Archive for November, 2010

Fourth & Liberty

Contract signage installer adds one to the inventory of “Share the Road” signs. We chat about whether the new signs, combined with wayfinding signs, no-parking signs, ePark machines, bicycle hoops, etc. amount to aesthetic “clutter.” We do not reach a decision that alters his commitment to his mission. [photo]

UM: Federal Govt.

CNNMoney reports that Michael Barr, the assistant secretary for financial institutions at the U.S. Treasury Department, is leaving the Obama administration and returning to his job as UM law professor. He is among several of the administration’s top economic advisers to announce their departure over the past few months. [Source]

UM: Business

Start-ups focusing on mobile apps could spur the state’s economy, according to a report in the Detroit News. The article quotes UM professor Elliot Soloway: “Michigan’s economy needs to be based on brainpower, not back power. Ann Arbor could be the Silicon Valley of mobile.” [Source]

A2: Photo

Tuesday’s photo on the A Photo A Day blog is a black-and-white image taken from atop the Fourth & Washington parking structure, using a Holga camera and infrared film. [Source]

UM Regents Extend President’s Contract

University of Michigan board of regents meeting (Nov. 18, 2010): UM president Mary Sue Coleman got a vote of confidence this month, as regents voted unanimously to extend her employment agreement by two years, and added an extra $100,000 annually in deferred compensation payments.

Julia Darlow, Mary Sue Coleman

University of Michigan president Mary Sue Coleman, seated, talks with Julia Darlow, chair of the UM board of regents, prior to the start of the Nov. 18 regents meeting on the UM Flint campus. (Photos by the writer.)

During their monthly meeting, held on the UM Flint campus, regents also approved a request to the state for a 2.6% increase in appropriations to the university for fiscal year 2012 – though regent Andrea Fischer Newman expressed concern that the request was too low. For the current fiscal year, state appropriations of $316 million represented a 2.8% decrease over fiscal 2010.

Regents got an annual report from the head of the faculty governance group, who proposed an idea to increase the ranks of faculty through a program that would tap retirees. The board also approved several facilities projects, including the purchase of three residential properties in Ann Arbor – two on South Division, next to the Institute for Social Research, and one on Wall Street, near the UM Kellogg Eye Center.

A request to approve a fireworks display at Michigan Stadium during the Dec. 11 “Big Chill at the Big House” generated some discussion, including a query from regent Libby Maynard about whether it would be dark enough to appreciate the display. The sold-out matchup between Michigan and Michigan State, expected to set an attendance record for outdoor hockey games, begins at 3 p.m.

Maynard’s question prompted regent Kathy White to quip: “Unfortunately, it’ll be December in Michigan – it’ll be dark.” [Full Story]

School Board Reiterates Salary Rationale

Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education meeting (Nov. 17, 2010): Wednesday’s school board meeting opened with a standing-room only crowd that flowed out of the boardroom and into the hall. Most of the audience attended in support of a teacher who was put on administrative leave in August and is being investigated by the district. But there was also a good showing to cheer on Thurston’s 5th grade choir, which opened the meeting with a four-song performance. Another contingent attended to represent Roberto Clemente Student Development Center during its annual report to the board.

The Clemente report was the final part of an annual high school update, covering the district’s three alternative high schools, and will be reported in a separate, forthcoming Chronicle article.

In response to criticism and questions received from the community, the board also defended its decision to set the incoming superintendent’s salary in the range of $245,000, as well as other aspects of the superintendent search.

The board also discussed some of the financial challenges currently faced by the district following the annual audit report, in light of dwindling state funding for education. And they thanked the Ann Arbor Public Schools Educational Foundation, which will be providing $300,000 in grants to AAPS this school year from money raised through its One Million Reasons campaign. [Full Story]

UM: Iggy Pop

The Detroit News reports that rock icon Iggy Pop has sent a letter to UM president Mary Sue Coleman, asking that the university stop using animals to train nurses in life-saving techniques. According to the report, his letter states, in part: “It’s common sense that cutting apart pigs and maiming cats isn’t the best way to train people to treat humans. U-M should not be harming animals when better alternatives are available and already in use on campus. Please make the switch to non-animal training methods for U-M’s survival flight course.” [Source]

A2: Media

Crain’s New York Business publishes a profile of Advance Publications, a New York-based media conglomerate and Newhouse “family empire” whose holdings included the former Ann Arbor News and its successor business, From the report: “Circulation at the company’s biggest [newspaper] property, Cleveland’s The Plain Dealer, was down 7% in the most recent six-month reporting period, to an average of 253,000 copies. The Star-Ledger in Newark – which lost 40% of its newsroom in cutbacks two years ago – saw circulation fall 9%, to 223,000 copies. And last year, The Ann Arbor News was reduced to, with a print edition appearing just two days a week. Revenues for the newspaper group plummeted 26% in 2009, to $1.3 billion, according … [Full Story]

AATA Extends Countywide Planning Time

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (Nov. 18, 2010): Starting things off on Thursday – an hour earlier than the board’s usual 6:30 p.m. start time – was an update from the consultant and AATA staff who are leading the community in developing a countywide transportation master plan (TMP).


Board members Jesse Bernstein and Sue McCormick confer before the start of the Nov. 18 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

The steps outlined for developing the TMP include a chronology for identifying the following: a shared community vision; a transit needs assessment; transit options; a set of scenarios. The consulting team is in the midst of a phase that identifies a range of various options. The creation of various scenarios – combinations of different transit options – will constitute the final phase of work before production of the TMP in mid-April 2011.

That projected completion date reflects an extension of the original timeframe, which was originally set to conclude in late February. The extra time will allow for an additional step in the process – a step that will allow the consultant to present a set of scenarios without specifying any one of them as the recommended scenario.

To allow for the extra time, later in the evening the board approved a resolution increasing the $399,805 contract with Steer Davies Gleeve – the consultant AATA hired to help with the work – by an amount not to exceed $32,500.

In other business, the board discussed, but did not approve, a new janitorial contract for Blake Transit Center, which specified a different vendor from the current one. The new vendor’s bid came in at a cost a bit more than half of what had been budgeted for the year: $72,000 compared to the budgeted $126,069. Concerns by board members about how the cost savings were being achieved were serious enough that they chose, on a split vote, to table the issue.

In a move that did not authorize any current expenditure, the board adopted a compensation philosophy over which there was some brief but firm debate. Board member David Nacht weighed in against the idea of a public entity creating such a document – they’re only used to justify increases in payment but never decreases, he said. Expressing the view of the majority, however, was board member Sue McCormick, who stressed the importance of a public entity making a clear and transparent statement of how salaries are set.

The board entertained its usual range of committee reports and remarks from the public. [Full Story]

Washtenaw Board Debates Budget Issues

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Nov. 17, 2010): Budget-related issues drove much of the discussion during Wednesday’s board meeting, as county commissioners wrangled over a resolution proposed by Leah Gunn to eliminate per diem, travel and mileage payments to commissioners.

Members of the Washtenaw County street soccer team

Members of the Washtenaw County street soccer team, which competed in Washington D.C. this summer at the Street Soccer USA Cup. David Altherr, far left, also was picked to play for the U.S. team at the 8th annual Homeless World Cup in Rio, Brazil in September. They were on hand to promote a Dec. 10-11 fundraiser. (Photos by the writer.)

At some points during the debate there was a fair amount of confusion. A vote to eliminate per diem payments initially passed, but commissioner Ronnie Peterson then indicated that he’d intended to vote the opposite way. Because he’d voted on the prevailing side, parliamentary rules allowed him to bring the issue back for another vote – he switched his vote to no, and the resolution failed to pass. Ultimately, none of the proposed cuts won enough support to enact.

A resolution to set the cost of a police services unit (PSU) received little discussion – aside from some public commentary from Ann Arbor Township supervisor Mike Moran, and a response by commissioner Jeff Irwin. A PSU is the term used for a sheriff’s deputy who is hired on a contract basis to serve local townships and other municipalities. The board gave initial approval to set the cost at $176,108 and is expected to take a final vote on the issue at their Dec. 1 meeting. They’ll wait until next year to tackle the more contentious question of how much the county will charge contracting municipalities per PSU – an amount that will likely be lower, offset by a county general fund contribution.

In other budget-related matters, a public hearing on revisions to the 2011 budget drew only three speakers – including two representatives from local nonprofits who urged commissioners to consider the impact of any cuts they might contemplate for human services. The board also authorized soliciting bids for an internal audit, and discussed holding a special meeting in December to start setting priorities for upcoming budget discussions.

As he had during the Nov. 8 administrative briefing, board chair Rolland Sizemore Jr. expressed frustration with the management of the Washtenaw County Road Commission, and said he wants the board to address that issue. There’s a vacancy on the road commission board, a group that’s appointed by the county board and that has oversight for the road commission operations. Other county commissioners said they’d like to hold public interviews for the job – seven people have applied.

Also on Wednesday, members of the county’s Street Soccer team, the SSPORT, came to the meeting to ask commissioners to participate in the 24-hour Soccerthon, a fundraiser to be held at WideWorld Sports Center starting on Friday, Dec. 10 at 6 p.m. The team is part of the county’s homeless project outreach team (PORT), which provides mental health and other support services to the local homeless population. The players had participated in the third annual Street Soccer USA Cup this summer in Washington D.C., and one of the players, David Altherr, had been picked to play for the U.S. team at the 8th annual Homeless World Cup in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in September.

During Wednesday’s meeting the board also passed a resolution declaring Nov. 14-20, 2010 as National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. Former county administrator Bob Guenzel, chair of the nonprofit Washtenaw Housing Alliance, was on hand and told the board to expect a re-energized effort related to the county’s Blueprint to End Homelessness. He announced that the WHA has hired a new executive director to lead that effort – Julie Steiner, who has served as executive director of the Interfaith Hospitality Network of Washtenaw County at Alpha House. [Full Story]

Miller Avenue

Resurfacing is finally complete. Two way traffic restored! Smooooooth.

S. State Street

University of Michigan men’s soccer wins NCAA second round match with redirected free kick in overtime for a 2-1 victory. Team mobbed by fans in student section.

A2: State Government

The Detroit Free Press profiles the two-person team behind governor-elect Snyder’s transition: Sharon and Doug Rothwell, who live in Superior Township near Ann Arbor. The couple, both former appointees of another Republican governor, John Engler, admit that the process has been intensively time-consuming. Says Doug Rothwell: “You’re taking over a $60-billion enterprise in 60 days with volunteers, no budget and in a fishbowl. I’m not sure anybody who hasn’t been through it before can imagine.” [Source]

N. University & State

Classical duo playing at Silvio’s. Salve for the sad last home game: Beethoven and pizza.

Chelsea: Seniors, Barns

A recent series of Chelsea High School senior portraits shot by photographer Burrill Strong and posted on his blog, The Connective Lens, includes two set inside a barn. They take advantage of the light filtering through the slats, and feature a rough hewn post – visually interesting for Chronicle readers who enjoyed Chuck Bultman’s recent piece, “Column: A Broadside for Barn Preservation” [Source]

Main & Liberty

Ann Arbor Skatepark street team out in front of Vault of Midnight with Pepsi Refresh banner, priming the public’s mental pump for Dec. 1-30 voting. [photo]

A2: Food

A Borders Media “Technique of the Week” video features Eve Aronoff, owner of the restaurants eve and Frita Batidos, who describes how to select, sharpen and hold a variety of kitchen knives, and demonstrates some basic cutting techniques. The video is shot inside Frita Batidos, which opens on Dec. 7. [Source]

UM: Economy

The Detroit Free Press reports on a recent jobs forecast by UM economists, who expect the state’s economy to stabilize, but say it will be years before Michigan regains the jobs lost during the recession. From the report: “The small increase in jobs forecast for the next two years – a total of about 88,000 jobs – means Michigan will continue to struggle to repair the damage wrought during the past decade, when the state shed 843,000 jobs. And without a strong economic rebound, Michigan is likely to suffer from a stagnant or declining population and reduced levels of income for its residents.” [Source]

Column: A Traditional Turkey

I’ve already had my Thanksgiving turkey this year. It was served up by Peggy Daub, who is head of the special collections library at the University of Michigan. I got my turkey from Daub last year, too. She prepared this year’s turkey by literally taking a page from the same book as last year: “Birds of America,” illustrated by John James Audubon.

Turkey Book

The Audubon Book as it appeared on Nov. 17, 2010. It will stay turned to the turkey page through Sunday, November 28. (Photo by the writer.)

It’s not the same page as last year. But it really is the same book, which is on display in the Audubon Room at the Hatcher Library. Yes, the room is named after the book, which was the first one ever acquired by the UM library system.

Last year, a turkey page for Thanksgiving was just a coincidence. This year it was not – I asked for it to be turned to that page. It’s actually not a trivial request. There are eight volumes the library is displaying with a page-a-week approach. And right now the turkey page is out of sequence, page-wise. Next year, it will be out of sequence volume-wise. So this could very likely wind up being just a two-year turkey tradition.

That’s all the more reason for Ann Arborites to make a pilgrimage over to the UM campus and visit the Audubon Room in the Hatcher Library. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Park Commission Checks Budget

Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (Nov. 16, 2010): Budget issues were highlighted during Tuesday’s meeting, with a quarterly financial update from staff leading to a broader discussion about how much general fund money is used to subsidize parks operations.

Judy and Manfred Schmidt

Judy and Manfred Schmidt were honored at the Nov. 16 park advisory commission for their volunteer work with the city's natural area preservation program. (Photo by the writer.)

Parks manager Colin Smith reported that the first four months of this fiscal year – from July 1 through Oct. 31 – are off to a good start. Year-to-date revenues of $918,091 represent an increase over the same period last year, when revenues were $793,783. Expenses for that period are down from $1.23 million last year to $1.07 million this year.

Commissioner Tim Berla asked for clarification about how much support parks is getting from the city’s general fund, and Smith said he’d prepare a report on that issue for PAC’s December meeting. General fund support for parks is important to track, Berla indicated, because it reflects a promise that city council made prior to passage of a parks millage in 2006: That the total general fund subsidy for parks wouldn’t be diminished as a percentage of the overall general fund. The issue also ties into which part of the city budget will be used to pay for dam maintenance.

During an update on the $1.168 million Argo Dam bypass project – which PAC had recommended at its Oct. 19 meeting, and which the city council approved on Monday – Berla said he’d like to have a discussion about how to get city funding for a skatepark as well. As a result of that request, PAC will likely have a work session in December or January that focuses more broadly on prioritizing capital projects, including a skatepark. Other potential projects mentioned by commissioner Gwen Nystuen include the Allen Creek Greenway, another dog park, and increased connectivity for the park system’s trails and pathways.

Commissioners also got an update about the two proposals submitted for Huron Hills Golf Course, and heard from parks planner Amy Kuras on the status of capital improvement projects for the parks. Kuras reported that West Park is now open to the public following an extensive renovation, and that a draft of the Parks & Recreation Open Space (PROS) plan will be distributed soon for public feedback, pending a city council vote authorizing that action.

At the start of Tuesday’s meeting, two long-time volunteers – Judy and Manfred Schmidt – were honored as volunteers of the year for the city’s natural area preservation program. The Schmidts were specifically commended for their decades-long advocacy and stewardship of the Scarlett-Mitchell Nature Area, a 25-acre park adjacent to Scarlett and Mitchell schools and Mitchell-Scarlett Woods. During his comments, Manfred Schmidt proposed a whimsical solution to the city’s budget struggles, a plan that involves the amount of buckthorn he’s cut down over the years. [Full Story]

Ypsi: Steampunk

Michigan Steampunk’s LiveJournal site has a post announcing a Sunday Steampunk Salon on Jan. 16, 2011 at Frenchie’s in Ypsilanti. The event will feature “witty conversation, games galore, excellent music, and all the steampunkery we can muster.” [Source]

Ann Arbor Council Passes Watery Agenda

Ann Arbor City Council meeting (Nov. 15, 2010): On Monday, the council postponed action on some major policy questions, but approved six water-related items.

Ann Arbor City Council Swearing In

Ann Arbor city councilmembers are ceremonially sworn in to start their two-year terms. From left to right: Mayor John Hieftje, Sandi Smith (Ward 1), Margie Teall, Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5), Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3). Administering the oath, with her back to the camera, is city clerk Jackie Beaudry. (Photos by the writer.)

The council approved a $1,168,170 bypass around the Argo dam that will take the place of the current headrace, which is separated from the Huron River by an earthen embankment. The bypass will eliminate the portage currently required by canoeists. It would also allow the city to comply with the consent order it has with the state of Michigan that requires the city to address the repair of toe drains in the embankment.

Another item – on the funding of dam maintenance – was in its original form related more closely to the Argo bypass than in its amended version. The council approved a resolution that directed the city administrator to end the payment for repairs, maintenance and insurance of Argo and Geddes dams from the city’s drinking water fund. The shift in dam activity funding will be effective with the start of fiscal year 2012, which is July 1, 2011. An amendment to the original resolution, however, had the impact of leaving intact a previously budgeted $300,000 from the drinking water fund for possible construction of the Argo bypass.

The third water-themed agenda item approved by the council was $553,320 for fabrication of a piece of exterior art – a fountain-like sculpture – that had been commissioned from German artist Herbert Dreiseitl for the new municipal center. Dissenting votes were cast by Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Marcia Higgins (Ward 4).

The council also approved the receipt of a $216,723 Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grant for the purchase and demolition the structures at 215 and 219 W. Kingsley Street, which are located in the Allen Creek floodway. The area is subject to flooding during heavy rainstorms. The site will be modified in a way to create a small stormwater retention area, with $72,241 in city funds for the project to be drawn from the stormwater capital budget.

The council approved a drainage easement related to the new underground parking structure being constructed on Fifth Avenue. A final item related to water – in its frozen form – was an authorization to treat the Big Chill hockey game on Dec. 11 the same way that football Saturdays are treated, with respect to vending and parking near Michigan Stadium.

Among the postponed items was a modification to the zoning code to regulate medical marijuana facilities. In conjunction with that postponement, the council also extended a moratorium on the use of facilities for dispensing or cultivating marijuana for 60 days – until Jan. 31, 2011. At the council’s Dec. 6 meeting, it will give initial consideration to a licensing requirement for medical marijuana facilities. Then at its Dec. 20 meeting, it will give final consideration to both the zoning regulations and the licensing proposal.

Also among the postponed items was the conversion of the city’s composting facility to a merchant operation, which would offer a contract to WeCare Organics, a New York-based firm. The proposal on the compost operation will come back to the council at its Dec. 6 meeting. The council also postponed for a third time revisions to the city’s area, height and placement zoning regulations. For another zoning-related item, the council extended a deadline from Dec. 6, 2010 to Feb. 22, 2011 for the design guidelines task force to complete its work.

In other action, the 15th District Court judges will now have a place to sit in the new municipal court facility. A previously twice-postponed item to authorize a budget revision of up to $160,000 to purchase furniture for the court was approved. The dollar amount was reduced to about half that figure, after the court was asked to produce an itemized list of the furniture it intended to buy.

The council also entertained a customary range of public commentary and communications from its own ranks. [Full Story]

A2: HAWK Signal

The Michigan Dept. of Transportation produced this two-minute promotional video about the “HAWK walk” in Ann Arbor, to mark the new pedestrian crossing signal at the intersection of Huron and Chapin. The video includes an interview with the mayor, identified as “Jeff” Hieftje. [Source]

A2: Tiny Expo

On the UM School of Art & Design’s Play blog, Kath Weider-Roos writes about the birth of the Tiny Expo, an indie arts and crafts fair to be held on Dec. 11 at Braun Court in Kerrytown. It emerged in the wake of a decision by Ypsilanti’s Shadow Art Fair organizers to take a break from the vendor portion of their event this year. Weider-Roos writes: “That’s when Dylan Strzynski and Helen Gotlib, along with Peter and Michelle Baker, decided to step in and fill the Shadow void with an event here in Ann Arbor. ‘Honestly, it was an idea we’d been tossing around for awhile actually. I mean, why do all the cool, indie events have to … [Full Story]

Column: Why Bo Didn’t Go

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Since the Michigan and Wisconsin football teams first played each other in 1892, Michigan has won a decisive 80% of those games.

The difference was one man: Bo Schembechler, who beat the Badgers 18 of 19 times. If Schembechler had coached Wisconsin, instead of Michigan, the record would be almost even.

That actually almost happened. And it all came down to a 40-minute meeting, 43 years ago.

Schembechler became the head coach of his alma mater, Miami of Ohio, in 1963, at the ripe old age of 33. After Miami won its league title in 1965 and ’66, Wisconsin came calling for the head coach. [Full Story]