Archive for January, 2011

What Makes Life Worth Living?

George Dawson packed a lot of living into his 105 years, but it wasn’t until he learned to read and write at the age of 98 that he realized two longtime dreams: reading the Bible and writing his name.

Karessa Dawson Lang

Karessa Dawson Lang talks to reading students at the Family Learning Institute last Saturday about her grandfather, George Dawson, who learned to read at age 98. (Photo by the writer.)

Last Saturday, at Ann Arbor’s Family Learning Institute, Dawson’s granddaughter, Karessa Dawson Lang spoke to a group of reading students about her grandfather.

She told them he’d said, ”People have read the Bible to me all my life, but I wanted to read it for myself.” When he was finally able to read the Bible for himself, Lang told the children, “For him, that was the greatest accomplishment of all time. Besides writing his name. Which was huge.”

The visit to FLI was part of two days of activities for Lang and her sister, Mashelle Dawson, involving their late grandfather’s 2000 autobiography, “Life Is So Good,” the featured book of Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Reads. The two flew up to Ann Arbor from Texas last week.

Launched in 2003 by the University of Michigan Life Sciences & Society Program and now co-sponsored by the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti district libraries, Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Reads promotes reading and civic dialogue through reading and discussing a common book. The program’s theme this year is “What Makes Life Worth Living?” [Full Story]

WCC: Board Appointment

An editorial in the Washtenaw Voice – the student newspaper for Washtenaw Community College – praises the recent appointment of Patrick McLean to replace David Rutledge as trustee, who won election to the state House of Representatives in November. But the editorial criticized the selection process, noting that all the candidates who applied weren’t interviewed for the opening and that the process should have been more transparent. [Source]

UM: Business

The Detroit News reports on a message delivered by Bill Ford Jr. and Anthony Earley Jr., executive chairman of DTE Energy Co., on Friday at the University of Michigan’s Revitalization and Business: Focus Detroit conference in Ann Arbor. The two businessmen urged UM students to stay in Michigan after they graduate, to help turn around the state’s economy. The article quotes Ford: “If you want to make a difference in helping redefine a clean world and a world that we can all be proud of, then this is a place you ought to stay. Stay in Michigan and help us figure all this out because it’s going to be really fun.” [Source]

Elbel Field

Big game of touch football. At least one participant is wearing shorts. All are wearing hats.

Column: Dear Historic District Commission

Dear members of the Ann Arbor Historic District Commission,

On behalf of The Ann Arbor Chronicle, I’m writing to encourage to you to take a specific step to help guarantee future public access to all of your meetings. This step would serve to make sure the deliberations and decisions of the HDC are fully open, transparent, and documentable by third parties like The Chronicle – as part of the independent public record of our city’s governance.

What prompts us to write is a recent occasion when HDC deliberations on an important decision, and the vote itself, were inadvertently shielded from public view.

The decision related to the Glen Ann Place project, located in the city’s Old Fourth Ward historic district. In 2007, the developer of the project and the city signed a consent agreement, in order to settle a lawsuit that had been filed against the city, when the HDC declined to give Glen Ann Place its approval.

On Nov. 30, 2010, the HDC convened a special meeting to consider extending the agreement. The Chronicle was aware that the special meeting would be taking place, pending the scheduling of a time when all HDC members could attend. And we had taken measures to ensure that we would be notified of the special meeting’s scheduling – some of those options are outlined in a recent column by’s lead blogger, Ed Vielmetti.

But despite our best active efforts, we did not find out about the special meeting time until after it had taken place. The outcome, we later learned, was a 5-2 vote in favor of the extension. We were not able to find out about the scheduled meeting time, because the city did not follow its own policies and procedures that are in place to ensure public access to meetings, and to ensure compliance with the Michigan Open Meetings Act (OMA). The conclusion of our analysis is that the failure of the city to conform to its noticing requirements impaired the public’s rights under the act.

Of course, a court might not agree with us. Indeed, we’ve had recent experience challenging – with no success, at least initially – what we believe is a separate OMA violation, by the Ann Arbor city council. But on Wednesday last week, Judge Melinda Morris ruled that even though we had stated a claim, there was insufficient evidence filed in our initial complaint even to warrant further collection of evidence.

The situation with the Glen Ann Place special meeting does not have the same ramifications as the city council case that prompted our lawsuit, which we think likely involves problematic patterns and practice. The Glen Ann special meeting situation was clearly that – special and likely unique.

But in this case, we believe the HDC has the opportunity to undertake voluntarily a specific initiative that could serve as a model of openness and transparency for other boards and commissions of the city. [Full Story]

Main Street

Couple, walking slowly down the middle of Main Street. Cars beeping. They catch up to a car, get in. It drives away.

In the Archives: Edward Israel’s Polar Sky

Editor’s note: Now that we’ve settled into our season of cold, it’s fitting to remember that Michigan played a role in the polar exploration of the late 1800s.


Edward in college years

In this week’s edition of her biweekly local history column, Laura Bien offers what could be considered a beautiful, if belated, obituary of Edward Israel, a University of Michigan student who perished on a polar expedition.

It was no surprise in the spring of 1881 when a University of Michigan senior was offered the prestigious post of astronomer on a federally-backed polar expedition.

Edward Israel was one of the brightest students in his class, and one of the youngest. He accepted. “The expedition will be absent two years,” reported the April 30, 1881 University of Michigan Chronicle, “so that Mr. Israel hopes to be present at the reunion of his class in ’84.”

He wasn’t. [Full Story]

Huron & Chapin

Just saw a pedestrian punch a car that drove through a red HAWK light on Huron. Strange lights come with problems.

Vote on Ann Arbor Parks Plan Postponed

Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (Jan. 18, 2011): Commissioners were set to vote on recommending approval of the updated five-year Parks and Recreation Open Space (PROS) plan, but decided to postpone their vote until the February meeting to allow for possible additional public input.

Sam Offen, Tim Doyle

Park advisory commissioners Sam Offen, left, and Tim Doyle look at a schematic of the proposed Allen Creek Greenway during a presentation at PAC's Jan. 18 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

A speaker during PAC’s public hearing on the plan had pointed out that the official public commentary period runs through Jan. 24. That prompted discussion among commissioners about whether to hold off until all possible commentary is heard – though some indicated there’d already been ample opportunity for feedback. Another public hearing on the PROS plan will be held at the planning commission’s Feb. 1 meeting, with a vote by that group set for Feb. 15. City council is expected to hold a public hearing and vote on the plan in early March.

Tuesday’s PAC meeting included two presentations. Mike Quinn, a board member of the Allen Creek Greenway Conservancy, described the group’s efforts and asked PAC to convey a sense of urgency about the project to city council. And Scott Rosencrans, a former PAC chair, gave an update on the Ann Arbor skatepark: “The big news is that this is the year we build the skatepark.”

Updates from city parks staff included a quarterly financial report, during which parks manager Colin Smith reported that parks & recreaction is looking at 2.5% cuts during the next budget cycle. Commissioners also got briefed on the outcome of the Miles of Golf proposal to take over operations of the Huron Hills golf course – a proposal rejected by the city late last year – and an update on planned improvements at the Gallup Park canoe livery. Staff will hold a public meeting with concept plans on Tuesday, Jan. 25 at the livery, starting at 7 p.m. If the plan is approved, the city is poised to apply for state grant funding for the project, estimated to cost about $450,000. [Full Story]

Burns Park

Michigan’s largest elementary school blood drive taking place.

UM Regents OK Crisler Arena Project

At their Jan. 20, 2011 meeting, the University of Michigan board of regents approved a $52 million renovation and expansion of Crisler Arena. The new construction will add about 63,000 square feet for new retail spaces, spectator entrances, ticketing areas and a private club space. About 54,000 square feet will be renovated to improve Americans with Disability Act accessibility, and increase the number of restrooms and concession stands, among other things. Regents also approved TMP Architecture, working with Sink Combs Dethlefs, to design the project. At their October 2010 meeting, regents had previously approved a renovation of infrastructure and replacement of spectator seating.

This brief was filed from the regents boardroom in the Fleming administration building. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

A2: State of the State

The website for Detroit’s Fox affiliate has posted a video of Gov. Rick Snyder’s State of the State address, delivered Wednesday evening at the statehouse in Lansing. The site also provides a link to the Democratic response to the speech. Snyder, an Ann Arbor resident, said he’s set up 21 measures to track Michigan’s progress in key areas like economic strength, public safety, quality of life, and health and education. “We will not continue the fighting that resulted in rhetoric and paralysis. It is time to solve problems.” [Source]

Washtenaw: Sheriff’s Community Report

The Washtenaw County sheriff’s office has released its first annual Washtenaw County Community Report, an eight-page document with crime statistics for the years 2009 and 2010, as well as information about the cost of sheriff patrols, community outreach efforts and more. The report – a 6.5MB .pdf file – can be downloaded from the sheriff’s website.

Washtenaw Deals With $20M Projected Deficit

In her state of the county address at the Jan. 19, 2011 Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting, county administrator Verna McDaniel outlined preliminary plans to address a projected two-year $20 million deficit in 2012 and 2013. The deficit was first discussed publicly at the board’s Oct. 6, 2010 meeting. McDaniel plans to seek $8.5 million in cuts to employee compensation and benefits, $8.5 million from organizational changes, and $1 million from payments to outside agencies. She also has targeted the goal of generating $2 million in additional revenues.

In her extensive remarks, McDaniel stressed the need for structural and cultural changes. “We can no longer be all things to all people,” she said. She also said it was crucial for the board to set priorities that will guide how the administration addresses the projected budget deficit. A board retreat has been set for Jan. 29 to discuss priority-setting – that meeting will run from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Washtenaw County administration building, 220 N. Main St., Ann Arbor.

This brief was filed from the county board meeting at the Washtenaw County administration building. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

County Board OKs Police Union Concessions

At its Jan. 19, 2011 meeting, the Washtenaw County board of commissioners approved agreements with two unions – the Police Officers Association of Michigan (POAM) and the Command Officers Association of Michigan (COAM) – that are expected to save a total of $5.6 million over a four-year period. The $4.426 million in POAM concessions will mostly come from forgoing raises in 2011 and 2012, and getting 1% raises in 2013 and 2014. The 244 employees represented by that union will also begin paying for part of their health care premiums – $50 a month – starting in 2013. The COAM union, which represents about 33 officers, agreed to the same concessions in a vote taken this week. Those concessions will also apply to eight non-union employees at the sheriff’s office. In 2009, most other unions representing other county employees agreed to concessions – the POAM and COAM did not agree to cuts during that budget cycle.

This brief was filed from the county board meeting at the Washtenaw County administration building. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Washtenaw Trial Court Agreement Approved

The Washtenaw County board of commissioners, at its Jan. 19, 2011 meeting, approved a memorandum of understanding with the Washtenaw Trial Court, outlining the rights and responsibilities of each unit of government. A previous MOU expired in December 2010. As part of the agreement, the county will fund operations of the trial court in four “lump sums,” allocated separately to 1) the 22nd Circuit Court (including circuit court administration, juvenile-general fund, friend of the court and community corrections); 2) Probate Court (estates & mental health); 3) 14-A District Court; and 4) the child care fund. The county will not have line-item budgeting authority, but the trial court has agreed to submit a bi-annual line-item budget, and provide quarterly financial projections. The amount of the lump sum payments has not yet been determined.

This brief was filed from the county board meeting at the Washtenaw County administration building. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Library Board Starts New Year

Ann Arbor District Library annual board meeting (Jan. 17, 2011): The library board’s first meeting of 2011 served as the board’s “annual meeting.” It kicked off with a swearing-in for four board members – including three incumbents – who won their elections on Nov. 2. The ceremony was officiated by Judge Elizabeth “Libby” Hines of the 15th District Court.

Barbara Murphy, Ed Surovell, Nancy Kaplan, Jan Barney Newman

From left: Barbara Murphy, Ed Surovell, Nancy Kaplan and Jan Barney Newman were sworn in as Ann Arbor District Library board members at Monday's meeting. Elizabeth Hines, a judge in the 15th District Court, officiated the ceremony. (Photos by the writer.)

The seven-member board also elected new officers – there were no competing nominations, and all votes were unanimous. Margaret Leary, who has previously served as president, was again elected to that office, replacing trustee Rebecca Head. In her final remarks as president before new officers were elected, Head gave an overview of the past 18 months, citing both challenges and accomplishments during that period.

The board also heard some details about AADL director Josie Parker’s involvement in the Digital Public Library of America initiative. Parker has been invited to be part of a small working group that will help launch the project, which is spearheaded by Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society. Paul Courant, dean of libraries for the University of Michigan, is also involved. [Full Story]

UM: Business Incubator

The Detroit Free Press is among several media outlets to report on the opening of the University of Michigan’s Venture Accelerator, a business incubator located at the North Campus Research Complex – the former Pfizer campus – and offering labs and office space to start-up companies. The article quotes Ken Nisbet, executive director of UM Tech Transfer, about the type of work that will be supported: “It’s only U-M technology – very deep science, very high potential, very risky.” [Source]

Ann Arbor Receives Home Depot Grant

At its Jan. 18, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council accepted receipt of a $95,000 grant from the Home Depot Foundation to (1) create a sustainability framework, and (2) develop a sustainability action plan based on the sustainability framework. The goal of the project – which will include the funding of a temporary employee to provide technical assistance – is to develop a framework of goals, objectives, and indicators, and will include the release a State of Our Sustainability Report. The city’s environmental commission already produces a State of Our Environment report.

Application for the grant was discussed at the planning commission’s Nov. 9, 2010 working session by city environmental coordinator Matt Naud. In early September 2010, the city of Ann Arbor was one of four finalist cities for a $1 million, three-year sustainability project funded by the Home Depot Foundation. Ann Arbor didn’t make the final cut for that grant – Charleston, South Carolina and Fayetteville, Arkansas were selected.

As a part of the site visit conducted by the Home Depot Foundation last year to evaluate the city’s application, The Chronicle was asked by Home Depot representatives to meet with the foundation to discuss the city’s proposal. One issue identified by the foundation representative was the lack of an initiative that wrapped the various city initiatives into a single sustainability plan that would include environmental, energy and planning issues. The Chronicle pointed the foundation to the three-way joint working session of the environmental, energy and planning commissions that had taken place earlier in the year.

This brief was filed from the boardroom in the Washtenaw County administration building, where the council is meeting due to renovations in the city hall building. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Expands Preserved Land Acreage

At its Jan. 18, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council approved recommendations of the city’s greenbelt advisory commission to purchase development rights on two properties totaling more than $1 million.

The first was a transaction for the development rights on 218 acres, located along Pontiac Trail and Five Mile Road in Salem Township, owned by the Nancy M. Geiger Revocable Living Trust and Rose Ann Geiger Contingent Trust. The city’s cost for the Geiger property will be $728,412.

The second transaction was for land owned by the Lee A. Maulbetsch Trust and Lori M. Maulbetsch Trust, which is 128 acres located along Northfield Church Road  in Northfield Township. The city’s cost for the Maulbetsch property will be $521,642.

This brief was filed from the boardroom in the Washtenaw County administration building, where the council is meeting due to renovations in the city hall building. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Council OKs Lake Trust Site Plan

At its Jan. 18, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council approved a site plan request from Lake Trust Credit Union. The credit union plans to construct a new building at the southeast corner of West Liberty and West Stadium Boulevard.

The project had previously won site plan approval at the planning commission’s Sept. 21, 2010 meeting. The project includes demolishing the existing structure and constructing a new one-story, 3,686-square-foot building. The planning staff recommended approval of the site plan. No one spoke during the planning commission’s public hearing on the proposal. On that occasion, the project received two dissenting votes from the planning commission, from commissioners Bonnie Bona and Erica Briggs.

This brief was filed from the boardroom in the Washtenaw County administration building, where the council is meeting due to renovations in the city hall building. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Stead Reappointed to Enviro Commission

At its Jan. 18, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council reappointed David Stead to the city’s environmental commission (EC) for another three-year term. While the majority of city boards and commission appointments are nominated by the mayor, environmental commission nominations are made by the city council.

In response to an emailed inquiry from The Chronicle, Steve Bean – whose term also expired in August 2010 – wrote that the city council was prepared to include his reappointment in the resolution reappointing Stead. Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) confirmed that at the council table.

But Bean informed the council, as well as his colleagues on the commission, of his decision made last week to end his work on the EC. Bean served on the EC for a decade, starting with his appointment in 2000, when the EC was established by a city council resolution. His service on the EC included most recently a turn as chair. Before serving on the environmental commission, Bean served on the city’s energy commission from 1992-2000.

From the city code, the purpose of the EC is “To advise and make recommendations to the city council and city administrator on environmental policy, environmental issues and environmental implications of all city programs and proposals on the air, water, land and public health. Duties include holding public hearings on environmental issues and concerns, and publishing and presenting an annual report on the city’s ‘State of the Environment.’”

This brief was filed from the boardroom in the Washtenaw County administration building, where the council is meeting due to renovations in the city hall building. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Council Delays DDA-led Plan

At its Jan. 18, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council delayed action on a resolution that would have authorized the city’s downtown development authority to create a parcel-by-parcel plan for the development of downtown city-owned surface parking lots. The postponement was accomplished on a 6-4 vote – Margie Teall (Ward 4) was absent. Voting against postponement were: Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2), and Sabra Briere (Ward 1). Kunselman, Higgins, and Rapundalo were clear that they were prepared to vote against the resolution, if the motion to postpone had not passed.

At its Jan. 5 board meeting, the Ann Arbor DDA had passed a resolution urging passage of the council resolution, which had been circulated as early as the city council’s Dec. 20, 2010 meeting, when Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) attached a copy of the the draft resolution to the council’s meeting agenda, and alerted his council colleagues to it at that meeting.

This brief was filed from the boardroom in the Washtenaw County administration building, where the council is meeting due to renovations in the city hall building. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Medical Marijuana Licensing Delayed Again

At its Jan. 18, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council delayed giving initial approval to a licensing ordinance for medical marijuana. At its Jan. 3 meeting, the council had heavily amended the licensing proposal, which was drafted by the city attorney’s office. Among the key amendments made at the first meeting in January was one that stripped “home occupation” businesses out of the proposal. At the Jan. 3 meeting, the council also increased the cap on the total number of licenses available to 20 for dispensaries and 10 for cultivation facilities. Another major amendment made on Jan. 3 was the creation of a board to govern the issuance of licenses. However, the council delayed voting on the first reading of the proposal. [.pdf of licensing ordinance language at the start of the Jan. 18, 2011 meeting]

At its Jan. 18 meeting, the council was poised to undertake further amendments to the licensing proposal, including many that concerned limiting the amount of information that is required to be divulged by those associated with license applications. However, the council did not amend the proposal further at this meeting. The licensing proposal will now be taken up for initial approval again on Feb. 7, 2011.

The moratorium on additional facilities in the city to be used as medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivation facilities was extended by the council through March 31, 2011. Final approval of zoning regulations on medical marijuana facilities was rescheduled for Feb. 21, 2011.

This brief was filed from the boardroom in the Washtenaw County administration building, where the council is meeting due to renovations in the city hall building. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Council OKs Retirement System Language

At its Jan. 18, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council gave final approval to revisions in the city’s ordinance language that spells out how the retirement system works. The changes were administrative, aimed to ensure compliance of the plan with tax-qualification requirements of the Internal Revenue Code and to improve exactness and clarity of language. Other changes were made at the suggestion of the city retirement system’s board of trustees. [.pdf of ordinance as revised] [.pdf of changes and reasons].

The ordinance change does not change the city’s basic retirement plan from a defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan. The language changes also do not change the composition of the retirement system’s board of trustees. In 2005, a “blue ribbon” commission – tasked to make recommendations about the city’s retirement board and the city’s pension plan – had called for a change in the board’s composition to be a majority of trustees who are not beneficiaries of the retirement plan and, in particular, to remove the city administrator’s position from the board.

In 2008, a member of the retirement system’s board of trustees, Robert N. Pollack, Jr., resigned from the board in part due to the city’s failure to enact recommendations of the blue ribbon panel. The change in composition of the pension board would require a city charter amendment, which the city council could decide to place before voters. [.pdf of blue ribbon panel report] [.pdf of Pollack's resignation letter]

The city’s retirement program is supported in part by the levy of a retirement benefits millage [labeled CITY BENEFITS on tax bills], currently at a rate of 2.056 mills, which is the same rate as the city’s transit millage. A mill is equal to $1 for every $1,000 of taxable value of a property.

This brief was filed from the boardroom in the Washtenaw County administration building, where the council is meeting due to renovations in the city hall building. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Washtenaw: Transparency

On her blog All Politics Is Local, Washtenaw County commissioner Kristin Judge asks readers to weigh in on the county’s transparency initiative – Open Book eWashtenaw – which she helped spearhead. She writes: “In public meetings, my colleagues have expressed concerns about the number of hits the website gets and the number of staff hours spent setting it up. Once the initial work is done, it is important to understand that updates to the site will be done automatically by computers. The costs to create the site have been only staff and commissioner time. If you speak to the staff that has been involved, I am certain they would agree it has been time well spent.” … [Full Story]

Park Advisory Group Postpones PROS Plan

At their Jan. 18, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor park advisory commission postponed action on the proposed Park and Recreation Open Space (PROS) plan. A vote on recommending approval of the plan had been on the agenda, but during a public hearing on the topic, two members of the public asked PAC to table the issue. They noted that public input is being solicited through Jan. 24, and asked that PAC delay its consideration of the PROS plan until that input had been reviewed and possibly incorporated into the draft. PAC is now expected to take a vote at its Feb. 15 meeting.

The plan is updated every five years – this version of the planning document covers 2011 through 2015. The city’s planning commission will hold a public hearing on the plan at its Feb. 1 meeting, and had been expected to vote at that same meeting. Now, the planning commission vote will also likely be pushed back to its Feb. 15 meeting. Final approval will be needed from city council – it is slated for the council’s March 6 meeting.

This brief was filed soon after adjournment of the PAC meeting at the Washtenaw County administration building. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Lansing: Irwin’s First Week

Now representing District 53 in the Michigan state House, Jeff Irwin has used Facebook to give his first report on his activities to date. Highlights include his submission to the Legislative Service Bureau of 10 ideas for bills – the maximum number allowable before the start of the legislative session. After that, there’s an allotment of five bill submissions a month.  Among the ideas for bills that Irwin has submitted is one to update the Freedom of Information Act. [Source]

Washtenaw: Sheriff Alerts

Starting Feb. 8, Washtenaw County residents can receive text message or email alerts through a new service offered by the county sheriff’s office, via From a Jan. 18 press release issue by Sheriff Jerry Clayton’s office: “Messages may include daily crime summaries as well as other relevant safety and community event information. The messages can be sent specifically to residents registered within a ¼ mile radius, giving them the opportunity to receive trustworthy information relevant only to their neighborhood. Residents decide from which local agencies they want to receive information.” To receive the alerts, register at