Archive for February, 2011

Library Board Meeting: A Short Story

Ann Arbor District Library board meeting (Feb. 21, 2011): In a meeting that lasted just under 15 minutes, board members heard a regular monthly financial update, approved committee appointments and rescheduled their April board meeting so that it won’t conflict with Passover. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Authorizes Five Police Cars

At its Feb. 22, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council approved the purchase of five police cars – Crown Victoria Police Interceptors – for $20,730 each, a total of $103,650. The purchase was made from the low bidder, Signature Ford in Owosso, Mich. The city of Ann Arbor selected from among the bids made under the cooperative bidding programs of the State of Michigan, Macomb County and Oakland County in an effort to leverage higher volume into lower cost. In this case the lowest bid came through Macomb County’s program.

The city’s fleet services does not generally use the age of a vehicle as an absolute metric to determine replacement. Instead, each vehicle is evaluated based on vehicle’s age, miles/hours of use, type of service, reliability, maintenance and repair cost, and general condition. Hours of use is considered an important metric, because much of the mileage a city vehicle sees is city driving, which causes more wear and tear on vehicles.

However, the vehicles being replaced with the purchase of the five patrol cars are not evaluated with the same process as other vehicles in the city’s fleet. Police union contracts require that vehicles used by their members not exceed 80,000 miles or 6 years, whichever comes first. The five vehicles to be replaced will exceed the contractual criteria in the next 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]

Golf: Fees Raised; Task Force Renewed

At its Feb. 22, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council authorized a fee increase at the city’s golf courses, and reappointed members of the city’s golf courses advisory task force.

Power golf cart rentals for 9 holes at Leslie Park and Huron Hills will increase from $7 to $8; for 18 holes, the rental fee would increase from $13 to $14. City staff estimate the increases would generate $25,000 in additional revenue per season. Weekend fees for 9 and 18 holes at Leslie Park golf course will increase by $2 and $1, respectively, and the twilight fee would increase to $16, up from $15. These increases would generate an estimated additional $12,500 in revenue per season. In addition, the council approved raising the senior citizen qualification age to 59 for the 2011 season. That’s part of a consultant’s proposal to incrementally increase the qualification age from 55 to 62 by adding one year to the minimum age annually.

The actions came to the council in advance of the regular budget, so that the rates can be in place for the opening of the courses in the spring.

At the council’s meeting, the mandate of the city’s golf courses advisory task force, first appointed in 2008, was also renewed and its members were reappointed. Its members are: Stephen Rapundalo (city council); Julie Grand (park advisory commission); Bill Newcomb and Ed Walsh (citizens with demonstrated golf operations expertise); Thomas Allen (Ann Arbor citizen with group golf play experience); Barbara Jo Smith (Ann Arbor golf courses patron); John Stetz (citizen and member of a neighborhood association adjoining a golf course). The task force will be chaired by Rapundalo.

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 Approves Avalon’s Pauline Plan

At its Feb. 22, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council approved the site plan for an Avalon Housing project at 1500 Pauline Blvd. that would construct 32 dwelling units and 39 surface parking spaces. The plan includes demolition of four existing apartment buildings containing 48 units. The new construction would include six new buildings totaling 53,185 square feet. Five of the buildings would include one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments and three-bedroom townhomes. The sixth building would be a community center with a playground.

Estimated cost of the project is $8 million. That cost includes an upfront developer’s fee of 15% – typical for nonprofit projects like this – as well as costs associated with relocating current residents and paying for their housing at an alternative site for up to five years, as mandated by federal law under the Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act.

Avalon expects to fund the project through a combination of sources, including Low Income Housing Tax Credits, HOME program subsidy (HUD funds allocated through the Michigan State Housing Development Authority and the Washtenaw Urban County), the Federal Home Loan Bank, and private loan funds.

The proposal complies with the site’s R4B zoning. The city’s planning commission approved the site plan at its Jan. 20, 2011 meeting on a 7-0 vote.

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]

Hutton Appointed to Enviro Commission

At its Feb. 22, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council appointed Susan Hutton to fill the vacancy on the city’s environmental commission (EC) left by Steve Bean – who chose not to continue his service on the EC. Bean had served on the EC since it was created in 2000.

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5), who  serves as one of two council representatives to the commission – the other is Margie Teall (Ward 4) – had announced at the council’s previous meeting that he was nominating Hutton to fill Bean’s spot. Hutton is development director at Leslie Science and Nature Center. At that meeting, Hohnke had also announced that there would be another vacancy soon on the EC and that the council was actively soliciting applicants. [Anya Dale's term on the EC ended on Feb. 20, 2011.]

Whereas most nominations to boards and commissions are made by the mayor, then confirmed by the city council, positions on the EC are made by the city council.

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 Feb. 22, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council again delayed its consideration of a set of licensing requirements for medical marijuana businesses. The council has now delayed its initial vote on the licensing requirements at five meetings, dating back to Dec. 6, 2010. The postponement was until March 7, 2011, the council’s next meeting.

The vote that was again postponed is the first of two votes the council must take on any new ordinance it enacts. At its meetings over the last few months, the council has heard extensive public commentary on medical marijuana, but that commentary does not constitute a formal public hearing, which will be held at the same meeting when the council votes on final approval of the licensing, provided it eventually gives initial approval to the licensing system.

At its Oct. 18, 2010 meeting, the  council gave its initial approval to a set of zoning regulations for medical marijuana businesses, but it has not yet given its final approval to those regulations. The council’s strategy is to bring licensing and zoning forward at the same time for a final vote.

The context for development of zoning regulations was set at the council’s Aug. 5, 2010 meeting, when councilmembers voted to impose a moratorium on the use of property in the city for medical marijuana dispensaries or cultivation facilities and directed its planning commission to develop zoning regulations for medical marijuana businesses. Subsequently, the city attorney’s office also began working on a licensing system.

At its Jan. 3 meeting, the council heavily amended the licensing proposal. 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 that meeting. The council undertook additional amendments to the licensing proposal at its Feb. 7, 2011 meeting.

The moratorium on additional facilities in the city to be used as medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivation facilities was extended by the council at its Jan. 18 meeting to go through March 31, 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]

Crest & Bemidji

West side dogpark no more. Sign cites ordinance: Dogs must be leashed, feces removed. No pets allowed? [photo]

Chapin Street

Two cars get stuck (sequentially) in the same deeply snow-covered parking space across from West Park. Only one travel lane has been plowed.

Vesper Road

City snow truck stuck in snow.  Much whirring of wheels and gunning of engine.  A second truck finally appeared and pulled it out with aid of a chain.

Fourth & Liberty

Dear Federal Building: Did you not get the memo from the city of Ann Arbor, about how you’re supposed to clear your sidewalks? We walkers would seriously appreciate it.

AAPS To Visit Finalists’ Home Districts

Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education special meeting (Feb. 18, 2011): Following a week of interviews for the district’s top job, last Friday the Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education winnowed the field of six down to three finalists for superintendent: Patricia Green (North Allegheny School District, Pennsylvania.); Michael Muñoz (Des Moines Public Schools, Iowa); and Shelley Redinger (Oregon Trail School District, Oregon).

Deb Mexicotte and Glenn Nelson AAPS School Board

AAPS board president Deb Mexicotte and trustee Glenn Nelson at Friday's meeting to select superintendent finalists. (Photos by the writer.)

This week, a team of three trustees – Christine Stead, Susan Baskett, and Glenn Nelson – will be conducting site visits at each of the finalists’ current districts. Each finalist will then return to Ann Arbor to answer questions from the community at separate forums tentatively scheduled for the afternoon of Saturday, March 5, and have a second interview with the board tentatively scheduled for Sunday, March 6. Immediately following the second interviews, the board will meet in open session to review community input, hear reports on the site visits, and choose the new AAPS superintendent. [Full Story]

Transit Planning Forum: Saline Edition

Editor’s note: Since July 2010, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority has been developing a transit master plan (TMP) for transit service throughout Washtenaw County. Countywide service would represent an expansion of the service it currently offers in Ann Arbor, which is supported by a transit millage. The AATA also offers limited service in the rest of the county through purchase of service agreements (POS) with three of the county’s townships and the city of Ypsilanti. In November 2010, Ypsilanti voters passed a millage to fund its POS agreement with the AATA.

Saline City Hall, Harris Street

The view southward on Harris Street in Saline. Saline city hall, where the Feb. 8, 2011 transit master planning forum was held, sits to the left of the frame. (Photo by the writer.)

A second public engagement phase of the countywide planning exercise is now wrapping up, with 20 community forums held through the month of February at locations across the county. The final four of those forums will take place next week. Coverage of the forum hosted in the Saline area is provided by Chronicle intern and Saline resident Hayley Byrnes.

On Feb. 8, at Saline city hall, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority sponsored the ninth of 20 community forums being held from the end of January through February. Every forum is open to all Washtenaw County residents, but they’re being held at locations across the county – like Saline – to make it easier for people to attend.

The goal of a previous round of 20 public forums, held last year, was to get participants to brainstorm about countywide transit. But the current set of forums is all about presenting participants with three specific scenarios that have been developed so far, based in part on those first 20 meetings. The AATA is calling these three scenarios: Lifeline Plus, Accessible County and Smart Growth. From those three scenarios, a preferred scenario will be developed. An AATA board consensus on that scenario is expected in March, with board action on adoption of a countywide transit plan expected in April.

Michael Benham, who’s coordinating the project for the AATA, and Juliet Edmonson, a consultant with Steer Davies Gleave (SDG), hosted the Saline forum. Michael Ford, CEO of the AATA, made an appearance in video form. For county residents who cannot attend any of the forums, the AATA is also seeking feedback on the three scenarios using an online survey. [Full Story]

A2: Books

The New Yorker published some reflections by Susan Orlean, author of “The Orchid Thief,” regarding the bankruptcy of Borders: “I feel somewhat responsible for the Borders Books bankruptcy. I went to college in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where Borders was founded; at the time, there was one single Borders store, a dark, sprawling space on State Street right near campus, with the nooks and crannies and shadowy corners of a magical grotto. I spent many afternoons in the store, surrounded by books I’d hauled down from the shelves, reading and whiling away the day. I bought a few of the books, but not many.” [Source]

A2: Business

The Detroit News reports on the uncertainty facing Border’s East Liberty store in Ann Arbor. So far, the downtown store has been spared – even after the company declared bankruptcy last week and is closing 200 stores, including another Ann Arbor location in Arborland. But if Borders cannot reorganize and emerge from bankruptcy successfully, the fate of all stores is uncertain, according to the report. Phil Pochoda, director of the University of Michigan Press, said, “If Borders were to close here, the center of town wouldn’t have a bookstore, and that’s just preposterous.” [Source]

Mulholland Driveway

Tarping method of snow removal (lay out tarp before snow falls) a qualified success. [photo]

First & William

Three Republic Parking plows in parking lot, one stuck in deep snow, small scooper machine shoveling it out.

UM Regents Hear from Grad Student Union

University of Michigan board of regents meeting (Feb. 17, 2011): About midway through Thursday’s meeting, dozens of graduate students quietly streamed into the boardroom, many of them carrying signs of protest and wearing brightly-colored T-shirts emblazoned with the Graduate Employees’ Organization logo.

University of Michigan graduate student research assistants and instructors at Feb. 17, 2011 regents meeting

University of Michigan graduate student research assistants and members of the Graduate Employees' Organization (GEO) crowded the boardroom at Feb. 17, 2011 board of regents meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

They came to support four speakers during public commentary, who were advocating for better benefits and working conditions for graduate student employees. Also speaking during public commentary were five professors from the medical school, urging regents to support a flexible “tenure clock” that would give faculty more time to achieve that professional milestone.

The meeting’s main presentation focused on international aspects of the university – students from other countries who study at UM, and American students who study abroad. Mark Tessler, vice provost for international affairs, told regents that three-quarters of the UM students who study abroad are female – they’re trying to find out why male students aren’t as interested.

The presentation led to several questions from regents, who wanted clarification about why UM doesn’t offer an international program in Israel. They also cited the importance of finding incentives to keep international students in Michigan after graduation.

Regents also voted on several items, mostly without discussion, including: approving the next step in a major renovation of Alice Lloyd Hall; giving departmental status to the Center for Afroamerican and African Studies; and officially naming the new Law School commons in honor of Bob Aikens, a UM alumnus who donated $10 million to the project.

Another UM alum, Gov. Rick Snyder, had released his proposed state budget earlier in the day. Prior to the meeting, several university executives huddled with Cynthia Wilbanks, vice president for government relations, to get updated on the implications for their own budget – funding for higher education is among the many cuts Snyder has proposed. President Mary Sue Coleman also addressed that issue in her opening remarks. [Full Story]

Liberty & First

Unusual activity at former used furniture store: U-Haul, cars, folks going in and out. Has it been rented?

Hilly Ann Arbor Streets

12:45 p.m. Preemptive salting of hilly streets going on around town – Washington Street near the Y, North Seventh, Summit, etc.

Ashley & Washington

Woman carrying a fold-up table, girl pulling a red wagon piled high with boxes of Girl Scout cookies – walking east on Washington toward Main Street.

A2: Business

Salon publishes a column by Edward McClelland, reflecting on how the growth of Borders from a small independent bookstore into a megastore chain contributed to its current struggles: “As a freshman at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, I was awed by the sight of the original Borders, on State Street. Never in my 18 years had I seen two stories of books. I spent nearly as much time reading at Borders as I spent reading in class while my professors lectured. There was nothing to do at Borders but read. In the mid-1980s, a coffee shop was still a diner that served pancakes until 11 a.m.” [Source]

Washtenaw County Treasurer Updates Board

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Feb. 16, 2011): The county board’s four-hour meeting on Wednesday evening was punctuated by a heated debate about whether some of their meetings are sufficiently in the public eye.

Bill Reynolds, Catherine McClary

Washtenaw County treasurer Catherine McClary, right, talks with deputy county administrator Bill Reynolds before the start of the Feb. 16, 2011 board of commissioners meeting. McClary delivered her annual treasurer's report during the meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

Ronnie Peterson started that debate by advocating for holding the board’s budget retreats and administrative briefings at the boardroom table, where they can be televised. The meetings are open to the public, but are more informal and not available on Community Television Network or online webcasts. The ensuing discussion revealed different perspectives on what kind of environments are most conducive to deliberations. At one point, board chair Conan Smith – who opposed a change of venue – argued that deliberations aren’t subject to the state’s Open Meetings Act. The county’s attorney, Curtis Hedger, advised the board that, in fact, deliberations do need to occur in open meetings, with limited exceptions allowed in closed sessions.

After roughly 90 minutes of debate, the board voted – with Smith dissenting – to hold future budget retreats in the boardroom following their bi-weekly working sessions. The retreats will be televised. An effort to relocate and televise administrative briefings failed, however, with support only from Peterson, Kristin Judge and Wes Prater.

In other business, the board appointed three staff members to a review committee that’s part of a new coordinated effort for funding human services nonprofits in the county. During a presentation by Mary Jo Callan – head of the office of community development, which is overseeing this process – Peterson expressed concern that smaller, community-based nonprofits will be unable to compete in this new system. Callan assured him that she understood his concerns, but felt that this new model could actually be better for those nonprofits. She noted that the board would ultimately control funding decisions for county dollars.

Catherine McClary, the county treasurer, delivered her annual treasurer’s report, giving an update on the county’s investment portfolio, delinquent taxes and foreclosures. She reported that the amount of residential tax foreclosures appears to be stabilizing, but foreclosures of commercial property are on the rise, especially for parcels of vacant, undeveloped land. Separately, the board approved the treasurer’s annual request to borrow funds – up to $50 million this year – to temporarily cover delinquent taxes in the county’s 80 taxing jurisdictions. Last year, there was about $29 million in delinquent taxes, and McClary expects a small increase this year.

McClary also told commissioners that later this year she’ll be asking them to approve a civil infractions ordinance for dog licenses, as part of a stepped-up enforcement effort. Right now, not having a license is a criminal misdemeanor of 90 days in jail or a $500 fine.

During Wednesday’s meeting commissioners also delivered several liaison reports, including news that the Washtenaw County Parks & Recreation Commission had approved $600,000 for the Connecting Communities trail program. Part of those funds will support a project that will eventually link Saline and Ann Arbor through a non-motorized pathway. The commission also authorized $250,000 to build a boathouse and fishing dock at Ford Lake, in partnership with the state and Eastern Michigan University. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor 2012 Budget: Fire, Police

Editor’s note: The Ann Arbor city council has held two retreats to discuss the city’s FY 2012 budget – one in early December 2010 and another in early January 2011. A summary of the material covered in those retreats is provided in previous Chronicle coverage: “Ann Arbor: Engaging the FY 2012 Budget.”

Leading up to the city administrator’s proposed budget in April – for FY 2012, beginning July 1, 2011 – the city council is also holding a series of work sessions on the budget. Their typical scheduling pattern is for the weeks between council meetings. Previous work sessions have taken place on community services as well as the 15th District Court. On Feb. 14, 2011, the council held its budget work session on safety services – fire and police. Also included were a raft of smaller departments – finance, information technology, mayor and council, administrator’s office, clerk’s office and Community Television Network (CTN). One budget work session remains, for the public services area, on Feb. 28.

Barnett Jones at the podium of a city council budget work session

At the podium is Barnett Jones, chief of police and head of public safety services for the city of Ann Arbor. Seated at the table, from right to left are: Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), Mike Anglin (Ward 5), Tony Derezinski (Ward 2), Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2). (Photo by the writer.)

On Feb. 14, heads of Ann Arbor’s police and fire departments presented the city council with their strategy for meeting budget reduction targets for the next two fiscal years – FY 2012 and FY 2013. They each presented their strategies for meeting the target on two different scenarios: (1) a 2.5% reduction for each year’s projected expenses; and (2) a 4.0% reduction for each year’s projected expenses.

Police chief Barnett Jones, who’s also head of all safety services for the city, told councilmembers he’d prefer to be “wrassling with a bad guy” instead of talking about the scenarios, but sketched out his reduction strategies anyway: On the 4.0% scenario, two years from now the department would have 14 fewer police officer positions than it does now – the force would decrease from 124 to 110 officers. Of the 14 police officer positions that could be eliminated, 13 of them would come through layoffs. That doesn’t include six additional, non-officer positions that would be eliminated in the department, four of them through layoffs.

Fire chief Dominick Lanza, who announced his resignation the day after the work session was held, sketched out a similar picture for the fire department: On the 4.0% scenario, two years from now, the department would have 13 fewer firefighters, with 11 of those reductions achieved through layoffs.

At the council’s first budget retreat, city administrator Roger Fraser and the city’s CFO Tom Crawford indicated that the 2.5% scenarios depend on unresolved union contracts settling with no salary increases and the adoption of the city’s new benefits plan. But even those scenarios would, in the first year of the two-year plan, result in the elimination of three police officer positions (two through layoffs) and five firefighter positions (three through layoffs).

The 2.5% target is the baseline reduction for all city departments, with higher targets established for a department (up to 4.0%) depending on how many of the department’s workers are on the new city benefits plan. The new plan requires higher contributions from employees for health care and pensions.

Besides fire and police protection, the city council received reduction reports from smaller departments, including a group of units in the finance department, the administrator’s office and the clerk’s office. They also discussed how the information technology department works out of a service fund that is external to the general fund. [Full Story]

AAPS Selects Superintendent Finalists

At its meeting on Friday evening, Feb. 18, 2011 – which followed a week interviewing six candidates for the district’s top job – the Ann Arbor Public Schools board of trustees settled on three finalists: Patricia Green (North Allegheny School District, Pennsylvania.); Michael Muñoz (Des Moines Public Schools, Iowa); and Shelley Redinger (Oregon Trail School District, Oregon).

Not included as finalists were: William DeFrance (Eaton Rapids Public Schools, Michigan); Paul Long (Pennsbury School District, Pennsylvania); and Manuel Rodriguez (Baltimore County Public Schools, Maryland).

A team of three trustees – Christine Stead, Susan Baskett, and Glenn Nelson – will be conducting site visits over the next several days at each of the candidates’ current districts. Second interviews, community forums, and final selection of the district’s new superintendent will take place during the week of Feb. 28, 2011.

This brief was filed from a special meeting of the board at the Courtyard Marriott, 3205 Boardwalk, where the board had conducted interviews with Long and Muñoz earlier in the afternoon. A more detailed report of the board’s deliberations will follow: [link] [Full Story]

UM Diag

Bulbs are coming up outside of the Randall Laboratory building. [photo]

A2: Chefs

The Detroit Free Press reports that Alex Young of Zingerman’s Roadhouse in Ann Arbor and Craig Common of the Common Grill in Chelsea are among 20 semifinalists for the James Beard Foundation’s 2011 best chef in the Great Lakes region. The Beard awards are considered the most prestigious honor for chefs – the winners will be announced in March. [Source]

A2: Food

The Green Living Project posts a video of the Selma Cafe, a weekly breakfast salon on Ann Arbor’s west side that celebrated its second anniversary on Feb. 18. The cafe at the home of Jeff McCabe and Lisa Gottlieb raises money for local farming efforts, including hoop house construction. [Source]