Archive for September, 2010

UM: Research Sabotage

Nature magazine publishes an in-depth report on how a UM graduate student’s research was systematically sabotaged over several months by another lab researcher, who eventually pled guilty to malicious destruction of personal property. “There are few firm numbers showing the prevalence of research sabotage, but conversations with graduate students, postdocs and research-misconduct experts suggest that such misdeeds occur elsewhere, and that most go unreported or unpoliced. In this case, the episode set back research, wasted potentially tens of thousands of dollars and terrorized a young student.” [Source]

Washington & Division

The old, hulking, charmingly inky Ann Arbor News press is being dismantled, filling up a huge dumpster outside the loading dock. Workers say it’ll take about a month or more to finish. “These weren’t built to be removed.” Farewell, old friend. [photo] [photo]

A2: Attorney

The Legal News profiles Kurt Berggren, an Ann Arbor civil rights attorney who recently retired after nearly 50 years in the profession. The article recounts his work in a 1980s class action lawsuit involving discrimination against female prison guards. The case resulted in a multimillion-dollar payout to the women. Says Berggren: The culture of Michigan’s system of incarceration is so screwed up. What they tried to do to these female guards was to make it so bad that they would quit their jobs and leave the system. Horrible things were done to them, all kinds of harassment and intimidation.” [Source]

Column: Upholding the Open Meetings Act

On Friday, Sept. 17, 2010, The Ann Arbor Chronicle filed suit against the city of Ann Arbor alleging that a violation of the Michigan Open Meetings Act occurred on July 19. The allegations are based in part on remarks made by councilmember Stephen Rapundalo during open session of the Aug. 5 city council meeting – remarks that referred to the July 19 closed session. The subject of both the open and closed session discussions was medical marijuana.

We don’t take this decision lightly, and in this column we lay out the circumstances that led us to file this lawsuit. Our decision was prompted by more than this one clear violation. More broadly, we’re concerned about a culture of closed city government that goes beyond a laxity about conformance with the state’s Open Meetings Act and Freedom of Information Act.

This culture isn’t uniform – many city staff and elected officials are committed to doing the public’s work in public view. However, the prevailing culture is one of closed government – in which city officials assume that they can do their work in a way that’s shielded from public view. It’s a culture we’ve observed in the thousands of hours we’ve spent covering city council and other city commissions and committees over the past two years.

We believe the culture of closed government that exists in the city of Ann Arbor will not change until a lawsuit is filed and won – and that’s why we’ve chosen to litigate.

We’re being represented by East Lansing attorney Jeffrey Hank of Hank Law PLLC, who also believes this is an important case: “Open and transparent government is important for a multitude of reasons. In this case, advocating for open government on behalf of a citizen-based news organization, which is covering the reawakening of our liberty as it relates to marijuana prohibition in one of Michigan’s greatest intellectual cities, is as American as apple pie. This case is the perfect nexus of what our society needs to reinvigorate our democratic spirit.” [Full Story]

Fountain & Robin

A tidy row of leaves in the street, conscientiously raked away from the stormwater channel in the gutter.  The neighboring house has another row of leaves, though the storm sewer opening is already clogged.

UM: Research Funding

Crain’s Detroit Business reports that UM was ranked first in the nation for research spending among public universities in the 2008-09 academic year. Between both public and private universities, UM came in a close second only to Johns Hopkins. While UM spent $1.01 billion – the first time they have crossed into the billions – Johns Hopkins spent $1.86 billion. According to the report, UM received the most federal aid of any public university, at $636.2 million. Stephen Forrest, UM’s vice president for research, said, “We’re on a roll and we expect it to continue.” [Source]

Ypsi: Beautiful Name

The Monkey Man blog riffs on recent news about an attempted robbery at a pizzeria in Ypsilanti Township – the would-be robber was a parolee wearing an electronic tether. The blogger, who lives in the Pacific Northwest, also writes: “Thanks so much to the forefathers who named towns and counties in Michigan. I just love the way Ypsilanti rolls off the tongue. I could say it for hours and never get bored. Ypsilanti. Ypsilanti. Ypsilanti. And Washtenaw! There’s another beauty.” [Source]

UM: MSA President

CNN has picked up the story about the “Chris Armstrong Watch,” a blog by Michigan assistant attorney general Andrew Shirvell, who has been aggressively critical of Chris Armstrong, the openly gay president of UM’s Michigan Student Assembly. The article notes that among other things, Shirvell has protested outside of Armstrong’s house and called him “Satan’s representative on the student assembly.” The issue emerged at the Sept. 16, 2010 UM regents meeting, when board chair Julia Darlow read a statement of support for members of the university who come under attack for their identity.  [Source]

Fifth & Detroit

Three bikes, chained to lightpole, signpost and Disney-esque direction kiosk. “Art” bike rack remains unmolested by use. [photo]

S. University

In front of Starbucks on South University, about 3 p.m.:  two bikes chained to a light pole; 20 paces away, two “ART” bike racks, unused.

A2: Crafts

On her Refashionology blog, Ann Arbor resident Kathleen gives detailed instructions on how to make a felted scarf using the shapes and colors of autumn leaves: “This was a perfect project for using up scraps, since you want your leaves to be various colors. If you don’t have felted sweaters to use for this purpose, you could use purchased felt or fleece in various fall leaf colors. I really like the texture that the felted wool sweaters have.” [Source]

Potential Bidders Eye Huron Hills Golf

About a dozen people attended Monday afternoon’s pre-bid meeting for those interested in responding to the city of Ann Arbor’s request for proposals (RFP) seeking a public/private partnership for the Huron Hills Golf Course.

Doug Davis, Doug Hellman

Doug Davis of Miles of Golf, left, and Doug Hellman of KemperSports were two of about a dozen people who attended Monday's pre-bid meeting for the Huron Hills Golf Course RFP. (Photo by the writer.)

Anyone who plans to submit a response to the RFP was required to attend the meeting, which lasted 30 minutes and was followed by a field trip to tour the course. Among those attending were Doug Davis and Chris Mile of Miles of Golf, Doug Hellman of KemperSports, Joe Spatafore of Royal Oak Golf Management, and William Arlinghaus of Greenscape.

Also attending were several citizens who have publicly opposed the RFP process, including Ted Annis, Nancy Kaplan, Myra Larson and Paul Bancel. Some are involved in the citizens group Ann Arbor for Parkland Preservation (A2P2).

The meeting, led by city parks manager Colin Smith, was a chance for potential bidders to ask questions or request additional information. The deadline to submit proposals is Oct. 29. [.pdf file of Huron Hills RFP] [Full Story]

Packard near Granger

About 5:30 p.m. and Packard is a parking lot, with near gridlock at intersections. A squirrel nevertheless crosses by leaping across tree branches that extend over the road.

Varsity Drive

4401 Varsity Drive: Scream 4 props on sale in the back of building from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. for the rest of the week.

AAPS Search Firm Choice: Down to Two

Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education search firm interviews (Sept. 22, 2010): The Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS) school board has narrowed its short list of potential consultants to help with its superintendent search to two firms: Ray & Associates Inc. of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and McPherson & Jacobson LLC of Omaha, Nebraska. Both firms have significant expertise in conducting national superintendent searches.

During a seven-hour meeting held at the Balas Administration Building, the board discussed selection criteria, set their interview process, interviewed five firms, and decided to check the references of two of them. A theme that emerged throughout the day was the challenge of conducting a search in an “open state” such as Michigan, where candidates’ names will be made public early in the process as a requirement of the Open Meetings Act.

The board is expected to make a final selection at its regular board meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 29. The search firm will be seeking a replacement for outgoing superintendent Todd Roberts, who announced his departure in mid-August. AAPS deputy superintendent Robert Allen was recently selected to serve as interim superintendent when Roberts leaves within the next two weeks. [Full Story]

Fuller Road Station Plan Gets Green Light

Ann Arbor Planning Commission meeting (Sept. 21, 2010): In a marathon meeting that lasted past midnight, the planning commission handled two major projects: Site plan approval for Fuller Road Station, and a medical marijuana zoning ordinance.

Rita Mitchell

Rita Mitchell and Peter Zetlin talk during a break at the Sept. 21 Ann Arbor planning commission meeting. Both spoke against the proposed Fuller Road Station during a public hearing on the site plan. (Photos by the writer.)

City council chambers were packed with people wanting to address the commission on those two issues, which were the final two items on the night’s agenda.

Before getting to those, commissioners dealt with several lower-profile items. One was a request by the owners of Arbor Dog Daycare asking for permission to expand their business. A neighbor came to oppose it, saying “to expand the operation means more barking.” The commission voted on it twice – an initial vote, then a reconsideration at the end of the meeting at the request of commissioner Evan Pratt, who arrived late and missed the first vote. In both cases, the project failed to get the necessary six votes for approval.

The commission also approved the site plan for a Lake Trust Credit Union branch at the southeast corner of West Stadium and Liberty, despite some concerns about tearing down the existing building.

Later in the meeting – after three hours of staff presentations, a public hearing and commissioner deliberations – Fuller Road Station’s site plan did win approval, with two commissioners dissenting. The project will now move to city council for a vote.

And the final public hearing of the night – on zoning changes that would regulate dispensaries and “home occupations” for medical marijuana – drew 15 speakers. All of them, to varying degrees, urged commissioners not to restrict safe access to medical marijuana. The planning staff had recommended postponement, and commissioners followed that advice. They voted unanimously to postpone action on the proposal, allowing time to incorporate feedback heard during the meeting’s public hearing. The commission is expected to take up the issue again at its Oct. 5 meeting. [Full Story]

UM: Oil Spill

Bloomberg Businessweek reports that Halliburton continues to defend its cement work on the oil rig that caused the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Halliburton executive Thomas Roth, at a hearing in Washington last week, blamed BP, saying that “BP’s well design and operational decisions compromised well integrity.” UM engineering professor and former navy secretary Donald Winter is chairing the National Academies hearing on the issue, and questioned why Halliburton proceeded if they perceived the well design to be bad: “Why didn’t you pull the red cord?” [Source]

AATA Approves Budget, UM Agreement

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (Sept. 16, 2010): After failing to achieve a quorum last month, this month the AATA board hit enough of the right figurative buttons to transact successfully the month’s business.

David Nacht with microphone.

AATA board member David Nacht presses his microphone button. (Photos by the writer.)

That business included the approval of its fiscal year 2011 budget, which starts Oct. 1, 2010 and goes through Sept. 30, 2011. The FY 2011 budget calls for a total of $27,030,407 in expenses, among them a provision for a 2% merit-based increase in non-union staff compensation, with an additional 1% bonus pool for the organization’s top performers.

The board also approved another five-year MRide agreement with the University of Michigan to provide transportation for UM faculty, students and staff. Under the agreement, which runs from 2010-2015, UM affiliates will continue to board without paying a fare, with UM paying the AATA $1 per boarding.

When added to the per-boarding payment, $800,000-$900,000 of federal funds – received by UM and included as part of the MRide deal – will result in an estimated $2.37 million payment by UM to the AATA in FY 2011, the first year of the new agreement.

The board also voted to award a three-year contract to RideConnect – a partnership of WATS, Washtenaw County, WAVE and People’s Express – valued at $200,000 per year. The contract will be paid by federal and state funds designated specifically to aid the coordination between public transit and human services transportation needs.

The board’s meeting also included, for the first time, literal buttons. The board convened a meeting for the first time at its new meeting location – the Ann Arbor District Library’s board room – which is equipped with video recording equipment, including buttons used by meeting participants to turn their microphones on and off.

And some remarks by a public speaker pushed the wrong button for David Nacht, who responded to the speaker’s remarks by saying that attitudes reflecting age-based discrimination were not appropriate. [Full Story]

WCC: Bed Bugs

An article in the Washtenaw Voice takes a look at whether bed bugs are biting in Washtenaw County, noting that Detroit is the third most infested city in the country. The article quotes Jeff Spencer, vice president of Griffin Pest Solutions in Dexter: “It’s just a matter of time. It’s going to happen here at Washtenaw Community College.” [Source]

Column: Book Fare

Steven Gillis got lucky. Twice.

In the 1980s he was practicing labor law with a big firm in Washington, D.C., and writing in his spare time. The stock market was booming.

Steve Gillis

Steven Gillis, in his home office on Ann Arbor's east side. Gillis is founder of Dzanc Books as well as the nonprofit 826 Michigan, which are both based in Ann Arbor. His latest novel, "The Consequence of Skating," came out last week. (Photo by Mary Morgan)

“I started making some money and I got people to invest it for me – I’m smart enough to know I didn’t know how to invest it,” Gillis says.

“And I got lucky.”

As his writing started to take off, Gillis decided to practice law part time and devote more time to his fiction. A Detroit native and University of Michigan alum, he decided to move back to Michigan and settled in Ann Arbor. His first novel, “Walter Falls,” published by Brook Street Press in 2003, was well-received by critics and a finalist for a pair of literary awards. (Brook Street would publish his second novel, “The Weight of Nothing,” in 2005.) And he founded 826 Michigan, a nonprofit aimed at encouraging young people to develop their creative writing talents.

And then, in early 2005, he met up with Dan Wickett, who, like Gillis, was a regular at Shaman Drum Bookshop and at other local readings. And Gillis got lucky again. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Porches: Couch-Free

Ann Arbor City Council meeting (Sept. 20, 2010): On a unanimous vote at its Monday night meeting, the council approved a ban on placement of upholstered furniture in outdoor locations, if that furniture is not designed for outdoor use.


Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), standing, shares a moment with Kim LeMasters, mother of Renden LeMasters, who died in an April 2010 fire on South State Street in Ann Arbor. Taylor sponsored the city ordinance to ban couches on porches – a contributing factor in the fire that killed LeMasters. (Photo by the writer.)

The case for the change in the city’s code was based primarily on the fire hazard posed by outdoor couches as compared to indoor couches – increased oxygen supply outdoors, coupled with decreased ability of indoor occupants to detect outdoor fires.

The council chambers were filled with friends and family of Renden LeMasters, who died in an April 2010 fire on South State Street. Though that blaze did not start in upholstered furniture, a porch couch was analyzed by city fire officials as contributing to that fire by helping to spread flames from a waste container to the house itself.

University of Michigan students opposed certain aspects of the proposed enforcement mechanism, and after the vote reminded the council that the measure they’d enacted that evening was one part of a large piece of work yet to be done on ensuring safety of off-campus student rental housing in the city.

The council also approved the creation of a task force that will work for the next six months to identify cost-effective ways to achieve better enforcement of the city’s ordinance against panhandling, and to provide help to panhandlers who are addicted to drugs. The idea is to build on the knowledge gained from the work of a previous task force that had been formed in 2001 and continued through 2003.

Several people addressed the council in support of a resolution, added to the agenda on Monday, which reaffirmed community support for religious freedom, in the wake of increased anti-Muslim rhetoric and violence. The resolution required some modification to gain support of all councilmembers – Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) was dissatisfied with the singling out of Muslims in the language of the resolution – but in the end, it passed unanimously.

Some councilmembers made clear on Monday night that they saw the vote as a reaffirmation of the council’s previous 2004 resolution, which condemned the demonstrations against U.S. support of Israel that had then begun each Saturday outside the Beth Israel synagogue on Washtenaw Avenue – and continue to the present.

The meeting was also notable in that no action was taken to reconsider the Heritage Row project. Betsy de Parry, wife of developer Alex de Parry, attended on his behalf and expressed her disappointment that the council had not seen fit to bring back the project for reconsideration that evening, reviewing many of the same points of discussion at the previous evening’s caucus. [Full Story]

DDA: Dogged Enough for Development?

At a three-hour retreat Wednesday morning, the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board met to discuss ongoing negotiations about the city-DDA parking agreement. The DDA manages the city’s parking system under an agreement last amended in 2005, which provides for a total payment of $10 million in rent through 2015. This May, the DDA agreed to make an additional $2 million not required by that contract.


During the retreat, DDA board members marked up a poster-sized version of the DDA enabling legislation using a pink highlighter, undeniably a funky color. (Photo by the writer.)

Wednesday morning’s retreat was meant to focus on the role of the DDA in future development of the downtown area and the role of the DDA in parking enforcement.

The outcome of the retreat was essentially that the DDA is interested in cleaning up various aspects of the parking agreement language, but not in pursuing a role for the DDA in the enforcement of parking regulations. Further, greater support was expressed for the DDA as a facilitator of process, rather than as a driver of development through land acquisition and sale. [Full Story]

UM: Great Lakes

Crain’s Detroit Business reports that UM, along with Michigan State University, is launching an ambitious project to study the effect of climate change on the Great Lakes. The universities received a $4.2 million federal grant to create the Great Lakes Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments Center. Donald Scavia, a UM aquatic ecologist and co-leader of the future center, says the Great Lakes will be greatly affected by climate change: “Tourism and agriculture, in particular, are extremely vulnerable, and disruption to those sectors will have wide-ranging detrimental effects for an already-struggling Great Lakes economy.” [Source]

Column: Paying the Price

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Just a few hours after Michigan State beat Notre Dame with a gutsy fake field goal in overtime, Spartan head coach Mark Dantonio suffered a heart attack.

Granted, Dantonio is probably wired a little tighter than most. If you see a picture of him laughing, the photo was probably taken with a quick-reflex camera. But the fact is, every college coach is wired tight – simply because they have to be.

Anyone who’s coached their kids’ soccer team knows how nerve-wracking even that can be. But for my money nothing beats college football for pure, mind-frying stress. [Full Story]