Archive for April, 2011

Ypsi: Green Brewery

One of the University of Michigan’s “Out of the Blue” videos features a “green brewery” project by UM students, who worked with Matt and Rene Greff – owners of Arbor Brewing Co. in Ann Arbor and Corner Brewery in Ypsilanti. Students analyzed the operations at Corner Brewery and developed ways to make it more energy efficient and environmentally sustainable. [Source]

A2: Snyder Protest

The Detroit News is among several media outlets reporting on the protest against Gov. Rick Snyder at Saturday’s University of Michigan graduation, where he’s giving the commencement address and receiving an honorary degree. From the report: “Teachers, nurses and autoworkers filled [Pioneer] high school’s football field carrying signs, chanting ‘Recall Rick’ in protest to the governor’s proposed budget policies, especially higher education funding cuts of at least 15 percent – which is more in one year than the 14 percent cut public universities have endured over the last eight years.” [Source]

Main & Potter

Community standards officer started ticketing cars on lawns, spent 20 minutes on cell phone, then took back tickets.

Washtenaw: Snyder Recall Wording Clear

At a clarity hearing held on April 29, 2011, the Washtenaw County board of election commissioners found that the proposed ballot language in a petition asking for the recall of Gov. Rick Snyder was sufficiently clear. Snyder, a Republican, was elected Nov. 2, 2010.

Washtenaw County Board of Elections, McClary, Kestenbaum, Shelton

Washtenaw County board of election commissioners, left to right: Larry Kestenbaum, Catherine McClary, Donald Shelton. (Photos by the writer.)

Washtenaw County’s election board held the hearing because the petition must be filed in the county where the subject of the recall lives – Snyder is an Ann Arbor area resident.

Around 20 people attended the hearing, many of whom wore yellow buttons with language indicating support for the recall. Four people addressed the board during the public participation part of the agenda, including Snyder’s legal counsel, John Pirich, of the law firm Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn. Snyder – who is giving the commencement speech at the April 30 University of Michigan graduation ceremonies – did not attend Friday’s hearing.

The board of election commissioners consists of (chair) Donald E. Shelton, chief judge of the Washtenaw County Trial Court; (secretary) Larry Kestenbaum, county clerk; and (member) Catherine McClary, county treasurer. Kestenbaum and McClary were elected clerk and treasurer as Democrats. Shelton was elected judge on a non-partisan ballot, but in the past has run for office as a Democrat.

The vote on the clarity of the language was 2-1. McClary’s was the dissenting vote.

The language that the board found to be sufficiently clear was as follows: “Richard D. Snyder has requested from the legislature, approved and signed various laws that take authority and funds from local governments and school districts and vest them with the state. He has obtained for himself, through his appointed Emergency Financial Managers, the power to invalidate legal and binding contracts entered into by properly elected local authorities. He has sought tax increases upon retirees and lower income families, but instead of addressing the deficit, he has sought large new tax cuts for corporations and businesses.” [.pdf of proposed recall ballot language]

Under Michigan’s state election law, the finding at a clarity hearing can be appealed to the Circuit Court within 10 days of the finding by the petitioner or the officer. As of late Friday, April 29, Snyder had not made a decision whether to appeal.

Snyder’s office issued this statement: “The Governor remains fully committed to making the tough fiscal and policy decisions that have been put off for far too long. He knew full well that it wasn’t going to be easy. His budget and tax plan was a comprehensive approach to hit the ‘reset’ button and tackle the state’s structural deficit once and for all, grow Michigan’s economy for more and better jobs, ensure core and safety net services, and build a strong foundation for the future.”

After public participation, the deliberations by the board of election commissioners on the clarity of the language lasted about 10 minutes, with the entire session lasting around 20 minutes. [Full Story]

A2: Books

On his blog There Is No Gap, Karl Pohrt posts his conversation with Donald Lopez, a University of Michigan professor, Buddhist scholar and author of “The Tibetan Book of the Dead: A Biography.” Pohrt poses this question: “My first encounter with ‘The Tibetan Book of the Dead’ was in the late 1960s when I saw a stack of copies in a bookshop on State Street. I noticed that it was published by Oxford University Press, one of the oldest and most prestigious academic presses in the English speaking world. The Oxford imprint carries a certain caché, and I assumed it was legitimate. When I finished your book I was reminded of Dostoyevsky’s remark that Don Quixote was the saddest book … [Full Story]

In The Archives: Story Makes Full Circuit

Editor’s note: In her most recent local history column written for The Chronicle, “When Work Was Walkable,” Laura Bien described a series of relationships that existed 100 years ago between people who lived within walking distance of their work. She included the following lines: “When Daniel [Quirk] visited the mill, he may have been driven by his coachman, Manchester Roper. By 1910, Manchester had been hired as one of the two servants in Daniel’s household.”

A Chronicle reader recognized that his grandmother had been the other servant. That reader contacted Bien. And Bien got permission to explore the family archives. This month’s column grew out of that research. Fair warning: There’s a bit of ground to cover first before you’ll learn the identity of that reader. But as always with Bien’s text, it’ll be worth the wait. Keep your eye on Mabel.

As 1900 began, 77-year-old York Township farmer Horace Parsons knew that his wife Maria was gravely ill.

His first wife Margaret had died half a century earlier, three years after their New Year’s Day wedding. Horace married his second wife Mary Ann on New Year’s Day, 1850. Just months later, his mother Rebecca died. The following year, Mary Ann died, possibly in childbirth, and Horace’s father Orrin died.

Horace had seen them all laid to rest in Saline’s Oakwood Cemetery.


Mabel as a child. (Image links to higher resolution file.)

Horace married his third wife Maria on May 14, 1860. Over their four decades together, Horace and Maria shared the hardships of 19th-century Michigan farm life. They lost one of their children. They survived lean years early in their marriage, selling off sheep, pigs, and farm machinery. Unlike some neighbors, they hung on to their mortgage, expanding the farm from 30 acres to 50 in 1870 and 66 a decade later.

That year Horace’s restored flock of sheep was up to nearly 80 head and 30 lambs, plus cows and pigs. He grew oats, beans, wheat, potatoes, and Indian corn, and tended 2 acres of apple trees. His and Maria’s place was the typical mixed-crop, mixed-livestock Washtenaw County farm of the era. The heterogeneity of their farm and those of their neighbors was insurance against the not uncommon disasters that regularly struck down one or another animal or crop.

Now his and Maria’s time together, he could see, was ending.

Horace hired a local girl to help. Mabel was a teenager, though neither the term nor the concept existed when she came on as a servant on Horace’s farm. Mabel was the oldest child of brickyard worker and general laborer Orson Pepper and his wife, homemaker Myrtie. The young mother had been a schoolgirl only shortly before Mabel’s birth in 1884. [Full Story]

Library Lot

Division Street side of the block, woman wearing mortarboard, with gown and either a doctoral or masters hood draped over her arm, walking southward. Noise from concrete getting pumped into construction site for underground parking garage precluded any inquiry.

Election Board: Snyder Recall Wording OK

At a clarity hearing held on April 29, 2011, the Washtenaw County board of election commissioners found that the proposed ballot language in a petition asking for the recall of Gov. Rick Snyder was sufficiently clear.

The board of election commissioners consists of (chair) Donald E. Shelton, chief judge of the Washtenaw County Trial Court; (secretary) Larry Kestenbaum, county clerk; and (member) Catherine McClary, county treasurer.

The vote on the clarity of the language was 2-1. McClary’s was the dissenting vote.

The language that the board found to be sufficiently clear was as follows: “Richard D. Snyder has requested from the legislature, approved and signed various laws that take authority and funds from local governments and school districts and vest them with the state. He has obtained for himself, through his appointed Emergency Financial Managers, the power to invalidate legal and binding contracts entered into by properly elected local authorities. He has sought tax increases upon retirees and lower income families, but instead of addressing the deficit, he has sought large new tax cuts for corporations and businesses.” [.pdf of proposed recall ballot language]

Under Michigan’s state election law, the finding at a clarity hearing can be appealed to the Circuit Court within 10 days of the finding by the petitioner or the officer. New recall ballot language can also be submitted.

The petition language was submitted on April 18, 2011 by Gerald D. Rozner from the city of Monroe. The effort is being organized by a group called Michigan Citizens United. By state election law, the board had a window between 10 and 20 days after the petition during which to complete the clarity hearing. If no hearing had been held, the default finding is that the language is sufficiently clear.

If there is no appeal or if the petition language survives any appeal, the recall effort would need to collect signatures equal to 25% of the number of votes cast for the office of governor in the general election – about 800,000 signatures would be required. By law, the petition itself can’t be submitted until six months after the recall subject takes office – that means the recall petition could be filed no earlier than July 1, 2011.

The brief was filed from the Washtenaw County board of commissioners boardroom, 220 N. Main St., Ann Arbor, where the clarity hearing was conducted. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Column: Ann Arbor Parking – Share THIS!

It’s budget season for the city of Ann Arbor.

Over the last half decade, Ann Arbor’s annual spring budget conversation has evolved to include a discussion of public parking system revenues.

parking meters in Ann Arbor

In discussions about parking revenue, it’s been suggested that what the city of Ann Arbor is proposing is the equivalent of a tax on downtown parkers. (Photo illustration by The Chronicle. This is not what Ann Arbor parking meters actually look like. Yet.)

This year is no exception. The city council’s public hearing on the budget takes place at its May 2 meeting, with a vote on the 2012 fiscal year’s budget scheduled for May 16. At that May 2 meeting you’ll also hear the city council discuss revenues from the public parking system. The board of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority – which manages the city’s public parking system – will meet at noon the same day to ratify its side of a contract renewal.

As likely as any other scenario is an offer from the DDA for the city to receive 17% of gross revenues from the public parking system for each year of an 11-year term. But that offer stands a decent chance of getting rejected by the city council. The city’s last bargaining position was 18% for a 10-year term and multiple three-year renewals.

Public parking revenues were already part of council deliberations at a city council budget work session on April 11, when city administrator Roger Fraser had given a dress rehearsal of his budget proposal. At the work session, councilmembers and Fraser played out a scene, in which councilmembers offered up questions to Fraser to elicit this conclusion: If the city does not extract enough revenue from the city’s public parking system, the city will need to lay off additional police or firefighters – four this year and two the following year.

The scene was reprised on April 19, when the city’s budget was formally premiered. The budget did not appear to depart in significant ways from the department-by-department budget impacts that city managers have presented to the council at a series of work sessions since the beginning of the year.

On April 19, it was the city’s CFO Tom Crawford (later in the meeting to be appointed interim city administrator) who played the role of the “numbers guy.” So it was Crawford who gave the recommendation in response to councilmember prompts: Without sufficient revenue from the public parking system, he would recommend laying off an additional four public safety officers. That’s in addition to the five police officers, three other non-officer positions in the police department, and five firefighters who are already slated for layoff.

Councilmembers Christopher Taylor, Carsten Hohnke, Marcia Higgins, Stephen Kunselman and mayor John Hieftje played starring roles in their portrayal of elected officials that evening. But more to the point of this column, I wonder who the city council’s imagined audience is for this sort of theater? Presumably it’s for an audience that pays the price of admission. But in Ann Arbor, it’s an audience that typically doesn’t pay much attention: the city’s shareholders.

Yes, that’s exactly the word I want. Shareholders. [Full Story]

Column: Remembering Jim Mandich

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

On Tuesday, the Michigan football family lost another beloved son, Jim Mandich, who died of cancer at age 62.

Regular readers of this space know I’ve had to write a few elegies already this year, and I’m not sure if we can bear another one right now.

I’m not sure Mandich would want any more, either, beyond his funeral. As he told Angelique Chengelis of The Detroit News last fall, after he was diagnosed with cancer, “I said to myself, ‘No whining, no complaining, no bitching. You’ve lived a damned good life. You’ve got a lot to be thankful for.’”

And he did, including a great NFL career and three grown sons – good guys, good friends. But I’m sure he’d like to be remembered – don’t we all? – and I thought you might enjoy a story or two about an unusually talented and charismatic man. [Full Story]

UM: Space Station

The Washington Post reports on a $2 billion experiment that’s being transported to the space station by the shuttle Endeavor – a device called the alpha magnetic spectrometer, developed by physicist Samuel C.C. Ting. The article quotes UM physicist Gregory Tarle, who expresses skepticism about the project: “This kind of science is not worth billions of dollars…people are shaking their heads that Sam could do this. He did it by bullying his way through.” [Source]

First & Washington

Traffic is backed up all the way to Huron due to a lane being closed along First Street, for filming of “Five Year Engagement” at the Cavern Club.

Washtenaw Redistricting Plans Presented

Two redistricting plans for the Washtenaw County board of commissioners – one proposing an increase from 11 to 12 districts, and another proposing a decrease to 9 districts – were presented at the April 28, 2011 meeting of the county apportionment commission. The 9-district plan was proposed by county prosecuting attorney Brian Mackie, a Democrat who’s also a member of the apportionment commission. The 12-district plan – which creates a new district for Scio Township – was proposed by county clerk Larry Kestenbaum, a Democrat who chairs the apportionment commission, and Mark Boonstra, a commission member and chair of the Washtenaw Republican Party. The plans will be posted on the apportionment commission’s website later this evening.

The commission discussed the plans but did not vote. Two additional meetings are scheduled: on Wednesday, May 4 at 5 p.m. and on Wednesday, May 11 at 5:30 p.m. Both meetings will be held in the lower-level conference room at 200 N. Main St., Ann Arbor. By law, the commission has until June 6 to approve a redistricting plan. Other commission members are county treasurer Catherine McClary, and the chair of the county Democratic Party, Cleveland Chandler.

The commission has held three public hearings to get public input on redistricting, a state-mandated process that takes place every 10 years following the release of new census data. Several people also spoke during public commentary at today’s April 28 meeting. [See Chronicle coverage: "Public Gives Input on County Redistricting" and "Washtenaw Redistricting Work Begins"]

This brief was filed from the apportionment commission meeting at 200 N. Main St., Ann Arbor. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Stadium & Washtenaw

Goateed dude strolling past St. Francis along Stadium Boulevard in “ASK ME ABOUT MY FORESKIN!” T-shirt. I did not do so.

Ann Arbor Library Signs Digital Music Deal

Ann Arbor District Library board meeting (April 25, 2011): At Monday’s meeting, AADL staff reported on a recent groundbreaking deal they’ve struck with the digital music publisher Magnatune, as part of a broader effort to provide more digital offerings to library patrons.

Nancy Kaplan

Nancy Kaplan, the newest Ann Arbor District Library board member, is introducing a proposal to videotape library board meetings for public broadcast. The board is expected to consider a resolution on that issue at its May 16 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

The deal – which is getting national attention from library professionals – gives patrons unlimited access to a downloadable catalog of about 12,000 tracks in a wide range of genres. Though it doesn’t include songs by popular artists on major record labels, AADL director Josie Parker told the board that the selection should appeal to a community like Ann Arbor, which values alternative music.

The library is looking for other ways to increase its digital offerings of audiobooks, films, music, and free or open eBooks. Possibilities include tapping collections like Project Gutenberg, which has about 50,000 titles, and working with local authors, musicians and filmmakers who might be interested in making their work accessible to library patrons.

Also at Monday’s meeting, board member Nancy Kaplan advocated for televising the board’s monthly meetings, and said she’d like to bring a formal proposal to the board for a vote on May 16. Other groups like the Ann Arbor Public Schools board and the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority currently hold their meetings in the same location as the AADL board – the fourth floor conference room of the AADL’s downtown building on South Fifth Avenue. AAPS and AATA meetings are televised by Community Television Network. Parker agreed that there are benefits to televising the meetings, but cited issues of quality and control as reasons why they haven’t decided to do that yet.

In other business, board members got a preview of the 2011-12 budget, for the fiscal year starting July 1, 2011. They plan to keep the millage level unchanged – AADL levies 1.55 mills, not its maximum allowable 1.92 mills. There will be no layoffs, but no pay increases. The board will take a formal vote to approve the final budget at their May 16 meeting, which will also include a public hearing on the issue.

And in a discussion about the nonprofit Friends of the Ann Arbor District Library, Parker asked the board to consider putting a direct link to that organization’s website on the front page of the AADL website. The move would be “a pretty public vote of confidence for them, and recognition for everything they’ve done,” she said. The AADL had distanced itself from the Friends several years ago in the wake of financial oversight issues that have since been resolved. The group operates a used bookstore in the lower level of AADL’s downtown branch, with proceeds – $100,000 this year alone – benefiting the library. [Full Story]

A2: Theater

Local photographer Myra Klarman, writing on her blog Relish, encourages readers to attend Pioneer Theatre Guild’s production of “Seussical”: “I took production photos on not just one occasion, but two — this show is that captivating! And this handy-dandy, decoy blog-entry (featuring thematically-related pictures of my oh-so-adorable son, Max, dredged up from the archives) will buy me more time to pick and choose from my massive haul of Seussical images. Now, don’t even dream of telling me that you hoped to see my pix before you bought your tix. Don’t you dare! Because, as good as my pix may be, they cannot compare to being there. (I swear.)” Performances are set for Friday, April 29 through Sunday, May 1. [... [Full Story]

UM: Venture Capital

Xconomy Detroit reports on the Michigan Growth Capital Symposium (MGCS), an annual event now in its 30th year that’s organized by UM business professor David Brophy: “Since Brophy created MGCS in 1981, the symposium has morphed into the state’s premier investor event for startups seeking money. For the symposium’s 30th anniversary next month in Ypsilanti, Brophy and his team did a little number crunching. Over the past decade, 300 companies have presented at MGCS, with 71 percent of them eventually raising a total of more than $1.7 billion in capital. Twenty percent of those startups later enjoyed successful exits.” [Source]

West Park

Dueling Bullfrogs in West Park. The new pond in West Park suddenly became filled with bullfrogs, singing quite loudly. It’s a very nice musical addition to West Park. [photo]

Ann & Ashley

Is that a couch by the dumpster at the Ann-Ashley parking structure, or public art? [photo]

Murals as Public Art Possibly Delayed

At their April 27, 2011 meeting, members of the Ann Arbor public art commission (AAPAC) received news from city staff that a pilot mural program already approved by the commission might need to be delayed. AAPAC was informed that the Ann Arbor city council never voted to approve the current fiscal year’s public art plan, which included the mural program.

The annual plan spanning July 1, 2010 through June 30, 2011 was created, but apparently was never forwarded to by city staff to be placed on the council’s agenda last year. Some commissioners questioned whether approval of the plan by council is needed before projects can move forward.

The city ordinance establishing the Percent for Art program, approved by the city council in 2007, requires: “By April 1 of each year, submit to city council a plan detailing potential projects and desirable goals to be pursued in the next fiscal year.”

At Wednesday’s meeting, AAPAC discussed and approved the public art plan for FY2012, which begins July 1, 2011. Ten projects are in the plan, including artwork in the interior and exterior of the new justice center, the Fuller Road Station, and the mural pilot program. [.pdf of draft FY2012 annual plan at start of AAPAC's April 27 meeting]

Approved in 2007 by the city council, the city’s Percent for Art ordinance creates a mechanism for funding public art by allocating 1% of all capital improvement projects – with a cap of $250,000 – to be spent on public art.

The mural pilot program hit another hitch earlier this year, when a meeting – called to vote on approving two proposed sites for the first murals – wasn’t properly noticed under the Michigan Open Meetings Act, and had to be held again. [Previous Chronicle coverage: "Art Commission Votes Again on Mural Sites," "Public Art Group Picks Two Mural Sites" and "Public Art Mural Program in the Works"]

This brief was filed from the 7th floor conference room of the City Center Building, 220 E. Huron St., where AAPAC meets. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Washington & Third

Two kids clamoring to insert quarters into a parking meter – the adult appears to be allowing them to do this as a treat. Perhaps a way for the city to get more parking revenue is to encourage four-year-olds to feed the meters.

Commission Makes Park Budget Recs

At its April 26, 2011 meeting, Ann Arbor’s park advisory commission (PAC) voted to recommend to the city council the staff-proposed parks and recreation budget for fiscal year 2012. The council will authorize the FY 2012 budget at its May 16 meeting. But the commission also passed a resolution asking the council to honor its promise to residents made in 2006, when voters approved a parks maintenance and capital improvements millage.

The proposed part of the budget for parks and recreation services includes savings from items like lower energy usage resulting from infrastructure energy improvements ($65,083) and eliminating underused computer software ($7,000). The parks and recreation part of the city’s roughly $80 million general fund budget is planned to be about $3.6 million.

Also part of PAC’s purview in the city budget is a portion of the field operations budget involving park operations. For park operations that are part of field operations, the city is expecting to achieve savings in the use of temporary labor to staff vacant positions ($158,248).

The promise to which the second PAC resolution refers is a measure passed by the city council in October 2006, setting forth an administrative policy, which reads in relevant part: “If future reductions are necessary in the City’s general fund budget, during any of the six years of this millage, beginning with Fiscal Year 2007-2008, the general fund budget supporting the parks and recreation system for that year will be reduced by a percentage no greater than the average percentage reduction of the total City general fund budget.” The policy was seen as important to assure voters that once the millage was passed, millage money would not replace general fund support for parks.

Based on city staff calculations, the portion of the city’s general fund in the proposed FY 2012 budget that supports parks would fall short of the 2006 administrative policy standard by $90,000. And some park commissioners objected to the fact that some of the money previously drawn from the general fund to support parks will now be drawn from the METRO fund. The METRO fund receives revenues that the state requires telecommunications companies to pay municipalities for use of the right-of-way. For purposes of the administrative policy, the city is counting the METRO funds that are supporting parks as part of the general fund.

So the second resolution passed by PAC called on the city council to adhere to the prevailing administrative policy. Julie Grand, PAC’s chair, was critical of the short notice that PAC had received on the funding change and the lack of opportunity for public comment to PAC on the issue. The city council’s public hearing on the FY 2012 budget is scheduled for May 2, as part of the city council’s meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. at council chambers, 301 E. Huron St.

This brief was filed shortly after the Washtenaw County boardroom at 220 N. Main St. A more detailed report of the meeting will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Spring & Miller

Fire and Rescue truck responds to a downed wire on this windy day. Guess it wasn’t too dangerous. And not an electric wire. [photo]