Column: Comments, Complaints, Condiments

Tomatoes go on sandwiches even if you hate 'em.

You say “tomato” …  I say they’re gross.


#4 Zingerman's Sandwich – the Dinty Moore: Corned beef, lettuce, tomato, Russian dressing on rye bread.

But it is a fact of life that others have deemed tomatoes to be a tasty treat. They’re included in various standard salads, soups, sauces and sandwiches. Take a sandwich from Zingerman’s Deli, for example, the Dinty Moore (#4):  Corned beef, lettuce, tomato, Russian dressing on rye bread.

I’m almost certain that a sandwich artist properly trained in the culture of Zingerman’s customer service would enthusiastically build me a tomato-less Dinty Moore.

But I do not want to be served such a sandwich.

I want that sandwich served to me the way the sandwich designer conceived it – with a tomato. I can then alter the sandwich to suit my individual taste by manually removing the tomato.

Why not just order a tomato-less sandwich and avoid the tomato traces that are inevitably left behind, no matter how aggressively the corned beef is blotted with a napkin? Because I want the option – up until the very last possible moment – of leaving the tomato on the sandwich, or restoring the tomato to its proper place atop the beef.

Those trace tomato flavors on my sandwich remind me that I still, apparently, dislike tomatoes. But maybe someday, it’ll occur to me that, Wow, that tastes terrific, I should put that tomato slice back on the sandwich!!

I’d like our readers to think of the public commentary we include in The Ann Arbor Chronicle’s meeting reports the same way I think of tomatoes. We include the public commentary, just in case you decide that you’d like to have a bite.

So let’s go back a year ago, to a tomato still preserved in The Chronicle’s archives as fresh as the day resident Jim Mogensen picked it. He was talking about video recording equipment to be installed in Ann Arbor police cars.

And yes, I’m going find a way, by the end of this column, to connect video recording equipment in police cars to Zingerman’s sandwiches.

June 2009

Back on June 15, 2009, the Ann Arbor city council was in the middle of approving a master plan for downtown and considering the matter-of-right version of City Place, a controversial development proposed on South Fifth Avenue. Less prominent on the same night’s agenda was an item to apply for, accept, approve and appropriate the 2009 Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant from the U.S. Department of Justice.

If Jim Mogensen had made no remarks at the public hearing on that U.S. Department of Justice grant, the topic would have likely received no mention at the meeting at all, and would have likely not received any mention in The Ann Arbor Chronicle, either.

But Mogensen did rise to speak, and here’s how The Chronicle’s report summarized his remarks made at that June 15, 2009 Ann Arbor city council meeting [emphasis added]:

Jim Mogensen: During the public hearing on a Department of Justice grant, Mogensen noted that every year the Department of Justice appropriates grants. He encouraged councilmembers to ask the question, “So what strings are attached?” He observed that last year’s grants were used to purchase bicycles and shotguns. This year he said, it’s digital video recorders to be installed in patrol cars with the provision of up to 30-50 terabytes of storage. The grant also provided for mobile license plate readers, he said, at a cost of $20,000 apiece. He suggested reflection on the probability that all of this information would be collected, including face recognition software together with the driver license photos, so that one could imagine a protest taking place at the Federal Building and being able to identify people participating in the protest.

The Department of Justice grant was for law enforcement policing equipment and technology for Ann Arbor police department’s Patrol Division. The $168,158 grant award requires no matching funds.

Digital video recorders in Ann Arbor police cars? Who knew? I think Mogensen was right to raise the question – one can imagine worst-case scenarios for inappropriate use of technology. And it was also worth raising the question of what, if any, strings are attached by the U.S. Department of Justice.

By raising those questions, Mogensen at least seared into my memory the fact that yes, Ann Arbor police cars would be equipped with video recording devices with a substantial amount of storage.

Fast Forward to July 2010

So when I recently received some correspondence from a Chronicle reader expressing her surprise that Ann Arbor patrol cars are video equipped, my reaction was, “Oh, yes, I remember Mogensen talked about that at a city council meeting.”

How did that reader find out about the video cameras? She had sent the following complaint to the AAPD:

Dear A2 police,

This evening I happened to take the same exit from westbound I-94 as police car [car number]. On my way to the Saline Road Meijers, I remained behind [car number] until it swerved to drive with one set of wheels 3 feet over a double yellow line for about 50 feet, then further drifted to being between two sets of double yellow lines, then turned from that position back onto I-94. If it hadn’t been a police car, I might have thought it was a drunk driver. I saw three turns (that last one would have been quite illegal for us civilians) and two very drifty lane changes, all without the use of turn signals. Besides being a bad example for the teens in the car, this kind of driving bothers me because my teens will soon be out driving on their own. Police officers should not feel compelled to provide young drivers with unnecessary unpredictability: especially at dusk.

I am sure it is boring to drive up and down the freeway as [car number] evidently was assigned Sunday night, and most of us experienced drivers know to look out for erratic moves by the police as they respond to calls. But as far as I could tell, there was nothing of an emergency nature going on.

I’d like you to remind your officers that it makes things safer for the rest of us when they acknowledge other drivers and drive responsibly.

Thank you,
Ann Arbor Taxpayer

The response sent by the AAPD supervisor indicates that he used the stored images from the in-car video camera to verify the Ann Arbor taxpayer’s account [emphasis added]:


I appreciate you taking the time to inform me of the inappropriate driving practice that you and your teenagers had to witness. It is fortunate that the majority of our patrol vehicles have in-car video. Therefore, armed with your valuable and very accurate information, I was quickly able to retrieve the alleged incident. Upon reviewing the video, it clearly showed the officer driving in a manner that is questionable to say the least. I have identified the person responsible in this incident and they will receive verbal counseling and the matter will be documented in the evaluation file. I apologize for this officer’s behavior and thank you for bringing this matter to their and our attention.

Lt. Myron D. Blackwell
Ann Arbor Police Department
Midnight Command Supervisor

Blackwell’s response reads like a textbook example of how to handle a complaint. Here’s how I’d break down the response:

  1. He acknowledges the complaint by sending a response with a confirmation of the facts: “Upon reviewing the video, it clearly showed the officer driving in a manner that is questionable to say the least.”
  2. He apologizes: “I apologize for this officer’s behavior …”
  3. He indicates that he’s taking action: “… the person responsible in this incident and they will receive verbal counseling  …”
  4. He thanks the person who complained: “I appreciate you taking the time [...] and thank you for bringing this matter to their and our attention.”
  5. He indicates the complaint will be documented: “[...] and the matter will be documented in the evaluation file.”

Back to Zingerman’s

Which brings us back to Zingerman’s sandwiches. The five aspects I’ve analyzed in Lt. Blackwell’s response are exactly the five steps Zingerman’s advocates in its customer service training for how to handle a customer complaint:

1. Acknowledge
2. Sincerely apologize
3. Take action to make things right
4. Thank the guest
5. Document the complaint

In sum, leave the sandwich making to professionals – if they think a tomato should go on it, just take it as served. You might decide you want a bite after all. Or if you’re like me, you might be dining with a partner who likes tomatoes and will ask every single time, even though she knows the answer, “Can I have your tomato?”

So I’d ask readers to think of the public commentary included in The Chronicle’s meeting reports as just part of The Chronicle’s sandwich – you don’t have to eat every bit. But once it’s there in front of you, you might decide to give it a taste. Or pass it along to your dining companion.

Dave Askins is editor of The Ann Arbor Chronicle.


  1. July 22, 2010 at 10:01 am | permalink

    I find the public commentary part of your reports to be very helpful. Often people have put a lot of thought into an argument that they want to present and this offers a way to make the material facts and perspectives they have added available to us all.

    I don’t care for raw tomatoes, but I take them on my sandwich so I can pass them on to my husband, who is a confirmed tomato eater. So it gives me something to share.

  2. By dave hutchinson
    July 22, 2010 at 10:15 am | permalink

    I absolutely love the incredible detail you give, including the public commentary. That is what separates your publication from all others. Keep it up and thanks for doing so.

  3. By Steve T
    July 22, 2010 at 1:09 pm | permalink

    Having grown up in a neighborhood where we didn’t believe that the police were our friends, I’m often surprised at the number of people who automatically assume that it’s so. I had occasion to work closely with police officers for 20 years and found that some of them were among the finest people I ever met. Conscientuous, hard working and, when necessary, courageous. I also unfortunately came in contact with thugs, cowboys and losers wearing badges. I commend this citizen, police official and The Chronicle in hopefully hastening this officer to the market bag boy job he should be occupying.

  4. By cosmonıcan
    July 22, 2010 at 1:30 pm | permalink

    Hey! Be cool with the bag boys!

    Let him be an oil or stock company exec, someone worth loathing.

  5. By Rod Johnson
    July 22, 2010 at 2:24 pm | permalink

    Come on, give the guy a break. Maybe he was drunk, did you ever think of that? Do you have any idea how hard it is to drive when you’re drunk?

  6. July 22, 2010 at 2:46 pm | permalink

    If only the cop had been driving erratically due to removing tomatoes from his Zingerman’s Dinty Moore.

  7. July 22, 2010 at 3:01 pm | permalink

    This is moving so fast I can’t ketchup.

  8. By David
    July 22, 2010 at 4:33 pm | permalink

    Why do you think someone at Zingerman’s is superior to you in determining the kind of sandwich you like to eat? I tell them to leave something out or add something in if the item is not what I want. As painful as it can be at times, I always have to tell a server at least twice (until they get to know me) not to toast the bread on my BLT.

  9. By Rod Johnson
    July 22, 2010 at 5:15 pm | permalink

    That’s because a BLT on untoasted bread is wrong.

  10. By David
    July 22, 2010 at 9:02 pm | permalink

    “That’s because a BLT on untoasted bread is wrong” LOL, that is probably what Zingerman sandwich designers think about their sandwiches minus the tomatoe slices.

  11. By Sandra
    July 23, 2010 at 1:49 am | permalink

    One can always order the tomato on the side, therefore retaining the option and shareablility of the of tomato without tainting the deliciousness of the meal with the hard to scrape off the taste and little seeds of the terrible fruit.

    And the T in BLT can happily stand for Toasted instead of Tomato.

    Public commentary is good, tomatoes are evil.

  12. By Leah Gunn
    July 23, 2010 at 9:05 am | permalink

    Loved seeing the word “tomatoe” – reminded me of Dan Quayle! Thank you for a laugh.

  13. By David
    July 23, 2010 at 9:33 pm | permalink

    you are welcome