Archive for September, 2009

A2: Business

Josh Silverman, who co-founded Evite and is now president of Skype, is featured in the Jobs column of the New York Times: “My life has been punctuated by points where I followed my heart rather than my head. I grew up in Ann Arbor, Mich., and went to the alternative high school there. It was called Community High – Commie High for short – and it had an unstructured format. I spent much of my junior and senior years traveling the country in a six-member jazz ensemble.” [Source]

State Races in Districts 54, 55 Take Shape

Editor’s note: The Chronicle previously published an article on state legislative races in the 52nd and 53rd House Districts and the 18th Senate District. An update on those races appears at the end of today’s article.

Candidates for Michigan’s House of Representatives still have eight months to file for the 2010 election. But with money to raise and campaigns to organize, most potential candidates for the state’s 54th District say they expect to make decisions about entering the race by the end of this year.

At least four Democrats from the eastern Washtenaw County district are considering running for the seat now held by state Rep. Alma Wheeler Smith, who’s ineligible to run after being elected to three terms. (Smith is campaigning to be the Democratic candidate for governor.) Allen Francois, Mike Martin, David Rutledge and Lonnie Scott are all potential candidates in the overwhelmingly Democratic district, which includes the city of Ypsilanti, and Augusta, Salem, Superior and Ypsilanti townships. [Link to 54th District map.]

The field in the nearby 55th House District so far appears to be smaller. Republican Joe Zurawski of Washtenaw County is a candidate for the seat held by three-term state Rep. Kathy Angerer, a Democrat who is ineligible to run again. On the Democratic side, Monroe County resident Michael J. Smith says it’s very likely he will run. [Full Story]

Pauline & Stadium

A large truck and trailer marked “Michigan State Police Grand Rapids Bomb Squad” headed north, beating traffic.

Main & William

Handwritten note in Zipcar: “This car had milk spilled in it. It was professionally cleaned today. Please keep air circulating in the car for the next couple of days. Thanks!” Explains the baby puke scent.

W. Liberty & 1st

Gardener trying mightily to bring back beautiful flowerbeds near railroad tracks next to dirt parking lot. The plot had been sprayed through fence last year killing lots of blooms.

Hoover & State

11:30 a.m. Chief of Police, Barnett Jones, personally directing game day traffic.

Oosterbaan Fieldhouse

Tom Brokaw interviews UM alums at the homecoming tailgate for an upcoming  MSNBC documentary exploring the impact of the poor economy on baby boomers. The interviewee in this picture is Jesse Rawls, Sr. a 1971 graduate. [photo]

Downtown (S. Main)

Uniformed community standards representative measuring sidewalk space between storefronts and tables with snap-out tape.

Kickball Makes a Comeback

A moment of rest for the familiar red kickball. (Photo by the writer.)

A moment of rest for the familiar red kickball. (Photo by the writer.)

The red playground ball scuffs across the dirt the same way it did when you were 10, and the kicker takes a mighty running swipe at it, hoping for one of those big, arcing kicks that no one can get to – or maybe a line drive that will tattoo the ball’s cross-hatch pattern onto some unlucky infielder’s forearms.

It’s Friday night at Veterans Memorial Park, and all four of the park’s softball fields have a kickball game underway. Welcome to the big kids’ playground.

Ann Arbor Rec & Ed started its first kickball league in 2005 with six teams. This summer there were 38. Team sports director Larry Dishman compares the vibe to the early 1970s, when folks of dubious athletic cred were coming out in even bigger numbers to play a laid-back, social sport called slow-pitch softball.

“You had people saying, ‘Well, I can play this game,’” Dishman said. “Right now you’ve got largely that same type of phenomenon happening with kickball.”

Twenty-eight teams signed up for the fall season, which runs through October. (Kickball, incidentally, features some of the best names in Ann Arbor recreational sports: Miracle on Dirt, We Got the Runs, Kicking Balls and Taking Names, Kick It to The Man…) [Full Story]

Main & Keech

Friendly AT&T tech setting up temporary cell tower. Says that maybe my iPhone will finally work on gameday! [photo]

A2: Governor’s Race

The Detroit Free Press reports that Ann Arbor businessman Rick Snyder has picked up the endorsement of Bill Ford Jr. in Snyder’s bid for the GOP nomination for governor. During an interview on WJR-AM 950, the auto executive said: “Having been part of a major turnaround myself, it’s very hard and it takes tough decisions. Rick has done that, too, and one thing I’ve always admired about him is that he’s a very positive person by nature, and yet he’s a very clear-eyed pragmatist.” [Source]

Column: The Greatest Play I’ve Ever Heard

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Let’s be honest: the Michigan-Indiana rivalry is no rivalry at all. Of the 59 games they’ve played, Michigan has won fully 50 of them, including all but one since 1967.

But 30 years ago, this game produced one of the most memorable plays in Michigan history.

The Wolverines entered the Indiana game ranked tenth, with six victories and only one defeat – to Notre Dame, on a last-second field goal. They knew if they kept winning, they’d get another chance at a national title.

But in the last minute of Michigan’s homecoming game – which had been as dreary as the weather – the Hoosiers did the unthinkable, and tied the game at 21.

A few plays later, the Wolverines found themselves with only six seconds left, enough time to run just one more play – but they were still 45 yards away from the endzone, too far for a field goal. They had no choice but to try one last gasp at a touchdown. [Full Story]

How to Sustain a Local Economy

Panelists at the Sept. 23 Michigan Peaceworks forum on the local economy, from the left: Tom Weisskopf, University of Michigan economics professor; Ellen Clement, Corner Health Center executive director; Jeff McCabe, People's Food Co-Op board member; Lisa Dugdale, Transition Ann Arbor; Michael Appel, Avalon Housing executive director; John Hieftje, mayor of Ann Arbor.

Panelists at the Sept. 23 Michigan Peaceworks forum on the local economy, from the left: Tom Weisskopf, University of Michigan economics professor; Ellen Clement, Corner Health Center executive director; Jeff McCabe, People's Food Co-Op board member; Lisa Dugdale, Transition Ann Arbor; Michael Appel, Avalon Housing executive director; John Hieftje, mayor of Ann Arbor. (Photo by the writer.)

When The Chronicle entered the lower level meeting room of the downtown Ann Arbor library, the first things we noticed were three large trays of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cut into bite-sized wedges. As public forums go, this was an offbeat gnoshing choice.

It turned out that the sandwiches – and apples, soft drinks, potato chips and other food – were all sourced from Michigan, in keeping with the theme of Wednesday night’s event. The panel discussion focused on the state’s economic crisis, and how the community can respond to it.  Buying local products is one example.

Starting a local currency is another possibility – the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority is funding a study to look into that. Generating  electricity locally is also an opportunity – Mayor John Hieftje told the group that he didn’t think the dam at Argo Pond would be removed, in part because it might be used for hydropower in the future.

The forum – “Michigan’s Economic Situation: Crisis or Opportunity?” – was hosted by Ann Arbor-based Michigan Peaceworks and Washtenaw Voice, a coalition of local nonprofits that are working together to increase voter turnout and bolster the community in other ways. Michigan Peaceworks is the lead agency in this effort, part of the broader Michigan Voice initiative.

State and national issues were part of the discussion, but most of the six panelists focused on how the local community can take action in specific areas, including food, health care, housing and the environment. [Full Story]

Buses for Ypsi and a Budget for AATA

WALLY poster on the wall of the AATA board room (Photo by the writer.)

WALLY poster on the wall of the AATA board room. (Photo by the writer.)

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (Sept. 23, 2009): At its Wednesday afternoon meeting, the AATA board approved a recommendation from its planning and development committee to use $220,000 in  federal stimulus funds to maintain bus service to the city of Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township. It’s a temporary measure, with the expectation that by fall 2010, a longer-term funding mechanism will be found for Ypsi buses.

The board also approved a roughly $25 million budget for its 2010 fiscal year, which runs from Oct. 1, 2009 to Sept. 20, 2010. It was about $1 million more than board member Ted Annis wanted to see – he dissented both from the planning and development committee’s budget recommendation as well as from the board’s vote to adopt it.

The longer-term solution to funding Ypsi buses, as well as Annis’ dissent on the budget, were partly reflected in the physical surroundings of the AATA board room. Sometime in the last month, two framed posters have been hung on the wall there – one shows the proposed WALLY north-south rail route that extends through northern Washtenaw County into Livingston County, and the other is a map of Washtenaw County. Both show regions broader than the current AATA millage area.

It’s a voter-approved countywide millage that offers one possibility of funding Ypsilanti buses. And Annis contended at the board’s meeting that in order to sell voters on such a millage, the agency’s operating costs needed to be reduced from the $102 per service hour that the adopted budget reflects. [Full Story]

Ypsi: Fire

Mike Ambs posts a video with images from the smoking husk of the burnt Thompson Block building. He writes: “I saw an opportunity to sneak in through the back of the building… which now, thanks to the fire, was a wise doorless opening. Yes, I realize that’s trespassing. But the odds of this building being bulldozed to the ground in a month seemed too high to just walk away. I took my camera inside and very carefully recorded what I saw. I really just wanted a record of this day… something detailed… something more than a simple wide shot from the news cameras outside the building.” [Source]

A2: Grants

Crain’s Detroit Business reports that several local groups have received grants from the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan. They include $68,500 to the Arts Alliance to support creative economy initiatives in Washtenaw County, $60,000 to Jewish Family Services of Washtenaw County in Ann Arbor to support a care-giving center, $50,000 to the University Musical Society in Ann Arbor to help fund educational activities related to a series on the arts of Africa, and $50,000 to the Ann Arbor-based Food System Economic Partnership to support the Farm to School program in Wayne County. [Source]

UM Diag

Campus police just escorted a man out of the Shapiro Library in handcuffs.

Ypsi: Fire

The Eastern Echo, the student newspaper at Eastern Michigan University, reports on the aftermath of the fire that destroyed the historic Thompson Block in Ypsilanti’s Depot Town district. [Source]

UM: Social Skills

The Wall Street Journal reports on how online high schools are affecting the social development of students. The article quotes Elizabeth Birr Moje, a UM education professor, who notes that while there are advantages to online learning, “The disadvantage is that you may not learn to work with other people quite as well.” [Source]

Downtown “Library Lot” to Close Sept. 30

Librarians are passing out these informational flyers to patrons, giving details about the closure of the city-owned lot next to the downtown branch. The lot will be closed on Sept. 30 at 4 p.m., as construction begins on the underground parking structure.

Librarians are passing out these informational flyers to patrons, giving details about the closure of the city-owned lot next to the downtown branch. The lot will be closed on Sept. 30, as construction begins on the underground parking structure. A groundbreaking ceremony is set for Oct. 1 at 4 p.m. (Photo by the writer.)

Ann Arbor District Library board meeting (Sept. 21, 2009): The sentiment expressed by a Huron High School student at Monday night’s library board meeting – “I just want to get it over with” – might also reflect how board members feel as they brace for construction of the Fifth Avenue parking structure, a project to begin in earnest next week at what’s known as the Library Lot.

The student was attending the meeting as a requirement for a civics class – he said he chose the library board because it was a meeting held early in the semester, compared to his other choices. In contrast, library officials have no menu of choices regarding the parking structure. Though heavily used by library patrons, it’s a city-owned lot –  the new structure being built by the Downtown Development Authority. AADL director Josie Parker told board members they’re trying to make sure that patrons know it’s not a library project.

Parker also gave the board some good news: Stimulus funding has been secured to hire a coordinator for the Washtenaw County Literacy Coalition. Parker is co-chair of that group, which is working to end illiteracy. [Full Story]

Washington & State

UM Lane Hall (SE corner of Washington & State) Noon: The low wall that borders the building entry is filled with North Quad construction workers eating lunch. The smell of bacon wafts over the street, presumably from Sava’s.

UM: Joseph White

Former UM business school dean Joseph White is planning to resign as president of the University of Illinois in the wake of an admissions scandal, according to an Associated Press report. From the article: “News reports first surfaced in May that politically connected applicants for spots at the university’s flagship campus in Urbana-Champaign were given special attention and tracked through a list known as Category I. Those reports and documents later released by the university showed that some of those connected applicants were admitted over more qualified ones.” White also served as UM interim president in 2002. [Source]

UM: Football Punch

It’s old news by now, which Brian Cook relayed via Twitter on MGoBlog, but UM football player Jonas Moutan was suspended for the game last weekend against Eastern Michigan for throwing a punch in the previous game. Punching people is not the best display of citizenship, but Moutan was a good citizen on Election Day, when he had “fight through a block” to cast his ballot at Pioneer High School. Chronicle coverage of that episode is here.  Thanks to city attorney Stephen Postema for giving The Chronicle a heads-up on an observation made by his son, Jake. [Source]

Ypsi: Fire

Mark Maynard posts photos of Wednesday’s early morning fire that gutted the historic Thompson Block in Ypsilanti’s Depot Town. The structure was being renovated by Stewart Beal. Writes Maynard: “There are some in the community who thought the building was beyond repair to begin with. I, however, was hopeful that something could be done. Now, I guess, we’ll never know. This building’s loss is a huge one for our resurgent community.”[Source]

Near North, City Place Approved

Two men stand together at a podium at the Ann Arbor city council

At the podium, Bill Godfrey of Three Oaks Group and Tom Fitzsimmons of the North Central Property Owners Association both express their support of the Near North housing project on North Main. In the background, Christopher Taylor (Ward 3). (Photo by the writer.)

Ann Arbor City Council meeting (Sept. 21, 2009): Ann Arbor’s city council approved both major development projects on its agenda, one of them enthusiastically, the other only reluctantly.

Although there was a smattering of opposition expressed to the Near North affordable housing development during the public hearing on the matter, the 39-unit project on North Main Street ultimately won the support of its closest neighbors. That support was reflected symbolically when developer Bill Godfrey and neighbor Tom Fitzsimmons stood side-by-side at the podium as they each addressed the council, which gave the project its unanimous approval.

The “matter of right” City Place project proposed for the block of South Fifth Avenue just south of William was also unanimously approved by the council, but councilmembers took turns criticizing both the project and the developer, Alex de Parry. The council had previously established a historic district study committee and enacted an associated moratorium on demolition and work in the area where the proposed project is located. Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) compared de Parry’s decision to bring the project forward despite the moratorium to “stamping feet, being upset you didn’t get what you wanted.”

Many members of the audience held yellow 8×11 paper signs calling on councilmembers to support a resolution that would have released council emails sent during their meetings dating back to 2002. However, council rejected that resolution except for a resolved clause that would in the future provide the public with copies of electronic communications among councilmembers during its meetings – by appending them to the official minutes of the meeting that are eventually posted on the city’s website.

The council also put looming financial issues on the radar by passing a resolution that opposes a recent Michigan budget proposal that would cut state shared revenues to the city of Ann Arbor by about $1.2 million. At the council’s budget and labor committee meeting that was held Monday – before the regular council meeting – Tom Crawford, the city’s chief financial officer, floated some possible ideas for meeting that shortfall. [Full Story]