2). Incumbent Marcia Higgins has financial support from her wardmate Margie Teall as well as mayor John Hieftje.
Ward 3 incumbent Stephen Kunselman is also supported financial by Anglin and Lumm. Julie Grand has received contributions from Higgins and Teall.
Current and past campaign filing documents can be searched and retrieved from the Washtenaw County clerk’s web page. [.pdf of Grand's statements] [.pdf of Eaton's statements] [.pdf of Higgins' statements] [.pdf of Kunselman's statements]
Other coverage of the campaigns is categorized in The Chronicle as “2013 primary election.”
Presented below are charts of contribution counts, broken down by size of contribution, as well as maps showing the geographic distribution of contributions.
The Detroit Free Press is among the media outlets reporting that a University of Michigan medical student’s death is being investigated as a homicide. Paul DeWolf was found dead in the Phi Rho Sigma house on Wednesday morning, July 24. If you have information about the incident, contact the Ann Arbor police department’s tip line at 734-794-6939 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or call Crime Stoppers at 800-773-2587. [Source]
Longtime University of Michigan equipment manager Jon Falk announced this week he will retire after the football season. Falk has held the job for 40 years. But that won’t put an end to the litany of Falk Stories – many of them revolving around his former boss, Bo Schembechler.
Falk first met football coach Bo Schembechler in 1967. Falk was a freshman working in the equipment room at Miami of Ohio, and Schembechler was the head coach. Schembechler seemed pretty gruff to Falk, so he avoided him. That was not going to work for long.
Falk graduated from Miami in 1971 and stayed on as the football team’s assistant equipment manager. He lived at home with his mother and his grandmother and took care of them. In 1974 Bo invited Falk to interview in Ann Arbor. Falk had never lived anywhere but tiny Oxford, Ohio, so he was a little apprehensive about going to such a big place.
When he returned, he told his mother and grandmother that he was going to turn down Coach Schembechler’s offer because he did not want to leave the two of them by themselves. That night, around four in the morning, Falk’s mother came into his room, crying. She said it hurt her to say it, but he must go to Michigan. “I know Coach Schembechler will take care of you.”
His mom was right. The first few weeks Falk was in town, he ate almost every dinner at the Schembechler’s home.
Trucks and crew for the Bollywood film “Writer’s Block” parked along Ashley south of Liberty, setting up for a shoot. [photo]
The electricians have started to arrive for their annual training event in Ann Arbor. Expect several thousand by Sunday followed by the plumbers & pipefitters. They bring millions of dollars to Ann Arbor during a slow period. Welcome back! [photo]
[Editor's note: David Erik Nelson writes a monthly column for The Ann Arbor Chronicle called "In it for the Money."Instead of his regular column, this month we’re publishing a piece Nelson wrote based on an interview he conducted with Noam Chomsky a few weeks ago, when Chomsky visited Ann Arbor. The piece includes long chunks of transcript, interspersed with commentary from Nelson. It begins with Nelson, whose thoughts are presented in italics throughout.]
I’m interviewing Noam Chomsky in the bar of the Campus Inn a block from the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The bar is dim and entirely abandoned at 10 a.m. on a Friday morning. Because I’m highly distractible, I can’t help but periodically marvel at the symmetry of this: I only ended up interviewing Noam Chomsky at all because I’d Tweeted a link to a joke about Heisenberg, Gödel, and Chomsky walking into a bar , and Dave Askins (editor of this fine publication) had responded by noting that Chomsky would be speaking at the University of Michigan a week or so later, and essentially dared me to interview him.
I’d agreed, on the assumption that it would be impossible to land an interview with the man almost universally regarded as America’s foremost public intellectual. I was wrong – and Chomsky chose the bar as our quiet little nook! It was almost too good to be true: Noam Chomsky walks into a bar and … and …
And lemme tell you, there is more than a little pressure inherent in being the straight man in a classic joke set-up, even if the set-up is only in your head – which is germane, since from Chomsky’s perspective, it’s the conversation in your head that is most essential to the nature of language.
Washtenaw County commissioners have adopted four priorities to guide the administration as the staff develops a budget for 2014-2017. The priorities, voted on at a special meeting on July 24, 2013, are weighted in order of importance:
The vote was 6-1, with dissent from Dan Smith (R-District 2), who indicated that his No. 1 priority is long-term fiscal stability, followed by public safety and justice. Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-District 5) was out of the room during the vote, and Alicia Ping (R-District 3) was absent.
The July 24 meeting also included an update from county administrator Verna McDaniel …
Shared raised garden wonderfully decorated by Sarah, Heather and Maya. [photo]
Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (July 16, 2013): More than 40 residents living near the proposed Glendale Condominiums showed up to voice concerns about the project, slated for a former orchard south of Jackson Avenue next to the Hillside Terrace retirement community.
In a public hearing that lasted about an hour, neighbors cited a range of issues, including concerns about increased flooding, the lack of pedestrian access, increased traffic and the loss of landmark trees. One resident told commissioners that she already has a sump pump “that could probably pump pudding to Ypsilanti, it’s so powerful.” She’s concerned it will need to run continuously if the project gets built.
The proposal for the 2.54-acre site at 312 Glendale Drive includes demolishing two single-family homes on the south end of the property and building eight two-bedroom duplexes. Each unit would include a one-car garage, with eight additional surface parking spaces on the site.
The project is located in Ward 5, and both city councilmembers representing that ward – Mike Anglin and Chuck Warpehoski – attended the July 16 meeting. Warpehoski was among the speakers at the public hearing, but was cut off by commissioner Diane Giannola, who cited the commission’s bylaws. The bylaws state: “A member of the City Council shall not be heard before the Commission as a petitioner, representative of a petitioner or as a party interested in a petition during the Council member’s term of office.” Warpehoski, who had been unaware of that rule, stepped away from the podium but stayed for the remainder of the public hearing and the commission’s deliberations on this item.
After discussing the proposal, commissioners followed a staff recommendation and postponed action on the project, to allow for time to address unresolved issues related to the site plan.
In other action, commissioners recommended approval of a drive-thru addition for the Tim Hortons at the northeast corner of Ann Arbor-Saline and Eisenhower, near the I-94 interchange. As a “public amenity,” the owner proposes putting in a 140-square-foot brick-paved area near the intersection, with two park benches and shrubbery. Some commissioners questioned whether anyone would use that spot, given its location next to heavy traffic. Wendy Woods, saying she had family nearby, indicated that there is a fair amount of pedestrian and bike traffic in that area. She also floated the idea of putting public art on that corner, given that it’s a “gateway” to the city. Sabra Briere indicated that the city wouldn’t fund public art on the privately owned site, but would “applaud” the owner if he chose to put artwork there.
Also gaining unanimous approval was a request by the Glacier Hills retirement community for adding 31 parking spaces to its property, near US-23 on the city’s east side. A representative from the nearby Earhart Village spoke against the project, saying that the parking is primarily for commercial uses, even though the area is residential. He argued that Glacier Hills is drawing customers to the property, who use the cafe there and other services, and that it negatively impacts the adjoining neighborhoods. He also complained about changes to the site that can be approved via administrative amendments, with no oversight by the planning commission. One such change – an addition to one of the Glacier Hills “villas” – is currently pending with the planning staff.
Commissioners also approved minor changes to their bylaws, and got updates on the R4C citizens advisory committee and the review of A2D2 zoning. Just prior to the July 16 regular commission meeting, the commission’s ordinance revisions committee (ORC) had met with Erin Perdu of ENP & Associates, the Ann Arbor consultant that’s been hired to handle the city council-mandated review of downtown zoning. The work includes a series of events aimed at seeking public input. Upcoming events include Thursday morning coffee hours with consultants that are open to the public from 8-10 a.m. at the new Zingerman’s Deli building, starting on July 25. And two focus groups are scheduled for next week: on Monday, July 29, 8-9:30 a.m. at Kerrytown Concert House, 415 N. Fourth Ave.; and on Tuesday, July 30, 7-8:30 p.m. at the lower level conference room in city hall, 301 E. Huron St. More events are listed on the city’s website.
The new Tunisian restaurant appears to be close to opening. A peek through the windows reveals furniture. [photo]
The terms of the third and final year of Select Ride‘s contract to provide complementary paratransit service for the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority has been given approval by the AAATA board. The board’s action to approve the contract – which is valued at $3,016,871 for the coming year – came at a special meeting held on July 23, 2013. Select Ride is a private taxicab company.
The negotiations for terms of an extension to a third year of Select Ride’s contract also included a one-time “stabilization payment” to Select Ride of $100,000 to be paid by July 31, 2013. The contract also includes a 5% ($150,000) increase for this final year of the contract. The staff memo in the board’s information …
A fire hydrant at the south end of the property on South Industrial Highway – where the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority’s headquarters is located – might finally be moved. The AAATA board has authorized a $109,000 contract with Blaze Contracting to relocate the hydrant, in a resolution approved at a special meeting held on July 23, 2013.
The previous authorization to award a contract with RBV Contracting was rescinded. That had been approved by the board at a meeting a year ago, on July 16, 2012. The board’s July 23, 2013 resolution includes an amount of $35,000 to cover city of Ann Arbor permits, physical testing and additional oversight – to be provided by Spence Brothers (AAATA’s construction manager).
The reason the fire …
Huge white tour bus from Ohio stops at corner, discharges 56 passengers, who driver says are from mortgage company.
I couldn’t discern the nature of this alien warrior, but his/her companion was quite human, carrying tape and handbills. [photo]
Ward 4 voters in the Aug. 6, 2013 Democratic primary will choose between incumbent Marcia Higgins and Jack Eaton as the Democratic candidate to appear on the Ann Arbor city council ballot in November.
Each of the city’s five wards is represented with two seats on the 11-member council, which includes the mayor. The terms for council seats are two years, and one of the two seats is up for election every year.
Both candidates participated in a forum hosted by the League of Women Voters on July 10. The complete video recording of the forum, conducted at Community Television Network’s studios on South Industrial, is available online through CTN’s Video on Demand.
Questions fielded by Eaton and Higgins included topics like downtown Ann Arbor and future development, transportation, relations between the University of Michigan and the city, and interactions between councilmembers and residents.
They also responded to a debate prompt that for Ward 4 possibly could be of greater significance than those other issues – a question about flooding. In last year’s Ward 4 Democratic primary, which Eaton contested with incumbent Margie Teall, the election came about five months after heavy rains on March 15, 2012 caused overland flooding in the Lansdowne neighborhood of Ward 4. Although Eaton lost the election by a handful of votes, he was strongest in the precincts farther from downtown, where the flooding took place. Previously, Eaton had run for the Democratic nomination to represent Ward 4 in 2010, also against Teall. His showing in 2012 was a significant improvement over his 2010 result. This year marks his third campaign for Ann Arbor city council.
Higgins was first elected to the council in 1999 – as a Republican. However, she switched to the Democratic Party in 2005. She’s in her 14th year of service on the council.
This report presents responses by Higgins and Eaton to questions at the July 10 LWV forum, grouped more by theme than by chronology.
Demonstration against Trayvon Martin verdict by roughly a dozen people concludes with prayer led by Lefiest Galimore. Many of the demonstrators also attended the most recent city council meeting on July 15, 2013 and indicated an intent to work to repeal Michigan’s version of a “stand your ground” law. [.pdf of Self Defense Act 309 of 2006] [photo 1] [photo 2]