Archive for July, 2013

Washington & Fourth

Nearly complete street reconstruction on Fourth Avenue looks good from the top of the parking structure. [photo]

Ward 3 Dem Primary: Kunselman or Grand

On Aug. 6, 2013, 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.

Julie Grand and Stephen Kunselman are preserved by Ann Arbor Observer photographer Adrian Wylie before the start of the League of Women Voters forum held on July 10, 2013.

Julie Grand and Stephen Kunselman are posing for Ann Arbor Observer photographer Adrian Wylie before the start of the League of Women Voters forum held on July 10, 2013. (Photos by the writer.)

Each of the city’s five wards is represented with two seats on the 11-member council, which includes the mayor. Every year, one of the two seats is up for election – as the terms for council seats are two years.

Both Ward 3 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 Grand and Kunselman included topics like transportation, downtown Ann Arbor, relations with the University of Michigan, public safety, alternative energy, and interactions between councilmembers and residents.

Kunselman is serving his third term on the council, having first been elected in 2006. He did not win re-election in 2008, when Christopher Taylor prevailed in the Democratic primary that year. Kunselman was returned by voters to a seat the following year, and was then re-elected in 2011. Kunselman’s campaigns – this year and in the past – have stressed his commitment to middle- and lower-income neighborhoods located farther away from the center of the city, such as his own neighborhood in the Springwater subdivision south of Packard and east of Buhr Park.

Grand, who lives a block away from Taylor in the Burns Park neighborhood, has served since 2007 on the city’s park advisory commission and is currently chair of that group. Kunselman served on the council when her nomination to PAC was confirmed. Grand’s campaign has stressed that she is a good communicator and seeks consensus, without needing to be the loudest voice.

Until the July 10 LWV forum, the contrast Grand drew between herself and Kunselman with respect to communicative style had been implicit. At the LWV forum, however, she made her criticism explicit, using her closing remarks to accuse Kunselman of focusing “on creating problems rather than solving them.” She also claimed that Kunselman had admitted that he didn’t come prepared to council meetings.

Grand responded to an email query from The Chronicle by indicating that she’d based her contention about an admission by Kunselman on her memory of a June 8 Democratic Party forum. Included in this Chronicle coverage of the LWV forum is a partial transcript of an audio recording from that June 8 event.

This report also presents responses by Grand and Kunselman to questions at the July 10 LWV forum, grouped more by theme than by chronology. [Full Story]

Huron Parkway

Beautiful sky, post mini-thunderstorm over Huron Parkway. Yes, I was biking, not driving! [photo]

A2: Business

Mark Hodesh, owner of Downtown Home & Garden in Ann Arbor, is featured in a Forbes magazine column about how to grow a business while respecting the historic integrity and character of the building where it’s located. In the case of Hodesh, it’s through ventures like Mark’s Carts and Bill’s Beer Garden. From the column: “With a little bit of innovation and a focused vision, Hodesh has been able to pull off growth through what he calls a ‘non-building way to develop.’ And best of all, that development happened without having to abandon the heart and soul of Downtown Home & Garden. In fact, the new businesses have not only created new revenue in and of themselves, … [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Library Board Gets Feedback

Ann Arbor District Library board meeting (July 15, 2013): For the second consecutive month, the AADL board held its meeting at one of the district’s four branches – this time at the Pittsfield branch on Oak Valley Drive.

Ann Arbor District Library, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

One of the “yarn bombed” trees in front of the Pittsfield branch of the Ann Arbor District Library, where the board held its July 15, 2013 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

Fifteen people spoke during public commentary, a much higher than usual number. About half of the speakers, including several children, were there to earn points in AADL’s summer game, and spoke about their appreciation for the library and for the game in particular. Codes, which can be used to collect points in the game, were given to anyone who showed up to the meeting or spoke at public commentary. Later in the meeting board members received a briefing on the game from Eli Neiburger, AADL’s associate director of IT and product development, who talked about its role in encouraging kids to read and write during the summer months.

The board also was briefed on the recent Kids Read Comics convention, as well as new collections of non-traditional items – like home tools and microscopes.

In his financial report to the board, Ken Nieman, AADL’s associate director of finance, noted that library ended the year about $43,000 under budget for tax revenue. That amount includes $37,000 from tax refunds that AADL had to make to the county and various municipalities throughout the year, following decisions made by local tax tribunals. AADL had expected to make $75,000 of such refunds, but refunds totaled about $112,000 for the fiscal year, which ended June 30.

AADL director Josie Parker highlighted several staff accomplishments during her report to trustees, including news that an anonymous donor has given his classic video game collection to the library. The collection – which will be used for AADL events, but won’t be in circulation – includes cartridges and discs from the 1980s and ’90s, and a few game consoles.

Parker’s own achievement was highlighted by trustee Margaret Leary during the meeting: inclusion in a new collection of essays titled “Library 2020: Today’s Leading Visionaries Describe Tomorrow’s Library.”

During public commentary, Bob Rorke – a consultant working for the Protect Our Libraries political action committee – raised questions about AADL’s decision earlier this year to hire Allerton-Hill Consulting. Referencing excerpts from emails that Protect Our Libraries obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, Rorke argued that the consulting contract is not a generic communications audit or project – but rather it’s political. He indicated that Allerton-Hill provides political advocacy for the passing of public financing issues, and asked the board to review this contract and determine whether it’s legal under Michigan law.

Public commentary also included thanks from Robb Wolfe, executive director of the Ann Arbor Summer Festival, for AADL’s ongoing support. Other topics raised by speakers touched on the condition of the downtown library, appreciation for events hosted by the library, and a report from the recent American Library Association conference.

The meeting also included a tribute to Karl Pohrt, who died earlier this month. Trustee Ed Surovell, an avid book collector, noted that many people knew Pohrt as the founder and owner of Shaman Drum Bookshop in downtown Ann Arbor. “But he was so much more than that,” Surovell said. [Full Story]

Thompson & Packard

Light on a pole set up for filming of independent production of “Wide Awake” a 20-minute short. [photo]

UM: Presidential Search

The Detroit News reports that a search committee has been appointed to help select the next University of Michigan president, following Mary Sue Coleman’s retirement next year. Members include the eight UM regents and seven professors: Alec Gallimore, David Ginsburg, Timothy R.B. Johnson, Jeffrey MacKie-Mason, Tiya Miles, Rebecca Scott, and Lynn Perry Wooten. The regents have hired the executive search firm Russell Reynolds Associates to help with the process, and a website with information about the search has been posted. [Source]

Settlement in AATA Ad Lawsuit: No Costs

A settlement has now been reached in a lawsuit over the placing of an anti-Israel advertisement on Ann Arbor buses. The court’s July 17, 2013 settlement order states that the parties have agreed that the case will be “dismissed with prejudice and without costs or fees.” [.pdf of July 17, 2013 settlement order]

AATA Bus. Advertisements appear on the sides of buses. (Photo illustration by The Chronicle – which consists of the word "settlement" digitally added to an image that included the original text "out of service.")

AATA Bus. Advertisements appear on the sides of buses. (Photo illustration by The Chronicle – which consists of applying a graphics filter and digitally adding the word “settlement” to an image that included the original text “out of service.”)

In an email responding to an inquiry from The Chronicle, American Civil Liberties Union attorney Dan Korobkin, who represented plaintiff Blaine Coleman in the case against the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, stated: “After the court ruled that AATA’s advertising policy was unconstitutional, AATA made significant changes to its policy based on the ruling and current case law. Both sides decided that a settlement was appropriate, and we ultimately reached an agreement that worked for everyone.”

Korobkin added: “I am able to say that Mr. Coleman did not ask for any payment as part of the settlement, and that the ACLU accepted payment for some of its expenses and attorneys’ fees.”

In 2011, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority had refused to place the ad on its buses as a part of its advertising program. The proposed ad reads “Boycott ‘Israel’” and “Boycott Apartheid” and features an image of a spider-like creature with a skull for a head. [.pdf of image and text of proposed ad]

According to AATA controller Phil Webb, the AATA is currently projecting that its net revenue from the advertising program – which is managed under a contract with CBS Outdoor Advertising – will come to about $276,000 for the fiscal year. This is the first year of the contract with CBS Outdoor. Compared with the previous contractor, CBS is generating about 2.5 times as much revenue to the AATA. [.pdf of billings through May 2013]

The lawsuit was filed by Coleman – an Ann Arbor resident who was represented by the ACLU – over a year and a half ago, on Nov. 28, 2011.

The case had remained in the preliminary injunction phase and had not yet proceeded to trial. Before the settlement, the most recent court action had come in early June, after a four-month pause in activity. In his June 4, 2013 ruling, federal judge Mark Goldsmith did not agree with the ACLU’s argument that the preliminary injunctive relief to which Coleman was entitled should take the form of placing the ad on AATA buses. [Full Story]

Skatepark Rolls; Council Bails on Talk Time

Ann Arbor city council meeting (July 15, 2013): By recent standards, the council’s roughly three-hour meeting was relatively brief.

Pie chart of meeting time spent on each item.

Of the Ann Arbor city council’s roughly 3-hour meeting, about a quarter of the time was taken up by deliberations on changes to the council’s rules (dark blue wedge), some of which would have affected public speaking time. Total public speaking time at the meeting (red wedge) was about 21 minutes, or 11% of the meeting. (Chart by The Chronicle based on time stamps of live updates filed from the meeting.)

About a quarter of that time was spent in deliberations on changes to the council’s own rules. That included a proposal to reduce the length of public speaking turns from three minutes to two minutes. After voting 10-1 – over the lone dissent of Margie Teall (Ward 4) – to eliminate the shortening of public speaking turns, the council discussed a number of the other proposed changes that had been recommended by the council’s rules committee.

Those changes include a shortening of councilmember speaking turns, adding public commentary to the council’s work sessions, moving nominations and appointments to a spot earlier on the agenda, and prohibiting the use of mobile devices for texting or phoning at the council table.

As councilmembers recognized that they would not be able to find their way to a clear consensus on the rules changes until they had longer deliberations, the council decided to postpone the item until its first meeting in September – which this year falls on Sept. 3.

So the council delayed launching itself off the lip of the legislative half-pipe to change its own internal rules. However, councilmembers took the advice of Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) when they voted on the construction contract for a new skatepark: “Just go for it!” The unanimous vote on a $1,031,592 contract with Krull Construction came after some scrutiny led by Sally Petersen (Ward 2). Her questioning was based on the project’s additional cost, compared to its original budget.

The originally approved budget for the project was $800,000 – though the expectation was that it would cost about $1 million. The total budget now – including the construction contract, 10% contingency and $89,560 design contract – is $1,224,311, or $424,311 higher than the originally budgeted $800,000. Funds to pay for the skatepark include a $400,000 grant from the Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission, $300,000 from the Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources Trust Fund, and $100,00 raised by the Friends of the Ann Arbor Skatepark, which paid for the skatepark’s design. This particular effort by the Friends dates back to 2005.

An item added to the agenda the same day as the meeting led to considerable discussion about the relationship between the city and the University of Michigan. The council had failed on May 13 to approve a right-of-way occupancy for the university to install conduits under Tappan Street. An early departure from that meeting by Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) contributed in part to the council’s inability to achieve an eight-vote majority.

Whether an eight-vote majority is needed is the source of friction between the city and UM. Under the city charter, an eight-vote majority is required for the council to approve transactions involving an interest in land. The purpose of the conduits under Tappan Street is to connect a new emergency generator to the Lawyers Club buildings at 551 S. State St. The Lawyers Club and the generator are located on opposite sides of the street. The university’s view is that the agreement needs to convey an interest in land, something the city attorney’s office disagrees with. The council’s resolution approved on July 15 directs the city staff to renegotiate with UM.

The other item on the agenda receiving at least 15 minutes of discussion was one that granted a fee waiver for events held in Liberty Plaza. That action was prompted by public protests at previous council meetings about the possibility of charging a fee to the church that hosts Pizza in the Park – a homelessness outreach program that distributes food and other humanitarian aid.

The council handled a raft of other items, including three different contracts related to protecting the local environment. Two of the contracts include an educational component – one related to the city’s materials recovery facility (MRF), and the other to stormwater management. The third concerned monitoring the city’s now-closed landfill at Platt and Ellsworth.

The council also handled several other items related to stormwater management. Three of the items involved street reconstruction – on Stone School Road, Forest Avenue, and multiple streets in the Springwater subdivision. A fourth item approved by the council was a contract for tree planting, which will be paid for from the city’s stormwater fund.

Among other items, the council also approved the distribution of $1.2 million in human services funding to various nonprofits that do work under contract with the city.

In non-voting business, the council received an update from chief of police John Seto. He reported that through the first six months of the year, Part 1 crimes – the most serious types of offenses – are down 10% compared to last year in the city, while overall crime is down 7.5%. Seto also reported that the police department is analyzing the initial data collection from the electronic activity logs for officers.

During public commentary, the council heard from advocates for racial equity, who called for the council to take action in response to the not-guilty verdict in Florida’s Trayvon Martin shooting case. [Full Story]

Main & Liberty

Ventured into art fairs to verify new location for Violin Monster. Hey, wait a minute, that’s  not a violin and it’s not even a monster! [photo of remarkable, statuesque performance art.] Monster was taking a break kitty corner from the statue, but his spot was designated.

Recall Effort Begins for 6 AAPS Trustees

Jody Huhn has submitted language to recall six of the seven trustees on the Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education: Simone Lightfoot, Susan Baskett, Irene Patalan, Glenn Nelson, Andy Thomas, and Christine Stead. Not named in the recall effort is board president Deb Mexicotte.

In documents submitted to the Washtenaw County director of elections, Huhn cites  four reasons for this recall [.pdf of recall petition language]:
(1) failure to demonstrate thoughtful consideration of constituent priorities; (2) failure to demonstrate transparency in decision-making; (3) failure to demonstrate cohesive and singular direction as evidenced by consistent split voting; (4) failure to provide sufficient backing and support for district superintendent position as evidenced by high turnover rate averaging 2.25 years per term.
Updated … [Full Story]

Washtenaw: Pam Byrnes

The Ballot Box blog for The Hill reports on Democrat Pam Byrnes’ decision to challenge Republican incumbent Tim Wahlberg in 2014 for the 7th District U.S. Congressional seat, which includes portions of western Washtenaw County. From The Hill: “The seat leans slightly Republican, giving Mitt Romney 51 percent of its vote in 2012, and is the type Democrats need to win to have a shot at taking back control of the House next year.” Byrnes, who lives in the Chelsea area, was a former Michigan state representative who served as speaker of the House. She lost a 2010 primary election for state senate to Rebekah Warren. [Source]

Main & Liberty

Two people struggle to resurrect the deflated Budweiser can that had been towering over Main Street during the first day of art fairs. Stay classy, Ann Arbor! [photo]

North University btw State and Thayer

I know they advise you to leave strollers and dogs at home during the art fairs. What about a dog in a stroller? No photo as I didn’t want to expose the guilty parties, or be mistaken for a fan. Apparently many people thought it was “oh, how cute!”

Skyline High School

Crew is putting in AstroTurf at Skyline High School, where I went to meet superintendent Candidate #2. [photo] You can meet candidate #2, Brian Osborne at 7 p.m. at Skyline. The AAPS board makes a decision on the new superintendent on Friday.

A2: Karl Pohrt

Tom Fricke, chair of the University of Michigan’s anthropology department, writes a remembrance of Karl Pohrt, published by the Ann Arbor Observer. He writes: “Karl and the [Shaman Drum Bookshop] were vital parts of the life of this University, representing a vision of the tapestry, community and academy, into which we need to be woven. It is a threatened, perhaps irreproducible, reality approached so closely by this simple bookstore. … And Karl presided over it all with delight. This was what he wanted. This is what he would never compromise.” [Source]

County Gets Input on Bonding, Despite Delay

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (July 10, 2013): A non-voting item – the county’s bonding proposal, which is now on hold – was the focus of most public commentary at the board’s July 10 meeting, which also included a previously scheduled public hearing on the topic.

Doug Smith, Washtenaw Watchdogs, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Doug Smith, standing, talks with other members of the Washtenaw Watchdogs before the start of the July 10, 2013 county board meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

Several of those who spoke are affiliated with the Washtenaw Watchdogs. The group has raised concerns about the bonding and is prepared to launch a petition drive that would force the proposal to be put on the ballot for voters to approve.

The bond initiative, publicly proposed in May, 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.

However, on July 3, board chair Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) and county administrator Verna McDaniel issued a joint statement announcing a decision not to put bond-related action items on the July 10 agenda. They cited the need to address unanswered questions, including uncertainty about the state approval process. No date has been set to reschedule action, if any, on the proposal.

In addition to the bond proposal hearing, the board held three other public hearings during its July 10 meeting: on two brownfield plans in Ann Arbor – for 544 Detroit St. and Packard Square (the former Georgetown Mall) – and for annexing land from Scio Township into the village of Dexter to accommodate the expansion of Dexter Fastener Technologies, known as Dextech. All items were subsequently approved by commissioners.

The board also gave final approval to a range of infrastructure projects totaling about $5 million for county government facilities – including redeveloping the Platt Road site in Ann Arbor where the old juvenile center was located. An amendment brought forward by Andy LaBarre (D-District 7) called for creating a 9-member advisory committee to guide the dispensation of the Platt Road site, which is located in his district. Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6) raised concerns about the authority of such a committee. He was assured that the board retains control over whether to act on the committee’s recommendations. Details of how the advisory committee will be appointed, as well as the committee’s formal mission, will require approval from the board at a later date.

In other action, the board gave initial approval to a modest increase in staff for the Washtenaw County clerk/register of deeds office – bumping up a staff position from part-time to full-time – primarily to handle an increase in processing passports and concealed pistol license applications. Commissioners also made several appointments to various boards and commissions, nominated by Rabhi as board chair. He announced he wasn’t yet ready to make nominations to the county’s historic district commission.

Also pushed back was a final vote on a notice of intent to eliminate a lump-sum budgeting approach for Washtenaw County’s court system. Initial approval for this action came on a 5-4 vote at the board’s June 5, 2013 meeting. But on July 10, Alicia Ping (R-District 3) – who had originally brought forward the proposal – asked for postponement until the board’s Oct. 16, 2013 meeting, citing communications she’d had with trial court chief judge Donald Shelton. The vote to postpone was 6-2, with dissent from Dan Smith (R-District 2) and Conan Smith (D-District 9). Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-District 5) was absent.

In addition to feedback about the bonding proposal, commissioners heard from leaders of two nonprofits – Washtenaw Success by 6 Great Start Collaborative and Interfaith Hospitality Network-Alpha House – about the need to support human services funding. Uncertainty about the upcoming budget has caused concern among nonprofits that have been historically funded by the county.

Also during public commentary, two members of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Ann Arbor thanked commissioners and staff for quickly restoring domestic partner benefits to nine county employees, following recent court rulings that enabled the county to reinstate such benefits.

Facial hair got a minor mention at the July 10 meeting, when Rabhi told Dan Smith: “Your beard is epic – congratulations on it.” Smith used the opening to mention that he’s growing the beard for his role as Lazar Wolf in the upcoming production of “Fiddler on the Roof.” The show runs from July 19-21 at the Whitmore Lake High School Theater. He received a round of applause from the board. Peterson joked that he was glad for the explanation – Peterson had been prepared to reach out to Smith with the name of his barber. [Full Story]

Site Plan for Tim Hortons Moves to Council

A revised PUD (planned unit development) zoning and site plan for the Shell station and Tim Hortons at the northeast corner of Ann Arbor-Saline Road and Eisenhower Parkway received a recommendation of approval from Ann Arbor planning commissioners on July 16, 2013. The recommendation will next be considered by the city council.

Proposed changes to the supplemental regulations for this 1.44-acre site would allow for a drive-thru restaurant within the existing convenience store, where a Tim Hortons is already located. The project includes constructing a 109-square-foot drive-thru window addition and access driveway on the north side of the building. Access to the drive-thru lane would be off of the site’s existing entrance from Ann Arbor-Saline Road. The property is located in Ward … [Full Story]

Glendale Condo Development Postponed

Ann Arbor planning commissioners postponed action on the proposed Glendale Condominiums at 312 Glendale Drive, following the advice of planning staff. The decision came at the commission’s July 16, 2013 meeting.

Glendale Condominiums, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Aerial view of proposedGlendale Condominiums site, south of Jackson Avenue.

The project is located south of Jackson Avenue and east of Hillside Terrace on the city’s west side. The proposal calls for tearing down two single-family homes on the 2.54-acre site and building eight two-bedroom duplexes. Each unit would include a one-car garage, with eight additional surface parking spaces on the site.

Eighteen of the 23 landmark trees in a former … [Full Story]

Parking Expansion OK’d for Glacier Hills

A site plan to add 31 parking spaces at the Glacier Hills retirement community got unanimous approval from Ann Arbor planning commissioners at their July 16, 2013 meeting.

The spots will be added on the west side of an existing driveway in the north part of the property, which is located at 1200 Earhart Road. There are currently 486 parking spaces throughout the 31.5-acre site. The property is zoned R4B (multi-family dwelling) and includes 227 apartments and two-family residences, 155 nursing rooms, and 197 nursing care beds. The site, near US-23, is adjacent to Greenhills School and a residential neighborhood.

A representative from the nearby Earhart Village spoke against the project, saying that the parking is primarily for commercial uses, … [Full Story]

Fifth & Liberty

A young man wearing a “Crew” shirt for one of the art fairs is camped out in the air-conditioned lobby at the post office. Who can blame him? Outside, sweaty artists are setting up booths. [photo]

Drop-Off Station Amount Wrong

In a report on solid waste issues, The Chronicle mischaracterized the potential cost of a new drop-off station. In fact, it could cost up to $4.9 million depending on the solution. We acknowledge the mistake here and have corrected the original report.

Ann Arbor Skatepark Construction OK’d

The Ann Arbor city council has given the final approval necessary for the creation of a skatepark in the northwest corner of Veterans Memorial Park, on the west side of the city. That approval took the form of a unanimous vote on a $1,031,592 contract with Krull Construction.

Ann Arbor skatepark, Wally Hollyday, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, Veterans Memorial Park, The Ann Arbor Chronicle This conceptual design by Wally Hollyday for the Ann Arbor skatepark at the northwest corner of Veterans Memorial Park was approved by the city council on … [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Council Delays New Rules

The Ann Arbor city council has again delayed the adoption of amendments to its own rules. The council’s action to postpone the changes to its rules until Sept. 3 came at its July 15, 2013 meeting.

Highlights of the proposed rules changes include adding public commentary to council work sessions. But on the original proposal, public speaking time would be reduced from three minutes to two minutes across all types of public speaking – general commentary, public hearings, and reserved time. During the July 15 meeting, the council agreed to keep the public speaking time at three minutes.

The council then displayed a clear lack of consensus on how to deal with other proposed changes. Prompting a great deal of discussion was … [Full Story]