Archive for January, 2011

New Officers Elected to Lead County Board

Washtenaw County commissioners were sworn in at their Jan. 5, 2011 meeting, and the board elected new officers for the coming year. They are: Conan Smith (D-District 10), board chair; Alicia Ping (R-District 3), board vice chair; Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-District 5), chair of the board’s ways & means committee; Dan Smith (R-District 2), vice chair of ways & means; Yousef Rahbi (D-District 11), chair of the board’s working session; Rob Turner (R-District 1), vice chair of the working session.

This brief was filed from the boardroom of the Washtenaw County administration building on North Main. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

County Board Approves New Rules

At its Jan. 5, 2011 meeting, the Washtenaw County board of commissioners gave its annual approval of rules governing the board, with some changes from the previous year. Primary changes from last year include: (1) eliminating the list of committees that are eligible for per diem payments; (2) eliminating the ability of commissioners to transfer any unspent money from their flex accounts to other commissioners’ accounts; and (3) clarifying that the board is a policy-making body, and that individual commissioners do not have authority to direct the work of county employees.

This brief was filed from the boardroom of the Washtenaw County administration building on North Main. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Developer Pitches Idea for Argo Art Walk

Ann Arbor public art commission meeting (Jan. 4, 2011): Marsha Chamberlin, as the commission’s acting chair, began Tuesday’s meeting by noting that many of the commissioners planned to attend a memorial gathering for Peter Pollack, a landscape architect and community activist who passed away last month. Because of that, she said, they would make the meeting as expeditious as possible – it lasted less than an hour.

Rock cairn near North Main in Ann Arbor

One of several cairns on the east side of North Main Street in Ann Arbor, near property owned by Peter Allen. The local developer is proposing a sculpture park in the area, funded through the city's Percent for Art program. (Photo by the writer.)

Part of that time was spent hearing a proposal by local developer Peter Allen, who urged commissioners to consider creating some kind of art walk in the Argo Pond area, possibly installing sculptures and using Percent for Art funds from the recently approved millrace reconstruction project. Two city parks hug Argo Pond – Bandemer on the west and Argo on the east.

Allen cited the Michigan Legacy Art Park at the Crystal Mountain resort as an example of something that could be used as a model, and he offered to explore the possibility of seeking matching private funds for the project. [Full Story]

DDA Urges Support for Development Plan

At its Jan. 5, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority passed a resolution supporting the passage of a resolution by the city council that would set forth a plan for the DDA to lead a process for developing city-owned downtown surface parking lots. The city council was briefed at its Dec. 20, 2010 meeting on the upcoming resolution, which it may consider at its second meeting in January.

A key feature of the draft resolution, apparently meant to address a historical point of friction between the city and the DDA, would require the city to reimburse the DDA for some of its expenses under certain scenarios. Another key point of the resolution: For items in any of the four phases of the plan that require city council approval, the city administrator would be required to place items on the council’s agenda for consideration within 30 days of receiving those items from the DDA.

This brief was filed from the boardroom at the DDA offices on Fifth Avenue. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

A2: Ignite

The fifth Ignite Ann Arbor event is looking for speakers: “The Ignite format gives you 5 minutes and 20 slides that advance every 15 seconds automatically. It’s a format with constraints, but we believe constraints breed creativity. You have until January 17th to make your submission, but don’t delay; seize the moment!” [Source]

UM: Football

The New York Times weighs in on the speculation that University of Michigan football coach Rich Rodriguez will be fired, following a meeting on Tuesday afternoon with athletic director Dave Brandon: “If university officials had fired Rodriguez in late November, they could have named a successor and salvaged this recruiting class. By waiting, they sabotaged the current class and shackled a new coach to the point where he would have trouble getting a decent class together by February. … By keeping Rodriguez as the coach until after Jan. 1, the move saved $1.5 million in a potential buyout if Brandon does decide to fire him, but that money equates to popcorn sales at a football power like Michigan.” [Source]

Planning Commission OKs Capital Plan

At its Jan. 4, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor planning commission unanimously recommended approval of the FY2012-2017 capital improvements plan (CIP). The approval followed a presentation by city staff about how the CIP was developed, including a report about results of an online survey conducted late last year. [.pdf file of FY2012-2017 CIP]

The plan serves as a guide to projects that the city hopes to tackle in the coming years. Included in the CIP are dozens of funded and unfunded projects, organized by categories and ranked according to benefit to the community. Examples include the East Stadium bridges replacement, Argo millrace reconstruction, and a shared-use path for the underpass of Washtenaw and US-23. The CIP now will be forwarded to city council for its approval.

This brief was filed immediately following adjournment of the planning commission meeting. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

State & McKinley

5:57 p.m. Phalanx of media trucks from channels 4, 2, 7 – Frontline News, Working for You, On Your Side, respectively. And more. Their presence is likely accounted for by media reports that swirled through the afternoon that UM football coach Rich Rodriguez had been fired, and then not, and then well, not yet, but maybe later, or not. [photo]

What’s Next for Washtenaw Police Services?

Members of the Washtenaw County police services steering committee (PSSC) have spent more than a year working to reach agreement over the cost of putting a sheriff’s deputy on the road. The amount for what’s called a police services unit – $176,108 – was accepted in a unanimous vote by the county board of commissioners at their meeting in early December.

Jerry Clayton, Dieter Heren

Washtenaw County sheriff Jerry Clayton, left, talks with police services commander Dieter Heren before the start of the December police services steering committee meeting, at the county's Zeeb Road service center. (Photos by the writer.)

But when members of the PSSC gathered again in mid-December, they were already focused on what several members characterized as their next, far greater challenge: Determining the price that municipalities will actually pay for a contract sheriff’s deputy.

Sheriff Jerry Clayton told committee members that after board approval of the cost – “which I think we all agree is a good thing” – the committee needs to start working on a price recommendation, which the board must also ultimately approve. Starting Jan. 1, municipalities are paying $150,594 for each contract sheriff’s deputy they hire to patrol their jurisdiction, an amount that includes overhead in addition to salary and benefits. It’s a 4% increase over the 2010 rate – and one major question is how to set that price in the future. The difference between the cost and the price is paid out of the county’s general fund.

In addition to determining price, Clayton said other policy issues include setting the contract length – he’s in favor of four-year terms – and developing a policy to handle requests to add or subtract deputies from a municipality’s contract.

As part of a wide-ranging discussion with the committee, Clayton also noted that the two unions representing sheriff deputies had worked out new agreements that would save the county several million dollars. Those savings would, he hoped, help convince county commissioners to flatline the price for contract deputies at the 2011 rate. [The next day, on Dec. 16, the Police Officers Association of Michigan (POAM) union announced a ratified agreement with the county that's expected to save $4.426 million over the next four years. The Command Officers Association of Michigan (COAM) union is expected to vote on a similar agreement this month.] [Full Story]

Initial OK for Marijuana Licenses Delayed

At its Jan. 3, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council postponed initial approval for a licensing scheme for medical marijuana dispensaries and home occupations.

However, the council did make several amendments to the proposed licensing scheme, which will now be considered as a first reading item at the council’s Jan. 18 meeting. Key elements of the original draft licensing scheme included: no more than 15 licenses would made available citywide for cultivation facilities and dispensaries; preference for applications will be given to facilities operating before Aug. 5, when the city council passed a moratorium on the use of facilities for dispensing and cultivation; provision of names and addresses of various individuals associated with a facility; installation of security measures; posting of signs advising that use of marijuana is against federal law; consent to inspections of unspecified frequency. [.pdf of original draft licensing ordinance]

Amendments made at the Jan. 3 meeting included: elimination of home occupations from the licensing scheme; an increase in the number of licenses to 20 for dispensaries and 10 for cultivation facilities; creation of a licensing board; removal of reference to “misdemeanor involving a controlled substance”; and revision of the language of required internal signage. An amendment that would have removed the requirement that patient names and dollar amounts be printed on package labels was referred to the city attorney for further review. Other amendments are anticipated at the Jan. 18 meeting, when the licensing scheme is likely to receive its initial approval.

The licensing scheme, together with new zoning regulations that stipulate where medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivation facilities can be located, are now scheduled to be heard for their final approval at the first meeting in February.

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]

Greden Approved as Housing Commissioner

At its Jan. 3, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council approved the nomination of Leigh Greden to the Ann Arbor Housing Commission. He replaces Jayne Miller, who previously served as the city’s community services area administrator, before leaving that post in February 2010 to take a position leading the Huron-Clinton Metro Parks. Miller had been appointed to the housing commission after leaving the city, in connection with the wholesale replacement of the entire housing commission board in March 2010. Miller’s tenure with the Metro Parks was brief, and she subsequently took a job in Minnesota as superintendent of the Minneapolis park system, which began in November 2010, making it impossible for her to continue to serve on the city’s housing commission.

Greden previously served on the city council until he was voted out of office in the 2009 Democratic primary, due in part to voter dissatisfaction with his use of electronic mail during council meetings – for communications that ranged from sophomoric humor to possible violations of the Open Meetings Act and campaign finance laws. After leaving the city council, Greden also left his job as an attorney with Miller Canfield to take a position with Eastern Michigan University as that institution’s head of government relations.

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 Uses UM Money for Drains

At its Jan. 3, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council approved a $1,384,350 amendment to its contract with CDM Michigan, Inc. for its work on the city’s footing drain disconnection (FDD) program. The FDD program was put in place in the early 2000s as a strategy for mitigating against sanitary sewer backups in some residents’ basements during heavy rains. Part of the load on the sanitary sewer system is due to storm water from footing drains that is led into the sanitary system. The aim of the FDD program is to disconnect these footing drains from the sanitary system, because the water does not need treatment and adds needlessly to the volume of water in the sanitary system.

To help fund the FDD program, the city requires that builders of projects adding to the sanitary sewage volume balance out that additional volume by removing the equivalent of 1.2 times their additional volume from elsewhere in the system – through footing drain disconnects.

Recent renovations to the University of Michigan football stadium added to the load on the sanitary sewage system. So the university paid the city for the equivalent of 140 disconnections at $10,040 per disconnection for a total of $1,405,600. The city is using $1,275,080 of that sum for the current contract amendment and appropriating $109,270 from its capital budget. The balance of the UM money – the equivalent of 13 disconnections – can be used at the city council’s discretion.

Some of the work to be funded by this amendment will be undertaken along Iroquois Place, where several homes had sewage backups during the June 6, 2010 heavy rains.

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 Adopts New Fire Fees

At its Jan. 3, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council approved a new fee schedule for fire suppression plan review and inspection of alarms and sprinklers.

According to the city, the new schedule is a result of moving the responsibility for the plan review and inspections from the fire department to the city’s construction services, in order to achieve compliance with the Stille-DeRossett-Hale Single State Construction Code Act, 1972 (PA 230).

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 Contracts for Weapons Screening

At its Jan. 3, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council approved a $187,000 contract with Washtenaw County for weapons screening services for the 15th District Court. When the court relocates to the new city municipal center from the Washtenaw County Courthouse – where the city has previously leased space – it will not be able to take advantage of the weapons screening services provided there. The scheduled date of relocation is Jan. 14. The amount of the annual contract is based on a $25.25 per hour cost for officers from the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office. Funds for the contract have been budgeted for FY 2011 and will also be included in the court’s FY 2012 budget.

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 of the meeting will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Council Adopts Traffic Codes

At its Jan. 3, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council gave final approval to a revision to the city’s traffic ordinances. The revision adopts the Michigan Vehicle Code and the Uniform Traffic Code as part of the city’s own code. The council had given initial approval of the ordinance change at its Dec. 6, 2010 meeting, and undertaken an amendment at its Dec. 20, 2010 meeting clarifying that the adoption of the MVC and the UTC was being made only to the extent that the codes did not conflict with city ordinances and codes.

The adoption of the two codes is motivated by a desire to make sure that the city’s speed limits are legally defensible.

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]

AHP Finally Gets Final Approval

At its Jan. 3, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council gave final approval to a set of changes in the city’s zoning code for areas outside the downtown, across most of the city’s zoning classifications, for regulations affecting area, height and placement (AHP).

The council had already given initial approval of the AHP revisions at its Sept. 7, 2010 meeting. The changes are intended to allow more compact use of land, preserve natural systems, accommodate new growth along transit corridors, and locate buildings to promote non-motorized access. [Previous Chronicle coverage of the city planning commission’s deliberations on AHP changes: “AHP Zoning Revisions Go to City Council”]

A series of postponements since the early September 2010 council meeting led ultimately to amendments approved at the council’s Dec. 6, 2010 meeting. The amendments ensure that districts providing for employment uses – Office (O), Research (RE), Office/Research/Limited Industrial (ORL) – are not subject to a cap on building height, except in areas directly abutting residential areas.

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]

William & First

Is there a more inexplicable traffic sign in Ann Arbor? This sign is at the corner of W. William and First, looking west. There are no railroad tracks or other obstructions beyond the sign. [photo]

West Madison

Gargantuan utility poles newly installed on W. Madison, between and Main and Seventh, dwarfing trees, houses, and other utility poles. [photo]

A2: Governor

The Detroit Free Press published a transcript of Gov. Rick Snyder’s Jan. 1 inauguration speech: “We all want to live in a state of high expectations, and more importantly high results. We can only achieve extraordinary things if we aspire beyond traditional thinking. The old, unbelievable needs to become the new achievable. New expectations for our lives, and the lives of our children. Let today be the birth of a new chapter in Michigan’s history. Let today be the birth of the era of innovation and the reinvention of Michigan.” [Source]

UM: Football

An animated video posted on YouTube imagines what kind of evaluation University of Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon might deliver to football coach Rich Rodriguez. The roughly six-minute video includes some choice moments – after “Brandon” gives some negative feedback, “Rodriguez” replies: “I don’t know what to say. Do you like Josh Groban?” [Source]

Liberty & Fourth

Three mini Fiats – maybe the 500C? – pull up to parking spots in front of the federal building, idling. Driver in front vehicle gets out and walks back to confer with the other drivers, then gets back into his car and they all head off, caravan-style.

S. Industrial & Stimson

The mailbox outside the Kroger on S. Industrial has vanished! It was there Christmas Eve. USPS cost-cutting or a Big-Boyesque prank? Probably the former – pickup time at mailbox on Packard near E. Stadium has been changed from 2 p.m. to noon, according to a new-looking sticker.

Saline: Business

The Detroit Free Press reports on the story behind Gov. Rick Snyder’s mention of Saline-based Flatout Bread in his inauguration speech, citing the owners as model entrepreneurs. The business is owned by Snyder’s childhood friend, Mike Marsh, and his wife Stacey Marsh. From the report: “Mike Marsh spent many summers with Snyder. His grandmother and Snyder’s parents owned next-door cottages on Gun Lake. The friendship endured and the Marshes sought out Snyder, who by then was a venture capitalist, when they needed advice about expanding their business – Yes Yogurt and Sandwiches in Ann Arbor. They wanted to open a baking company to make the bread for their sandwiches.” [Source]

A2: Fiction

Writing on his blog The Quivering Pen, David Abrams reviews “The Consequence of Skating,” the new novel by Ann Arbor author Steven Gillis. Abrams writes: “I haven’t read any of Gillis’ other books (Walter Falls, The Weight of Nothing, Giraffes, and Temporary People), but this sharply-told novel from Black Lawrence Press gives me the feeling that he’s a smart, careful writer who fully invests himself in his characters.” [Source]

Monthly Milestone: Tom, Huck in Ann Arbor

Editor’s note: The monthly milestone column, which appears on the second day of each month – the anniversary of The Ann Arbor Chronicle’s launch – is an opportunity for either the publisher or the editor of The Chronicle to touch base with readers on topics related to this publication. It’s also a time that we highlight, with gratitude, our local advertisers, and ask readers to consider subscribing voluntarily to The Chronicle to support our work.

Envelope addressed to a Newspaper Man

Newspaper Man almost rhymes with Superman.

Holiday mail received by The Chronicle this year included an envelope addressed to “Dave Askins, Newspaper Man.”

I knew who had sent it without looking at the Virginia return address. It was from a guy nicknamed “Huck.”

Inside was a bonus – Huck’s holiday letter. It was a two-pager. The second page featured a paragraph that drew my gaze in that way your own name will when rendered in print: “So I Googled all Ann Arbor newspapers and emailed the first one for help – three hours later Mr. Dave Askins of The Ann Arbor Chronicle …”

Long story short: Richard Huckeby – “Huck The Elder” – and his lovely bride Rita were traveling across the country in early December, and were hoping to visit their friend Tom Stockton in Ann Arbor. But they were having trouble connecting via email or phone, which they’d used reliably in the past to communicate with him.

Otherwise put, Huck was looking for Tom. And Huck had asked a newspaper man for help. [Full Story]

Liberty & Ashley

Chris Buhalis and Dave Keeney at the Old Town Tavern performing songs by Townes Van Zandt and Hank Williams, Sr. For the last 14 years on New Year’s Day, Buhalis has performed a selection of their music – they died on New Year’s Day: Van Zandt (March 7, 1944 – Jan. 1, 1997); Williams  (Sept. 17, 1923 – Jan. 1, 1953).

A2: New Governor

The Detroit News is among several media outlets reporting on Saturday’s inauguration of Rick Snyder, the Ann Arbor businessman who was sworn in as Michigan’s 48th governor at a ceremony in Lansing. From the report: “In his 13-minute address, Snyder, a Republican, called for an end to divisiveness along political and geographic lines. He said changing the state will require a change in Michigan culture and shared sacrifice.” [Source]

Liberty & Ashley

Previous patrons at Old Town table left a napkin with cryptic message. [photo]