Archive for July, 2010

A2: Governor’s Race

The Detroit Free Press reports on a new political advertisement that attacks Republican gubernatorial candidates Rick Snyder, an Ann Arbor businessman, and Pete Hoekstra. The ad first aired on Friday and was created by a group called the Michigan Taxpayer Alert. Snyder’s spokesperson, Jake Susuki, suggested that fellow Republican candidate Mike Cox was behind the ad, but a Cox spokesman denied that charge. The ad links Snyder with pro-choice views on abortion and claims he was investigated and sued while a “high flying executive.” According to the Free Press, the Snyder campaign has responded with its own ad against Cox, calling him a “desperate career politician,” who runs “false negative ads.” [Source]

Liberty & State

At least four firetrucks at Liberty and State. [Also observed by logista: "Fire engines congregate in front of the State Theater."]

Column: Why Not Endorsements?

During my three-year stint as opinion editor at The Ann Arbor News, I grew to dread election season. The dread was due in part to the nastiness that elections often bring out in people – nastiness that typically lies dormant, or is at least well-cloaked by social convention.

Hank Beekley with his team of draft horses – a Belgian and a Shire – disks the field. The hospital building is visible in the background. The view is roughly to the northwest. (Photos by the writer.)

Chronicle file photo of Hank Beekley with his team of draft horses – a Belgian and a Shire – as they disk the field on the St. Joseph Mercy Hospital campus. They were preparing the acreage for gardens that will supply fresh vegetables for the hospital cafeteria and for a farmers market. As non-city residents, neither the Belgian nor the Shire is contesting a city council race this election cycle.

On the upside, elections really make it clear that we live in a democracy. They elicit a spurt of energy and passion from the electorate, as voters cheer on their candidates like racing fans at Northville Downs cheer their horse-racing picks. If enthusiasm among voters for civic affairs were sustained throughout the rest of the year, that would really be something. That’s when we expect the thoroughbreds who win the horse race of the election to transform into draft horses and do the work that matters. But cheers for the draft horse are rare, and it only takes a few days post-election for most residents to lose interest until the next campaign. [Full Story]

Police-Courts Building: Politics of a Veto

Editor’s note: A quote from Leigh Greden in the July 2010 edition of The Ann Arbor Observer about the police-courts building struck The Chronicle as interesting enough to ask Jim Leonard, who wrote The Observer piece, to follow up. At issue is whether mayor John Hieftje was intimidated into not using his mayoral veto to block the police-courts project back in 2007.

Though the new $47 million police-courts building is on schedule to be completed in December, it’s still a major issue in Ann Arbor’s current mayoral campaign.

Challenger Patricia Lesko asserts the project is not just a waste of money; she claims the decision to build it is a prime example of what’s wrong with the current mayor and city council.

“Emails [between council members] came out that show [mayor John Hieftje] was possibly intimidated into withholding his veto by the majority on city council who composed an email saying if you veto this, we will make it so that you can’t get anything passed,” Lesko told The Ann Arbor Observer in a June interview. “It’s like blackmail, right? Extortion? Which is the word we’re using nowadays?”

Hieftje rejected the challenger’s accusation in an Ann Arbor Observer interview shortly afterward. “If you look at the email, you’ll see that it was never sent – at least not to me.”

Leigh Greden, the former councilmember who wrote the 2007 email in question, likewise denied Lesko’s charge that he blackmailed the mayor. “Absolutely not,” Greden wrote in an email to The Observer. “I drafted that email, but the email was never sent to the mayor. The mayor didn’t even know the email existed – and tellingly, it took about a year before the mayor decided to support the project.”

However, a look at the actual email makes it clear that the draft cited by Greden in his recent interview was not of text to be sent by email to the mayor. Instead, it was a draft of talking points for a meeting that Greden wrote should take place between councilmembers and the mayor: “Here’s what I propose. We schedule a mtng with him this week. We say the following: …” [Full Story]

Ypsi: Elections

The political action committee Advance Ypsilanti issued a set of endorsements for the Aug. 3 primary election, though it doesn’t endorse in each race. For mayor, the PAC picks incumbent Paul Schreiber, saying “Schreiber’s leadership has been thoughtful and his relationship building with other cities and townships will continue to help Ypsilanti find its way through the next few years.” [Source]

721 N. Main

Thousands of wheelie bins for single-stream recycling await delivery [photo] (Why blue again?)

A2: Auto Industry

Bloomberg News reports on President Obama’s Friday visit to Detroit-area plants of GM and Chrysler, highlighting the federal bailout of the auto industry. The article quotes Sean McAlinden, economist at the Ann Arbor-based Center for Automotive Research: “We’re not complaining here in Michigan. If they do pay all of their money back, this will be one of the most successful industrial policy interventions in American history.” [Source]

A2: Republicans

Writing on the National Review’s “The Corner,” Jay Nordlinger posts a snippet about Ann Arbor: “We have a reader whose in-laws live there, and fit right in – except for one: who has a button that says, ‘Obama Economics: Trickle-Up Poverty.’ Whoa, mama! Does this dear lady wear it around town? If so, she’ll need Kevlar underneath it. But then, Ann Arbor is anti-gun, so … Maybe she’ll just need the hide of an elephant – the Republican elephant, of course.” [Source]

Ann & Fifth

Fire engines blocking Ann Street between Fourth and Fifth avenues.  [photo]

Fourth & Catherine

Retired long-time Washtenaw County administrator Bob Guenzel’s name is now memorialized on a small plaque at Fourth & Catherine. His friends joke that the plaque simply names the nearby parking lot after Guenzel, perhaps in honor of his decree that it would be open to the public on weekends. Since the plaque is near benches often occupied by what appear to be unkept idlers, it might be seen as honoring Guenzel’s work opening the Delonis Center. [photo] [photo]

Column: The Slow Wheels of Justice

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

The gears of justice grind slowly, but they do grind, and sometimes they actually get their man – or woman, as the case may be.

The sports world saw its share of slow-moving justice this week, from the global to the local.

New York Yankees’ third basemen Alex Rodriguez has already admitted he used steroids, but only after his tests were leaked to the press. He’s still playing, and is now one just home run away from hitting 600. Twenty years ago this would have been big news – but since suspected steroid users Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds crossed that threshold, the luster is lost. About half of those polled said they simply don’t care – and they polled New Yorkers. If they don’t care, why should we?

Rodriguez cheated himself out of his own celebration. Seems about right to me. [Full Story]

In the Archives: Carp-ocalypse

Editor’s note: Faced with evidence that Asian carp have managed to find their way past an electrical barrier, earlier this month Gov. Jennifer Granholm called for aggressive action to prevent the fish from entering the Great Lakes: “In the meantime, we must use every available tool at our disposal to protect the Great Lakes, including closing the locks, expanding eDNA testing and applying additional rotenone as necessary.”

This week, The Chronicle’s local history columnist Laura Bien takes a 40-year look back into the past at the use of rotenone on a local lake – Ford Lake. That body of water received a passing mention in Matt Naud’s environmental indicator column on phosphorus – it involved a 1991 algal bloom.  But back in the early 1970s Ford Lake wasn’t blooming algae, it was blooming fish.

Shoreline of Ford Lake after the fish kill.

In 1973, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources wanted to turn Ypsilanti’s Ford Lake into a fisherman’s paradise. They planned to stock it with muskellunge, rainbow trout, and large- and smallmouth bass.

The only problem was the lake’s population of “rough fish” – mostly the common carp, plus bullheads and suckers. Carp are not native to Michigan. They were introduced in the late 19th century by the era-equivalent of the DNR as a valuable food fish that was cheap to keep on artificial ponds dug on farmers’ land. The farmers’ aquaculture projects inevitably spilled into Michigan waterways.

A century later, the DNR planned to douse Ford Lake with the piscicide rotenone to kill the carp and other rough fish, then whisk the remains into the Ypsilanti Township landfill and restock the pond.

Instead, the project led to a statewide ban on rotenone. [Full Story]

UM: Stem Cells

The Detroit News reports on the potential impact a new governor might have on stem cell research. In 2008, a constitutional amendment was approved by voters to allow stem cell research. Recently, however, the Senate has passed various limitations and regulations on the amendment. Sean Morrison, director of the University of Michigan’s Center for Stem Cell Biology, expressed concern about such opposition from political leaders: “People voted to constitutionally protect this type of research. It would be an open question if we get a governor who is opposed to this, whether the governor and the Legislature could find a way to impede this research.” [Source]

Washtenaw: Primary Elections

The Ann Arbor-based Center for Michigan has posted its voter guide, a searchable database of information about state candidates in the Aug. 3 primary elections. The site also includes video interviews with candidates. Here’s a link to the page for Ann Arbor’s District 53 in the state House of Representatives, a race between Democrats Jeff Irwin and Ned Staebler. [Source]

Employee, Not Volunteer

In a report on the July 27, 2010 information session for potential library board candidates, we incorrectly stated that Lyn Davidge was a former volunteer at the Ann Arbor District Library. In fact, she was employeed by AADL as a substitute librarian for more than 10 years. We note the error here, and have corrected the original article.

Who Wants To Be on the Library Board?

Two potential candidates showed up Tuesday evening at an information session for the Nov. 2 Ann Arbor District Library board elections.

Rebecca Head

Rebecca Head, president of the Ann Arbor District Library board, spoke to a small gathering on Tuesday during an information session for potential board candidates. (Photos by the writer.)

Lyn Davidge and Greg Andrade say they haven’t yet decided whether to run, but they’re considering it. Four seats will be on the Nov. 2 ballot: three four-year terms and one two-year term. The four board members whose terms expire at the end of 2010 – Jan Barney Newman, Barbara Murphy, Carola Stearns and Ed Surovell – haven’t yet declared their intent to seek re-election.

The filing deadline for the AADL board candidates is 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 10. The positions are nonpartisan. To file, candidates must turn in an affidavit of identity to the Washtenaw County clerk’s office, along with a $100 non-refundable filing fee or a minimum of 40 valid signatures. [More details on the filing process are available on the clerk's website.]

At Tuesday’s event, board officers Rebecca Head, Prue Rosenthal and Margaret Leary spoke about the roles and responsibilities of the job. Stearns also attended, as did AADL director Josie Parker, and two associate directors – Ken Nieman and Eli Neiburger. [Full Story]

Farmers Market

The globe of a streetlight is resting on the sidewalk along Fourth Avenue, next to its decapitated pole. Hit by the storm?

Column: Free to Love Craigslist

Jo Mathis

Jo Mathis

[Editor's note: Jo Mathis was a columnist and reporter for The Ann Arbor News until it closed in July 2009.]

Many factors led to the shutdown of The Ann Arbor News one year ago, and most begin with a capital I.

Because of the Internet, Google became a verb that allowed instant, round-the-clock information, much of which was provided free of charge by newspapers that nonetheless expected people to continue paying for the print version.

Because of the Internet, there are endless ways to fill free time, which meant the daily newspaper became less and less a necessary part of people’s routine.

Because of the Internet, advertisers – by far our main source of income – could reach more targeted audiences at a much lower cost. (A snippy subscriber once said the only reason she got the paper was for the Meijer ads. I wanted to ask, “Haven’t you heard of”)

And because of the Internet, a nerd named Craig Newmark was able to start a little thing called Craigslist, which put a deadly dagger into classified sections everywhere. [Full Story]

A2: Japan

The Ann Arbor Area Convention & Visitors Bureau has launched a website in Japanese, aimed at Japanese visitors to the Ann Arbor area. From a bureau press release: “The micro-site ( was developed by AAACVB Staff and Sunrizing, LLC to help increase the Ann Arbor area’s visibility to 90 million Internet users in Japan, and 374,000 Japanese residents in the US. The Washtenaw region alone has fourteen Japanese companies, including American Honda, Dexter Fastener, Horiba Instruments, and the Toyota Technical Center.” [Source]

Ann & Zina Pitcher

UM alert reports a gas leak about 11 a.m. near the medical science complex. “Avoid area until mid-afternoon.” [link]

UM: Obesity

NPR reports on research that childhood obesity may correlate to worsened economic and social status later in life. The report is based on new research by Phillippa Clarke, a UM epidemiologist, who found that people who’ve been consistently overweight since high school have a greater chance of being single, unemployed, and on welfare. While her study did not explain why, Clarke reasons that discrimination as children would lead overweight people to lose self-esteem and thus have lower expectations and ambitions later in life. [Source]

Ypsi: Schools

The NBC affiliate Click on Detroit reports that Ypsilanti will open a “New Tech” high school in the fall, creating a computer-based educational experience. Each student will be given a laptop to use in focusing on collaboration and long-term projects, including ones with local businesses. Carl McAllister, a student at the school, is especially excited by the independence associated with the school, while school official Cory McElmeel says, “We’re not only teaching the content but we’re teaching them how to have good work ethic. We’re teaching them how to be good collaborators and good time managers. All of those things are instructed and assessed at New Tech.” [Source]

Seniors Host Ann Arbor Mayoral Forum

In his introductory remarks, Bill Kinley joked that this was the first mayoral debate – and possibly the last ever – held at University Commons, a condominium community for people over 55 that was founded by University of Michigan faculty. They’d have to see how it turned out, he said.

Bill Kinley

Bill Kinley moderated a mayoral debate at University Commons on Monday between incumbent John Hieftje and challenger Patricia Lesko.

Kinley, a University Commons resident and local developer, moderated Monday’s event, which drew about 50 people to listen as incumbent mayor John Hieftje and challenger Patricia Lesko answered questions for an hour on a range of topics, from Argo Dam and Fuller Road Station to the city budget and possible income tax.

It’s the latest in a series of exchanges between the two candidates, as the Democrats head into next week’s Aug. 3 primary election. [See Chronicle coverage: "Ann Arbor Forums: The More, The Mayor-ier" and "Ann Arbor Dems Primary: Mayoral Race."]

After introducing the candidates, Kinley cautioned that the residents there are “a group of wordy people.” They know that “platform” and “platitude” derive from the French word “plat,” he said, “so if you can keep platitudes to a minimum, you’ll find the reception here is much more responsive.”

Each candidate was given two minutes to answer the question. The first person who answered was also given the option of an additional one minute response. Questions had been developed by Kinley and the program committee for University Commons. [Full Story]

UM: Game Camp

The Detroit News reports on a one-week computer design camp in Ann Arbor run by iD Tech. The camp, sponsored by the University of Michigan, is open for ages 7-17, though 3-D design classes – which includes games that tend to be undeniably more violent – are restricted to those 13 and older. Finn Haverkamp, lead instructor of the camp, emphasizes writing as the first step to the game design process. Micki Woodford, the camp director, similarly stressed the connection, saying, “Every camper has to submit a storyline in writing before we start making characters.” The last session, which begins next Sunday, still has openings. [Source]

A2: Governor’s Race

The Detroit Free Press reports that Bill Ford Jr., chairman of Ford Motor Co., will endorse Rick Snyder in an upcoming political advertisement. Snyder, an Ann Arbor businessman, is running as a Republican in the gubernatorial primaries. Ford praises Snyder in the ad: “Rick will look to the future and reinvent Michigan. We need his leadership.” [Source]

Packard & Hill

Fire truck and police car on the scene, with personnel treating what looked to be an injured bicyclist.

Art Fairs: Accessible from a Teeter Totter


[Editor's Note: HD, a.k.a. Dave Askins, editor of The Ann Arbor Chronicle, is also publisher of an online series of interviews on a teeter totter. Introductions to new Teeter Talks appear on The Chronicle.]

Brian Kerr, who is sitting on the end of a teeter totter. The view is down the board.

Brian Kerr

Nine months have now passed between views of the world from the end of a teeter totter. This most recent view down the board was of Brian Kerr. One way I know Brian is as a downtown pedestrian who strolls hatless down the sidewalk, even in bitterly cold weather, and who must be admonished as you bicycle past: “Put on a hat, it’s cold out here!”

The chosen venue of our teeter totter ride was the middle of the intersection of Main and Liberty streets last Saturday morning, the last day of the Ann Arbor art fairs. We compromised on our chosen venue somewhat by moving to the edge of the intersection, to accommodate concerns of art fair staff.

It was a small concession to make – we’d already dealt with the disappointment of being denied access to the bottom of the pit being dug for the underground parking garage along Fifth Avenue, just to the northeast. Construction sites can’t reasonably be expected to be made accessible to random members of the general public – patrons of the arts, teeter totter riders, wheelchair users, the blind. That makes construction sites somewhat different from websites.

Under the Section 508 amendment of the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973, federal agencies are required to make their websites accessible to people with disabilities. It’s a different piece of legislation from the Americans with Disabilities Act, which just recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. But Section 508 is to websites what the ADA is to buildings – the idea is to make things accessible to disabled people.

Kerr works for a company called Deque, which specializes in helping to make websites work well for hearing- and visually-impaired people.

Here’s a simple example. Visually impaired people sometimes use a screen-reader to get information from a website – it’s a software program that tries to interpret the page using text-to-speech technology. If there’s a picture on a page, say of a guy sitting on teeter totter, then what the screen reader interprets – and what the visually-impaired person hears – is just an indication that there’s an image. If the author of the page supplies some description in the “behind the scenes” coding, the visually-impaired person might hear: “Brian Kerr, who is sitting on the end of a teeter totter. The view is down the board.”

Like librarian Metta Landsdale, Kerr has a professional interest in making information accessible to people. And like Lou Rosenfeld, Kerr is a product of the master’s degree program at the University of Michigan School of Information. And like Brandon Zwagerman, Kerr was one of a group of co-founders of ArborUpdate, a now-defunct local news and discussion website.

But there’s something else that Kerr has in common with Landsdale, Rosenfeld and Zwagerman. [Full Story]

Two Dam Options for Argo

Ann Arbor Park Advisory Commission meeting (July 20, 2010): At their July meeting, park commissioners received updates on two projects that have drawn a fair amount of controversy: Argo Dam, and the Fuller Road Station.

Piezometers at Argo Dam

Looking down from the Argo Dam embankment, toward the Huron River. The blue metal casings hold piezometers to measure water pressures in the earthen berm. (Photos by the writer.)

First up was Argo, and city staff outlined details of a consent agreement signed with state regulators in May, which identifies steps the city must take to deal with safety issues at the dam. The city will be pursuing two options: getting bids to repair the toe drains on the dam’s earthen embankment; and issuing a request for proposals (RFP) for an entire embankment reconstruction. Ultimately, city council will choose between the options, based in part on a recommendation from PAC.

During public commentary, two speakers affiliated with the Huron River Watershed Council urged commissioners also to recommend  getting a bid for an additional option – removal of the dam. And during a discussion after the staff presentation, commissioner Tim Berla called out the city council for not taking a vote on the dam-in/dam-out question. He said that by not voting, the council essentially made a back-door decision not to remove the dam. From an accountability standpoint, he said, a vote should be taken.

Commissioners were also updated on Fuller Road Station, a large parking structure and transit center – and possibly a train station eventually – proposed to be built on city land that’s designated as parkland. The joint project by the city and the University of Michigan was the subject of a resolution that PAC passed at its June 15 meeting, asking city council for more transparency in the process and to ensure the project results in a net revenue gain for the parks system. During the July 20 presentation at PAC, initial designs were presented and potential funding sources were discussed. Eli Cooper, the city’s transportation program manager, also told commissioners that Greyhound, which had initially expressed interest in the station, has now backed off – at this point, it doesn’t appear the bus company will use that site.

Later in the meeting, commissioner Dave Barrett gave an update on work that he and Berla are doing to assess the condition of the city’s ballfields. Some fields are in really bad shape, he reported. “It’s fair to say we have some work to do.” [Full Story]

A2: Activism

On his blog “there is no gap,” Karl Pohrt writes about the recent U.S. Social Forum: “I drove into Detroit … with Jon Swanson, who was leading a workshop on the history of Gaza, and Don Watanabe, an activist from the south side of Chicago. We parked in a nearly deserted lot on top of Cobo Hall for the shockingly low price of $5 a day. Cobo was filled with people, especially young people and people of color. The place looked like a hip United Nations. The registration line moved in stops and starts, but no one seemed to mind. People were energized by being in the presence of so many other activists who shared their political commitments.” [Source]