Archive for December, 2010

Washtenaw Avenue: A Step Towards CIA

At its Dec. 20, 2010 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council passed a resolution of intent to work together with Pittsfield Charter Township, Ypsilanti Charter Township and the city of Ypsilanti to explore the establishment of a corridor improvement authority (CIA) along Washtenaw Avenue. The initiative would take advantage of the state of Michigan’s Corridor Improvement Authority Act to create a tax increment finance (TIF) district. [.pdf of Public Act 280 of 2005]

At a Sept. 13, 2010 work session, the Ann Arbor city council had received a presentation about establishing a CIA for the Washtenaw Avenue corridor. A technical committee consisting of over 20 different planning professionals and representatives of the four municipalities that are involved has worked on the initiative over the last year. The technical committee was formed out of efforts by an action team that produced a report on the corridor in 2009. Work on the project can be traced back at least three years.

Contained in the technical committee’s report is a possible timeline for eventual establishment of the CIA that would include public hearings in early 2011, formation of the CIA and appointment of its members in mid-2011, with development and approval of the corridor development plan by late 2011. [Background documents available on the Reimagining Washtenaw website]

This brief was filed from the city council chambers. A more detailed report of the meeting will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Liberty btw Fourth and Fifth

Salvation Army bell ringer belting out Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” in front of the Federal Building. [Also ringing bell.]

Washtenaw: Public Health

Washtenaw County Public Health and the Washtenaw Community Health Organization have issued a report on substance abuse in Washtenaw and Livingston counties, looking at measures of substance use – such as binge drinking and marijuana use – as well as indicators of substance abuse risk. Among the findings: Adult DUI arrest rates for the state of Michigan and Livingston County decreased between 2000 and 2006, but increased 40% in Washtenaw County. Also, Washtenaw and Livingston counties had the highest rates of marijuana initiation during 2006-2008, compared to other Michigan counties and nearly all of the U.S. The full report can be downloaded from the county health department’s website. [Source]

A2: Book Review

The Do It Yourself column in the Boston Globe reviews the latest book by Ann Arbor author David Erik Nelson: “David Erik Nelson’s ‘Snip, Burn, Solder, Shred: Seriously Geeky Stuff to Make With Your Kids’ (about $25, from No Starch Press) is the ideal guide for anyone who would like to harvest parts from old cellphones to make a robot or fashion a cookie tin and metal scraps into a $10 electric guitar. Nelson, a sci-fi and steampunk author and a former teacher at an alternative high school, presents projects of varying complexity. Some, such as the Lock-N-Latch Treasure Chest and the PVC TeePee, are meant for smaller hands and younger minds. Others, such as the robot Jitterbug, require a … [Full Story]

Packard & Mary

Young woman crossing the street pulling a rolling suitcase, wearing capris and flip-flops.

UM: Salaries

The University of Michigan has released its annual salary report, which is available online. The university reports that on average, faculty salaries increased 2.6% while salary increases for campus staff averaged 2.3%. Staff salary increases for the Hospitals and Health Centers increased 3.3%, and salary increases for executive officers and academic deans averaged 3%, according to UM. [Source]

A2: Travel Guide

The Summit Daily News, a publication in Frisco, Colorado, publishes a travel column about Ann Arbor by Carolyn Schwartz, who describes it as “one of the hippest and most energetic cities I’ve ever passed through.” From the review: “Located about 40 miles west of Detroit, Ann Arbor is a less frantic ‘exurb’ of Motown and a more ‘heart of America’ place to spend time. The city’s square-mile or so of downtown is a great place to stroll. It’s also a great place to relax at a street-side cafe as you check out others who’ve come to sample AA’s charms.” The review includes a photo captioned as the Diag – it’s actually a shot taken in front of the UM Museum … [Full Story]

AATA Mulls Living Wage, Adds Chelsea Trip

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (Dec. 16, 2010): At their last meeting of the year, the AATA board unanimously approved a contract for janitorial services at the Blake Transit Center, which had been postponed from its November meeting amid concerns about how the new vendor was achieving its considerably lower cost.

From AATA documentation, before (left) and after (right) bus stop improvements at the Mallets Creek branch of the Ann Arbor District Library. (Image links to higher resolution file.)

Board member Rich Robben had raised concerns regarding whether appropriate wages were being paid, but was convinced to support approval of the contract in part because of another resolution on the agenda. That resolution, which the board also passed unanimously, directed AATA staff to explore the possibility of a living wage provision for its contractors that would be similar to the ordinance used by the city of Ann Arbor.

The board also approved adding an additional return trip for the AATA’s commuter express service between Chelsea and Ann Arbor. The trip will leave Ann Arbor for Chelsea at 7:10 p.m. It was added in part due to feedback from current riders, who would have greater flexibility to work later on days when they take the bus to work. Many of the riders are University of Michigan employees. Robben, who is executive director for plant operations at the university, reported that the value placed on the express service by riders had been “bludgeoned” into him by some of his coworkers. He voted for the additional trip, along with the rest of the board.

The board was also given a presentation on the AATA’s bus stop improvement program, which featured several before-and-after slides. And among the topics reported out by the board’s committees and CEO Michael Ford was the on-time performance of AATA buses.

At the start of the meeting, during the time for communications and announcements, board member David Nacht noted the passing of Rev. S. L. Roberson, whose memorial service was taking place that evening. Nacht described Roberson as a force for equality in Washtenaw County and an important person in the community. Board chair Jesse Bernstein recalled having worked with Roberson in the ’70s at Ford Motor Co., and described him as an excellent person.

Bernstein concluded the meeting by thanking the AATA staff and the board for all their hard work this year, and suggested that next year they’d be asked to work even harder. [Full Story]

Liberty & Fourth Ave.

Huron Valley ambulance with lights and siren trying to navigate westward on Liberty between Fifth and Fourth avenues with some motorists apparently needing a refresher course on yielding to emergency vehicles. AAFD truck heads south through intersection before ambulance makes it there. They  both wind up at Fifth & William – incident unclear. Fire truck departs scene within a couple of minutes, leaving just HVA.

In the Archives: A Path Less Traveled By

Editor’s note: We live in a time where women, and men, can easily and safely navigate any woods filled with dangerous wild animals, say in a helicopter, armed with a hunting rifle. Think Sarah Palin. In simpler times, people walked through the woods. And they just hoped not to stray from the path, to find themselves in the company of a literal or figurative grizzly bear, or – as Laura Bien describes in this installment of her local history column – wolves.

Mary McDougall's grandchildren often begged her to retell her story of her walk among the wolves.

In the early 1800s, thick forest covered much of the land south of Ypsilanti.

The virgin forest nourished huge flocks of passenger pigeons on migratory routes passing north. Often they passed low enough to be knocked from the air with sticks. After one such harvest, according to one Ypsilanti city history, “at dinner that day, there was a tremendous pigeon pot pie, sufficient to satisfy everybody, although there were twenty at the table.”

But the forest also held danger. One large swamp in Augusta Township was named Big Bear Swamp, and wolves and panthers roamed in our county.

Into this wilderness in 1828 came Andrew Muir with his family. They had fled an economic recession and spiking farm rents in Scotland and immigrated with other relatives to America. Members of the McDougall family also made the trip.

After the weeks-long Atlantic crossing, 26-year-old Mary Muir and 29-year-old George McDougall married in Rochester, New York on Halloween in 1828.

The families traveled by boat and overland to Michigan. Andrew Muir bought a small farm near the intersection of modern-day Stony Creek and Bemis roads, about 6 miles south of Ypsilanti. He invited his daughter Mary and son-in-law George to share the property. However George, who had worked as a miller back home in Ayrshire, chose to settle just south of the small Ypsi settlement and work at its flour mill there.

Mary often walked down to her father’s farm late in the week to see her parents and stay overnight. On Sundays, George would travel down to visit and he and Mary would return to their home.

One winter day, Mary prepared to visit her parents. She set the table for her husband and made sure his dinner was ready for his return from the flour mill. Mary adjusted her pretty new calfskin shoes, tied her plaid wool scarf over her dress, and left the house. [Full Story]

State & North University

Five Arbor Consort singers caroling in Victorian dress, several languages, and four-part harmony. Around the corner (Liberty near Maynard), in front of Borders, Out Loud chorus members caroling with handbells.

EMU: President

The Detroit Free Press reports that Eastern Michigan University President Susan Martin has been given a two-year extension on her contract by the university’s board of regents. Martin will also receive a series of three salary increases, making her salary $309,915 by July 8, 2012, compared to her current salary of $285,000. Roy Wilbanks, chair of the board of regents, commented: “President Martin has led Eastern and provided EMU with a stability unmatched during this decade. It’s been a time of significant growth in terms of enrollment and facilities, all of which occurred despite a challenging economy.” [Source]

Active Use of Work Space: Film Premiere

On Wednesday night at the Workantile Exchange – a membership-funded coworking space on Main Street, between Washington and Huron – local video producer and urban researcher Kirk Westphal premiered his two newest films.

Workantile Exchange Urban Planning Council Manager Form of Government

Pre-premiere socializing at the Workantile Exchange for films on urban planning and forms of local government. (Photos by the writer.)

The first film, “The Great Street Toolkit,” focuses on urban planning. The second, “The Council-Manager Form of Local Government,” is an introduction to how the council-manager system is different from a strong mayor system. The city of Ann Arbor uses a modified version of the council-manager form.

As Westphal himself noted lightheartedly, it was the “true wonks” in the audience who stayed for the second film – on council-manager government.

And it turns out that most of the 30 people in the audience were true wonks.

But linked indirectly to the evening in multiple ways was one person who was not in the audience at all –  local developer and downtown property owner, Ed Shaffran. [Full Story]

Column: A Corn-Fed Rube’s Rant

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

This spring the Big Ten Conference added Nebraska, giving the league 12 teams.

So, what do you do – change the name to the Big 12? No, because that name’s already taken by another conference – which, naturally, now has 10 teams. So the Big Ten decided to keep its name – and change everything else, starting with the logo.

Now, to handle all this, they could ask some corn-fed rubes like you and your cronies, but you would probably do something silly like draw on the Big Ten’s unparalleled 115-year history and come up with something simple, honest, and authentic. Or you might just pay some art student a hundred bucks to make a new logo, like Nike did years ago, to create some swoosh-looking thing. It was so embarrassingly bad they got rid of it as soon as they could, which is why you’ve probably never seen it.

And that just won’t do, you mouth-breathing Midwesterner. Why, you probably don’t even use “networking” as a verb. You disgust me.

No, what you’ve got to do is lay yourself at the mercy of high-priced international image consultants – the kind of “branding experts” who cover the euro currency with geometrically perfect structures that never existed and name the streets of our finer subdivisions after purely abstract concepts, which are as suitable for your municipality as they are for Mars – and let them tell you what you’re supposed to like.

And, thank God, that is exactly what the Big Ten did! [Full Story]

UM: Patents

The Detroit News reports that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office plans to open a satellite facility in Detroit – its first office outside of the Washington D.C. area. From the report: “Michigan’s entire congressional delegation – including Sens. Carl Levin, D-Detroit, Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing – in August urged the Commerce Department to locate the office in Michigan, suggesting Ann Arbor as a possible location. The Aug. 13 letter cited the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor as a ‘major site for innovation.’” [Source]

Leadership Change for Art Commission

Ann Arbor public art commission meeting (Dec. 14, 2010): On Tuesday, Margaret Parker presided over her final meeting as AAPAC’s chair, a position she’s held since 2004. She had previously announced her intent to step down, with the hope that commissioners would elect a replacement. Parker has been attempting to relinquish the job for more than a year, and the vice chair position has been vacant since December 2009.

Margaret Parker

Margaret Parker, the long-time chair of the Ann Arbor public art commission, stepped down from her leadership role at Tuesday's meeting. The commission haven't yet elected a new chair. (Photos by the writer.)

After some discussion, commissioners decided to postpone the election of officers – no one is eager to take on that responsibility. Instead, they plan to rotate the chairmanship on a monthly basis, until they can come up with a way to resolve the situation.

Tuesday’s meeting also included some debate over how to handle debate and discussion during AAPAC meetings, with Parker’s call for more formality meeting resistance from other commissioners. Parker observed that the city councilmembers don’t debate at their public meetings – they make statements. She felt that AAPAC should use that as a model, to make its meetings more orderly and efficient. A compromise was eventually reached, eliminating some of the stricter rules that Parker proposed.

Commissioners also got updates on several projects, including Fuller Road Station. Though city council hasn’t given final approval to Fuller Road Station – a joint city/University of Michigan parking structure and transit center – work is moving ahead, including the formation of a task force for public art.

For the municipal center – also known as the police/courts building, at Huron and Fifth – AAPAC approved the installation of nine-panel, 27-foot-wide mosaic murals by artist Gerome Kamrowski in the building’s atrium area. The murals were previously located on the outside of city hall, at its main entrance. There was no update available on the municipal center’s largest public art project – the outdoor water sculpture by Herbert Dreiseitl.

Looking ahead, Parker announced that starting next year, AAPAC’s monthly meetings will be held on the first Tuesday of the month, not the second. The request is to accommodate the schedule of AAPAC’s newest commissioner, Malverne Winborne, who did not attend Tuesday’s meeting. [Full Story]

AATA Janitorial Contract Approved

At its Dec. 16, 2010 meeting, the board of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority approved a three-year contract at $72,000 per year with JNS Commercial Cleaning to provide janitorial services for the Blake Transit Center. The contract with the current vendor expired on Oct. 31 and was extended through Nov. 30, 2010. On a split vote, the board had postponed consideration of the contract at its November board meeting, amid concerns that the bid from JNS – a new vendor – had come 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. Board members had concerns about how the cost savings were being achieved.

The concern about wages of contractors being unreasonably low has also prompted the AATA to explore adopting a living wage provision for its vendors, similar to the living wage ordinance that applies to city of Ann Arbor vendor contracts. The ordinance does not apply to the AATA. The board passed a resolution at its Dec. 16 meeting to investigate a living wage provision.

This brief was filed from the board room in the downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library, where the AATA board meets. A more detailed report of the meeting will follow: [link] [Full Story]

AATA Adds Trip on Chelsea Route

At its Dec. 16, 2010 meeting, the board of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority voted to authorize adding a trip on the A2 Chelsea Express service. The additional trip would leave Ann Arbor for Chelsea at 7:10 p.m. The idea is to attract more riders by providing service to people who work longer shifts at the University of Michigan, and others who work late. The farebox recovery rate for the route is 25% – 7 points higher than the fixed‐route rate of 18%. Estimated cost for the additional trip through the rest of the fiscal year is $24,300, with about half of that coming from the transit millage. The other half would come from fare revenues and state money.

This brief was filed from the board room in the downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library, where the AATA board meets. A more detailed report of the meeting will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Washington & Third

There’s always at least one household that confuses water softener salt for de-icing salt.

A2: Food

The Kitchen Chick blog gives a review of Frita Batidos, a new Ann Arbor restaurant: “We must have hit a pause between rushes, because the tables were full but there were only two couples ahead of us. I was envisioning a line out the door given that we were going to this much-hyped restaurant in its opening week, so that was something of a relief. Though by the time we ordered and found some seating space, the line had quadrupled in size.” [Source]

Remembering Art Gallagher

A few weeks ago, we received an email from Jean Wilkins, saying that her father, Art Gallagher, was having a problem reading The Chronicle on his computer – it appeared to be a technical issue with the web browser he was using, which made it impossible to read the center column on his screen.

I hadn’t seen Art in more than two years, so when I got Jean’s email, I thought it was a great excuse to go out to his Glacier Hills home for a visit, and see what I could do to solve the computer issue while I was there. I also wanted to ask him what he thought about the state of journalism these days, and about our publication, and so many other things. But I’m ashamed to say I never acted on this intent. There always seemed to be other things crowding my schedule and clamoring for attention. I thought it could wait – I thought I had time. What I have now is simply deep regret.

Art Gallagher died on Monday. He was 99.

I told Art once that I wished I’d had the opportunity to work for him. He was the editor of The Ann Arbor News longer than any other in the newspaper’s 174-year history – 22 years. But he retired in 1976, a full two decades before I was hired there. I got to know him several years after that, when I became opinion editor of The News in 2006. [Full Story]

Balanced Calendar on Hold for AAPS

Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education meeting (Dec. 8, 2010): At last Wednesday’s board meeting, trustees got an update on a partnership between the University of Michigan (UM) and Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS) on a developing program involving UM, Mitchell Elementary School and Scarlett Middle School.

One component of this initiative, formerly known as the lab school, is a “balanced calendar,” which features a shorter summer break, and includes optional intersessions – one or two-week long academic or enrichment activities held during breaks in regular instruction. At Wednesday’s meeting, Mitchell principal Kathy Scarnecchia reported that implementation of the balanced calendar will be delayed until 2012-13.  The delay comes primarily in response to concerns about different children in the same family ending up on different schedules, since the balanced calendar was planned to be implemented at Mitchell and Scarlett, but not at other AAPS schools.

The partnership’s planning committee is now considering other options, including moving all of Scarlett’s feeder schools to a balanced calendar, or allowing families to opt-in or opt-out of the partnership entirely. The board was uniformly in support of the balanced calendar, with multiple board members suggesting that it be expanded to the entire district.

Also at last Wednesday’s meeting, the board briefly discussed the process it would use to conduct interviews of the final candidates for the superintendent position, and the timeline for the remaining aspects of the search process. The board also got a first-quarter financial update with news that the state had restored nearly $4.3 million of the $20 million of funding cut during the last school year. [Full Story]

Crop Amount Incorrect

A Dec. 12, 2010 article about the Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission incorrectly stated that crops account for $3.3 million in sales of agricultural products in Michigan. That amount is $3.3 billion. We note the error here, and have corrected the original article.

A2: Survey

Raw results from the city of Ann Arbor’s capital improvement plan survey are available via Survey Monkey including all the free response comments. Among them: “Will you share the results of this survey?” Apparent answer: Yes.

Another comment: “Ann Arbor was a lovely city in 1900. It has been going down hill ever since.” Balancing that out: “[Ann Arbor is] cosmopolitan, small and cultural diverse – a great city to live in” Respondents to the online survey numbered 283. To see free responses, click the “show replies” link for each item, and adjust upward the number of responses per page to view them all in one go. [Source]

Division & Hill

At least five AAPD SUVs on scene of 2-car accident. Might have involved a UMPD car.

A2: Education

The New York Times profiles Shael Polakow-Suransky, who’s been named the chief academic officer for the New York City public school system. The report describes some of his experiences attending Community High School in Ann Arbor: “As a student there, Mr. Polakow-Suransky helped put together a survey to assess racial attitudes among Ann Arbor high school students and then helped create a peer-educator program that spread throughout the district, connecting high school students to younger children to talk about tolerance. ‘That,’ said Cheryl Grace, who taught him social studies at Community High, ‘was his most lasting legacy.’” [Source]

A2: State Economy

The Detroit News reports that two Ann Arbor area residents were named to the state’s top economic posts today by governor-elect Rick Snyder. Doug Rothwell was tapped as chairman of the Michigan Economic Development Corp., while Mike Finney was named as CEO of that agency. Finney has served as CEO of the regional economic development entity Ann Arbor SPARK, and will be replaced on an interim basis there by Skip Simms, SPARK’s vice president of entrepreneur business development, according to a SPARK press release. [Source]

Liberty btw Ashley and Main

North side of Liberty, sidewalk between Ashley and the alley is not as well-cleared of snow as the section of sidewalk from the alley to Main Street – the cleaner half being the responsibility of the Main Street BIZ. The MSBIZ is a self-assessment taxing district that  pays for sidewalk snow removal along Main Street sidewalks and down to the alleys on side streets. Yesterday’s snowfall was its first real test. [photo]