Opinion Section

Column: DDA Pay Increases, Open Meetings

Earlier this month, Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority executive director Susan Pollay received a 5% raise from the DDA board. That brought her annual compensation to $114,570.

Excerpt from performance evaluation for Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority executive director Susan Pollay. The DDA board appears to have decided her salary increases in FY 2013 and FY 2014 in a way that did not conform with the Open Meetings Act.

The free response portion of a performance evaluation for Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority executive director Susan Pollay. The DDA board appears to have decided her salary increases in FY 2013 and FY 2014 in a way that did not conform with the Open Meetings Act.

The procedure used this year by the board to award Pollay a salary increase appears to have conformed completely with the requirements of Michigan’s Open Meetings Act (OMA).

However, that procedure was different from the one used to award raises to Pollay in each of the two previous years.

Those raises worked out to 8% and 6.7%, respectively. In each of the two previous years, the decision to award Pollay those raises appears to have been made in a way that is contrary to the most basic requirement of Michigan’s OMA: “All decisions of a public body shall be made at a meeting open to the public.”

That conclusion is based on records produced by the DDA to The Chronicle in response to requests made under Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), as well as records the DDA was not able to produce.

The analysis below begins with an overview. [Full Story]

Column: Saying Good-Bye to Coach Mac

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

The summer before Mac McKenzie became our little league baseball coach, I spent the season picking dandelions in right field, and batting last. But just weeks after Coach Mac took over, I rose to starting catcher, lead-off hitter, and team captain. Trust me, I was no bigger, faster or stronger than I was the previous season. But I had one thing I didn’t have the year before: confidence. Instead of playing back on my heels, I was up on my toes, and swinging for the fences.

I’m sure Coach Mac’s influence planted my desire to become a coach myself – and later, a teacher, too.

Last summer, when I wrote about Coach Mac, I admitted I had no idea where he ended up after his family moved to California the next year, or even if he was still alive. Well, a couple days later, I got a thank you letter from Coach Mac himself. [Full Story]

Column: License Your Dog

One of the entries in Ann Arbor’s Fourth of July parade featured a yellow dog “driving” a red car.

dog-4-600

A yellow dog in a red car.

And like most onlookers, I was wondering: Does that dog have a license? Well, ok, most onlookers probably weren’t wondering that.

And to be honest, I wasn’t, either – at least not that kind of license.

But I did wonder if the dog’s owner had licensed his pet through the city of Ann Arbor. Out of an estimated 30,000 dogs in the city, only about 7% have the required license. Dogs older than 6 months must be licensed and wear the tag.

The city of Ann Arbor is now making an effort to urge the dog-owning public to obtain the required licenses – which cost $16 for two years.

On May 19 this year, the city council directed the city administrator to enforce the dog licensing ordinance more actively – as part of its budget deliberations. The council based the revenue budget for dog licenses on a 30% compliance rate – or 23 points better than current levels.

What will the city do with the additional money from dog license revenues? On the July 7 city council agenda is a contract for animal control services with Washtenaw County. Dog licensing revenues will help pay for that $135,570 contract.

Residents can obtain the required dog license in person at the city clerk’s office by providing a proof-of-rabies-vaccination certificate from the dog’s veterinarian along with a check made payable to the City of Ann Arbor for $16. Or the proof-of-rabies and the check can be mailed to the city clerk at 301 E. Huron St., Ann Arbor, MI 48104.

So, please go fetch…a license for your dog.

More photos of Ann Arbor Fourth of July parade dogs are included below. [Full Story]

Column: Mayoral Folk, Easy Listening

Four candidates are competing in Ann Arbor’s Democratic mayoral primary on Aug. 5 – all of them currently members of the city council: Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Sally Petersen (Ward 2), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3).

asdf

Four quotes from four candidates for mayor in the Ann Arbor Democratic primary.

The fact that all of the primary candidates are current city councilmembers does not in my view reflect positively on Ann Arbor. In a city that prides itself for its diversity, are there really no others beyond established political personalities who’d be willing to serve the community as mayor?

Putting aside that lament, the upside is that all four candidates have been recently vetted by the local electorate. And council service can be a useful common denominator for contrasting the four candidates. Over the last few weeks, they have appeared at several forums, fielding questions in a variety of formats. And the candidates have attempted to contrast themselves with each other. But on occasion that contrast has been hard to hear – because it has been oblique or offered quickly in passing.

The Chronicle has broadcast live audio from three candidate events, hosted by the Ann Arbor Democratic Party, Literati Bookstore and the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Regional Chamber. We wanted to provide that service, because those events would otherwise have been inaccessible – except for those physically present. And even those who were physically present might want to check their recollections against the actual audio recordings.

During these forums, it has been interesting for me to listen to the range of ways that candidates have tried to distinguish themselves from the others. I think in some cases those attempts have not been necessarily conscious and deliberate. And in some cases those attempts rely on lumping other candidates together.

Based on these candidate forums, here’s how I see the most salient aspects of the mayoral campaign strategies – listed in the order that candidates announced their intention to run.

Stephen Kunselman is asking voters to cast their ballots for him the person: A vote for Kunselman is a vote for integrity and dignity, and for someone who was born and raised here.

Christopher Taylor is inviting voters to identify him with the city of Ann Arbor itself in broad terms: If you think Ann Arbor is basically a great place, on the right track, and you’d like it to stay on track, then vote for Taylor.

Sabra Briere is asking voters to notice that she has accurate knowledge of the issues: If you want a mayor who is willing to work down in the weeds on policy questions, and get something done based on analysis of those policy questions, vote for Briere.

Sally Petersen has absolutely pounded the theme of economic development in her campaign messaging: If you want a mayor who will develop a strategy to pay for all the things people say they want, and won’t get distracted from that plan by factional squabbles on the council, vote for Petersen.

Those summaries are a bit one-dimensional. And I’m sure that the candidates themselves would argue that there is much more to their campaigns than that. And there is, of course. But I’d like to share in a bit more detail how I arrived at those summaries. [Full Story]

Column: The Jeopardy of Game Shows

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Last night, I tried my luck on the NPR game show, “Ask Me Another,” which will air in a few weeks. But it brought back memories – traumatic ones – of my disastrous try-out for the Jeopardy game show 24 years ago.

“I’ll take ‘Humility’ for $100.”

“He was one of 48 people to fail the Jeopardy test on Thursday, June 21, 1990.”

“Ah, ‘Who was John Bacon?’”

“That’s correct – you control the board.”

“I’ll take ‘Lame Excuses’ for $100 please, Alex.”

It seemed like a good idea at the time. There I was, lying on the couch with a cold beer and a bag of chips, earning thousands of imaginary dollars for yelling things like “Millard Fillmore,” “The St. Louis Browns” and “Mesopotamia,” when they invited anyone who would be in Los Angeles to try out for the show. Sure enough, I was leaving for LA in 10 days, so I figured, Why not?

Why not, indeed.

“Under ‘Human Folly’ for $300, we have this answer: ‘Time better spent doing something productive, such as cleaning your toilet.’”

“What is ‘Preparing for the Jeopardy Test’?” [Full Story]

In it for the Money: Chosen People

Editor’s Note: David Erik Nelson’s short story “The New Guys Always Work Overtime” won the 2013 Asimov’s Readers’ Award for Short Fiction. You can buy it or download a free copy: [here]

Our Jewish Community Center in Ann Arbor is small. This seems to throw a lot of people off. They think of Ann Arbor as a fairly Jewfull town, because the University of Michigan brings in a lot of East Coast Jews, as well as basically every Midwestern Jew who can make the cut.

David Erik Nelson Column

David Erik Nelson

This probably sounds harsh, bordering on bigoted: When some guy with a generic Englishman’s surname and a very Nordic “K” in his conspicous middle name starts sounding off about the preponderance of Jews in town . . . well, it doesn’t sound good, does it? So, to clarify for the Occasional Readers and those who have not yet grown to know and love me: I’m a Midwestern Jew, born and raised in Metro Detroit, like my father before me.

And to us Metro Detroit Jews, UM has long been the Promised Land: At last count something like 40 of my relatives have attended the university (with most ultimately earning a degree or two!) The latest of these, my nephew, will be joining the rolls this September. We are kvelling (well, maybe less so his step-dad  – who is a Spartan, but still a pretty OK guy).

But the university’s Jews don’t tend to stick around, so the actual number of Jewish families in Ann Arbor is pretty small – or, at least, small compared to where I grew up. The point being that we have a small JCC here. It’s pretty heavily used by all the congregations, of which there are three with actual buildings – if you count the Reform folk, who share a building with Episcopalians – and then a handful of gathered congregations. I’d guestimate that more than half of the JCC’s square-footage is dedicated to children: There’s a large daycare, and a K-5 Hebrew Day School, plus an after-care program and several summer camps.

Our tiny JCC has an armed guard. In my mind, this is pretty common. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a JCC without an armed guard – but it came as a surprise to my wife and in-laws, who are not Jews.

Our guard is a guy I’ll call G. He’s a high-and-tight retired Army Ranger with a drawl. All the kids love him, because he is an excellent security guard: He makes it his business to be sure that all the kids know him and like him, so that they will listen to him in an emergency. Most of the emergencies are weather-related (naturally), but during my son’s final year in preschool at the JCC three armed robberies took place within a 1-mile radius of the JCC in a two-week stretch. In all three cases the school was locked down, because three men with shotguns were running around the neighborhoods, evading cops. In such situations, I’m glad G. is handy, because he is sharp and disciplined – and I am very comfortable with him and his role and his being armed in this setting.

To the uninitiated it maybe sounds a little nuts, that my kid’s daycare – which is also the building where we make our religious practice – has an armed guard. But this is the way of the world: Now and again white men with gun-show stockpiles take it upon themselves to take a stab at Zion, and they disproportionately target JCCs when they do so. And JCCs almost invariably have daycares and schools.

But that’s not what I want to tell you about. I want to share a Terrible Revelation I had at the end of May. [Full Story]

Column: Fixing College Football

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Last week, I explained why Michigan students are dropping football tickets in record numbers – about 40% in the last two years. It touched a nerve – actually a few hundred thousand nerves. And not just among Michigan fans, but college football fans nationwide, who recognized many of the same flaws at their favorite university that were turning them off, too.

It’s all well and good to criticize Michigan’s athletic administration – and apparently very cathartic for many fans, too. But it doesn’t solve the central problem: How can college programs protect an experience millions of fans and students have loved for decades, before it’s too late?

Yes, winning helps. But when Michigan went 3-9, 5-7, 7-6 a few years ago, they still had a robust wait list. And when USC was winning national titles about the same time, they rarely sold out their Coliseum. Fans obviously love winning, but what they want – what they need – runs deeper than that.

Allow me to offer a few suggestions. [Full Story]

Column: A New Agenda for the DDA

Sometime between May 7, 2014 and June 4, 2014, it looks to me like the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board and executive director violated Michigan’s Open Meetings Act (OMA).

Streetlight locations are mapped in the joint Washtenaw County and city of Ann Arbor GIS system. Data available by clicking on icons includes ownership as well as the lighting technology used. Green indicates city ownership. Red indicates DTE ownership.

Streetlight locations are mapped in the joint Washtenaw County and city of Ann Arbor GIS system. Data available by clicking on icons includes ownership as well as the lighting technology used. Green indicates city ownership. Red indicates DTE ownership.

How? At its May 7 meeting, the board voted to postpone until June 4 a resolution authorizing a $101,733 payment to DTE to convert 212 non-LED streetlights in downtown Ann Arbor to LED technology. But the resolution did not appear on the board’s June 4 agenda.

Instead of voting on the previous month’s resolution – to approve it, reject it, postpone it again or table it – the board listened to an update from executive director Susan Pollay. Pollay told board members that they should assume that the issue is tabled – but possibly not permanently. That decision to table the resolution appears to have been made between board meetings.

The DDA board’s inaction on the funding means that the downtown LED conversion won’t happen in this year’s cycle – because the deadline to apply for a project this year is June 30. So for this year’s program, the city’s energy office will ask the city council – at its June 16 meeting – to authorize money to fund a different project that converts some lights outside the downtown. DTE does not necessarily offer the conversion program every year.

A decision on expending funds is an effectuation of public policy – thus a “decision” under Michigan’s OMA. Even though the decision by the DDA on the streetlight conversion allocation had the practical impact of not expending funds, that should still be analyzed as an effectuation of public policy. And that public policy decision appears to have taken place between board meetings, which is a violation of the core requirement of Michigan’s OMA: “All decisions of a public body shall be made at a meeting open to the public.”

As a practical matter, the only consequence of a court’s finding that the DDA violated the OMA would be to invalidate the DDA’s decision not to expend funds. Why bother to drag the DDA board into court over that? Invalidation of the decision not to expend funds would not force the DDA to go ahead and spend the funds. It would leave things exactly as they are now.

A more economical and time-effective way to address this specific issue would be for DDA board members to publicly recognize and acknowledge their commitment to abide by the OMA – by simply taking a vote on the LED conversion resolution from May 7 at their next meeting, on July 2. It’s surely just as important as the board’s scheduled social gathering at Bill’s Beer Garden on that same day.

That’s also the day when the DDA board’s annual meeting takes place. The annual meeting is when new board officers are elected and committees are appointed. So the annual meeting this year could be an occasion for the DDA to flip a switch, and light itself up with civic tech better than any LED. It would be a chance to re-establish itself as a public body that is committed to rigorous governance – based on strict adherence to its bylaws and the state statute that enables the existence of the DDA.

Presented below are some recommendations for specific actions the DDA board should consider, starting at its annual meeting. The recommended actions would provide an agenda for board work that needs to be done in the coming year.

Here’s a summary of those recommendations: establish strong committees; strictly follow the board bylaws or else change them; consult the archives; and create a development plan that meets state statutory criteria. [Full Story]

Column: Student Press & the Body Politic

Over the years, school newspapers have played a critical role in raising issues relevant to schools and their students. Since they are generally under the thumb of the school administration, this can sometimes become a little bit dicey.

Ruth Kraut, Ann Arbor Public Schools, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Ruth Kraut

When I was a student newspaper writer and editor, the newspaper was part of our extra-curricular choices. Now, most high school newspapers are published as part of a class. As these programs move into the classroom, they come even more under the control of school administration.

In this article, I explore the complex issue of censorship, including local examples of school news controversies, past and present. I highlight some student work that has been published – topics that are important to students, even if they might make adults uncomfortable.

I started writing this column in mid-May, impressed by the Michigan Interscholastic Press Association (MIPA) awards won in April by Community High School and Dexter High School – and to a lesser extent, Pioneer High School and Saline High School. I was interested in the struggles that high school newspapers have to create a (somewhat) free press.

More recently, two local students – Madeline Halpert and Eva Rosenfeld – wrote a column published by the New York Times on May 21. Titled “Depressed but Not Ashamed,” the column explains how Halpert and Rosenfeld discovered at a journalism conference that they were both taking medication for depression. They then decided to interview other students with depression for their school newspaper. In the column, they describe how, ultimately, they were not allowed by the school administration to publish an edition focused on students with depression.

Even though I’d been working on an article about the student press, I hadn’t heard about their situation. That fact highlights two truths about the student press – and the media in general. First, we generally know only about the controversies that are ignited when something is reported on – and not when it is suppressed. That may, in fact, be the best argument for a free press.

Second, the areas of most concern to students are also the areas most likely to be censored by administrators. I think they fall into two general categories: school politics and environment, or the body politic; and issues that are more personal to students – the body politic. [Full Story]

Column: More Context for Police Lawsuit

On May 19, 2014, a lawsuit was filed in federal district court against the city of Ann Arbor and three Ann Arbor police detectives who were working to solve an armed robbery that took place about two years earlier – on April 9, 2012. The plaintiff in the federal lawsuit is Joseph Bailey, who was a suspect arrested by the AAPD for the Broadway Party Store robbery.

The Broadway Party Store, on the east side of the Broadway bridges, was robbed in April 2012. The suspect arrested for the crime, but not prosecuted for it, has filed a lawsuit against the three Ann Arbor detectives who worked the case.

The Broadway Party Store, on the east side of the Broadway bridges, was robbed in April 2012. The suspect arrested for the crime, but not prosecuted for it, has filed a lawsuit against the three Ann Arbor detectives who worked the case.

It was a high-profile case, as the security camera’s footage from the robbery was featured on Detroit TV news. The video captured the drama of a man wearing a skeleton mask, pointing a sawed-off shotgun at the store owner.

Bailey was charged with the robbery: After a preliminary examination conducted by judge Christopher Easthope at the 15th District Court, Bailey was bound over to stand trial in the 22nd Circuit Court before judge Melinda Morris.

From the time of his arrest at the end of May 2012, Bailey spent roughly 6 months in jail, before being released in November 2012. He wound up not being prosecuted for the robbery, because the prosecutor’s office concluded that Bailey’s guilt could not be established beyond a reasonable doubt at that time. Bailey did plead guilty to resisting or obstructing a police officer. And for that Morris sentenced him to 6 months in jail. Court records indicate that Bailey was already credited with serving 191 days – more than 6 months.

The federal lawsuit was filed nearly three weeks ago, but apparently still has not been served upon the city or the three detectives. It alleges various violations of Bailey’s basic rights by the detectives who worked the case, and contends that their actions caused him to be falsely imprisoned. [.pdf of complaint]

The Chronicle does not systematically cover crime or the courts. But we do occasionally write about those topics when they intersect with our other regular coverage of governmental units.

In this instance, the first point of intersection came in the course of looking up information on Bob Dascola’s election lawsuit. The ruling on Dascola’s case was filed in the federal court’s PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) system on May 20, 2014. We don’t always look up cases on PACER in a way that is most efficient as measured by the number of steps – which would be to note the case number and enter that information into the search form. If you instead search by cases in which Ann Arbor is a defendant, you have a chance to notice cases other than the one you’re looking up. So it was that we noticed Bailey had filed a case in federal court against the city on May 19.

The second point of intersection is that we’d reported the public commentary of the robbery victim at the city council’s May 21, 2012 meeting. And we’d also reported the city administrator’s public congratulation of the police department at the council’s subsequent meeting, on June 4, 2012 meeting – for making an arrest in the Broadway Party Store robbery.

Finally, given that Bailey’s lawsuit has been filed as a public document in the federal court system, we think it would serve the public interest to add context to some of the allegations included in the complaint.

The context added below is also drawn from public documents – court records (obtained through a standard in-person request) and police records (obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request). First, we present a summary of some issues that the two sides could dispute – if the case is litigated. After that a timeline of events is provided. [Full Story]

In it for the Money: Equal Marriage

Editor’s Note: David Erik Nelson’s short story “The New Guys Always Work Overtime” won the 2013 Asimov’s Readers’ Award for Short Fiction. You can buy it or download a free copy: [here]

Back in March, for just shy of 24 hours, Michigan was willing to license, solemnize, and recognize the marriage of any two people without getting all particular about their genitals. [1] The three-judge appellate panel is still out on whether the question of a happily-ever-after for non-bigots and wedding-lovers here in Michigan. But that was still a pretty wonderful day.

David Erik Nelson Column

David Erik Nelson

In one sense that day resulted from a specific victory in court: A courageous couple embarked on a legal battle in order to protect their adopted children in the case that either parent dies, lawyers argued the case, and based on the merit of those oral arguments and the testimony of experts a federal judge issued a very strongly-worded decision.

By itself, all of that was a wonderful example of our legal system basically working as we’d hope.

But here’s the thing:  If that was all that had been done – just plaintiffs and lawyers and experts and a level-headed judge – no one could have gotten married on Saturday, March 22, 2014. No offices would have been open, no staff would have been on hand, and the appropriate forms would not have existed.

So today I want to sing the praises of the quiet heroism of county clerks – who are, for the vast bulk of law-abiding citizens, the daily executors of the Law, which is to say our Will as a People. This column is meant to record in something approaching a permanent way their mettle in helping to bend the Arc of the Moral Universe towards Justice. [Full Story]

Column: Michael Sam’s Saga

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Last February, University of Missouri defensive end Michael Sam publicly declared he was gay – a first for a likely NFL draft pick. Last week, the St. Louis Rams drafted him in the last round – another first. But I believe the trickiest terrain is still ahead.

When Michael Sam told his University of Missouri teammates he was gay before last season, no one seemed to care very much. No one tweeted the news to the public, and Sam had a great season. It’s a safe bet that NFL teams – who know what kind of gum their prospects chew – already knew he was gay, too. But when Sam came out publicly, it changed the equation.

The NFL has already had gay players, so that isn’t new. But publicly declaring you’re gay is new – and so is the onslaught of media attention.

After Sam came out, he dropped from a projected fourth- or fifth-round draft pick to the seventh and final round. There’s no way to prove this, of course, but it’s hard to believe part of the reason wasn’t homophobia – though that term isn’t accurate. As the saying goes – often attributed to Morgan Freeman – “It’s not a phobia. You are not scared. You are an asshole.” [Full Story]

Column: Time to Fix Eligibility Rules

A decision handed down by federal district judge Lawrence Zatkoff on May 20 had an immediate impact on Ann Arbor city elections: Bob Dascola’s name will now appear on the Ward 3 city council Democratic primary ballot, alongside those of Julie Grand and Samuel McMullen.

What, if any, durational requirements should there be on elected officials? It's time for the city council to take a step towards establishing legally enforceable eligibility requirements for elected officials.

What, if any, durational requirements should there be on elected officials? It’s time for the city council to take a step towards establishing legally enforceable eligibility requirements for elected officials.

Even though the immediate issue appears to be resolved, a longer-term question is still open. That’s because the result of the federal court ruling is that the city of Ann Arbor has no legally enforceable eligibility requirements for service as mayor or city councilmember.

Anyone at all is now eligible to serve – even youngsters under 18 years old, who would not even be allowed to vote for themselves in the election – just as long as they submit the minimum number of signatures on nominating petitions.

So it’s time for the council to put a charter amendment on a future ballot that would establish some sort of eligibility requirements for elected officials. The council has a choice about what kind of requirements to put on that ballot for voters to decide.

In broad strokes, I think the eligibility requirements for elected officials should pose only a minimal barrier to the ballot. It would be perfectly adequate if the requirement were something like the following: To be an eligible elected official, a person must be a registered voter in the geographic area the person seeks to represent, from the time that person files their paperwork to qualify as a candidate.

Before making a case that this is a perfectly reasonable and adequate requirement, it’s worth considering how we arrived at a place where the city now has no legally enforceable eligibility requirements for elected officials. [Full Story]

Column: Tony Hawk in Ann Arbor

The grand opening of the new Ann Arbor skatepark – at the corner of Maple and Dexter-Ann Arbor roads in Veterans Memorial Park – is scheduled for June 21, 2014 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The organizers have announced that Tony Hawk will be there.

This is not Tony Hawk doing a 900 over the teeter totter in my backyard. Here's how you can tell: Tony Hawk is a polite young man who would not hop the fence of your backyard and skate your personal playground equipment like this guy did in 2007. And now that a new concrete skatepark has been constructed in Ann Arbor's Veterans Memorial Park, this guy won't need to do that any more.

This is not Tony Hawk doing a 900 over the teeter totter in my backyard. Here’s how you can tell: Tony Hawk is a polite young man who would not hop the fence of your backyard and skate your personal playground equipment like this guy did in 2007. And now that a new concrete skatepark has been constructed in Ann Arbor’s Veterans Memorial Park, this guy won’t need to do that any more.

Other names from the world of skateboarding who’ll also attend are Andy Macdonald, Alex Sorgente and Garold Vallie.

But I want to focus on Tony Hawk.

I imagine when some Ann Arbor Chronicle readers hear the name “Hawk,” they will reflexively think of Buteo jamaicensis or perhaps of high-intensity activated cross-walk beacons. That’s because I imagine many of you are hopeless nerds of some stripe, who don’t know very much about American mainstream popular culture, and might even take pride in that kind of cultural gap. I could be wrong – about you, but I’m not wrong about me.

I remember first becoming aware of Tony Hawk’s name in the early 2000s when I worked in the frozen foods department at Busch’s on Main Street. (At that time a banner hung over the department that read: “It’s Fresh Because It’s Frozen.”)

Jeff, the frozen foods manager, explained to me that I should be ready to re-stock frozen waffles through the week because he expected them to be very popular. He’d ordered extra. Now, it might have actually been some other food, because I don’t remember it all that well, but let’s say for the sake of argument that it was waffles. Anyway, Jeff expected that week to be selling a whole bunch of fresh-because-they’re-frozen waffles because there was a Tony Hawk promotion on the packaging. Kids could get some sort of Tony Hawk prize by sending in proof of purchase for some number of waffles, the exact details of which I don’t remember.

I do remember asking: Who is this Tony Hawk? Jeff explained that Tony Hawk was kinda famous – adding that his own kid was pretty into Tony Hawk. To me, Tony Hawk was just a guy I blamed for making my fingers just a little bit colder. I then forgot about Tony Hawk for more than a decade. [Full Story]

Column: Soup’s Still On at Le Dog

I’ve been a Le Dog groupie since I moved to Ann Arbor 18 years ago. I couldn’t believe my luck: Just a couple of blocks from work, I could get some of the best soups on this planet, served from an odd red hut inexplicably called Le Dog.

Miki Wartha, Jules Van Dyck-Dobos, Le Dog, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Miki Wartha and Jules Van Dyck-Dobos at the Main Street Le Dog, which is expanding. (Photos by the writer.)

Over the years I’ve never eaten a hot dog there, but Jules Van Dyck-Dobos has become a friend. My habits, however – and my workplace – have shifted. More oriented now to the city’s west side, I view Le Dog’s Main Street location as my go-to spot for pozole, cassoulet, Marrakesh stew, peanut udon – and, of course, lobster bisque. If I don’t eat there once a week, something in my life has gone seriously awry.

I understand the eccentric charm of the East Liberty spot, which Jules refers to as his “baby.” That’s where it all began for him 35 years ago, and not much changed in the cramped, unheated, un-air-conditioned space since then. But when he told me earlier this year that he wasn’t re-opening there this season, and instead would focus on expanding the Main Street location, all I could say was: “Hooray!”

Le Dog’s less-known site has been open for 17 years in the old Kline’s department store building at 306 S. Main. Soups were made at the hut on Liberty then ferried over to Main Street, where his wife Ika has been in charge. Because the counter faces the inside lobby, waiting in line doesn’t involve shivering or getting soaked or breathing exhaust fumes or any of the downsides at the Liberty location.

Expanding on Main Street – in a building owned by local landlord Ed Shaffran – is also part of a succession plan, as Jules and Ika’s son, Miki Wartha, takes on more responsibility for the business. Jules turns 66 next month, and while he’s not retiring, he hopes to scale back a bit.

A few days ago, we talked about all of this, and a lot more, for an interview you can read below. I’m grateful that Jules carved out some time to serve up his thoughts – about his past, the reason he decided to keep his business small, the origin of the name “Le Dog” (it’s not what you might think), possible menu changes, his friendships with other local families, his hopes for the future.

In a column he wrote for Gastronomica a few years ago – now part of the “Fried Walleye and Cherry Pie” anthology – Jules acknowledged that his business on East Liberty had become an Ann Arbor landmark. That’s true, but not just because of the distinctive red facade. He’s built Le Dog into a special piece of this town that transcends its location – and this transition will bear that out.

Jules told me he’s happy with the changes taking place, but a little worried that regulars of the East Liberty spot won’t seek him out on Main Street. I hope my fellow soup aficionados will allay his fears. Le Dog at 306 S. Main is open weekdays from 11:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. You should go. [Full Story]

Column: More Taxes for Transit? Yes, Please

On Tuesday, May 6, voters in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township will cast ballots on a 0.7 mill tax that could be levied by the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority.

(AAATA is not the name of an actual prescription drug.)

(AAATA is not the name of an actual prescription drug.)

The transit taxes currently collected in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti are levied by the cities, and passed through to the AAATA.

This would be the first tax ever levied by the AAATA itself. The additional revenue is supposed to pay for a range of service improvements, including extended hours of operation on weekdays, additional service on weekends, and greater frequency of operation.

My guess is most people by now have made up their minds about the May 6 ballot referendum.

My purpose here is not to review the arguments pro and con and to weigh that balance in some sort of calculus that points to an unavoidable conclusion that the only possible rational vote is yes.

If you’re on the fence, though, this column is meant to give you a reason to vote yes. Any number of reasons might be given to vote yes, and surely there are also credible reasons for voting no.

But I am going to vote yes. And I’m going to tell you one of many reasons why.

If you don’t have the patience to wade through a bunch of words to find out that reason, here’s a one-sentence summary: I have noticed that my once-reliable body is getting old and creaky. [Full Story]

In the Archives: Criminal Girls

In the fall of 1883, delegates from almost every state attended the National Conference of Charities and Corrections in Louisville, Kentucky. Penologists, prison officials, and representatives from state institutions for the blind, deaf, orphaned, insane and “feeble-minded” gathered at Louisville’s Polytechnic Institute for eight days of presentations and discussions.

Emma Hall's 1883 talk, delivered at the National Conference of Charities and Corrections in Louisville, Kentucky, analyzed the best methods of reforming girls.

Emma Hall’s 1883 talk, delivered at the National Conference of Charities and Corrections in Louisville, Kentucky, analyzed the best methods of reforming girls.

On the morning of Sept. 26, Ypsilanti resident and Normal School graduate Emma Hall faced a distinguished audience. “The reformation of criminal girls,” she began, “is no longer a doubtful experiment.”

Born February 28, 1837 on a farm in Lenawee County’s Raisin Township, Emma was the second of her parents Reuben and Abby’s eight children. Most of the family relocated to Ypsilanti around 1870. Reuben’s teaching background and Abby’s upbringing as a Congregational minister’s daughter may have influenced Emma’s career as a prison reformer. She became Michigan’s first woman to lead a state penal institution, and was later made a member of the nation’s top prison advisory committee.

After graduating from the Normal in 1861, Emma taught recitation at Professor Sill’s Seminary for Young Ladies in Detroit, for a yearly salary of $550 [about $10,000 in 2014 dollars]. Emma met Detroit House of Corrections prison superintendent Zebulon Brockway. Beginning with his work at the Detroit prison, which opened in 1861, Brockway would become a nationally-recognized though controversial prison reformer.

In 1868, Brockway opened the House of Shelter. This adjunct to the Detroit House of Corrections offered a radical experiment for women prisoners, many of whom had been arrested for prostitution. Instead of barred cells, the House of Shelter offered a comfortable group home in which each woman had her own bedroom. The home was furnished and decorated as a well-to-do middle-class home.

Brockway made Emma its first matron. She moved in and lived full-time with the women. [Full Story]

Column: NCAA’s Harsh Hypocrisy

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

When Mitch McGary played high school basketball in New Hampshire, he was one of the nation’s top recruits. Michigan fans were rightly thrilled when he decided to play for the Wolverines.

In his first NCAA tournament, last spring, McGary played so well folks thought he might jump to the NBA. Instead, he returned for his sophomore year – then injured his back so badly, he needed surgery mid-season. The Wolverines weren’t doing much better at 6-4, with Big Ten conference play still ahead. It looked like Michigan might miss the NCAA tournament.

The Wolverines proved them wrong by winning the Big Ten regular season title – its first since 1986 – with McGary cheering them on from the bench. McGary also beat the odds, recovering so quickly he dressed for Michigan’s final NCAA tournament game, joining his teammates for warm-ups.

The Wolverines’ dreams fell short when they lost to Kentucky in the regional final. After the game, the NCAA conducted its routine, random drug tests on a few players – including Mitch McGary. [Full Story]

Column: One Runner’s Road to Boston

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

In 1896, the first modern Olympics in Athens staged a marathon. The next year the Boston Athletic Association followed suit. Just 18 men ran that day, and the winner finished in about three hours – something office workers can beat today.

Most people thought they were crazy – if they thought of them at all. Many people probably still do.

Marathoners don’t care.

“We are different, in essence, from other men,” said Czechoslovakian star Emil Zatopek – and he would know.  After winning the 1952 Helsinki Olympic gold medals in the 5K and 10K, he decided at the last minute to enter the marathon – and won that, too. “If you want to win something, run 100 meters.  If you want to experience something, run a marathon.”

Greg Meyer knows exactly what Zatopek was talking about. Like Zatopek, Meyer wasn’t made to run the marathon – but he couldn’t resist it.

Meyer grew up in Grand Rapids, and enrolled at the University of Michigan in 1973. Before his sophomore year, Michigan hired a new cross-country coach named Ron Warhurst, another unlikely figure in this drama. Warhurst had returned from Vietnam with two Purple Hearts, and a hard-won lesson: “The world doesn’t stop because you’re scared.”

Warhurst had been a good runner, but was a great coach. He had an uncanny ability to get inside his runners’ heads, and get more out of them. [Full Story]

Column: Chasing the Brass Hoop

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Nik Stauskas grew up in Mississauga, Ontario – a Toronto suburb better known for its neighborhood hockey games than for a Lithuanian kid spending thousands of hours shooting on his parents’ backyard hoop.

This year, Stauskas was named Big Ten player of the year. It worked.

Glenn Robinson III took a completely different route to the NBA: His father is Glenn Robinson Jr., also known as “The Big Dog,” and was the first pick in the NBA draft twenty years ago. If Stauskas had to work to get attention, Robinson had to work to avoid it.

They became strong candidates to leave college early for the NBA draft, which is their right. This week, both decided to make that jump, and file for the draft this spring. Stauskas is projected to be a high first-round pick, and Robinson not too far behind.

Good for them. They’re both nice guys, hard workers, and serious students. If a violinist at Michigan was recruited by the London Symphony Orchestra, no one would begrudge her for jumping. I might have done it myself.

But I do object to the pundits and fans claiming if the NBA dangles millions of dollars in front of a college player, “he has no choice. He has to go.”

This bit of conventional wisdom is based on one gigantic assumption: that the pursuit of money eclipses all other considerations, combined. [Full Story]

Column: Stop Reading the City’s Website

Among the incidental, minor topics touched on at the April 16, 2014 mayoral candidate forum was the city of Ann Arbor’s website. Praise was not heaped upon it – as a2gov.org was described by one candidate (Sabra Briere) as “a terrible website to try to tell anybody how to navigate.”  That’s not an uncommon view.

How to search just one site with Google and reduce frustration when you can find information by navigating to it.

How to search just the city of Ann Arbor’s website with Google and reduce frustration when you are unable to find information by navigating to it.

So stop navigating it. Stop “reading” it.

Start searching it – and you’ll probably find what you’re looking for.

That’s not to defend the user interface or the look and feel of a2gov.org. Maybe it is terrible. I don’t have a strong opinion on that. It’s worth noting that the city council approved a contract with Keystone Media ($26,900) at its Oct. 21, 2013 meeting to redesign the basic templates for the city’s website.

I’m not sure if that work has yet been implemented – as I just don’t pay that much attention to the look and feel or the navigational features of the city’s website. That’s despite the fact that part of The Job is to look stuff up – quite frequently on the city’s website. And mostly I find what I’m looking for pretty quickly.

So my point in writing is to share one simple technique I use dozens of times a day to do The Job. I use Google search – but constrain the search to just the one website where I’m looking. [Full Story]

Column: Hank Aaron’s Impressive Run

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

This week marks the 40th anniversary of one of baseball’s signature moments: Hank Aaron hitting his record 715th home run, to surpass Babe Ruth’s 39-year old record. But to appreciate how special that was, you have to understand who Hank Aaron is – and what he faced.

You’ve heard of Babe Ruth, who might be the best-known American athlete of the last century. Ruth loved the fans, and the fans loved him right back.

That’s why, when another New York Yankee, Roger Maris – a nice, humble guy – started closing in on Ruth’s record of 60 home runs in a single season in 1961, he became so stressed by Ruth’s fans rooting against him that his hair started falling out.

When Hank Aaron approached Ruth’s career home run record, he had it worse, for two very simple reasons: 714 home runs was the baseball record, a number even casual fans knew. And second, unlike Maris, Aaron is black. Of course, that shouldn’t matter in the least – but it mattered a lot in 1974. [Full Story]

In It For The Money: Presidential Stinkburger

The President of the United States visited Ann Arbor on April 2. If you want to know what he said, you can read a faithful transcript right here, or just watch the unedited remarks.

David Erik Nelson Column

David Erik Nelson

But none of that puts you in the room with the PotUS. Hearing the same four presidential soundbites about Zingerman’s and minimum wage played over and over again on the radio certainly gives you the gist of what was said; none of it was earth shattering.

In fact, I’d wager that most Chronicle readers could generate a fairly accurate facsimile of the remarks made by the PotUS working strictly from First Principles. You know what politicians are like: Y’all a good looking crowd! God bless America! Handshake-babykiss-SMILE! You know what excites East Coasters about Ann Arbor: Zingerman’s! Sportsball! Wolverines! And you know how PotUS stands on the minimum wage: Raise it!

None of that puts you in the room.

And you’re likely inclined to say: So what? What’s the use of being in the room? What’s the bother of showing up in a specific time and place to see something that’ll be on YouTube ten minutes after it happens, to be watched at my leisure? Hell, Dave: Why did you bother wasting so many hours to be in that room? Don’t you have better things to do with your time?

And, while I do have better things (or at least better paid things) to do with my time, there’s always value in being in the room. In abstract, there’s value because being in the room is The Job. It’s what I’ve said I will do for you: I will show the hell up, and tell you what the hell I saw. This is the baseline contract any newspaper should have with its readers.

And specifically, on this occasion, there was value in being in the room because some things do not come across in articles and the op-eds and the clips and soundbites – not even in the unedited audio or video. There are intangibles – including all of the things that are outside the frame of the camera, too far away for the mics to pick up, or of little interest to the reporters on hand. [Full Story]

Column: Reforming College Football

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Last week, in a surprising decision, the National Labor Relations Board granted the Northwestern University football players the right to unionize, if they want.

But what does that mean? What doesn’t it mean? And how might this change the future of college football?

The NLRB’s ruling made a big splash, but it’s actually very narrow. The decision applies only to private schools. There are only a handful or two that play big time college football – usually about one per major conference – a short list that includes universities like Duke, Rice, Vanderbilt, Stanford and USC. Further, the Northwestern players still have to vote to unionize – not a given – and no matter how they vote, the university is going to appeal the NLRB’s decision.

But the Wildcat players have been very shrewd, and will be hard to dismiss. That starts with their leader, senior quarterback Kain Colter. I got to know him pretty well while researching my latest book, “Fourth and Long,” and I can tell you he’s one of the more impressive young men to play the game today.

Colter is a pre-med major who often had to miss summer workouts to attend afternoon labs. The group he’s formed – the somewhat redundant College Athletes Players Association (CAPA) – is also wisely not asking for money, but post-graduate health care for injuries suffered while playing. Seems to me it’s pretty hard for any university – created to improve the lives of its students, after all – to argue against that. [Full Story]

In the Archives: When The Press Fed Us

We Ypsilantians are losing our last nominally-local newspaper.

Screenshot of March 26, 2014 note to readers announcing the changes at Heritage. Image links to the article.

Screenshot of March 26, 2014 note to readers from publisher Jim O’Rourke announcing the changes at Heritage. Image links to the article.

As of April 10, the Ypsilanti Courier, which currently maintains its office in Saline, will be amalgamated with the Chelsea Standard, Dexter Leader, Manchester Enterprise, Milan News-Leader, and Saline Reporter to form a media entity called Washtenaw Now. The weekly Ypsilanti Courier usually runs around 24 pages, according to its advertising department. Though it will combine six similar local newspapers, the weekly Washtenaw Now likely won’t contain 144 pages; by comparison, 120 pages made up last Sunday’s New York Times.

Compared to 20th-century Ypsilanti newspapers, our community coverage will inevitably be reduced – to a level that could fairly be regarded as a homeopathic dilution. The University of Michigan used to have a homeopathic college. It closed. Aside from a possible placebo effect, homeopathy doesn’t work.

But in the early 1930s, the full-strength Ypsilanti Daily Press provided a powerful remedy to ailing residents. It galvanized Ypsilantians to join a massive two-pronged community project that united clubwomen, farmers, the destitute, church ladies, storekeepers, city officials, and myriad other community members.

Because of the paper’s intervention and leadership, hungry Ypsilanti children ate nutritious food the following winter. [Full Story]

Column: When Lawyers Fool with FOIA

Two weeks ago, the city of Ann Arbor took a deliberate step to remove a document that had been publicly available on its website for nearly half a decade. Why?

Redacted version of Library Lot RFP No. 743  from Aug. 14, 2009 produced by the city of Ann Arbor in response to a recent FOIA request. The un-redacted document had been disseminated on the a2gov.org website from Aug. 14, 2009 until sometime around March 20, 2014.

Redacted version of Library Lot RFP No. 743  from Aug. 14, 2009 produced by the city of Ann Arbor in response to a recent FOIA request. The un-redacted document had been disseminated on the a2gov.org website from Aug. 14, 2009 until sometime around March 20, 2014.

Allegedly, that document contains information that – if it were disclosed – would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of someone’s privacy. Never mind the fact that the context of the document itself makes clear that the information in question is clearly and deliberately intended to be publicly available.

To erase any possible doubt about that, I resorted to an advanced investigative technique: I asked the guy. And it turns out that current Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board member John Splitt had been content to have jsplitt@comcast.net publicly disclosed as his email contact information in the document – the same as elsewhere on the Internet.

The document in question is RFP No. 743 – issued in 2009 by the city for development of the Library Lot. Why did it even occur to anyone at the city to delete RFP No. 743 from a2gov.org? [Full Story]

In it for the Money: Your Public Library

Editor’s Note: At the Ann Arbor city council’s March 17, 2014 meeting, Ann Arbor District Library Director Josie Parker told councilmembers that heroin sale and use takes place at the downtown location of the AADL. The council was debating a resolution about reserving as a public park an area of the surface of the city-owned parking structure adjacent to the downtown AADL.

In rejecting the idea that the problems are caused by the homeless, Parker also told the council that “some of the most obnoxious behavior exhibited at the public library in Ann Arbor is done by persons who are very well housed, very well fed, and very well educated. It is not about those things. It is just about simply behavior.”

Chronicle columnist David Erik Nelson is a frequent visitor to the public library. He drafted this column before Parker made her comments. And he’s still an enthusiastic library patron. From Parker’s March 17 comments: “We manage it and you don’t know about it … and you’re generally as safe as you can be in the public library, and that makes it successful.”

David Erik Nelson Column

David Erik Nelson

Say a precocious child – like Glenn Beck, for example – asks you how much the library costs. The library is, after all, readily confused with a bookstore (because it is full of books) or NetFlix (because they let you have stuff for a while, but expect it returned in good condition).

What’s your answer?

Probably the first thing that comes out of your mouth is that it’s free – which makes sense to the child (and, evidently, Glenn Beck). After all, the kid never sees you pay anyone there, and (assuming your household finances are like mine) it is also likely often a place you go to have fun and get stuff after you’ve explained that you can’t buy this or pay to visit that on account “We don’t have the money for it.”

But we’re all grow-ups here – even Glenn Beck – and we certainly know that the library costs something [1], we just don’t know how much (or, evidently, who foots the bill). If pressed, we’d wave our hands and say that the library is probably funded (note that passive voice!) by some sub-portion of a portion of our property taxes, plus a little Lotto money and tobacco settlement, multiplied by the inverse of some arcane coefficient known only to God and the taxman, or something – yet another inscrutable exercise in opaque bureaucracy.

But it’s not that way at all.

In contrast to pretty much all other public services – which are funded by an exceedingly hard-to-parse melange of federal, state, local, and “other” revenue streams – more than 90% of the Ann Arbor District Library’s budget comes from local property taxes. The amount you pay for it is written out on your tax bill.

At first glance, it’s probably more than you would have guessed: The average Ann Arborite has a $155 annual library bill. That’s sorta pricey for something that’s “free.”

But upon even brief reflection, it’s pretty clear that the library is much better than free. [Full Story]

Column: City Council as Entertainment

About the author: Dave Askins is editor and co-founder of The Ann Arbor Chronicle. He’s covered  every Ann Arbor city council meeting since September 2008.

asdf

This is a mock-up of how the city of Ann Arbor might provide a text box with councilmember amended text in real time, just underneath the online CTN video stream of council meetings. (Art by The Chronicle.)

If you’ve never watched an Ann Arbor city council meeting in person or on Community Television Network, you really should give it a try sometime. The next chance to watch your local elected officials in action is April 7, 2014 with a scheduled start of 7 p.m.

As an entertainment option, I’d allow that a city council meeting probably falls somewhat short of the Netflix series “House of Cards” or the ABC series “Scandal.” That’s actually OK with me – because journalists in those dramas have been shoved in front of trains and shot dead on the street.

But any long-running TV series is more entertaining to watch if you understand exactly what is going on. If you have elderly eyes, for example, you might not be able to see if that text message Frank Underwood received was from Zoe Barnes or Olivia Pope. It makes an episode hard to follow, if you don’t know who sent Underwood that text message.

One of the hardest parts of a city council meeting to follow – even if you are well-versed in the subject matter – is any deliberation featuring wordsmithing of amendments to text.

So in the interest of making Ann Arbor city council meetings more entertaining, I’d like to propose a simple step toward helping the viewing public understand exactly what’s going on: Let the public see amended text in real time.

How could councilmembers, in real time, make visible to the public proposed amendments to text already under consideration?

An easy technical solution already exists.

It’s free, and it requires no registration or creation of user accounts. And it’s not Google Drive. [Full Story]

Column: Michigan-MSU Rivalry Recharges

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

On Sunday, the Michigan Wolverines faced the Michigan State Spartans in the final of the Big Ten men’s basketball tournament. After a decade of domination by the Spartans, John Beilein’s Wolverines held the upper hand the past four years. After losing two stars to the NBA and one to back surgery, they surprised just about everyone when they won the regular season Big Ten title this year by three games. Now they had the rare chance to beat the Spartans three times in one season.

Well, they say beating your arch-rival three times is almost impossible, and that proved true. There was no debating this one. The Spartans beat the Wolverines by 14 points. Spartans’ head coach Tom Izzo is doing what Tom Izzo does: Getting his team ready at just the right time for a good run in the NCAA tournament.

But Sunday’s game might have given both teams what they needed for the tournament: a spark of confidence for the Spartans, and a wake-up call for the Wolverines. I’ll bet both Izzo and Beilein are smart enough to use the Big Ten final game to motivate their players.

But, whatever happens in the NCAA tournament, both teams have elevated basketball in the state of Michigan – and with it, the rivalry between them. And they’ve done it the right way, too. [Full Story]

Column: Bill Ford Sr.’s Legacy of Loyalty

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Editor’s note: A shorter version of this column was published in the March 12, 2014 edition of the Wall Street Journal.

In the course of his 88 years, William Clay Ford, who died Sunday, captained Yale’s tennis team, earned an engineering degree and chaired Ford Motor Co.’s finance committee, which is enough for any lifetime.

But he will likely be remembered mainly as the owner of the Detroit Lions, during five woefully unsuccessful decades. Since he took over the franchise in 1964, the Lions have won exactly one playoff game, and remain the only NFL team to miss out on all 48 Super Bowls.

Ford’s critics claim he was a snob who didn’t care about the average fan, a fat cat who was more focused on profits than the playoffs.

False, and false. [Full Story]