Archive for February, 2011

UM: Vaccines

In an essay published in the New York Times, Howard Markel – a University of Michigan professor of the history of medicine – writes about the history of immunization: “Recently I found myself on the outskirts of an antivaccine rally in my hometown, listening to a succession of ill-informed diatribes with a mixture of dismay and fascination. As a pediatrician, I was baffled by scientifically baseless attacks on the substances that have tamed smallpox, polio and a host of other deadly and disfiguring diseases, at least in the developed world. But as a historian, I found it even more bewildering to hear speakers claim that government-sponsored vaccines were a violation of the founding fathers’ design.” [Source]

Fraser to Leave City of Ann Arbor Job

At the Ann Arbor city council’s budget working session on Feb. 28, 2011, Roger Fraser announced that he will be leaving his position as city administrator for Ann Arbor to take a position with the state of Michigan as deputy state treasurer for local government services. He’ll begin work at his new position in May, he said, but will deliver his proposed budget to the council in April as required by the city charter. He will not, however, be a part of the budget process in May, when the council approves the budget.

Main & Liberty

A man is razor blading the Occasionally Gift Shop sign off the store window. The space is being renovated for its next occupant, Cherry Republic.

AAPS: Final Phase of Superintendent Search

By week’s end, the Ann Arbor Public Schools board of trustees will choose from among three finalists to fill its open superintendent position. Finalists include: Patricia Green (North Allegheny School District, Pennsylvania); Michael Muñoz (Des Moines Public Schools, Iowa); and Shelley Redinger (Oregon Trail School District, Oregon).

The public is invited to interview the three finalists at community forums to be held on Friday, March 4 from 6-8:30 p.m. in the Pioneer High School cafeteria annex, 601 W. Stadium Blvd. Also open to the public are the candidates’ second interviews with the board, which begin at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, March 5 in the main conference room of the AAPS Balas Administration Building, 2555 S. State St. The board’s final deliberations on their preferred candidate will immediately follow the final interviews. Those deliberations are expected to start around noon.

The narrowing of the field of six candidates took place during the week of Feb. 14, when the board interviewed all the candidates. The board made their selection of the finalists at the end of the week on Friday, following the last two interviews. Visits to the home districts by three board members had originally been planned to take place the week of Feb. 21, but inclement weather led to a decision to cancel those visits.

Candidate-submitted profiles and resumes are also available on the AAPS website. Based on candidate responses in the first round of interviews, which included 24 questions, for this report The Chronicle has compiled profiles of the three final candidates. [.pdf of AAPS first-interview questions[Full Story]

County Board to Eliminate Admin Briefings

Conan Smith, chair of the county board, began Wednesday’s meeting with an announcement: “This will be the last administrative briefing.”

Washtenaw County commissioners and staff at the Feb. 23, 2011 administrative briefing

Washtenaw County commissioners and staff gather around a conference table at the Feb. 23 administrative briefing.

Administrative briefings have been held for about a decade, taking place a week before the board’s regular meetings, which are scheduled for the first and third Wednesday of each month. They are public but informal, held in a small conference room at the county’s downtown Ann Arbor administration building – not in the boardroom. The meetings, which usually last no longer than an hour, are focused on reviewing the upcoming agenda for the back-to-back Ways & Means Committee meeting and regular board meeting the following week.

Several commissioners say they benefit from the discussions that emerge at these briefings. But Ronnie Peterson, who has never attended because of his objections to the format, has been a vocal critic, calling them “backroom” meetings where deliberations occur that he believes are too far out of the public eye – even though they conform to the Open Meetings Act.

He raised the issue again at the Feb. 16 board meeting, which resulted in a lengthy debate about whether administrative briefings and the board’s budget retreats are sufficiently accessible to the public. The outcome of that debate was a vote at the Feb. 16 meeting to hold future retreats after the board’s regular working sessions – both would be televised. However, an attempt to relocate and televise administrative briefings failed, with support only from Peterson, Kristin Judge and Wes Prater.

On Wednesday, Smith – who on Feb. 16 argued for keeping the administrative briefings unchanged – said that after discussions with county administrator Verna McDaniel, they had decided to eliminate the briefings in favor of a weekly agenda-setting meeting with staff and just three commissioners: Smith, as board chair; Rolland Sizemore Jr., chair of the Ways & Means Committee; and Yousef Rabhi, chair of the working sessions. Because the meeting will not involve a quorum of commissioners, it will not be required to be open to the public. [Full Story]

A2: Health Care

The Detroit Free Press reports on an analysis by the Ann Arbor-based Center for Healthcare Research & Transformation, which found an increase in antibiotic prescriptions for Michigan children with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan health insurance from 2007-2009. From the article: “At issue is the prescribing of antibiotics for viral (as opposed to bacterial) infections. Viral infections – such as colds, sore throats and most flu, bronchitis and upper respiratory infections – get better on their own without drugs.” [Source]

Fire Protection Grant Level Clarified

In reporting the comments of city administrator Roger Fraser made at a recent city council meeting, we inaccurately attributed to Fraser a statement that the state budget proposed by Gov. Rick Snyder would eliminate the state’s fire protection grant program.

The grants, which Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposed budget would reduce by 15% (not eliminate completely), are meant to cover fire protection costs incurred by communities to provide fire protection for public institutions located in those communities.

The $165,000 amount that Fraser reported would be lost by the city of Ann Arbor under the governor’s proposal is 15% of the roughly $1.1 million annually the state has provided the city of Ann Arbor in the last few years under the program. We acknowledge the … [Full Story]

UM: Civil Rights Movement

A panel of women activists who were part of the Student Non-Violent Coordination Committee in the 1960s shared their experiences of the Civil Rights movement during a University of Michigan panel discussion, according to a Detroit Free Press report. Gloria House told her story of going from being a graduate student at the University of California at Berkeley to joining the SNCC in 1967. House’s account, along with 51 others, is featured in the book, “Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC.” House emphasized activism of the younger generation: “I hope that youngsters today understand that the work they do can have enormous impact. You shouldn’t underestimate the impact you can have as young … [Full Story]

Urban County Gets Grim Funding Update

Washtenaw Urban County executive committee meeting (Feb. 22, 2011): Leaders of local municipalities got a grim update on Tuesday about looming federal funding cuts that will likely affect projects in many of the county’s low-income neighborhoods.

Mary Jo Callan

Mary Jo Callan, director of the Washtenaw County/city of Ann Arbor office of community development, at Tuesday's meeting of the Washtenaw Urban County. (Photo by the writer.)

“I am bringing you some troubling news,” said Mary Jo Callan, director of the Washtenaw County/city of Ann Arbor office of community development. “Do you want to start with the bad news, or the worst news?”

Callan reported that the two major programs that fund projects for low-income neighborhoods – the Community Development Block Grant and HOME Investment Partnership programs, both operated by the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) – have been targeted by Congress and President Obama for significant cuts in both the current fiscal year and in 2012. Washtenaw County communities receive about $2.4 million annually from the CDBG program alone.

Though at this point it’s unclear exactly what the final federal budget will include, Callan said it’s nearly certain that some funding cuts will occur – her staff is planning for a 10% reduction in grants from those two programs for fiscal 2012. “It’s pretty bleak,” she said. [Full Story]

Column: Book Fare

A chief function of the book review “industry” is to give new books a sales push – the “latest” is the point. But today, let’s hear it for the backlist – otherwise known as those books you took note of months (or years) ago and intended to read, or brought home, placed on the shelf and have noted with good intentions ever since.

Book cover for "The Ugliest House in the World"

Book cover for "The Ugliest House in the World" by Peter Ho Davies.

Two works of fiction by University of Michigan creative writing teacher Peter Ho Davies spent way too much time on my “gotta get to” list. And “The Welsh Girl” (2007) and “The Ugliest House in the World” (1997) were fine company when I finally claimed for them a couple of snowy weeks in February.

“The Ugliest House in the World” (Mariner Books/Houghton Mifflin) is a collection of deftly composed short stories that are tragic, comic and often a dead-on blend of the two. They take us from colonial southern Africa to anti-colonial Kuala Lumpur, from Wales to – hilariously – Welsh-speaking Patagonia. (“Butch should have known it would come to this when the Kid started shooting ostriches again.”) And while we know things won’t end well for the British in Natal, the officers’ dining-table tales of heroism in the face of Zulu savagery are a ripping good time. [Full Story]

Washington & Ashley

Woman bent over laptop computer in window of Sweetwaters, working on it – literally working on it, as in embellishing it with paints and arts/crafts type items.

UM: Art Museum

The University of Michigan Museum of Art is looking for volunteers to serve as docents, a three-year commitment: “We are looking for individuals who have an interest in art and an ability to work with and interact with people of all ages and backgrounds. Key to a positive experience is an interest in working with young children.” Applications are being accepted through March 25. [Source]

Column: A Man of Character

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Whenever I talk to a high school coach who quit, they always say the kids were great, but the parents drove them crazy. Doesn’t matter what sport.

But when I coached the Ann Arbor Huron High School hockey team, I was lucky. Yes, getting to know the players was the best part, and now, seven years after I stepped down, I’m going to their weddings. What I didn’t expect, though, was becoming lifelong friends with their parents, too.

The team we took over hadn’t won many games, but after we had a decent first season, three hot shots showed up at our door. They had all been coached by Fred Fragner, who once played for the Junior Red Wings.

Whenever these boys blew a great scoring chance, or received a bad call or got whacked with a stick, Fred always told them, with a grin, “Three words: Be a man.” By the time they came to Huron, all three were just that. [Full Story]

Packard & Thompson

Most common townie mistake becomes official via @A2GOV: [photo] [What's the name of the other street at the intersection where the downtown library is located: Fifth & _______ ]

Fifth & Liberty

Post office loading dock carts and whatnot include a pallet of March issues of The Ann Arbor Observer. Maintained self-discipline enough not to paw through them to find my copy, even though it would save them the time of delivering it. Speaking of “paw,” the most well-known cat in downtown Ann Arbor makes the cover this month.

Liberty & Third

Storm drain blocked with plowed snow. Resulting puddle is half lane wide. [photo] Dismounted bicycle to poke around in slush – would prefer not to repeat ride through puddle. As if steered by hand of god, city snow plow truck rolls up. “I’ll get it.” He meant he’d do with with a flat-nosed shovel, not his giant plow. [photo]

UM Dental School

About 100 Navy Shipmen walking into University of Michigan Dental School in full dress uniforms.

Council Absences Delay Some Business

Ann Arbor city council meeting (Feb. 22, 2011): In a meeting that wrapped up in less than two hours, the council handled several agenda items, including: an affordable housing site plan from Avalon Housing at 1500 Pauline; authorization of increased golf fees; reappointment of the golf task force; an appointment to the environmental commission; and the purchase of new police cars.

Sandi Smith Dennis Hayes Ann Arbor Medical Marijuana

Before the Feb. 22 council meeting, Sandi Smith (Ward 1) chatted with Dennis Hayes about the medical marijuana licensing ordinance. The council delayed taking action on the ordinance. (Photos by the writer.)

However the council chose to delay some of its business due to the absences of four members – Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5), Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) and Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2). By way of explanation for the four absences, mayor John Hieftje offered the fact that it’s vacation week for the Ann Arbor Public Schools.

The delayed business included a set of proposed licensing rules for medical marijuana businesses. The council heard from advocates of medical marijuana during public commentary at the start of the meeting, but when they reached the item on their agenda, the seven councilmembers who attended the meeting decided to postpone their vote on the issue without deliberating on or amending the licensing proposal. It marks the fifth time the council has decided not to take an initial vote on the licensing, dating back to Dec. 6, 2010. The council must take two votes on any new ordinance.

Also delayed were two easements – one for pedestrian access and one for public utilities – from Glacier Hills Inc., a retirement community. Under the city charter, eight votes are required for approval of such easements. Rather than have the easements fail on a 7-0 vote, the council chose instead to postpone action.

During his communications, city administrator Roger Fraser gave the council a broad-strokes overview of potential impacts that Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposed state budget could have on the city of Ann Arbor. In a roughly $80 million general fund city budget, the $2.4 million projected shortfall – on which current reduction targets are based – could increase by $0.5 million (to $2.9 million) or by $1.7 million (to $4.1 million), depending on how state revenue sharing and state fire protection grants are handled in the state budget. The state’s fiscal year begins on Oct. 1, but the city of Ann Arbor must finalize its own budget in May, for a fiscal year starting July 1.

During public commentary, the council heard a suggestion that Ann Arbor follow the example of Ypsilanti and add parking lots to its snow-clearing ordinance. And during its communications time, the council scrutinized the city’s snow removal performance in connection with a recent storm. Snow began falling the previous Sunday afternoon, accumulating to at least six inches – and more, in many areas – by early Monday morning, when the snow stopped. Highlights from city administrator Roger Fraser’s report on the snow removal effort included the fact that two of the city’s 14 large plowing vehicles were down for maintenance and the fact that forecasted amounts of snow were much lower than what actually fell.

During public commentary, the city also heard from Douglas Smith regarding a Freedom of Information Act appeal that involved redaction of police reports. Over the last several months, Smith has addressed the University of Michigan regents and the Washtenaw County board of commissioners on a range of specific cases that all relate to the general issue of civilian oversight of police power. [Full Story]

State & Stimson (Railroad Tracks)

Gray VW Bug stuck, having tried to drive down the tracks leading SE from intersection of State and Stimson. Police car and tow truck trying to get it off the tracks.

County Board Briefed on Labor Issues

Washtenaw County board of commissioners working session (Feb. 17, 2011): County commissioners got an update last week on the county’s labor issues, as the county prepares for union contract negotiations later this year.

Diane Heidt

At right: Diane Heidt, Washtenaw County’s human resources and labor relations director, talks with Caryette Fenner, president of AFSCME Local 2733, the county government’s largest union. (Photos by the writer.)

The briefing was delivered by Diane Heidt, the county’s human resources and labor relations director. She told the board that they’d be discussing specific negotiation strategies at their March 3 working session – those talks will be held in a closed session, however. Heidt’s presentation last Thursday was meant to set the stage for commissioners, and to answer any general questions they had as the county prepares to negotiate with its 17 bargaining units.

Leaders of two unions attended Thursday’s working session, though they did not address the board during the meeting: Caryette Fenner, president of AFSCME Local 2733, the county government’s largest union, which represents 621 workers within its five units; and Nancy Heine, president of AFSCME Local 3052, with 56 members.

The county faces a two-year, $20.9 million deficit for its 2012 and 2013 budget years. In a “State of the County” report given to the board earlier this year, county administrator Verna McDaniel targeted $8.5 million in cuts to employee compensation and benefits as part of their strategy for tackling the projected shortfall. [Full Story]

Liberty & Seventh

Washtenaw County passenger van parked on Liberty with lights flashing. Group of 10 to 12 people, appear to be mostly teens or young adults, shoveling the driveway. Driver/supervisor said the shovelers, as part of their required community service, are clearing driveways and sidewalks for seniors and disabled persons.

A2: Libya

Salah Huwio, a 50-year-old Ann Arbor man who left Libya when he was a teen, is featured in a Detroit Free Press article about Libyan Americans who are concerned about their families currently living in that country, where demonstrations are taking place against ruler Moammar Qaddafi. Says Huwio: “We are looking for social justice. We don’t want bloodshed. We don’t want revenge. We want a system that will give us justice.” [Source]

UM: Congress

University of Michigan political science professor Michael Traugott is quoted in a Detroit News article about the rising influence of Michigan lawmakers in Congress, including Rep. John Dingell. Says Traugott: “A member with seniority can influence the flow of legislation. They have great knowledge of the process.” [Source]

A2: State Budget

The Center for Michigan, an Ann Arbor-based political think tank, has posted an online budget-balancing game that asks players to make a series of real-world decisions in order to tackle a $1.4 billion budget deficit. The first question: “Do you endorse the governor’s plan to cut business taxes by $1.2 billion? It’s meant to spur the economy but also increases your budget deficit.” [Source]

Fifth & Liberty

Distinct odor in the post office. Worker speculates that a customer tromped in with dog poo on their shoes.


Protesters from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), including three dressed in pig and cat costumes, picketed outside Detroit’s Westin Book Cadillac hotel on Wednesday, where University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman was being given a social justice award from a chapter of the Federal Bar Association, according to a report in the Detroit Free Press. The PETA group was protesting the use of pigs and cats to train UM survival flight nurses. [Source]

UM: Business School

Detroit Free Press columnist Tom Walsh discusses the challenges facing Alison Davis-Blake, the recently appointed dean of the University of Michigan Ross School of Business – the school’s first female dean. Writes Walsh: “Now that she’s coming, we’ll see how Davis-Blake handles the multiple challenges of big-time fund-raising while maintaining the Ross school’s big-time reputation and ratcheting up its engagement with Michigan’s businesses.” [Source]

Washington & Third

Republic Parking worker slicing off parking meter post with blowtorch. [photo] Inquiry with Downtown Development Authority yields explanation that some meter posts have been victims in car crashes due to slippery streets. Bent posts, like that one, need get sliced off and replaced.

S. Main & E. Davis

Oh look, we got a special delivery from the city. I’ve always wanted more snowlders!  [photo: chunks of snow from street plowed onto sidewalk]