The Ann Arbor Chronicle » Chronicle Staff it's like being there Wed, 26 Nov 2014 18:59:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Live Audio: AAPS Candidate Forum Mon, 20 Oct 2014 13:25:04 +0000 Chronicle Staff As part of its fall kickoff to be held on Oct. 20, 2014 at Haisley Elementary School, the PTO Council is hosting a forum for Ann Arbor Public School board candidates. Ten candidates will appear on the ballot for the four positions. Terms are four years.

Editor of the now-defunct Chronicle Dave Askins will be moderating the forum.

The forum is expected to begin around 7:15 p.m. and will last roughly 90 minutes. Our intent is to offer streaming live audio with the player below. The following day, we expect to be able to post .mp3 files for on-demand listening.

]]> 0
FDD Lawsuit: Shelton Delays on Sanctions Wed, 27 Aug 2014 19:18:24 +0000 Chronicle Staff At an Aug. 27, 2014 hearing, judge Donald Shelton has refused to grant two of three motions by plaintiffs in the footing drain disconnection lawsuit that was filed in February of this year.

On his last motion day before retirement, Shelton chose to deny a motion to disqualify the city attorney’s office in its representation of the city. He also declined to rule on the merits of a motion to reassign the case away from judge Timothy Connors – who will be taking over all of Shelton’s civil cases after Shelton’s retirement at the end of this week. On that motion, Shelton pointed out in denying it that he did not have the power to grant it and indicated that such a motion should go through the regular disqualification process.

However, Shelton delayed ruling on a third motion, on sanctions against the city’s attorneys – for making statements in a brief in support of summary disposition that plaintiffs contend did not have a well-founded basis. Shelton questioned assistant city attorney Abigail Elias closely on the matter, and appeared to indicate agreement with plaintiff’s contention that the city had, in its brief filed with the court, mischaracterized the plaintiff’s position.

However, Shelton indicated that the motion on sanctions should be heard when the motion on summary disposition is heard – on Sept. 18. So Shelton indicated he would be adjourning that motion until Sept. 18. That hearing is scheduled before Connors.

For additional background, see “Shelton to Hear Motions in FDD Case.”

This brief was filed from Shelton’s courtroom shortly after the hearing ended. A more detailed report will follow: [link]

]]> 0
Oxford: Pipeline Protest Mon, 25 Aug 2014 13:35:45 +0000 Chronicle Staff MICATS (Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands) is reporting that two of its protesters have been arrested for locking their necks with bicycle U-locks to pipeline construction trucks being used for the Enbridge Line 6B pipeline expansion. [Source]

]]> 0
AAATA Search Committee to Replace Ford Fri, 22 Aug 2014 00:45:04 +0000 Chronicle Staff The Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority board has authorized board chair Charles Griffith to appoint an ad hoc subcommittee to conduct a search for a replacement for outgoing CEO Michael Ford.

Ford will depart the AAATA in mid-October to take the post as the first CEO of the southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority (RTA). Ford formally tendered his resignation on Aug. 21, 2014.

The resolution approved by the board at its Aug. 21 meeting also approves $50,000 for consulting services to help with the search. At the Aug. 21 meeting, Griffith said the committee will consist of himself, Anya Dale, Gillian Ream Gainsley and Eric Mahler. Griffith said he hoped that a search could be completed within three months, but allowed that might not be achievable. He said he hoped an RFP (request for proposals) for a search firm could be sent out the next day. He felt that the search firm could help the board establish realistic expectations about a timeframe for a new hire.

Ford was picked for the job as CEO of the Regional Transit Authority three months ago, on May 21, 2014. The RTA board approved Ford’s contract on Aug. 20, 2014. Ford’s announcement as a finalist and his selection for the RTA job came amid the AAATA’s successful campaign for a new millage to fund additional transportation services in the geographic area of the member jurisdictions of the AAATA – the city of Ann Arbor, the city of Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township. That millage was approved by voters on May 6, 2014.

The four-county area of the RTA includes the counties of Washtenaw, Wayne, Macomb and Oakland as well as the city of Detroit. It was established by the Michigan legislature in late 2012.

The RTA’s hiring of a CEO has been frustrated by a lack of state funding. John Hertel, general manager of SMART (Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation), was appointed CEO by the RTA board last year, but he eventually left the post in early 2014 over issues of funding availability.

Ford was hired by the AAATA in 2009. He began the Aug. 21 meeting by thanking the board, his executive staff, the AAATA operators and mechanics, and the staff of the entire organization.

This brief was filed from the AAATA headquarters building at 2700 S. Industrial Highway, where the board held its Aug. 21 meeting – due to the closure of its regular meeting location at the downtown Ann Arbor District Library. The library building was closed to due to the repair of the public elevator.

]]> 0
Same-Sex Pension Benefits OK’d by AAATA Fri, 22 Aug 2014 00:20:21 +0000 Chronicle Staff The defined contribution pension plan of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority has been amended to recognize same-sex marriages and for the terms “spouse,” “husband and wife,” “husband” and “wife” to include a same-sex spouse.

The board action came at its Aug. 21, 2014 meeting, to bring the AAATA’s pension policy into compliance with Internal Revenue Service Ruling 2013-17 and IRS Notice 2014-19. Those IRS rulings give guidance on how to implement the U.S. Supreme Court decision in United States v. Windsor, which declared Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 to be unconstitutional.

This brief was filed from the AAATA headquarters building at 2700 S. Industrial Highway, where the board held its Aug. 21 meeting – due to the closure of its regular meeting location at the downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library. The library building was closed to due to the repair of the public elevator.

]]> 0
2015 Work Plan OK’d by AAATA Board Fri, 22 Aug 2014 00:17:33 +0000 Chronicle Staff The 2015 work plan has been approved by the board of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority at its Aug. 21, 2014 meeting. [2015 AAATA Work Plan]

Highlights of new items include measurements of service performance – an initiative that comes in the context of additional transportation services to be offered starting Aug. 24. Those services will be funded with proceeds from a new millage that voters approved on May 6, 2014.

Another highlight is the construction of a walkway across the block between Fourth Avenue and Fifth Avenue on the north side of the parcel where the new Blake Transit Center has been constructed. The re-orientation of the new transit center to the south side of the parcel makes it possible to contemplate the walkway along the north side, which abuts the Federal Building. According to CEO Michael Ford’s regular written report to the board for August, he has made a funding request from the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority to fund the construction of the pedestrian walkway.

This brief was filed from the AAATA headquarters building at 2700 S. Industrial Highway, where the board held its Aug. 21 meeting – due to the closure of its regular meeting location at the downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library. The library building was closed to due to the repair of the public elevator.

]]> 0
Final City Tally for Dascola Lawsuit: $35,431 Thu, 21 Aug 2014 01:02:29 +0000 Chronicle Staff The final tally of costs to the city of Ann Arbor in connection with the Bob Dascola election lawsuit is $35,431.75. According to Tom Wieder, attorney for Dascola, the settlement agreed to on Aug. 20, 2014 for the second phase of the lawsuit was $9,400 – to be split between the city and the state of Michigan.

The city lost both phases of the litigation, which began when the city sought to enforce city charter eligibility requirements against Dascola to prevent him from being a candidate in the Ward 3 city council Democratic primary race. The election was won by Julie Grand in a three-person field that included Samuel McMullen.

The $35,431.75 amount is the total agreed to for the initial phase of the lawsuit on city charter eligibility requirements ($30,731.75), plus half the amount that was agreed to in the second phase, which involved the counting of misprinted ballots ($9,400). The other half of the $9,400 will be paid by the state of Michigan, which intervened in the second phase of the lawsuit. So the total paid to Dascola’s attorney, Tom Wieder, will be $40,132, which includes court costs.

Fees for the initial phase of the lawsuit were settled on June 19, 2014 – at $30,731.75. That total includes attorney fees in the amount of $30,306.25 – which was the result of 93.25 hours billed at an hourly rate of $325. The remainder of that total was $425.50 – costs for filings and document retrieval.

The motion for fees in the second phase of the lawsuit was filed by Wieder on Aug. 19, 2014 and asked for a total of $12,320 based on 30.80 hours of work at $400 per hour. Wieder’s filing parcels out each item of work to either the city or the state or to both jointly. The amount was reduced to $9,400 through back-and-forth among Wieder, the state and the city, with the final settlement splitting the amount evenly between the city and the state. [.pdf of Aug. 19, 2014 motion for fees]

The initial phase of the lawsuit was decided in favor of Dascola on May 20, 2014. At issue were city charter durational requirements on voter registration and residency – that require city councilmembers to be registered to vote in the city and to be a resident of the ward they want to represent for at least a year prior to taking office. Dascola contended he met the residency requirement, but conceded that he fell short of the voter registration requirement. He did not register to vote in the city until Jan. 15, 2014. The court ruled that the requirements were not enforceable, because they’d been ruled unconstitutional in the early 1970s, and never re-enacted by the city. Dascola submitted sufficient signatures to qualify, so the impact of the ruling was that Dascola was supposed to appear on the Ward 3 ballot.

However through a series of errors, his name did not appear on the printed ballots and nearly 400 of the misprinted ballots were sent to Ward 3 absentee voters. A dispute arose over how ballots would be counted if someone did not return one of the replacement ballots. The state of Michigan intervened on behalf of the Bureau of Elections, which told the city to go ahead and count the ballots. But on July 22, 2014 the federal court ruled that such ballots should not be counted.

The kind of city charter eligibility requirements that triggered the lawsuit in the first place should not become an issue in the future, if Ann Arbor voters approve charter amendments that the city council has voted to place on the Nov. 4, 2014 ballot.

]]> 0
Ford Reaches Agreement with RTA Wed, 20 Aug 2014 11:33:41 +0000 Chronicle Staff The Detroit News has reported that Ann Arbor Transportation Authority CEO Michael Ford has reached an agreement to serve as CEO of the Regional Transit Authority. The contract, which will pay Ford $200,000 annually, is pending approval of the RTA board, which next meets on Aug. 20. Ford would start in mid-October at the earliest. The next meeting of the AAATA board is Aug. 21. [Source]

]]> 0
City Council Rejects Ride-Share Regulation Tue, 19 Aug 2014 04:33:12 +0000 Chronicle Staff In action taken on Aug. 18, 2014, the Ann Arbor city council approved one change to its taxicab ordinance, but rejected another one meant to provide some regulation of shared-ride services like Uber and Lyft. Based on the council’s deliberations, the city will instead likely be taking the approach of establishing an operating agreement with the companies.

The rejected ordinance failed on a 5-5 vote, as Margie Teall (Ward 4) was absent. Voting for the regulation of all drivers for hire were Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1), Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), Jack Eaton (Ward 4), Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) and Mike Anglin (Ward 5). Voting against the change were mayor John Hieftje, Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Jane Lumm (Ward 2), Sally Petersen (Ward 2) and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3).

The one ordinance change given initial approval by the council would establish certain parameters to mitigate possible negative consequences to the setting of a very high maximum allowable taxicab rate, under which taxicab companies might eventually compete. Those parameters include a requirement that a taxicab company commit to a single rate annually and that the rate be advertised in a vehicle with signage in letters one-inch tall.

The city taxicab board’s next meeting is scheduled for Aug. 28 at 8:30 a.m. at city hall, and will likely include discussion of the appropriate price point for that very high maximum.

The ordinance change rejected on Aug. 18 would have required all drivers for hire to be registered with the city, to have commercial plates on their vehicles and to maintain insurance commensurate with commercial plates. And the absence of commercial plates on a vehicle that is observed to be used for picking up or dropping off passengers would have provided a reason for a traffic stop by Ann Arbor police. At the taxicab board meetings over the last few months, representatives of the taxicab industry argued that the state statute regulating limousines already gives the city the ability to enforce against Uber and Lyft drivers.

All drivers for hire would include those who work for Uber and Lyft, who together had a contingent of about 50 people in attendance at the meeting, several of whom addressed the city council during public commentary at the start and the end of the meeting. A representative from Uber, Michael White, was invited to the podium during the council’s deliberations on the ordinance. He spoke to councilmembers in a back-and-forth that lasted about 25 minutes, and recited many of Uber’s standard marketing points. No representatives from the taxicab industry seemed to be in attendance at the meeting; in any case, councilmembers did not inquire as to whether a representative might be available for comment.

The recommended ordinance changes came from the city’s taxicab board in the context of the entry of Uber and Lyft into the Ann Arbor market. The companies offer the arrangement of rides through mobile networks with drivers who operate their own vehicles. Both companies have continued to operate in Ann Arbor, despite cease-and-desist orders from the city. [.pdf of cease-and-desist sent to Lyft] [.pdf of cease-and-desist sent to Uber]

The vote by the taxicab board to recommend the ordinance changes came at its July 24, 2014 meeting.

These issues were also discussed at three monthly meetings of the taxicab board prior to that, on April 23, 2014, May 22, 2014 and June 26, 2014.

At the council’s Aug. 18 meeting, Kunselman – who serves on the taxicab board – advocated strongly for the changes, making arguments based on public safety and adherence to existing law. He argued that Lyft and Uber can make a profit with lower rates because the companies are “cheating” the law.

Taylor said that Uber and Lyft are safe and that the companies provide an alternative transportation option, which is desirable. He announced that he would be working with Briere to bring forward a resolution directing the city administrator to develop an operating agreement between the city and ride-sharing companies along the same lines that the city of Detroit has with such companies. His remarks were met with applause from Uber and Lyft supporters, including some riders and drivers who spoke during public commentary.

Regarding fare regulation, the city’s current structure already allows for the establishment of a maximum rate to be adopted by the city council. Currently the maximum rate in Ann Arbor is $3 to get in, $2.50 per mile, and 40 cents per minute waiting time. Those maximum rates were last adjusted upwards three years ago, on May 16, 2011, in response to gas prices that had nudged past $4 per gallon. At that time, the taxicab board indicated it did not anticipate considering another rate change until the gas prices were over $5 for at least two consecutive months.

So the taxicab board’s thinking is not being driven by gas prices, which are currently between $3.75 and $4 in the Ann Arbor area. Instead, a possible increase in allowable fares is based on concern that the taxicab industry in Ann Arbor might not be able to survive unless taxis are allowed to charge more.

At its July 24 meeting, taxicab board members discussed the possibility of delaying their recommendation on the ordinance changes until the board could also make a specific recommendation on the price point for a very high maximum rate. But ultimately board members felt that a recommendation on a price point for a new maximum rate could come later – especially because ordinance changes require a first and second reading in front of the council. There would be a window of opportunity between those readings to make a recommendation on the higher maximum. The taxicab board’s next meeting is scheduled for Aug. 28 at 8:30 a.m. at city hall.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron.

]]> 0
City Delays Parking Lease with University Tue, 19 Aug 2014 03:48:12 +0000 Chronicle Staff A two-year extension on a University of Michigan lease of three city of Ann Arbor parking lots at Fuller Park has been delayed by the city council.

The council’s unanimous vote to postpone consideration of the lease agreement came at its Aug. 18, 2014 meeting, after a brief discussion. The council will take up the item again at its first meeting in October – on Oct. 6. The lease came to the council with a recommendation of approval from the park advisory commission, given at its July 15, 2014 meeting. The council now wants PAC to take another look at the agreement.

Fuller Park, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Map of parking lots at Fuller Park that are leased to the University of Michigan.

The existing lease expires on Aug. 31, 2014. Given that the lease is expiring, Jane Lumm (Ward 2) asked about the implications of postponing until October. Mayor John Hieftje indicated that the lease renewal came to the council later than it should have.

The three lots are: (1) the parking lot south of Fuller Road, next to the railroad tracks (Lot A); (2) the paved parking lot north of Fuller Road at Fuller Park (Lot B); and (3) the unpaved parking lot north of Fuller Road at Fuller Park (Lot C). The lots are used by UM during restricted hours.

The city has leased Lot A to UM since 1993. Lots B and C have been leased since 2009.

Annual revenue of this lease would be $78,665, and will be included as part of the parks and recreation general fund budget. [.pdf of proposed lease agreement] [.pdf of staff report]

The hours that UM can use these lots are stipulated in the agreement:

  • Lot A: 4 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.
  • Lot B (paved lot): 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, beginning the day after Labor Day through the Friday before Memorial Day, excluding holidays.
  • Lot C (unpaved lot): 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, excluding holidays.

At PAC’s July 15 meeting when the lease was recommended, parks and recreation manager Colin Smith noted that the revenue from these three lots is significant for the parks and recreation operating budget. The current agreement – which was approved by the council in 2009 and extended by two administrative renewals – is essentially the same as the agreement that will expire, Smith told PAC.

The main purpose of the lots is for the parks, Smith explained. That’s reflected in the hours when UM can use the lots – on weekdays, prior to 4-5 p.m. The outdoor pool and soccer fields don’t need the quantity of parking during the winter or off-season. “It’s an asset within the parks department that we can either have sit there, or we can lease it for a significant amount of revenue that obviously helps us provide other programs,” he said. If the city doesn’t lease those parking lots, “I am absolutely certain that people will park in it anyway,” Smith added.

Two residents who had raised concerns about the lease at PAC’s July 15 meeting – Rita Mitchell and George Gaston – also addressed the city council on the same issue on Aug. 18. Their commentary is reported in The Chronicle’s live updates of that meeting.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron.

]]> 0