Opinion Section

Happy Thanksgiving: Let Us (Not) Flip the Bird

Flipping the bird to someone on Thanksgiving Day would be rude. Unless you’re the University of Michigan Library. When the library flips the bird, it is an occasion to give thanks.

Birds of America

Screenshot of University of Michigan website on Nov. 28, 2013.

By way of very brief background, the Audubon Room at the UM Hatcher Library is named after the first book of any kind – special or otherwise – acquired by UM in 1838: “Birds of America,” illustrated by John James Audubon.

It is not a tradition at Thanksgiving to turn the page of the book on display to the page that shows a turkey. I’m a little disappointed about that. But a few years ago the stars aligned, and the routine flipping of pages in the book allowed the happy coincidence of Thanksgiving and a turkey page in Audubon’s book.

If the stars align again sometime in the future, that will make it all the more special to have the turkey page displayed on Thanksgiving.

In the meantime, this year library staff have given a nod to the turkey page by including a plug for the book on its website as a part of the library’s Thanksgiving message. And I am thankful for that.

I am also thankful to our readers. So here’s wishing all of you and everyone you care about a Happy Thanksgiving! [Full Story]

Column: Why Did the Turkey Cross the Road?

The remarkable coincidence of Chanukah and Thanksgiving this year hardly compares with the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to combine a standard child’s turkey joke with a change to a local crosswalk law – which will be considered by Ann Arbor city council at its post-holiday meeting on Dec. 2.

Illustration by The Chronicle.

Illustration by The Chronicle.

In broad strokes, the Ann Arbor city council first enacted a local crosswalk ordinance in 2008. The law was supposed to explain how motorists and pedestrians should interact at crosswalks. In 2010 the council modified the law, and in 2011 gave it a further tweak. After those revisions, for the last two years, Ann Arbor local law has differed from the Uniform Traffic Code (UTC) rule in two ways.

First, under current local law, motorists in Ann Arbor are supposed to yield the right-of-way to those pedestrians not just “within a crosswalk” but also to those who are “stopped at the curb, curb line or ramp leading to a crosswalk.” Second, when driving toward a crosswalk, motorists in Ann Arbor don’t have the option to yield to a pedestrian by merely slowing down; instead they’re required to yield by stopping.

The proposal the council will consider for final approval would scrap the whole section of the city code, reverting to a reliance on the UTC – which allows slowing for pedestrians, stopping only when necessary, and does not apply to any pedestrians other than those within a crosswalk.

A council majority of six members is currently supporting the repeal – Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1), Jane Lumm (Ward 2), Sally Petersen (Ward 2), Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), Jack Eaton (Ward 4) and Mike Anglin (Ward 5) – with five of them sponsoring it. According to sources from both groups, backchannel discussion has included the possibility of a compromise on Dec. 2 that would leave in place the requirement to stop, but would still confine the motorist’s responsibility to yield to just those pedestrians within the crosswalk. The regular city council Sunday caucus has been shifted from 7 p.m. to 1 p.m. to allow for better attendance to discuss the crosswalk ordinance.

Given the historical background of the 2010 change, I’m not sure that the compromise solution makes much logical sense. And I think that the current words on the page – which extend the right-of-way to pedestrians at the curb – more nearly reflect the kind of community to which we should aspire.

But that sort of compromise might offer a chance for us as a community to stop (not just slow down) fighting about words on the page and to give full gas to education and enforcement. And I’m for that, especially in the context of the pedestrian safety task force that the council established on Nov. 18. Members of the task force will be appointed at the Dec. 16 meeting based on applications received by Dec. 2.

This sort of “compromise” could serve the same function as gravy at a Thanksgiving dinner: You load up a plate of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cornbread, and then, when the green bean casserole is passed your way, you take some of that too, because Aunt Dorothy (rest in peace) is looking right at you and it’d be impolite to refuse, even though green bean casserole is flat-out gross, so you ladle that “compromise gravy” over that heap of food, you clean your plate, and everybody can focus on the task at hand – which includes talking about how good everything tastes.

With or without a compromise, and with or without a repeal, the pedestrian safety task force work is going to be informed by a veritable Thanksgiving feast of data on pedestrian crashes. In response to city council requests, staff have compiled all manner of charts, graphs and maps. And that’s the main purpose of this column: to serve up the compilation of all that data. [.pdf of all charts, graphs and maps]

Based on those reports, I don’t think it’s possible to draw conclusions about any impact the current ordinance might have had on safety – good, bad or indifferent. But a lot of insight from these reports can be gained that might help inform the task force’s activity as they work toward a February 2015 deadline for delivering recommendations to the council.

For readers who are not familiar with the joke answer to the question posed in the headline of this column, it’s provided below. That punchline follows a more detailed history of the local ordinance since 2008, several colorful charts and graphs, and a photograph of former Ward 4 councilmember Marcia Higgins wearing a tiara. [Full Story]

Column: Time for Birthdays and Buses

This past week’s Ann Arbor city council meeting did not adjourn until nearly 2 a.m. Several factors contributed to the length of that meeting.

"On the eve of his senility ..."

“On the eve of his senility …” From a 1970 Ann Arbor city council resolution wishing city attorney Jerry Lax a happy birthday.

But instead of writing a few thousand words analyzing those factors, I’d like to point out something that was absolutely not a factor. The council did not lay claim to the public’s time by considering any resolutions last Monday that wished someone a happy birthday.

But that was the sort of thing the Ann Arbor city council of 43 years ago did.

I was alerted to this by Jim Mogensen, whose name some readers will recognize as a resident who will reliably appear to comment at various public meetings on topics like transportation and social justice. One of Mogensen’s favorite rhetorical tactics is to tie current events to decades-old actions and to remind people of some forgotten historical point.

Mogensen spoke at the Ann Arbor city council’s Nov. 18 meeting urging the approval of a resolution that added Ypsilanti Township as a member of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority. He called it the continuation of a process that began over 40 years ago. And ultimately the council voted 11-0 in favor of adding Ypsilanti Township to the authority.

Three days later, at Thursday’s meeting of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority’s board, Mogensen’s remarks served to bridge that four-decade span – between the Jerry Lax of Pear Sperling Eggan & Daniels P.C. who currently provides legal counsel for the AAATA, and the Jerry Lax who was Ann Arbor city attorney back in 1970.

Mogensen bridged those four decades by reading aloud a city council resolution from 1970 recognizing Lax’s birthday, which, as luck would have it, is today.

The full text of the tongue-in-cheek resolution is presented below. But it’s not just the hilarious text of the resolution that I thought was worth sharing with readers. It’s something else from that page of the council’s minutes that I thought was even more remarkable. [Full Story]

Column: Athletes and The Power of Boycott

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

The Grambling State University football team plays in the unheralded Southwestern Athletic Conference, in the division beneath the big boys. They had an 11-game losing streak, stretching back into the 2012 season.

In short, this was not a team that warranted national attention.

But the Grambling Tigers finally got some last month. No, they didn’t notch their first win that day – or even another loss. They didn’t play – and it wasn’t due to bad weather or a bye week. The players simply refused to take the field.

Grambling is a historically black college with a rich tradition. Their legendary coach, Eddie Robinson, won 408 games, which set the record Joe Paterno would break, then relinquish, due to NCAA sanctions.

One of Robinson’s biggest stars was Doug Williams, the first African-American quarterback to lead his team to a Super Bowl title.

But, as a coach, Williams was more beloved than successful. His Grambling teams couldn’t get it done, while the school itself suffered draconian budget cuts. The players had to travel by bus and work out in a weight room so decrepit, several suffered staph infections.

This fall, it all came to a head. [Full Story]

In it for the Money: Miss America

Editor’s note: Nelson’s “In it for the Money” opinion column appears regularly in The Chronicle, roughly around the third Wednesday of the month. Miss America 2014 Nina Davuluri has a local tie, having grown up in western Michigan and attended school at the University of Michigan here in Ann Arbor. She graced the pages of The Ann Arbor Chronicle back in 2008 as part of The Chronicle’s coverage of the Miss Washtenaw pageant that year. Incidentally, she did not win or even place (!) in that pageant.

David Erik Nelson and  Nina Davuluri (Miss America 2014)

David Erik Nelson and Nina Davuluri (Miss America 2014)

On Nov. 1 the Ann Arbor Chronicle sent me to talk to Miss America. She was scheduled to speak at the India Business Conference held at the University of Michigan’s Stephen M. Ross School of Business, and then give a press conference.

Not being a journalist by training, I imagined a room crowded with folding chairs and jostling reporters, camera flashes bursting and shutters clacking. I figured I’d maybe get one chance to ask Nina Davuluri (Miss America 2014) a single question – and no follow-ups! So I practiced saying “Thank you, Ms. Davuluri. David Erik Nelson, Ann Arbor Chronicle . . .”

I was a little foggy on what the actual substance of my question would be, but that didn’t end up being germane, because I was the only legitimate journalist who showed up to report the event [1]. So we had some time to chat.

I’ll concede that you, as a “news consumer,” are right to question this. Should news media – even small-town news media – bother covering something like the annual Miss America pageant, let alone some specific Miss America showing up at this or that conference to blather on about … oh, god, I can’t even be bothered to imagine what drivel?

Clearly, the legitimate media – the Detroit papers, whatever the thing that was once the Ann Arbor News is calling itself this week, the various alternative weekly and monthly advertising vectors that “tell it like it is” – they didn’t deem it “newsworthy” that Miss America was speaking before a pretty large crowd of business people and aspiring business people.

But were they right to skip out on the event?

No. They were dead wrong. [Full Story]

Column: Connecting Dots – DDA, FOIA

Some good news for open government came out of Lansing this last week, on Nov. 12.

Extract from Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority records of attendance at committee meetings.

Extract from Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority records of attendance at committee meetings. Scanned by The Chronicle.

A piece of legislation that would “modernize” Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act moved out of the House Oversight Committee.

Progress on that legislation will be interesting to track as the bill possibly makes its way into state law. [.pdf of HB 4001]

For now, I’d like to focus on just one clause of the proposed legislation. And I’d like to connect that to some otherwise unrelated dots, one of which is an upcoming Ann Arbor city council vote.

That vote – on an appointment to the board of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority – will take place either at the council’s next meeting on Nov. 18 or possibly at its following meeting on Dec. 2. [Full Story]

Column: Taking a Long Look at Redistricting

The new Ann Arbor Public Schools superintendent, Jeanice Swift, is on her “listening tour,” visiting each and every one of Ann Arbor’s schools. If you haven’t gone to one of those sessions yet, I encourage you to go. Here’s the schedule.

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

Ruth Kraut

One thing that has come up in discussions at some schools is the possibility of school closings. This is a natural outgrowth of the fact that in the AAPS district, the prospect of school closings was raised explicitly by the school board in the spring, and by the fact that the Ann Arbor schools have been under financial pressure for several years. (As has every school district in Michigan. You can visit Michigan Parents for Schools to find out more about why that is.)

In fact, in the spring of 2013 the district issued requests for proposals for consultants to help on redistricting. Eventually, they began discussions with the University of Michigan to help the district decide what schools, if any, should be closed. Since nothing has been fully negotiated, I can’t say whether the University of Michigan’s proposal is a good plan or not. They may have a role to play. But I can say this: parents and community members have “skin in the game” when it comes to discussing redistricting schools, and I believe there is an effective way to make these decisions.

As it happens, shortly before I moved to town in 1985, Ann Arbor went through a redistricting process. It was thoughtful, involved a broad sector of the community, and resulted in significant realignments and school closings – with long-lasting benefits. It’s worth taking a look at what happened then. If redistricting is in Ann Arbor’s future, this process may be worth copying and updating. [Full Story]

Column: The Hope for Hoke

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Moments before the Michigan Wolverines introduced Brady Hoke as their new head football coach in 2011, Michigan fans had lots of questions. Why not hire a national star like Les Miles or Jim Harbaugh, who both played at Michigan? Who was Brady Hoke? Was he up to the task of taking over the Wolverines, and returning the team to glory?

Hoke answered these questions by nailing his first press conference. He won over more Michigan fans in just a few minutes than his predecessor, Rich Rodriguez, had been able to capture in three years, for a variety of reasons. When a reporter asked Hoke if the Wolverines would be rebuilding in his first season, he famously replied, “This is Michigan, for godsakes” – and a star was born.

It’s hard to remember a happier honeymoon than Hoke’s. In his rookie season, the Wolverines beat Notre Dame, Nebraska and Ohio State – the latter for the first time in eight years. They won their first BCS bowl game since a young man named Tom Brady did the job in 2000, en route to an 11-2 record. From the fans in the stands to the team in the trenches, the love for Coach Hoke was universal.

But then a great senior class graduated, the schedule got tougher, and Michigan’s amazing luck finally ran out. Hoke’s second team went 8-5, but most fans gave Hoke a pass, and I believe rightly so.

But the Wolverines don’t look much better this year, and might even be worse. [Full Story]

In the Archives: Woodlawn Cemetery

Editor’s Note: Laura Bien’s regular column this month would be suitable for publication as a Veterans Day column, on Veterans Day itself – which is observed on Nov. 11. But we’re publishing the piece in Bien’s regular rotation as a way of noting that it’s not required to wait until Veterans Day to remember the service of veterans.

A rumble builds into a growl. Silver flashes between treetops and a leviathan emerges into open sky. The magisterial craft draws gazes below, as it did seven decades ago, but this time without fear. Leaf-rakers in eastside Ypsilanti yards pause to watch its unhurried passage.

Marion Frierson's grave in Woodlawn Cemetery, Ypsilanti.

Marion Frierson’s grave in Woodlawn Cemetery, Ypsilanti.

In its periodic passenger flights ($425 per person) and summer airshow circlings, the B-17 bomber passes within sight of 150 additional upturned faces. Beneath the roar of the polished martial icon lie some veterans, now silenced, and seldom remembered as part of the Greatest Generation. Their ambitions and bravery were likely scorned in their day and largely forgotten in ours.

They were laid to rest in a now-abandoned, segregated cemetery.

Just south of Ford Lake and east of the Ypsilanti Township Civic Center lies Woodlawn Cemetery. To drivers on Huron River Drive, it flits past as a grassy field. The adjacent dead-end dirt road Hubbard extends to the cemetery’s far southern end.

From that vantage point, only two man-made features rise above the site’s uneven surface. One is a homemade wooden cross bearing worn cream paint and stick-on mailbox letters spelling “BERTHA CAMPBELL.” The other is a small American flag. A brass military grave marker underneath is labeled “MARION F. FRIERSON” followed by Army acronyms and dates. [Full Story]

Column: Tilting at Billboards

The Ann Arbor city council’s post-election meeting agenda for Nov. 7, 2013 would be heavy enough without the addition of an item that will almost certainly serve no purpose except political theater.

This animated .gif is purely the product of The Chronicle's art department and in not intended to imply any willingness by the University of Michigan to slot in city of Ann Arbor public service announcements.

This animated .gif is purely the product of The Chronicle’s “art department” and is not intended to imply even indirectly a willingness by the University of Michigan athletic department to provide a slot in the marquee’s message rotation for city of Ann Arbor public service announcements.

The council will be considering a resolution that asks the University of Michigan to decommission the $2.8 million digital marquee recently constructed by the university’s athletic department. I don’t think the university is going to give that any thought.

In this unnecessary drama, Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) appears to be playing the role of Don Quixote, with four councilmembers auditioning for the role of Sancho – Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), Margie Teall (Ward 4), Sally Petersen (Ward 2) and Jane Lumm (Ward 2). Those five are co-sponsoring the resolution. [If the council really wants to tilt at windmills, the city could have a literal one soon enough.]

The council’s Nov. 7 resolution cites the city’s own recently enacted sign ordinance, which constrains the deployment of digital technology for outdoor signs. According to the resolution, the marquee inflicts the same harms on the community that the city’s newly amended ordinance sought to prevent. [Petersen and Higgins, however, voted against that ordinance.] Those harms are described in the resolution as “distract[ing] motorists and substantially degrad[ing] the community viewshed…”

As the text of the council’s Nov. 7 resolution itself concedes, the University of Michigan is “without any obligation to comply with the ordinances of the city of Ann Arbor” – so the fact that the UM’s marquee rather flagrantly flouts the city council’s sign ordinance is of no consequence.

What is semantically bizarre about the text of the resolution is its contention that by turning the marquee off, or by limiting its use, the Ann Arbor community would be delivered a “material benefit.” If the council’s position really is that the marquee is doing harm, then by no rational standard should the mere mitigation of that perceived harm be labeled a “benefit,” much less a material one.

By way of analogy, if a chemical company is dumping toxic sludge onto my property and jeopardizing my health, then it’s not really a “benefit” to me if the company were to stop doing that. But it could be considered a benefit if the company allowed me to take my own personal toxic sludge and add it to the company’s pile, which the company then removed from my property.

If the city councilmembers who crafted the resolution had taken the phrase “material benefit” seriously, it might have given them pause to ask: Hey, could city residents derive some actual benefit from this situation? And that might have led them to reflect on the reason the UM athletic department wanted to construct this marquee. I think it’s an attempt to meet a communications challenge.

And guess what: The city of Ann Arbor has its own communication challenges. Can you see where this is headed? Or are you too distracted by the constantly changing display in the dumb little animated .gif at the top of this column?  [Full Story]

Monthly Milestone: Watching Words

The Chronicle’s November milestone column comes to you a few days earlier than the customary second day of the month. That’s because I wanted to include a quick preview of a performance scheduled for Nov. 1 at the Kerrytown Concert House – by mezzo soprano Laurie Rubin.

Laurie Rubin, photo from press kit.

Laurie Rubin. (Photo from press kit.)

The Chronicle has rarely, if ever, written about entertainment. And as I explained to Laurie, when she called me up to make her pitch, our approach to covering Ann Arbor’s community doesn’t include standard “preview” pieces for live performances.

The boilerplate explanation I typically use on the phone includes a description of The Chronicle’s preferred strategy for giving readers advance notice of interesting performances. That strategy is an event listing that runs off Internet standards-compliant data feeds and helps to strengthen the community’s “calendar web.” So obviously the tactic here is partly designed to bore the caller to death, so that they’ll just give up and accept the fact that I’m not going to write a preview article about their performance.

You will find Laurie’s Nov. 1 Kerrytown Concert House performance included in The Chronicle’s event calendar, categorized as music.

Fortunately for you, dear readers, Laurie declined my gambit that she surrender to my boring, rambling talk about data feeds and technology platforms. Instead she expressed a weirdly geeked-out interest in these data feeds and calendars, which I probably seemed very excited about. She instantly grasped the concept of maintaining a calendar that automatically generates a data feed that any publication or individual can access. I didn’t figure that an opera singer would be such a receptive audience for that sort of thing. But at least she had stopped talking about her Nov. 1 performance at Kerrytown Concert House, so that was a good thing, from my point of view.

But in closing out the conversation, Laurie renewed her pitch for a preview article, based on her memoir, “Do You Dream in Color: Insights from a Girl Without Sight.” Even though I was still thinking to myself, “No preview articles! Not even for blind opera singers!” I figured Laurie might be a receptive audience for some additional conversation about a different topic.

That topic is an accessibility project for public meetings that The Chronicle has been working on somewhat sporadically. The idea is to provide digital streaming text for members of the deaf and hearing-impaired community to read – either live at public meetings or during a video replay. Yes, I fully understood that I was talking to a self-described “blind girl” – for whom this particular accessibility project offered zero obvious benefit. Yet Laurie turned out to be a willing conversation partner. And in The Chronicle’s basic technological approach, she saw a potential benefit to the blind and visually impaired community that would never have occurred to me. [Full Story]

In it for the Money: Cockroach Thanksgiving

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

David Erik Nelson Column

David Erik Nelson

Come November, Ann Arbor’s own Backyard Brains will be shipping their educational RoboRoach kits. In just a few E-Z steps you (yes, you!) will upgrade a standard issue Blaberus discoidalis cockroach into your very own iPhone-controlled insectoid robo-slave – and just in time for the Non-Denominational Gift Giving Holiday Season!

I know, I know, you have questions – and almost certainly some objections – when it comes to icing a live cockroach, mutilating its antennae, drilling a hole in its back, and taking control of its brain – with a goddamn phone. [1]

Readers, I share your moral panic. But I have walked in the Valley of Death, have been prodded with the SpikerBox, have bought coffee and a cookie for the lead roach-roboticisizer, have met their techno-insectoid minions, and here, on the far side of the vale, I want to tell you this:

I am not worried about the kids who unwrap a Backyard Brains RoboRoach kit sometime between Thanksgiving and the end of the year; I’m worried about the kids who don’t. [Full Story]

Column: Saving College Sports

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany, who might be the smartest man in college sports, stood outside the Big Ten’s brand new offices last week, telling a group of reporters, “Maybe in football and basketball, it would work better if more kids had a chance to go directly into the professional ranks. If they’re not comfortable and want to monetize, let the minor leagues flourish.”

It isn’t clear if Delany’s comments reflected his deeply held beliefs, an offhand comment, or just a daring bluff – but if it’s the latter, it isn’t as daring as it seems.

By challenging the NFL and NBA to start their own minor leagues, Delany doesn’t have much to lose. He knows they won’t, because they have every reason not to. They’ve used the college leagues to develop their players from the day the pro leagues started. Why would they derail the gravy train now?

And even if they did, it wouldn’t cost the Big Ten much, if anything.

But if we call Delany’s bluff and play it out, we’ll see it leads to one idea that could actually save what we love most about college football: the passion no other sport can match.  [Full Story]

In the Archives: The Friendless Dead

Willie Brown ended his days among strangers, his body submerged with theirs in a large vat of preservative liquid in the basement of the onetime University of Michigan medical school that stood on the east side of the present-day Diag.

Origin points for each of the over 100 cadavers donated to the UM in 1881. Map compiled by author from Anatomical Donations Program records.

Origin points for each of the over 100 cadavers donated to the UM in 1881. (Map compiled by the writer from Anatomical Donations Program records. Image links to complete map.)

The 22-year-old had never married or had children. If he kept a diary it apparently was not preserved in a public archive. His parents were from New York state, but even this meager detail was forgotten by the author of his death certificate. Willie was a hired farmhand, without distinctions like membership in the Pioneer Society of Washtenaw County. That group counted as a member his employer, successful veteran Pittsfield farmer Jefferson Rouse.

Ignored in life, Willie commanded intense attention after death from the medical students dissecting his body. They examined and took notes on the body that had helped shear Rouse’s 350 sheep, tend his dozen pigs, and harvest the hops, potatoes, apples, wheat, and Indian corn on Rouse’s 560 acres between Saline and the present-day Ann Arbor airport.

The students may have dissected Brown’s lungs to look for signs of the tuberculosis that killed him. When Willie got sick, he apparently wasn’t cared for on the farm, at least not for long. He went to the county poorhouse, at what is now the southwest corner of Washtenaw Avenue and Platt Road. There among the other nearly 70 residents in 1881, he died.

No friend or relative claimed him, and he wasn’t buried in the unmarked poorhouse cemetery just west of the poorhouse. His body was placed on a wagon that traveled from the poorhouse up the dirt road of Washtenaw Avenue to the medical school. Medical science owed Willie’s contribution to a new 1881 state law that strengthened the up-till-then largely-ignored proviso that the bodies of the unfortunate could be legally delivered to the UM for study. [Full Story]

Column: Lessons the NCAA Needs to Learn

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

On November 5, 2011, Penn State’s former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky was arrested on forty criminal counts, including the sexual assault of eight boys over a fifteen-year period, one of them in the showers of Penn State’s football building.

That put in motion a series of events that few could have imagined: it exposed the worst scandal in the history of modern sports; it led to the midseason firing of the iconic Joe Paterno; it prompted the hiring of little-known New England Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien; it resulted in Penn State’s commissioning the Freeh Report, which concluded university leaders knew enough about what Sandusky had done, but cared more about protecting the university’s image than his young victims; and it surely accelerated Paterno’s decline and death – all within three months of Sandusky’s arrest.

But Penn State’s troubles were far from over. [Full Story]

In It For The Money: Whole Hog

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

David Erik Nelson Column

David Erik Nelson

You might choose to disintermediate your meat consumption for a variety of reasons.

Maybe you’re a local organic kinda gal. Maybe you want a niche product (e.g., heritage pork, halal goat, bilingual llama) but can’t swing the upmarket prices at Whole Foods and their ilk. Maybe you want to keep the government out of your meat purchasing decisions.

Maybe you thrill to the challenge of using the whole hog, one piece at a time. Maybe you want to eat meat as ethically as possible, personally verifying that the animals are treated kindly in life and compassionately in death. [1]

Whatever your motivation, as Michiganders, you are perfectly situated to enjoy the most deliciously ethical domestically raised meat available in this modern world.

Who do you have to thank for this boon? Lazy deer-hunters, fickle farmers, conspiracy theorists, gun “nuts” – the usual folks. [Full Story]

Column: Ghosts at the Big House

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Michigan football fans often wear funny pants and funny hats. They sing funny songs and tell funny stories.

But to Michigan fans, some things are not funny – and Appalachian State is about five of them.

You might recall those guys, who opened the 2007 season against the fifth-ranked Wolverines. Everybody made fun of Appalachian State, because nobody knew where it was. It turns out it isn’t even a state. I looked it up.

Their fight song didn’t make a very strong argument, either: “Hi-Hi-yike-us. No-body like us. We are the Mountaineers! Always a-winning. Always a-grinning. Always a-feeling fine. You bet, hey. Go Apps!”

“The Victors,” it was not.

No ranked team in the game’s top division, like Michigan, had ever lost to a team from Appalachian State’s division. The point spread was 27. Not since 1891, when the Wolverines opened the season against Ann Arbor High School, did Michigan’s home opener seem like such a mismatch.

Until the game started, that is. [Full Story]

Column: How to Count to 8, Stopping at 6

The Ann Arbor city council’s vote last Monday on the appointment of Al McWilliams to the board of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority was 6-5 on the 11-member body. A 6-5 vote for the Ann Arbor council is rare, and reflects a certain amount of controversy surrounding McWilliams’ appointment.

6 is not actually greater than or equal to 8

Fact: 6 is not actually greater than or equal to 8.

But in this column I’d like to leave aside the controversies that led to such a narrow split. Instead, I’d like to review the history of the legislative actions that led up to the 6-5 vote at the council’s Sept. 16, 2013 meeting. That review leads me to conclude that eight votes should have been required for approval.

A quick narrative summary goes like this: McWilliams was set to be nominated, then not actually nominated, but then nominated after all, then had his nomination “withdrawn,” and then finally had his nomination voted on by the council. But in the end, the six-vote majority was declared enough to confirm his membership on the DDA board, replacing Newcombe Clark, who made an employment-related move to Chicago after serving one four-year term.

Choice of the phrase “was declared enough to confirm” is not accidental. Even though the tally of six votes was deemed sufficient by the city clerk and mayor John Hieftje for approval of the motion, I think the vote actually required eight votes to pass.

Under the council’s rules, a nomination to a board or commission can’t be confirmed or approved before the next regular meeting of the council – unless eight members of the council vote for the confirmation. So the typical pattern is that a nomination is put forward at one meeting and the vote on confirmation is taken at the next regular meeting.

Hieftje explicitly stated at the council’s Sept. 3 meeting – during deliberations – that he was withdrawing the nomination of McWilliams. The matter was not “postponed” – as Hieftje described it at the Sept. 16 meeting – because the council did not vote on the McWilliams nomination at all, much less vote in a way that postponed consideration. It certainly would have been an option for the council to have entertained a motion to postpone. But councilmembers did not wind up voting on it at all, and Hieftje stated: “Okay, so I will withdraw it [McWilliams' nomination] tonight.”

Under any rational understanding of the nomination and confirmation procedure, Hieftje needed to take some affirmative action to put the nomination before the council again, which could have been done at the Sept. 16 meeting. Early in that meeting, during communications time, Hieftje indicated to the council he’d be bringing McWilliams’ nomination forward toward the end of the meeting, when nominations and confirmations are handled. The nomination was not on the council’s agenda as of 4 p.m. that day and came as a surprise to some councilmembers.

But instead of just placing the nomination of McWilliams before the council, Hieftje also asked the council on Sept. 16 to vote on confirmation, which it did – with the 6-5 outcome.

It’s puzzling that the online Legistar file for Sept. 16 containing the McWilliams nomination states that the nomination was “placed on the table for [the council's] consideration at the Sept. 3, 2013 Regular Session.” Reviewing my own notes, The Chronicle’s reporting and the CTN video, I can’t discern anything that happened at the Sept. 3 council meeting that could reasonably be described as placing McWilliams’ nomination on the table for consideration. Certainly councilmembers were asked to vote on Sept. 3 on a nomination that had been put before them on Aug. 19. But at the Sept. 3 meeting, the nomination was withdrawn by Hieftje for consideration by the council. And the Legistar record from Sept. 3 accurately reflects that: “Appointment taken off the table on 9/3/13.”

It’s certainly contemplated by the council’s rules that a nomination and confirmation vote can take place at the same meeting. So asking for the vote on Sept. 16 did not violate the council’s rules. It’s just that the 6-5 outcome on that vote should have been judged as not confirming the appointment of Al McWilliams to the DDA board – because it needed eight votes.

The problem here is not just a technical one. What’s the rationale for a higher voting threshold when a confirmation vote comes at the same meeting as the nomination? Granted, I think part of the rationale is to ensure enough time for an adequate review and vetting of a candidate – which arguably took place in the case of McWilliams’ nomination. But part of the rationale is not peculiar to appointments to boards and commissions. At least part of that general parliamentary principle is this: A higher standard is imposed when less notification has been given to the members of the council (and to the public).

When Hieftje withdrew McWilliams’ nomination at the Sept. 3 meeting, I think councilmembers and the public could have had a reasonable expectation that they’d be notified of an upcoming vote on his confirmation at least one meeting before a confirmation vote was taken. Absent that notification, the threshold for a successful vote should rise – to eight.

In this column, I’ll lay out some of the documentation in the online Legistar files that makes clear that the Sept. 16 nomination really was considered a new, fresh nomination that should have required either an eight-vote majority or a delay on voting until the following meeting.

I also have a suggestion for a remedy that does not involve Miley Cyrus. [Full Story]

Column: DDA, City Council – No Politics Here

Back in the spring of 2011, the Ann Arbor city council and the Downtown Development Authority were arguing bitterly about money.

Guenzel Kunselman

(Left) Ward 3 city councilmember Stephen Kunselman. (Right) DDA board member Bob Guenzel.

Now two and a half years later, a solid working relationship between the two entities has evolved – unmarred by political machinations, based instead on a clearly understood shared past, and consensus interpretation of relevant statutes and local laws governing tax increment finance capture.

That has led to a joint working session between the entities scheduled for Sept. 9, 2013. The session will offer an opportunity for members of the organizations to exchange appreciation and praise for the positive turn the relationship has taken over the last 30 months.

Heh. That’s a joke, as is the headline – the only accurate part of the preceding two paragraphs is the fact that a Sept. 9 working session is scheduled.

And it’s fair to say that the working session between the two groups would probably not be taking place unless it were contractually obligated – under an agreement ratified in May of 2011. The DDA operates the city’s parking system under that contract. In addition to the convening of a joint working session every fall, the contract stipulates that 17% of the gross parking revenues are to be paid to the city.

Parking money is just one of the two revenue categories over which the city and the DDA have been bickering. The other is the DDA’s tax increment finance capture (TIF), which is regulated by Chapter 7 of the city code. With an initial approval of changes to Chapter 7 already approved by the council on April 1, 2013, a joint DDA-city council committee was tasked on July 1, 2013 with making a recommendation on Chapter 7 changes to the council.

DDA-council committee group

Aug. 26, 2013 meeting of the DDA-council committee, held in the basement of city hall.

Representing the council on the joint committee are Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), Jane Lumm (Ward 2) and Sally Petersen (Ward 2). Representing the DDA are Sandi Smith, Roger Hewitt, Bob Guenzel and Joan Lowenstein.

Despite being tasked by council on July 1 to begin meeting immediately, the committee did not meet until eight weeks later, on Aug. 26 – after the Aug. 6 city council primaries. Here’s the political calculus: If Kunselman had lost the Ward 3 Democratic primary to Julie Grand, the balance of votes on the council might have shifted to clarifying Chapter 7 in the DDA’s favor.

Grand ran a campaign that was generally supportive of the DDA. But Kunselman has led the council’s effort to clarify Chapter 7 in a way that favors the city as well as the other taxing jurisdictions whose taxes are captured by the DDA. However, Kunselman prevailed – as did Ward 4 challenger Jack Eaton, who campaigned in part on the idea of limiting the DDA’s TIF capture through clarification of Chapter 7.

Because the committee waited until after the Aug. 6 primary to meet, the DDA members had a clearer idea on Aug. 26 about who they’d be dealing with in the near future. The outcome of the Aug. 6 primary meant that Kunselman brought a certain amount of confidence to the committee meeting on Aug. 26. At one point he stated: “… I don’t really have a lot of trust out in my neighborhoods about what the DDA does downtown, ok? And that’s how I have been able to galvanize my base, so to speak, to stay here and to keep this effort alive, so that we can get this ordinance changed … Some of that money, yes, should be returned to the taxing authorities.”

Now the only question mark on the committee is the independent Lumm, who faces a challenge from Democrat Kirk Westphal in the November election. Lumm has made it clear she supports a Chapter 7 revision that respects the interests of the other taxing jurisdictions. But Lumm’s re-election is not a foregone conclusion.

That’s why the opening gambit from the DDA’s side at the Aug. 26 meeting was to delay further, even though the council is scheduled to take a final vote on the Chapter 7 revisions at its Sept. 16 meeting. A future council that included Westphal, mayor John Hieftje, Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5), Margie Teall (Ward 4), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) and Sabra Briere (Ward 1) might have six votes that potentially could support the current approach to TIF calculations. But among those six, I think even Westphal, Warpehoski and Briere are capable of independent and rational thought on the question of TIF capture.

The delaying tactic on Aug. 26 emerges in a fairly obvious way if you read through the meeting transcript. [.pdf of 40-page transcript]. DDA members were more inclined to want to talk about general arguments for the existence of a DDA, professing uncertainty about why they’d even been invited to the table. Kunselman, Lumm and Petersen made it clear they were there to talk about clarifying the TIF calculations, not more general themes. It wasn’t clear whose interests Taylor was upholding, but he aligned himself policy-wise – as well as socio-linguistically – more with other DDA board members than with his city council colleagues.

The Aug. 26 meeting was highlighted by a number of misstatements or incomplete statements of historical fact – some serious enough that I worry about the ability of some of those at the table that day to effectuate good public policy.

Still, I think the meeting offered a glimmer of hope – from a guy whose history with the city of Ann Arbor is approaching an anniversary. On Sept. 15, city administrator Steve Powers will have been on the job exactly two years.

Powers, I think, offers a contrast with the previous city administrator Roger Fraser. On April 16, 2010 Fraser barred me from a meeting of a “working group” of councilmembers and DDA board members. Shielded from public view, the group was sorting out the terms of a new parking agreement. Powers, on the other hand, toward the end of the Aug. 26, 2013 committee meeting, had this to say: “If the committee is done commenting, you should provide for public comment, as it’s a public meeting.”

This column includes a brief outline of some factual points worth remembering – because they were misstated or incompletely stated at the Aug. 26 meeting. But first, a point about words.  [Full Story]

Milestone: Five Years of Chronicling

Since we launched The Chronicle in 2008, we’ve met many remarkable people.

Jimmy Ragget, Common Cycle, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Jimmy Raggett of Common Cycle, a nonprofit that won a Bezonki award last year, brought his kids Cole and Cooper to The Chronicle’s Aug. 9 reception. (Photos by Leisa Thompson)

And for the past three years, we’ve thanked a few of them with our annual Bezonki awards.

This year’s winners are an extraordinary group: Derrick Jackson of the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office; community activist Lisa Dengiz; teacher and environmentalist Dan Ezekiel; the nonprofit Ann Arbor Active Against ALS; Paul Courant of the University of Michigan; and Linda Diane Feldt, an author and holistic health practitioner who’s one of The Chronicle’s most prolific and poetic Stopped.Watched contributors. I’ll tell you more about them in a bit.

We honored these folks at a reception on Aug. 9, when they received the physical Bezonki awards. Each of the six Bezonkis is unique, made in part with bits salvaged from equipment at the former Ann Arbor News – a totem of our profession’s past. They were crafted by local artist Alvey Jones, whose Bezonki cartoons are published monthly in The Chronicle.

The awards are unique in another way. Each winner of a Bezonki is a steward of the physical award for a year. Winners in the past year hand it off to the next year’s winners. This year the hand-off took place at the Aug. 9 reception held at Zingerman’s Events on Fourth. Our hope is that the awards create connections year after year between people in the community – people who might not otherwise have crossed paths.

At our annual receptions, we also hope to introduce attendees to new experiences. And we try to have some fun. We’re an online publication, but this year we tipped our hat to journalism’s heritage by making “pressman’s caps” out of newsprint. So in the photos below, you’ll see many of our guests wearing their own. [If you'd like to make one yourself, you can download the instructions here.]

This year we also invited local artist/inventor Michael Flynn to display his “cooperative phonograph” to our event – a four-foot stainless steel spinning disk that’s truly a work of art. Using a card as the “needle,” you can pick up sounds from the ridges that he’s cut into the disk’s edge. One of the tracks was a repetition of the phrase “Love is all you need.” That’s fitting, because as we celebrate five years of Chronicling, Dave Askins and I are also celebrating our 24th wedding anniversary today. It’s getting better all the time.

But on Aug. 9, the main point of our reception was to honor a few of the many people who help make this community a special place. So please join me in celebrating the 2013 Bezonki winners! [Full Story]

In it for The Money: How to Career as a Writer

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

David Erik Nelson Column

David Erik Nelson

Because I live in a college town, I’m periodically asked to speak to undergrads about “careers in publishing.” Despite my discomfort with human beings in general, I tend to jump at these opportunities. First and foremost, it’s nice to seem important.

And undergrads are pretty easy to trick into thinking you’re worth listening to (just ask any Lecturer III).

Beyond that, launching a writing career is a really straightforward process, and I feel it’s more or less my duty (as a former educator) to demystify whenever possible.

I think that folks outside the university systems might also be interested in this process. So, for the benefit of anyone looking to make a terrible career move, I offer this roadmap. It starts with getting a baby. [Full Story]

Column: The Case for Free Public Schools

Earlier this week, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan – along with two plaintiffs – filed suit against the Ann Arbor Public Schools for the school district’s plan to charge students who want to take a seventh class in a semester.

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

Ruth Kraut

The lawsuit argues that the Michigan Constitution requires a free public education for all Michigan students, and that charging for a seventh hour is unconstitutional. Kary Moss, ACLU of Michigan executive director, outlined the position in an ACLU press release: “Allowing this model to continue will open the floodgates for any district in the state to charge for every conceivable part of their students’ education creating a two-tiered system in which students who have money get ahead, while those who do not fall behind.”

In early June, I wrote my first column for The Chronicle, about three aspects of the AAPS budget proposal. ["Column: Disparate Impact of AAPS Cuts?"] One of the areas I wrote about was seventh hour, a term that refers to the option of taking a seventh class during a semester, rather than the more standard six classes.

I was concerned about issues of equity – about Skyline students being able to acquire 7.5 credits in a year without paying, while Pioneer and Huron students could only earn 6 credits in a year for free. I was concerned about students losing access to the arts. I was concerned about disparate impacts.

I assumed that – as with many other proposals – this idea was poorly conceived, but legal.

A couple of days after my column was published in The Chronicle, I talked with the ACLU’s Kary Moss. (Full disclosure: Kary is a friend of mine, and we frequently discuss education issues. And that first Ann Arbor Chronicle column ended up as “Exhibit 4” in the ACLU complaint.)

Kary suggested to me that she was concerned about seventh hour, too – because she believed the move to charge tuition was unconstitutional.

Unconstitutional?! That thought had not even occurred to me. [Full Story]

Milestone: What The Chronicle Sounds Like

Here at The Ann Arbor Chronicle, we traffic almost exclusively in the written word. One clear exception is made for center-column articles, where we do try to include some photographs. Still, it’s rare that we take advantage of the full multimedia capability of the Internet.

Michael Flynn with phonograph

Michael Flynn with his “cooperative phonograph” on Main Street in Chelsea, Michigan for the Sounds and Sights Festival on July 27, 2013. (Photographs by the writer.)

However, in the last couple of weeks, we’ve published two pieces that have included supplementary audio files. One was a write-up of a Ward 3 Ann Arbor city council candidate forum. The audio in that case served the purpose of grounding possible conversation about a she-said-he-said accusation in the actual facts of what-he-said.

The second one was a piece by regular columnist David Erik Nelson – about interviewing Noam Chomsky in the bar of the Campus Inn. The audio in that case served in part to provide a literal sense of what Chomsky “sounds like.” Just as a side note, I would argue that Nelson’s written treatment of the interview actually offers higher fidelity than the audio.

Today’s monthly milestone column also includes some audio. It was recorded from a roughly four-foot diameter “cooperative phonograph” fabricated out of stainless steel by local Ann Arbor inventor/artist Michael Flynn. Flynn had the phonograph on display last Saturday at Chelsea’s Sounds and Sights Festival.

Flynn was set up on Chelsea’s Main Street, just south of the iconic clock tower. He invited passers-by to use cards as “needles” to pick up the sounds from the ridges that he has cut into the edges of the metal disk.

I enjoyed watching as skeptical expressions from parents and kids dissolved into delight – as they discovered how the cards they were holding against the spinning platter were somehow generating music and words.

But an expression of delight won’t pay Flynn’s bills. The work of art took him over four years to develop – and he took on debt to make it possible. So Flynn is looking to sell the phonograph and to make more of them for sale – as a piece of public art or an interactive museum exhibit. That is how Flynn earns his livelihood. [Full Story]

Column: How Coaching Changes Lives

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

I loved baseball from the start – but it didn’t love me.

When I started in tee ball, I was so short that if the catcher put the tallest tee on the far corner of the plate, I couldn’t reach it. Yes, I struck out – in tee ball.

Our first year of live pitching didn’t go any better. One game we were beating the other team so badly, we were about to trigger the “Mercy Rule,” and end the game. Coach Van pulled me in from my post in right field – where I kept company with the dandelions – and told me to pitch. I wasn’t a pitcher – I wanted to be a catcher, like Bill Freehan – but I’m thinking, “This is my chance.” I walked three batters, but miraculously got three outs before they scored any runs. We won – and I figured that was my stepping stone to greater things.

I was surprised my dad wasn’t as happy as I was. He knew better – but he didn’t tell me until years later: Coach Van was not putting me in at pitcher to finish the game. He was putting me in to get shelled, so the game would keep going. He was putting me in to fail.

The next game, I went back to right field, and the dandelions, never to return to the infield the rest of the season. But when Coach Van and his family moved, our assistant coach, Mack MacKenzie, became our head coach – and my world changed almost overnight. [Full Story]

Column: “They Come and They Go”

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Longtime University of Michigan equipment manager Jon Falk announced this week he will retire after the football season. Falk has held the job for 40 years. But that won’t put an end to the litany of Falk Stories – many of them revolving around his former boss, Bo Schembechler.

Falk first met football coach Bo Schembechler in 1967. Falk was a freshman working in the equipment room at Miami of Ohio, and Schembechler was the head coach. Schembechler seemed pretty gruff to Falk, so he avoided him. That was not going to work for long.

Falk graduated from Miami in 1971 and stayed on as the football team’s assistant equipment manager. He lived at home with his mother and his grandmother and took care of them. In 1974 Bo invited Falk to interview in Ann Arbor. Falk had never lived anywhere but tiny Oxford, Ohio, so he was a little apprehensive about going to such a big place.

When he returned, he told his mother and grandmother that he was going to turn down Coach Schembechler’s offer because he did not want to leave the two of them by themselves. That night, around four in the morning, Falk’s mother came into his room, crying. She said it hurt her to say it, but he must go to Michigan. “I know Coach Schembechler will take care of you.”

His mom was right. The first few weeks Falk was in town, he ate almost every dinner at the Schembechler’s home. [Full Story]

Column: Noam Chomsky Walks into a Bar

[Editor's note: David Erik Nelson writes a monthly column for The Ann Arbor Chronicle called "In it for the Money."

David Erik Nelson, Noam Chomsky

At the end of the interview. DEN: Do you mind if I take a picture of us? NC: Sure. I’ll put my glasses back on so people will know it’s me. DEN: You actually look remarkably like yourself. [Chomsky laughs.]

Instead of his regular column, this month we’re publishing a piece Nelson wrote based on an interview he conducted with Noam Chomsky a few weeks ago, when Chomsky visited Ann Arbor. The piece includes long chunks of transcript, interspersed with commentary from Nelson. It begins with Nelson, whose thoughts are presented in italics throughout.]
I’m interviewing Noam Chomsky in the bar of the Campus Inn a block from the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The bar is dim and entirely abandoned at 10 a.m. on a Friday morning. Because I’m highly distractible, I can’t help but periodically marvel at the symmetry of this: I only ended up interviewing Noam Chomsky at all because I’d Tweeted a link to a joke about Heisenberg, Gödel, and Chomsky walking into a bar [1], and Dave Askins (editor of this fine publication) had responded by noting that Chomsky would be speaking at the University of Michigan a week or so later, and essentially dared me to interview him.
I’d agreed, on the assumption that it would be impossible to land an interview with the man almost universally regarded as America’s foremost public intellectual. I was wrong – and Chomsky chose the bar as our quiet little nook! It was almost too good to be true: Noam Chomsky walks into a bar and … and …
And lemme tell you, there is more than a little pressure inherent in being the straight man in a classic joke set-up, even if the set-up is only in your head – which is germane, since from Chomsky’s perspective, it’s the conversation in your head that is most essential to the nature of language.
[Full Story]

Karl Pohrt: A Farewell

Karl Pohrt, founder of Shaman Drum Bookshop, died two days ago on July 10, 2013 after being diagnosed with anaplastic thyroid cancer in October 2012.

Karl Pohrt

Karl Pohrt in front of his Shaman Drum Bookshop in 2009.

Karl was most widely known for his work as an independent bookseller, both locally and at the national level. He also had a deep belief in the importance of civic life, and served for several years on the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board, among other local entities.

Karl was also supportive of other local entrepreneurs. Shaman Drum Bookshop was one of the very first advertisers on Teeter Talk and also The Ann Arbor Chronicle.

He was generous in sharing his reflections with Chronicle readers both before and after closing his bookstore in 2009, as well as on his blog, There Is No Gap.

From his May 8, 2006 Teeter Talk interview: “So I feel, if it has to do with a devolving of a political conversation into a sloganeering and trashing of people … given the amount of time I have left on the planet Earth, I’m not sure that it’s worth my effort. And it’s also counterproductive, or I suspect that it’s counterproductive on some deep and profound level. However, maybe that’s what a democracy is: this sort of jostling and continual debate and back and forth with people with conflicting interests. So I have not thought this through. But I also feel that my energy would be better used in other areas.”

Karl, thank you for the ride.

A memorial service will be held on Sunday, July 14 at 2 p.m. at the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation, 3257 Lohr Road in Ann Arbor. Donations can be made to the church or to the Children’s Literacy Network. [Full Story]

Milestone: Zooey, Ukes, Parades, Calendars

In this monthly update, I will explain what Zooey Deschanel and Ann Arbor, Michigan have in common.

I’ll hazard a guess that some regular readers of The Chronicle’s local government news coverage might wonder: Who is Zooey Deschanel? OK. So here it goes. She’s that actress from New Girl – not the one who plays CeCe, but the one who plays Jess. Right. So Jess is the one who might wind up with Nick, but we don’t know for sure, but we’re still totally rooting for them to get together as a couple – because they’re both so, like, you know, quirky that nobody else would have them.

Calendar Listing for Ukelele Group

Extract of The Chronicle’s calendar listing for July 4, 2013. Other events between this “double entry” were digitally removed.

Ah, yes. New Girl is a TV sitcom, broadcast on FOX.

If that doesn’t give Ms. Deschanel enough cred for you to read any more of this column, try this: She gave a musical performance at Hill Auditorium last night, as part of the duo “She & Him.”

She was performing around the same time when regular readers of The Chronicle were following along with our live updates from the meeting of the Ann Arbor city council. [Spoiler alert: The council was all sorta Nick-and-Jess about their agenda last night, and postponed a bunch of stuff.]

Those city council meetings, by the way, are listed out on The Chronicle’s new-and-improved event listing display, along with myriad other happenings in Ann Arbor. I wrote about the basic technology behind that event listing earlier this year. If you’d like to add all your organization’s events to our listing all-in-one-go, it’s pretty easy.

The lead art for this column is made out of a screenshot taken from The Chronicle’s event listings. For calendar purists, this might be evidence that we are doing it wrong: The 4th of July parade is listed twice. Twice? That’s like making Jess and Nick go on a double date with CeCe and Schmidt, am I right?

Actually, I think that “double listing” illustrates perfectly why our approach to event listings is exactly right.  [Full Story]

Column: Rules, Parking, Transportation

At its July 1, 2013 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council will consider and likely adopt a new set of rules affecting meeting mechanics.

Flags flying over Pittsfield Township Hall on June 27, 2013: Political winds were also blowing – but indoors.

Flags flying over Pittsfield Township Hall on June 27, 2013. Political winds were also blowing (indoors, and not quite as hard) at a meeting also attended by representatives of Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor, Saline and Ypsilanti Township – on “urban core” transportation.

Easiest to quantify are rule changes affecting speaking time limits. For the public, the time per speaking turn will drop across the board – from three minutes to two minutes. For each councilmember, the total speaking time per item of debate will drop from eight minutes to five minutes.

Whether those quantitative changes will have a qualitative impact on the city council’s meetings is an open question. More likely to have a positive qualitative effect, I think, is a rules change that adds an opportunity for public commentary at the council’s work sessions.

The exchange of viewpoints among councilmembers during those work sessions is currently tentative and spare, often in the guise of merely asking a question. That’s because Michigan’s Open Meetings Act does not allow a gathering of councilmembers to include deliberations, unless an opportunity is provided for the public to address the council. By giving the public an opportunity to comment during those sessions, councilmembers will be free to engage in unfettered exchanges of viewpoint. And that will be a benefit to the public and to the city staff.

However, in this column I’d like to focus on a different proposed amendment to the rules – one that could potentially improve local governance, not just change what happens at city council meetings.

Among the rules changes is one that would move the mayor’s communications from a slot on the meeting agenda after all regular business to one that precedes all regular business. That’s important because the mayor’s communications include nominations to boards and commissions. That agenda slot also includes the council’s vote to confirm those appointments – typically at the following council meeting. This rule change will ensure that interested residents will not need to stay up until midnight or 3 a.m. – or whenever the council finishes its voting business – to find out who the mayor has nominated.

And that bit of extra spotlight on the nominations could lead to an interest on the part of the mayor – whoever might hold that position – in offering a better explanation of each nomination. It’s reasonable, I think, to get a better explanation than the kind we typically hear – generally a brief comment at the end of a meeting, when everyone is barely awake.

For example: What is it about the nominee’s philosophical orientation to the board’s subject matter that makes this person a good fit for the position? How was it that this person came to be chosen? Who is this person? To the extent that residents are given a clearer idea of how and why nominations are made to boards and commissions, that might increase the inclination of other qualified residents to offer their service.

In the near future, nominations to two significant boards will be made by mayor John Hieftje. One nomination is needed due to the expansion of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority’s board – from seven to nine members. Of the two additional seats, the city of Ypsilanti will make one appointment. For that seat, Ypsilanti mayor Paul Schreiber will be nominating Gillian Ream at the Ypsilanti council’s July 2 meeting. Hieftje will be making the nomination for the other new AAATA seat. He will also need to make nominations to replace two departing members from the board of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority – Leah Gunn and Newcombe Clark.

The public policy areas of the two boards overlap – not just because transportation is related to land use and development. The overlap also stems from the fact that the DDA manages the city’s public parking system, and the availability of parking is integral to the area’s transportation system.

So in this column, I’d like to sketch out some current policy issues to be faced by new appointees to the boards of these organizations. For the AAATA board, a pressing question will be: Should we ask voters to approve an additional transportation millage in November 2013? For the DDA board, an ongoing question will be: What’s an appropriate balance among users of the parking system – downtown residents, retail customers, and employees of downtown businesses?

But first, a little history. [Full Story]

Column: For the Love of Stupid Games

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Summer time, and the livin’ is easy.

But not if you have children. Nowadays, you have to drive your kid to soccer camp and band camp, to this lesson and that clinic, to make sure they never have a single unprogrammed minute of summer to themselves.

Yes, something is gained from all this – like structure and safety – but something is lost, too. You see a basket in every driveway, but no one playing. Without their own games, kids never learn how to settle their own arguments. Does any 10-year-old know what a “do-over” is?

They’re forced way too young to specialize in one sport – a sport they are not likely to earn a scholarship for, no matter what their parents or coaches think, let alone a professional contract. What they’re almost certain to gain, however, is tremendous burn out, and knee joints on 20-year-old women that are as worn out as a 50-year-old man’s.

Yeah, sure, they’ll be busy and safe and supervised – but what fun is that? They miss out on the simple excitement of making up their own games – no matter how stupid or dangerous. [Full Story]