Archive for February, 2010

A2: Massage

The Detroit Free Press reports on an increased demand for massage therapists in Michigan, despite the economy. The article quotes Deb Zager, a part-time massage therapist at Google’s Ann Arbor office and president of the American Massage Therapy Association’s Michigan chapter. Zager describes the profession’s attributes: “I’m never bored. Every person that comes in has a different issue that they want addressed. When somebody leaves my office, they are usually happy.” [Source]

Liberty & Main

2 missionaries, out in the cold, approaching strangers in the dark to talk about God. There weren’t a lot of people around when they attempted to stop me a little after 7 p.m.

In the Archives: Paper Pennies of Ypsi’s Past

Editor’s note: As a feasibility study on local currency gets underway in Ann Arbor, local history columnist Laura Bien takes a look at how local currencies were used in the past. Bien’s new book on local history, “Tales from the Ypsilanti Archives (MI): Tripe-Mongers, Parker’s Hair Balsam, The Underwear Club & More (American Chronicles)” can be ordered through Amazon.

Local currencies are nothing new to either Ypsilanti or Ann Arbor. In addition to 19th-century municipal banks, both cities created local currencies about 80 years ago. They weren’t created to boost local spending or civic pride. Ypsilanti created her local currency, called scrip, in the fall of 1931 because the city had no other money to pay municipal employees.

Ypsilanti Scrip Money

Ypsilanti "Time Scrip Money" was used to pay for municipal work. (Image links to higher resolution file.)

The currency included paper pennies.

“It was really just an IOU,” recalled Paul Ungrodt, in an April 15, 1975 Ypsilanti Press article, one of a Great Depression retrospective series. “[T]here was no money; hardly anyone could afford to pay taxes, so we made do with the scrip.” In the summer of 1929, Ungrodt was proud to have secured the prestigious job of Ypsilanti Chamber of Commerce secretary. A few months later, the stock market crashed. [Full Story]

Madison Heights: Rally

Writing on Eclectablog, Chris Savage reports on a recent gathering sponsored by Organizing for America (OFA) and Health Care for American NOW! (HCAN), held in Madison Heights in southeastern Michigan. The rally called for Congress to take action on jobs for Michigan. Savage, a Dexter resident, described the remarks of Congressman John Conyers, Jr., a Democrat who represents Michigan’s 14th District, and addressed the gathering: “Reading off an attached label he said, ‘We need real reform, not small potatoes’. The bag of potatoes was a gift from a constituent who was trying to get his attention and clearly succeeded.” [Source]

A2: Cake

On Sundays, the Cake Wrecks blog highlights cakes that aren’t wrecks. This week’s post features cakes with an Alice in Wonderland theme, including one made by Ann Arbor’s Cake Nouveau (at the bottom of the post). [Source]

County Board Agenda: Health, Finance Issues

Discussion at the Feb. 24 briefing for the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners covered a broad range of topics, including health screenings for the 50-100 refugees who settle in the county each year, federal funding for low-income families, a drug discount card for local residents, and a bond refunding for financially-strapped Sylvan Township. Some commissioners had questions and concerns about all these topics.

The briefing, which previewed items on the March 3 board agenda, drew more than just commissioners and administrative staff. In addition to The Chronicle, two others attended Wednesday’s meeting: A candidate for the 11th District county board seat, currently held by Jeff Irwin; and the county treasurer, Catherine McClary.

McClary was there to answer questions related to two resolutions she had proposed – only one of them made it onto the March 3 agenda. In discussing the resolution that will be considered on Wednesday, McClary noted that delinquent taxes are on the rise, expected to reach around $40 million this year – more than double the amount just five years ago. [Full Story]

Eisenhower & State

Double-decker Megabus heading south on State.

Ypsi: Schools

A post on the Trusty Getto blog notes the departure of Richard Weigel, an assistant superintendent at Ypsilanti Public Schools who was recently hired as superintendent of the school system in Niles, Mich.: “Although I’m happy for Richard, his departure marks a sad day for Ypsilanti. Richard was one of the most dedicated, motivated and talented school administrators I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. Although he was given the monumental task of fixing a troubled curriculum department when he was first hired, he successfully accomplished that goal and much, much more during his tenure here.” [Source]

Liberty & Ashley

Bob the Beekeeper at Downtown Home & Garden: “98% of feral bee colonies have disappeared, which is a very scary fact.”

Book Fare: My Dirty Little Secret

“There is a marvelous peace in not publishing. It’s peaceful. Still. Publishing is a terrible invasion of my privacy.” – J.D. Salinger

Book cover of "Wild Bells, Wild Sky"

Book cover of "Wild Bells to the Wild Sky" – not written by J.D. Salinger or the author of this column.

He can say that again.

Or not, because he died last month. But Jerome (whom, I should make clear, I never met) and I do have that in common. We both spared ourselves the haunting, humiliating spectacle of publication, although he had to learn the hard way and produce an American classic first.

I, on the other hand, wrote a romance novel so bad as to be unfit for print.

Let’s understand one thing. Everybody loves some kind of trash sometime. Tabloid gossip is, of course, the biggie. In a class I’m taking on probate law at Eastern Michigan University, the professor brought up Michael Jackson’s kids to illustrate how the rights of the surviving parent to custody are ironclad unless those rights have been terminated by a court. “The minute he died,” we were told, “she could have pulled up to Neverland and grabbed those kids. She – heck, I don’t even remember that woman’s na–”

“Debbie Rowe!!” volunteered way too many of my classmates.

Trash, trash, irresistible trash. [Full Story]

A2: Citizenship

The Detroit Free Press reports on a naturalization ceremony Friday morning at the American Macedonian Cultural Center in Sterling Heights. One person who became a new U.S. citizen is Tom Ousman, who’s from Syria and is now a barber at Royal Cut in Ann Arbor: “To become a member of this great nation is something I’ve long dreamed of.  … The doors of opportunity are open to me now, and I have choices that I’ve never had in the past.” [Source]

Budget Round 3: Where’s Your Emergency?

With limited success on Monday night, city administrator Roger Fraser prodded city councilmembers to confront the city’s budget impact statements. Each of the city’s service units had prepared the statements and made them available to the council a few weeks ago.

chief of police Ann Arbor Barnett Jones

Chronicle file photo from August 2009 of Barnett Jones, chief of police for the city of Ann Arbor. Jones was recounting for The Chronicle how the assigned budget exercise for FY 2010 – the current year – had begun with funding cuts that were equivalent to an elimination of 40 sworn officers. It didn't end that way – due to cost savings in other areas and an early-out retirement incentive. For FY 2011, the exercise began with funding cuts equivalent to 19 officers, which Jones says he's now been able to limit to 9-12 officers. (Photos by the writer.)

It was the third council meeting since the beginning of the year held to focus specifically on the budget, after the council’s budget retreat in December 2009.

In ballpark numbers, Ann Arbor faces a $5.2 million budget shortfall for FY 2011, which begins July 1, 2010. And even if every measure listed on the budget impact sheets is enacted, it would amount to $4.8 million in savings, leaving the city still almost $0.4 million short of balancing its budget.

The meeting did not include any discussion of possible other specific revenue sources, either in the form of payments from the Downtown Development Authority, a city income tax or a Headlee override. The Headlee option has been suggested in a recent “budget white paper” circulated by Sabra Briere (Ward 1), but only if certain conditions are met. Briere, along with Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) and Tony Derezinski (Ward 2), did not attend Monday’s meeting.

The meeting began with presentations on possible outsourcing of emergency management and IT functions at the city. Councilmembers as a group reflected the same lack of enthusiasm for outsourcing those functions as Barnett Jones, chief of police, and Dan Rainey, head of IT, had expressed in their respective presentations.

When mayor John Hieftje appeared ready to send everyone home without any discussion of the budget impact statements, Fraser reiterated a point he’d made earlier: His expectation was that council would discuss the budget impact statements – he had city staff on hand to answer any questions. The council indulged Fraser by quizzing Barnett Jones about the possible layoff of 9-12 sworn police officers. [Full Story]

Northbound Main Street

Friday evening: Completely backed up through downtown to south of Packard.

Burning Interest in Ann Arbor Parks

Ann Arbor Park Advisory Commission (Feb. 23, 2010): Approval of new policies for gifts, sponsorships and naming opportunities in the parks system was the only vote taken at Tuesday’s PAC meeting.

A sign at the entrance to West Park

A sign at the entrance to Ann Arbor’s West Park, which will be closed in March through the summer for extensive renovations. (Photo by the writer.)

But commissioners heard updates on a range of issues, from capital projects – including the months-long closing of West Park, starting in March – to a report on the greenbelt program.

And though snow has blanketed the area, work is underway to prep for controlled burns throughout the city’s parks and natural areas. Commissioners got a report on that effort, which includes a public meeting on March 2 and volunteer training the following day. The topic also provided some fodder for puns – in introducing the presentation, PAC chair Scott Rosencrans joked that they’d be “burning with interest” to hear the report. [Full Story]

First & Liberty

It’s true: Ann Arbor streets paved with money. Dollar bill flattened in intersection, snow filtering down. [photo]

A2: Drag Racing

The Detroit Free Press interviews Doug Kalitta of Ann Arbor, who races for Ypsilanti-based Kalitta Motorsports. He reflects on the death of his cousin, Scott Kalitta, who died in a 2008 racing accident: “Scott is still with us. He’s still out there, and we miss the heck out of him. We want to make him proud of what we are doing.” [Source]

A2: Food

On her Relish blog, photographer Myra Klarman documents the 1st anniversary of Friday Mornings @ Selma, a breakfast salon on Ann Arbor’s west side that raises money for local food efforts: “It was a sweet reunion, and I was delighted to see so many of my favorite familiar faces. I was also amazed by how many new people have jumped in to keep Selma strong and vibrant. The house was packed. I believe it was a record-breaking week of — wait for it… — 135 guests!” [Source]

Column: “We Believed”

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

The surprising United States Olympic men’s hockey team will play Finland today in the semi-finals, inspiring some to compare them to the last U.S. men’s team to win the gold 30 years ago, Lake Placid’s “Miracle on Ice.” Sorry, even if the U.S. wins it all, it will not qualify as a miracle. We are not likely to see anything quite like it again. And there will never be another coach like Herb Brooks.

I will never forget the impact the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team had on our country – or the impact the coach, Herb Brooks, had on me.

On Dec. 13, 1979, my best friend was heading home from hockey practice up north, when he was killed in a car accident. I found out the next morning, seconds before my Huron High School hockey teammates and I walked out onto the basketball court for our first pep rally. What started out as one of the happiest days of my life, had suddenly become the saddest.

I didn’t come out of it for months. But when the 1980 Olympic hockey tournament started, I watched every second of every game – I was transfixed by this team and their coach –  and that’s what brought me back. [Full Story]

Washtenaw: Nonprofits

Neighborhood Senior Services of Ypsilanti has merged to become a program of Catholic Social Services of Washtenaw County, according to a Crain’s Detroit Business report. Barbara Penrod, former NSS president, now serves as director of the program. [Source]

A2: Court

Bloomberg News reports on a judgement issued Thursday in a federal court in Ann Arbor against former Kmart CEO Charles Conaway: “A federal jury in June found that Conaway hid information about Kmart’s cash shortage, aiding and abetting the company’s misstatements. U.S. Magistrate Judge Steven Pepe in Ann Arbor, Michigan, upheld the finding last month and today fined Conaway $2.5 million and ordered him to return a $5 million retention loan, plus interest of almost $2.7 million.” [Source]

Main & Catherine

Sign at the entry to the Washtenaw County administration building, redirecting people to the annex if they’re looking for a certain type of service. If the listing of services is in order of popularity, it’s good to see that dog licenses come before concealed weapons licenses. [Photo]

Washtenaw: County Board

Heritage Newspapers reports that Adam Zemke, a 27-year-old mechanical engineer, will be running as a Democrat for the District 1 seat on the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners. The seat, representing the northwestern part of the county, is held by Republican Mark Ouimet, who’s running for state representative. Says Zemke: “I would like to continue Mark’s work. Often I hear people tell me, ‘Mark is everywhere.’ That is what a good public servant should be doing. You can’t make effective decisions without talking with the people you represent.” [Source]

Local Currency for Washtenaw County?

At the October 2009 meeting of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board, Sandi Smith reported out from the partnerships committee that a $6,000 grant had been awarded to Think Local First. The grant was awarded in regular U.S. dollars. But it’s a local currency that those federal dollars are helping to explore – by paying for a study to see if a local currency is feasible in Washtenaw County.

Think Local First local currency meeting

Backround trio from left to right: Kathy Ciesinski with Think Local First; Andrew Cluley, who was covering the event for WEMU radio; and Bob Van Bemmelen, proponent of the Unity model. Foreground trio: Ingrid Ault, executive director of Think Local First; Samantha Nielsen Misiak and Krissa Rumsey, both facilitators for TLF. (Photos by the writer.)

On Tuesday evening at the downtown Ann Arbor District Library’s lower level multipurpose room, Think Local First held the first of three meetings designed to gauge interest and support for the idea of a local currency. Ingrid Ault, Think Local First’s executive director, said she was hoping that more than the 10 people who dropped by would attend.

But there’ll be two additional meetings with the same content, both from 6-8 p.m.: Thurs., Feb. 25 at the Ypsilanti Senior Center; and Wed., March 3 at Vitosha Guest Haus Inn.

One couple, Larry An and Eileen Ho, dropped by the Tuesday event, even though that wasn’t the reason they were visiting the library. They’d come with their fourth- and six-grade kids, who were looking for their artwork – the lower level of the library is regularly updated with exhibits of art created by students in Ann Arbor’s local schools. [Full Story]

EMU: Union

On the Labor Notes website, Ken Wachsberger writes about an attempt by part-time adjunct lecturers to join Eastern Michigan University’s lecturers’ union: “The university, whose specialty is educating future teachers and whose slogan is ‘Education First,’ has hired a team of high-priced lawyers to break the back of the drive, in part by creating divisions between full-time and part-time lecturers.” [Source]

AAPS Outsourcing: Implicit Nudge from State

Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education study session (Feb. 17, 2010): At their Wednesday session, board trustees reviewed privatization bids, heard updates on the AAPS and state budget proposals and discussed changes to the state retirement system.

Robert Allen AAPS

At the board's study session, Robert Allen, deputy superintendent for operations of AAPS, reported the effect of a state mandate to increase AAPS contributions to the state's public school retirement system – an additional $1 million budget shortfall.

That activity was punctuated with continual references to funding fluctuations at the state level. “There is incredible uncertainty,” stated board president Deb Mexicotte. “Ideas change daily, weekly, hourly.” Even though state-level gyrations may end up changing how the Ann Arbor Public Schools moves forward, she asserted, “We are faced with the facts on the ground, and we have to operate from that position.”

And one of those facts on the ground is a state mandate that has already been put in place. It increases by 2.47% the employer contribution rate to the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System. The mandate adds momentum to the idea of privatization of certain services: If district employees can be replaced with workers who are employed by private contractors, the cost of MPSERS contributions would be saved.

At the study session, trustees also discussed community responses to the district’s budget surveys.

A study session is an opportunity for board members to receive information from AAPS administration, ask questions, and discuss issues in a less formal setting. The public is welcome to attend.

Although only three people spoke during the official public commentary time, a dozen people stayed to ask questions and offer comments throughout the meeting. A trend from the last two BOE regular meetings was continued at the study session – most of the public commentary addressed the negative aspects of privatizing transportation, and custodial/maintenance services. [Full Story]

West Side

A wide ranging three mile walk looking for snow sculptures resulted in finding a castle in progress on Eberwhite (note made of the lintel over the opening), a snow cat on Murray and Liberty (with no mittens), and Olympic Symbolism on 3rd and Liberty. Otherwise, neighborhood streets and parks mostly lacking kids at play creating. Great packing snow just melting.

Ypsi: Schools

Richard Weigel, assistant superintendent at Ypsilanti Public Schools, is being hired as superintendent of the Niles, Mich. school system, located just north of South Bend. From a report in the Niles Daily Star: “There were some concerns about Ypsilanti High School, which is in its sixth year of not meeting state standards, is on its third principal in five years and has only a 70 percent graduation rate. But [trustee Michael] Waldron said through the visit, he concluded Weigel didn’t have much to do with the high school. Waldron also said … ‘Every place he’s been he’s passed a bond.’”[Source]

UM: Toyota reports on Toyota’s ongoing recall crisis, quoting UM business professor Jeff Liker and Gerald Meyers, former CEO of American Motors, who lectures at UM. Says Meyers: “Every crisis management expert will tell you to be transparent. You have to be quick, get the bad news out, get it all out, bury it and move ahead. That’s what every crisis management expert will tell you. But back at the ranch, it’s a lot more difficult than that.” [Source]