Archive for January, 2010

Washtenaw: Gas Tax

Peter Luke of the Booth Newspapers chain reports that state Reps. Pam Byrnes, D-Chelsea, and Richard Ball, R-Bennington Twp., introduced legislation on Tuesday that would, among other measures, increase the per-gallon gas tax from 19 cents to 23 cents this year, and to 27 cents in 2013. The aim is to raise state matching funds needed to secure federal dollars for state and local roads. [Source]

Weatherization Funds

In a Jan. 26 article about Washtenaw County’s Employment Training & Community Services (ETCS) department, we incorrectly stated the deadline to use federal funding for a weatherization program. The county has until March 31, 2012 to use those funds. We note the error here, and have corrected the original article.

UM: Haiti

Sacha Montas, a physician with the UM Health System, files a first-person account of his work in the Dominican Republic, where he’s treating Haitian refugees who are victims of the recent earthquake: “I’m with a team of eight people. We wake at 3:20 a.m. daily to get on the bus by 4 a.m. for 2.5 hour trip back to the hospital every morning. We start rounding by 6:30 a.m. in three teams, including one Haitian medical student who can translate. The Haitian medical student and I are the only ones in the hospital who can translate for the 150-200 patients we must round to every day.” [Source]

Budget Round 1: Community Services

In the first of a series of meetings on the budget, the Ann Arbor city council on Monday heard from community services area administrator Jayne Miller, who gave a presentation on her part of the city budget, based on information councilmembers had requested at the council’s Dec. 5, 2009 budget retreat.

Mary Jo Callan Jayne Miller

Mary Jo Callan, left, head of the city/county community development office, and Jayne Miller, the city of Ann Arbor's community service area administrator.

As to possible measures that could affect the FY 2011 budget, which begins July 1, 2010, Miller focused on several areas: (i) reorganizing the housing commission; (ii) reducing the scope for planning projects and outsourcing planning review and/or collaborating with other municipalities for construction inspection, (iii) cutting human services funding, (iv) reducing maintenance for specific parks and changing the parks maintenance/improvements millage resolution, which specifies how the millage money is allocated.

Some possibilities that were mentioned – but described as unlikely to have an impact on the FY 2011 budget – included allowing a private vendor to operate Huron Hills Golf Course as a combination driving range (where the front nine holes are currently located), plus a 9-hole golf course.

Specific parks were also identified in Miller’s report that would be recommended for sale – if parkland sale were to be used as a strategy. However, that too, said Miller, would be unlikely to have a short-term impact for two reasons: the sale of parkland requires a voter referendum, and the market for land is currently uncertain, given the overall economic climate.

The presentation also served as a bit of a tutorial on which parts of the city’s operations Miller administers, in a job she’ll be leaving on Feb. 11. Sumedh Bahl, unit manager of the water treatment plant, was also on hand Monday night – he’ll be filling in for Miller on an interim basis. [Full Story]

A2: Auto Industry

A Popular Mechanics article looks at whether auto lease discounts are bad for the industry. It includes an interview with Albert Kelly, an Ann Arbor-based financial advisor and former car dealer, who offers this advice to consumers: “Play tough, but it helps to know what kind of lee-way the dealers have in pricing before you go in … Never do a deal the first visit to a showroom because the offer will only get better when the salesperson calls you on the phone at home to get you to come back.” [Source]

Chelsea: Business

Chelsea Update reports that Sheridan Books is adding a $1.7 million four-color printing press to its Chelsea operation. Jeff Cohen, vice president of finance, says the firm has seen success against Asian competitors: “Much of our competition for 4-color work is in Asia. We have been able to competitively price our four-color books while offering much shorter delivery schedules.” [Source]

A2: Business

The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg and several other media outlets are reporting on the departure of Ron Marshall as CEO of the Ann Arbor-based Borders Group bookstore chain, after about a year at the helm. ( puts it least charitably, with the headline “Borders CEO Flees Crumbling Company.”) From a MarketWatch report: “Maybe his skills didn’t have enough time to take hold, but things didn’t seem to improve much on Marshall’s watch. Earlier this month, the company reported a 14.6% tumble in same-store sales at Borders superstores.” Shares fell below $1 in trading today. [Source]

Changes Ahead for Workforce Development

Trenda Rusher, head of Washtenaw County's Employment Training & Community Services (ETCS) department.

Trenda Rusher, head of Washtenaw County's Employment Training & Community Services (ETCS) department, led a joint meeting of the Workforce Development and Community Action boards on Monday. (Photos by the writer.)

The Washtenaw County department that Trenda Rusher supervises is undergoing transition, and not just because the long-time workforce development manager is retiring.

At Monday’s annual joint meeting of the two boards that oversee the county’s Employment Training & Community Services (ETCS) department, Rusher spoke of several other changes – from the dramatic growth of revenues, thanks to federal stimulus dollars, to the equally dramatic increase in demand for services, due to Michigan’s economic plight and the implosion of the auto industry.

And as Rusher departs – after nearly three decades with the county, she’s heading to Washington, D.C. to start her own consulting business and to be near her twin daughters – the new county administrator will be looking at possibly reorganizing the operations that serve as a conduit for millions of federal, state and local dollars.

Verna McDaniel, the deputy county administrator who’s expected to replace retiring administrator Bob Guenzel, spoke to ETCS staff and members of both boards on Monday, saying “we will be looking at all options.” No decisions have been made – a planning team will be meeting to lay out a strategy for evaluating what’s next, she said. [Full Story]

Jackson near Maple

Big vacant space on Schlotsky Deli lot. Heavy equipment on site. Next up: new Walgreens.

Dispute over Superior Township Settlement

There’s broad consensus on open space and farmland preservation among Superior Township’s roughly 13,000 residents.

A sign opposing property rezoning in Superior Township

A sign opposing property rezoning in Superior Township. (Photos by the writer.)

It’s evident in words like those on a banner in the township hall touting a commitment to preservation. It’s evident in actions like voter approval of a special tax to defend the community’s growth-management plan.

But for all the agreement, there’s discord over the means to that end.

Rather than fighting a lawsuit they say they expected to win, township officials have struck a deal with a development group that sued after a zoning change was denied.

Disappointed residents say the settlement bails out the developers, and is a retreat from a strategy of enacting and defending a strong master plan and zoning. Township officials say buying land and development rights – as the $400,000 settlement deal will do – is the only sure way to end the battle for good.

The real goal isn’t a legal victory, but the conservation of the community’s rural character, says township supervisor Bill McFarlane. “I feel we would have won the lawsuit this time, but land values will eventually go up again and we could be fighting this again in a year, or two years or five years.” [Full Story]

UM: Asian Carp

The Detroit Free Press reports on the threat of Asian carp to the Great Lakes, and whether the impact of the fish will be as serious as originally expected. The article quotes David Jude, a UM fish biologist who says the carp might find the Great Lakes inhospitable, because of the low supply of plankton: “The food supply in Lake Michigan is as low as it has been in 40 to 50 years.” [Source]

Khosla Ventures Investments

In an article on battery technology company Sakti3, we incorrectly portrayed that Khosla Ventures invested in Fisker Automotive. According to Khosla Ventures, they do not invest in Fisker Automotive.  We note the error here and have clarified it in the original story.

Ypsi: Food

The Everyday Foodie blog reviews Pizza Perfect in Ypsilanti, giving high marks to both the food and the customer service: “It’s rare these days to find a business that really shows how much they value their customers, but Pizza Perfect is an exception. Maybe it’s because they’re in a less desirable part of town and want to make sure their customers come back, but I think it really comes down to their love of the business and genuine love of people.” [Source]

Library Lot

The BIG DRILL arrives today, as John Splitt indicated it would at the last DDA board meeting. [photo]

Jackson & Dexter

Light out at Jackson and Dexter. [Editor's note: Reported to the city of Ann Arbor at 734-994-2744]

Hotel/Conference Center Ideas Go Forward

On Thursday evening, the city of Ann Arbor’s committee reviewing proposals for the Library Lot decided to continue consideration of only two of the five proposals remaining. A sixth proposer had formally withdrawn before the interviews.

Sam Offen Margie Teall

Sam Offen makes an argument for bringing along Dahlmann's park proposal to the next phase of consideration – he was not successful in convincing his colleagues to do so. At right is Ward 4 councilmember, Margie Teall. (Photos by the writer.)

After the meeting, eight people crammed into an elevator on the sixth floor of city hall, where the committee had met. The eight included The Chronicle, two councilmembers on the committee (Stephen Rapundalo and Margie Teall), along with Alan Haber – who had helped put forward the Community Commons, one of the proposals eliminated by the committee.

As the elevator doors closed us in for the trip down to the lobby, Haber mused that here in the elevator, we had, for a brief moment, a commons.

The committee’s decision had come after two days of public interviews earlier in the week when each proposer was given 30 minutes for a presentation, 30 minutes to respond to questions from the committee, and 30 minutes to respond to questions from the public. The interviews took place on Jan. 19-20 and were followed by a public open house on the evening of Jan. 20.

At the Thursday evening committee meeting, Stephen Rapundalo, the committee’s chair, reported that the request for qualifications sent out by the city to provide consulting services on the remaining proposals – the hotel/conference center proposals by Acquest and Valiant – had resulted in seven responses. The next meeting of the committee will take place on Feb. 16 from 10 a.m.- noon. Letters will be sent to the three proposers whose projects will not be given further consideration by the committee. [Full Story]

UM Regents Get Updates on Research, Haiti

University of Michigan Board of Regents meeting (Jan. 21, 2010): At their first board meeting of the year, UM regents approved a raft of athletics-related projects, got an update on the university’s research efforts and applauded UM provost Terry Sullivan, who was recently named as the first female president of the University of Virginia.

University of Michigan regent Denise Ilitch, right, talks with Ora Hirsch Pescovitz, UM's executive vice president for medical affairs.

UM regent Denise Ilitch, right, talks with Ora Hirsch Pescovitz, executive vice president for medical affairs, before the start of the Jan. 21 meeting of the board of regents. Ilitch, a Democrat from Bingham Farms, did not declare her candidacy for governor at Thursday’s meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

The relatively short meeting also included a report on the university’s contribution to earthquake relief efforts in Haiti.

Two people spoke during public commentary. A local Sierra Club board member, James D’Amour, told regents that the group opposed the Fuller Road Station, a joint UM/city of Ann Arbor project being built on city-owned parkland. He urged them to “take no part in this unethical act.” They later approved the project.

And UM student Alex O’Dell described his vision for TEDxUofM, an April 9 event on campus being modeled after the influential TED Talks, where speakers get 18 minutes to share “ideas worth spreading.” [Full Story]

Ypsi: Tax Credit

CNN Money reports on three examples of homeowners that have taken advantage of a refundable $8,000 tax credit for first-time homebuyers, part of the federal stimulus package. One of those is Rob Logan, a 28-year-old who bought a house in Ypsilanti last year. “The credit helped me pay for all my appliances and some plumbing and other maintenance. I was able to spend more of my saved money on a 20% down payment and that has made my mortgage more affordable.” [Source]

Ashley & Liberty

Downtown Home & Garden has plastic taps in stock for maple syruping. Michigan’s first crop each year. Sap is running today, but likely to stop tonight. Mid to late February is more normal.

Ex-Radicals Remember Robben Fleming

President Fleming at a press conference during the Black Action Movement strike in March of 1970.

UM President Robben Fleming at a press conference during the Black Action Movement strike in March 1970. (Photo courtesy of Jay Cassidy.)

On March 12, 1968, Robben Wright Fleming was inaugurated as the ninth president of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. It was a time of great turmoil on college campuses across the country, especially at Michigan, which was in the vanguard of the radical student movement. Fleming had been hired to replace the retiring Harlan Hatcher largely because of the reputation he had built for controlling student unrest while chancellor at the University of Wisconsin.

Fleming’s background was as a labor negotiator, and he preferred to engage students in reasoned discussion and debate rather than send in the riot squad. As he related in his autobiography, “Tempests into Rainbows,” after learning of his interest in taking the top post at Michigan, the regents of the university invited him to the Pontchartrain Hotel in Detroit, where for two hours they talked mainly about how he would deal with student disruptions.

Fleming explained to the regents that he “thought force must be avoided insofar as humanly possible, that indignities and insults could be endured if they averted violence, and that … these problems would last for some unspecified time, but that they would eventually end.” The next day he was offered the presidency. [Full Story]

Artists Sought for West Park Project

At a special meeting of the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission on Thursday, commissioners moved ahead on a project to incorporate art into upcoming renovation work at West Park.

AAPAC is issuing a request for qualifications (RFQ) to solicit artists to work on three curving, concrete seat walls that will be built into the hill opposite West Park’s band shell. With a budget for the artist in the range of $8,000 to $10,000, the project is the first work solicited under the city’s Percent for Art program since the water sculpture for the new municipal center, which has a budget of $737,820.

The water sculpture’s design was done by a German artist, Herbert Dreiseitl. The West Park RFQ specifies a Michigan artist. [Full Story]

A2: Gen Y

Kate Rose, a 25-year-old who lives and works in Ann Arbor, describes why she decided to stay in Michigan, while many of her peers are leaving. Writing in an op/ed published by the Detroit Free Press, Rose states: “As Gen Y’ers, we need to consider what we love about this state and invite others to join in. Have an interest and nowhere to share it with people? Find a place and send out the word. Places become special when people decide that they’re special. We’ve known this since Michigan was admitted to the Union with the motto, ‘If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you.’ I’ve had, and will have, plenty of chances to cut and run. But I’ve … [Full Story]

Chelsea: Business

The Detroit Free Press publishes a profile of Debi and Doug Scroggins, Chelsea residents and founders of Bearclaw Coffee. The article reports on plans to move two parts of its business now done out of state – building out Bearclaw’s mobile coffee vans and roasting the coffee beans – back to Michigan, either in Wayne or Washtenaw counties. Says Debi Scroggins: “We haven’t taken the route that Starbucks took when they started offering sandwiches. We decided that we really wanted to stay with our core competencies and focus on how we make those things better.” [Source]

Washtenaw: Congress

A post on Eclectablog gives a report of the Jan. 22 annual membership meeting of the Western Washtenaw Democrats, attended by U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer. “During his conversation, he came out firmly in favor of a budget reconciliation path to passing health insurance reform legislation and was outspoken about the atrocious decision by the Supreme Court of the United States to allow nearly unlimited corporate funding of political campaigns.” [Source]

AAPS Issues RFPs for Privatization

Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education meeting (Jan. 20, 2010): Wednesday’s meeting of the AAPS board of education was a study in contrasts.

Demonstrating against privitization

Outside the Jan. 20 school board meeting, one of four demonstrators against privatization of certain school services. (Photo by the writer.)

On one hand, it was an evening of accolades and celebrations.  The board heard recommendations to pay tribute to the work of two longtime AAPS staff members by naming facilities in their honor, community participation in budget planning was lauded, and the students from this year’s Hikone Exchange Program reported on their trip to Ann Arbor’s sister city of Hikone, Japan.

At the same time, concerns about possible privatization of custodial, maintenance, and transportation services dominated the meeting’s public commentary. And when the same presentation that was made to recent public budget forums was repeated for the board, looming school budget cuts again came to the fore. Requests for proposals (RFPs) for outsourcing that are a part of those cuts were also briefly discussed. [Full Story]