Archive for December, 2009

Column: Book Fare

The author's well-worn copy of "The Happy Prince" by Oscar Wilde.

The author's well-worn, 1965 edition of "The Happy Prince" by Oscar Wilde.

Christmas is over. Was everyone properly grateful?

You know who we’re talking about here, even though there are certainly none of them in your family. We’re talking about that little sugar plum who works up a sweat ripping open loot and caps the frenzy with, “Is this all?” Or the tot, her golden curls still sleep-tousled, who tears enough paper off each present to see if it’s worthy of further attention and, if it disappoints, chucks it aside for the next one.

A woman I know recalls the Christmas her brother visited with his family; the little darlings plowed through the booty in the twinkling of an eye, allowed themselves a few minutes to fight with each other and then demanded to go back to the hotel pool because they were bored. Visions of stuffing them in a coal sack and dumping them into the deep end danced in Auntie’s head.

This time of year always gets me thinking about Oscar Wilde’s “The Happy Prince,” a fairy tale guaranteed to bludgeon a sense of empathy into the most irredeemable of brats. [Full Story]

Budget Crunch Backdrop Drives Council

Ann Arbor City Council meeting (Dec. 21, 2009) Part II: In Part I of our report, we handled two meeting topics clearly related to the looming budget shortfall: public art expenditures and parking revenue.

members of firefighters local union

Members of International Association of Firefighters Local 693 waited past midnight until their president finally was able to take his turn at public commentary during unreserved time at the end of the meeting. (Photo by the writer.)

Two rows of firefighters from the International Association of Firefighters Local 693 – layoff notices have already been sent to some of them – sat in the audience through the whole meeting, which lasted until midnight.

Like the firefighters, sitting at least in the background of nearly every item on the agenda, were the looming budget issues that the city council faces.

When they came to the foreground, the concerns about the budget managed to connect topics as seemingly disparate as Verizon antennae and parking revenues.

Even a garden-variety contract with a consultant for the greenbelt provoked some brief discussion related to the budget shortfall.

The impetus behind the council’s committee reorganization was again … the budget. What was previously one budget and labor committee was split into two committees: (i) the budget committee, and (ii) the labor committee, which is now combined with the council administration committee. That reorganization was pitched as a way to allow representation from each ward on the five-member budget committee.

Councilmembers and the city administrator also made robust use of the communications section of the agenda to provide status updates on their recent work – much of it related to efforts to identify new revenue streams and ways to cut expenses as part of the effort to meet budget goals.

In other business, the purchase of carts for single-stream recycling was authorized, plus an energy grant totaling over $1 million was accepted. [Full Story]

UM Regents: Entrepreneurs, Energy

University of Michigan Board of Regents meeting (Dec. 17, 2009): The December meeting of the UM Board of Regents was packed with presentations – on entrepreneurship, a new enrollment policy for Ph.D. students, and environmental sustainability efforts on campus.

Tom Kinnear talks with University of Michigan regent Julia Darlow.

Tom Kinnear talks with University of Michigan regent Julia Darlow. Regent Denise Ilitch is seated to the left. Kinnear is head of UM's Zell Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies, and spoke to regents about programs for student entrepreneurship. (Photo by the writer.)

Regents also approved the naming of the Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital, reflecting a $15 million gift to the institution – part of the massive $754 million C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and Women’s Hospital complex being built and expected to open in 2012.

The board signed off on several facilities projects, including interior work on offices at the former Pfizer site, now called the North Campus Research Complex (NCRC), as well as the next step in renovations of the Couzens Hall dormitory.

Also approved was a letter making UM’s annual operating request to the state, which laid out why legislators should appropriate funds to support the university in fiscal 2011. The letter, under the signature of UM president Mary Sue Coleman, did not request a specific dollar amount.

Coleman kicked off the meeting, as she typically does, with some opening remarks that led to news about plans to hold the April 2010 regents meeting in an unusual location: Grand Rapids. [Full Story]

A2: Thwarted Attack

The Detroit Free Press is one of many news outlets reporting on what’s being characterized as an attempted terrorist attack on a Northwest Airlines flight coming into Detroit Metro airport. The article quotes one of the passengers, Veena Saigl of Ann Arbor, who says she saw the suspect being taken to the front of the plane in a chokehold – “a sturdy guy put a lock on his head.” [Source] WDIV-TV is reporting that the Nigerian man, who is reported to have unsuccessfully attempted to ignite a bomb on the plane, was taken to the UM Hospital to be treated for burns. [Source]

UM, EMU: GI Bill

The Detroit News reports on delays that many veterans are experiencing in getting educational benefits under the GI bill. The article quotes Tom Tiefry, a U.S. Marine who’s enrolled at Eastern Michigan University: “My word was good. But it wasn’t a given that their’s was. It never crossed my mind that this sort of thing could happen.” Also interviewed is Derek Blumke, a UM student and president of the Student Veterans of America: “It’s not just a dollar, it’s not just a number, it’s people’s lives.” [Source]

S. Main Street

Mailman delivering packages in the driving rain. He said they volunteer to deliver on Christmas.

Ann Arbor Chronicle Holiday Greeting

Dear Ann Arbor Chronicle Readers,

We’re sleeping in this morning. But we’ve programmed two replacement staff to fill in for a few hours while we enjoy some holiday nog. After the jump you can verify that The Chronicle is still in capable hands.


Mary and Dave [Full Story]

A2: Argo Dam

In the blogs section of “Erosion Control,” which is the journal of the International Erosion Control Association, Ann Arborite Donald Gray has published an analysis of Argo Dam removal that focuses on how river channels can be affected when dams are removed.  Gray is an emeritus University of Michigan professor of civil and environmental engineering.

Among the conclusions of Gray’s analysis: “If the dam is removed, the river will attempt to reoccupy its old channel. Views of the entrance to the original channel, including a thin sheet-pile wall constructed across the entrance, are shown in Figures 3 and 4. Absent Argo Dam, this wall would either be overtopped, flanked, and/or toppled during a high-water flood event. This would result in flooding … [Full Story]

Fifth & Hill

Four-foot wide tumbleweed in the middle of Hill Street. Had to stop and drag it out of the way. [Photo]

A2: Governor’s Race

Nolan Finley, editorial page editor of the Detroit News, makes a case for why David Brandon, CEO of Ann Arbor-based Domino’s Pizza, should run for governor: “He oozes leadership. The former quarterback compels others to follow. The pin-headed pipsqueaks who populate the Legislature wouldn’t stand a chance against him. Brandon has said so often he isn’t running that I’m starting to believe him. Reports now say he’s seeking the athletic director’s job at his alma mater as his post-corporate career. Good for U-M, too bad for Michigan.” [Source]

Eberwhite & Lutz

A “Merry Christmas” collected from the Calder Dairy truck as I pedal past.

UM: Auto Industry

Reuters analyzes GM’s string of failed deals, including a recent attempt to unload Saab. The article quotes Gerald Meyers, a UM business professor and former American Motors CEO: “Saab is a black eye for the former GM management and for Fritz Henderson. It was one of (the) things GM said it was going to do and failed to do.” [Source]

UM: Smoking

Clifford Douglas, director of UM’s Tobacco Research Network, co-authored a commentary published by the Detroit Free Press. The piece applauds a new state law that bans smoking in most Michigan establishments: “Of note, the significant economic burden of tobacco use in the United States includes more than $96 billion per year on medical expenses related to smoking and another estimated $97 billion per year lost in reduced productivity. While each of us is free to make choices that affect our own health, the costs noted here are borne by our communities and society as a whole.” [Source]

Council: Art Key to Ann Arbor’s Identity

Ann Arbor City Council meeting (Dec. 21, 2009) Part I: Ann Arbor’s city council meeting lasted past midnight, as the council concluded the evening with a closed session on labor negotiations. The apparent focus of that closed session was the possibility that an agreement could yet be struck with the firefighter’s union that would prevent the layoff of firefighters who’ve already received letters of termination that would end their service to the city on Jan. 4, 2010.

public art line up for public hearings

Members of the public line up for the public hearing on the Percent for Art program. (Photos by the writer)

What pushed the council meeting into the wee hours, however, were the topics of art and parking.

Several members of council backed off their previous support for a reduction in public art funding. The Percent for Art program was left at its full funding level. The council also approved a contract for management services for the Dreiseitl art project to be installed as a part of the new municipal center – amid legal concerns raised by Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3).

Also, the council ultimately approved a heavily amended version of a resolution on parking that Sandi Smith (Ward 1) had added to the agenda on the previous Friday, which left the intent of two key “Resolved” clauses largely intact: (i) the city will get revenues from a surface parking lot, and (ii) the city’s plan to install its own meters has been braked indefinitely. A third clause that would have extended downtown meter enforcement to 10 p.m. was swapped out in favor of one that is less specific.

The council attended to a variety of other matters, including its new committee organization, authorization of purchases connected to single stream recycling, and acceptance of an energy grant. Councilmembers and the city administrator also made robust use of the communications section of the agenda to provide status updates on their recent work.

In Part I of our council report, we focus on art and parking. [Full Story]

Washtenaw Jail Diary: Chapter 6, Part 1

Return to Sender stamp from Washtenaw County JailEditor’s Note: After the break begins the next installment of the Washtenaw Jail Diary, written by a former inmate in Washtenaw County’s jail facility on Hogback Road. The piece originated as a Twitter feed in early 2009, which the author subsequently abandoned and deleted. See previous Chronicle coverage “Twittering Time at the Washtenaw County Jail.

In now working with the author to publish the Washtenaw Jail Diary, The Ann Arbor Chronicle acknowledges that this is only one side of a multi-faceted tale.

We also would like to acknowledge that the author’s incarceration predates the administration of the current sheriff, Jerry Clayton.

This narrative, which we expect will run over a series of several installments, provides an insight into a tax-funded facility that most readers of The Chronicle will not experience first-hand in the same way as the author.

The language and topics introduced below reflect the environment of a jail. We have not sanitized it for Chronicle readers. It is not gratuitously graphic, but it is graphic just the same. It contains language and descriptions that some readers will find offensive. [Full Story]

A2: Food

The author of Mother’s Kitchen writes about “Why I eat local food” – and ties it back, in part, to her family’s traditions and her Polish heritage: “It’s because it’s what I always have known. I like to support local farmers, too, but not because I think there will be a post petroleum apocalypse or anything. I want to support the local economy because I love the state of Michigan and its people. And I eat seasonally because I like the rhythm of the seasons and the food just tastes better.” [Source]

A2: Newspaper Archives

The Library Journal published an article about a deal between the Ann Arbor District Library and the owners of the Ann Arbor News, which has named the library as caretaker of its archives. The article quotes library director Josie Parker: “The material will take at least a year to catalog and organize, and then we will decide on the scope and sequence for digitization. We know that we will not do everything in house, but have not made commitments to any entity that might wish to be involved. We will fund portions of the project with our general budget, and the rest with donations and grants.” [Source]

Ann Arbor Library Board Moves Elections

Ann Arbor District Library board meeting (Dec. 21, 2009): At its last meeting of 2009, the library board voted to move its elections to November, in response to a similar decision last week by the Ann Arbor Public Schools board.

At Monday night's board meeting, the annual report by Ann Arbor District Library director Josie Parker was made as a video presentation.

At Monday night's board meeting, the annual report by Ann Arbor District Library director Josie Parker was made as a video presentation. (The video report is available on the library's website at In the foreground: board members Prue Rosenthal, left, and Rebecca Head. (Photo by the writer.)

Library board members also discussed their hopes for a development next to the downtown library. The city solicited bids for development atop an underground parking structure being built just north of the library, on land stretching between Fourth and Fifth and Division. The library has a vested interest in that project – as board members noted on Monday, the development there will affect their decision about what to do with the downtown library building.

No representative from the library is on the city’s review committee that’s currently evaluating proposals for the site. But two members of that committee did attend Monday’s board meeting, and library director Josie Parker plans to meet with city officials to convey the board’s feedback.

Bottom line: A place that’s active and that attracts a diverse group of people around the clock would be best for the library. Also needed, board members said, is some master planning for that entire area, which includes the former YMCA lot and the AATA’s Blake Transit Center. [Full Story]

Liberty & Ashley

Woman wearing red suede, high-heeled boots with curled-up elf toes, capped with bells.

A2: Business

Forbes magazine reports that Ann Arbor-based Domino’s Pizza is launching a $75 million, six-week ad campaign aimed at promoting its new pizza recipe. From the article: “The ad effort is the largest from the company since two then-employees in Conover, N.C., filmed themselves preparing sandwiches for delivery. One employee put ingredients up his nose and nasal mucus on the sandwiches. It turned into a digital disaster for Domino’s. The video, which has since been removed from YouTube, attracted more than 1 million views and disgusted many consumers.” [Source]

UM: Salaries

The University of Michigan has released its annual salary report, including a list of salaries for staff and faculty. Overall, faculty salaries increased 2.3% on average in 2009-10. Staff salary increases averaged 0.7% – excluding salaries for employees who are represented by a union. [Source]

A2: Novel

The Detroit Free Press profiles the group of Ann Arbor women who inspired “The Christmas Cookie Club” novel by local author Ann Pearlman. Says Pearlman: “We make cookies and we party. It doesn’t stop the war. It doesn’t stop hunger. It doesn’t stop the troubles in our lives. But it stops unhappiness for an evening and offers hope for something better.” [Source]

Saline: Schools

Writing on the Superintendent’s Blog, Scot Graden – superintendent of Saline Area Schools – reflects on the use of technology in the schools, and the importance of keeping up with technology changes: “Not only do we need to teach technology skills, but also the ability to learn online. Many of our students will end up earning their living in the virtual world…. It’s time for Saline Area Schools to make it a priority for our students to communicate, think and learn in this new world.” [Source]

Parking in the Parks, Art on the River

Ann Arbor Park Advisory Commission meeting (Dec. 15, 2009): If projects discussed by the city’s park advisory commission move ahead, next year will bring a series of art installations to the Huron River, and turn two city parks into parking lots for University of Michigan home football games.

This image shows how wire sculptures on the Huron River might appear, if a project proposed by a University of Michigan visiting professor gets approval from the state and city. (Image courtesy of William Dennisuk.)

This image shows how wire sculptures on the Huron River might appear, if a public art project proposed by a University of Michigan visiting professor gets approval from the state and city. (Image courtesy of William Dennisuk.)

At its Dec. 15 meeting, park commissioners raised concerns but ultimately signed off on a city staff proposal to use parts of Allmendinger and Frisinger parks for football parking during the 2010 season. The plan could raise an estimated $34,000 in net revenues for the city.

In a separate move, the commission gave the go ahead for UM to apply for a state permit that’s needed to install a series of wire sculptures at four locations along the Huron River, from Argo to Gallup. It’s an ambitious project by UM visiting artist William Dennisuk, designed to bridge the town/gown communities – assuming that the project itself gets approval from the city and state.

Commissioners also got a budget update from Jayne Miller, the city’s community services director, who told them to anticipate additional cuts over the next two years, and described how that might affect parks and recreation. [Full Story]

UM: Clements Library

The Clements Library Chronicles sends its season’s greetings by posting a holiday card created in 1929 for William L. Clements, the library’s founder: “The illustration is based on an etching of the exterior of the library by Wilfred B. Shaw. His work can also be seen in the circular Clements logo on the library website.” [Source]