Archive for July, 2011

Island Park

Signs of urban wildlife along the Huron River: about a half dozen ducks [photo] and an empty six-pack of Bad Ass beer, hanging from a tree [photo].

After Resignation, Who Leads Mural Program?

Ann Arbor public art commission meeting (July 27, 2011): For the second month in a row, Ann Arbor’s public art commission had too few members to achieve a quorum and didn’t take any action at Wednesday’s meeting.  But commissioners discussed a range of projects already underway.

Mock-up section of Dreiseitl water sculpture

A mock-up section of the sculpture by Herbert Dreiseitl that's commissioned for the entrance to the Ann Arbor municipal center. The piece is made of bronze, with blue glass lights embedded. In this photo, water is flowing over the section, as it will when installed. (Photo courtesy of Quinn Evans Architects)

One issue: How to proceed with recommending a replacement for Jeff Meyers, who resigned from AAPAC in June, mid-way through his three-year term. The main concern among commissioners is who can take over leadership of a new mural program that Meyers had initiated. Margaret Parker indicated she’ll also be leaving the commission in the coming months, creating another vacancy on the nine-member commission.

The mayor, John Hieftje, is responsible for making nominations to AAPAC. Those nominations also require confirmation by the full city council. On Wednesday, AAPAC commissioners discussed the need for better communication with Hieftje, and said they hoped to find out what criteria he was using to make the selection – the most recent appointment Hieftje made to AAPAC was done without their input, after he rejected someone they’d recruited. Communication has also been lacking regarding Meyers’ resignation – in a phone interview with The Chronicle following AAPAC’s July meeting, Meyers said the mayor hasn’t acknowledged his resignation.

In other topics at Wednesday’s meeting, commissioners briefly discussed a written update they’d received about the Herbert Dreiseitl water sculpture being built for the entrance to the municipal center. Installation is still on track for next month.

Also in August – at city council’s Aug. 4 meeting – winners of the annual Golden Paintbrush awards will be honored. AAPAC selected the winners, who are recognized for their contributions to public art, via an online poll last month. This year, winners are: (1) Krazy Jim’s Blimpie Burger, for the Snow Bears sculptures they build each winter in front of their business at Packard and South Division; (2) Mary Thiefels and Treetown Murals for the mural outside the Alley Bar along West Liberty; and (3) Peter Allen & Associates, for rock sculptures on North Main Street. [Full Story]

In the Archives: August Emancipation

Editor’s note: On this, the last day of July, many residents will be thinking ahead to the second day of August, when Ann Arbor voters will select Democratic candidates in city council elections for three of the city’s five wards. Local history writer Laura Bien gives us a reason to pause and ponder the first day of August, too.

Excerpt from Abba Owen's diary entry for Aug. 1, 1888. (Image links to larger file.)

Largely forgotten today, August 1 was once an annual holiday for black residents of Washtenaw County: Emancipation Day.

The day commemorated Britain’s 1833 Slavery Abolition Act, which a year later ended slavery in most of the British empire. That included Canada, of course, from which many early local black settlers emigrated.

The day was distinct from and older than Juneteenth (also often called Emancipation Day), a holiday that commemorates the belated announcement of the end of slavery in Texas on June 18, 1865. This year, Ann Arbor observed Juneteenth in Wheeler Park, near the city’s historically black Kerrytown-area neighborhood.

Organized by the Ann Arbor branch of the NAACP, local Juneteenth celebrations date back to 1994. [Full Story]

Washtenaw: Lawsuit

Bloomberg reports that the Washtenaw County Employees Retirement System has filed a lawsuit against Princeton Review Inc., the test-preparation firm, for securities fraud. The lawsuit claims that Princeton Review issued “false and misleading statements” about the business related to the company’s April 2010 secondary stock offering and financial results. The pension system is seeking class-action status for its suit, according to the report. [Source]

Washington & Third St.

House party with large screen – made of sheets? – hung in front yard, ready for an outdoor movie.

Michigan Stadium

Michigan Stadium. “Michigan Stadium” gets dropped in place on top of new scoreboard. [link]

Fountain Street

Two fairy doors have appeared this summer on Fountain Street. One is visible from the street. [photo] One is more secluded. [photo]

Powers Accepts Ann Arbor City Admin Job

Late Friday, in an email sent to all city employees, interim Ann Arbor city administrator Tom Crawford announced that an employment agreement had been reached with Steve Powers to become the city’s new city administrator effective Sept. 15, 2011. The terms of the agreement, which have not yet been released, will need to be approved at the city council’s Thurs. Aug. 4 meeting.

The Ann Arbor city council chose unanimously to offer Steve Powers the job of city administrator at its July 18, 2011 meeting. The decision for Powers over another finalist, Ellie Oppenheim, came after two rounds of interviews on July 12-13, including a televised session on the morning of July 13. [Previous Chronicle coverage: "Search Concluding for ... [Full Story]

State & Huron

Outside North Quad. What do we think this means?  [photo] [Sign taped to construction cones: "Honey Bees in Area! Protected species, please do not disturb. Bees are looking for a new home and will disperse soon!"]

Fourth & Washington

About 8:00 p.m.  The display says that 0 parking spots are available.  A car parks in the entrance lane.  Another car exits.  The number rolls to 1.  The first car enters the structure.  Another car pulls up and occupies the entrance lane.  The number reads 0.

Liberty & Ashley

Lewis, the resident cat for Downtown Home & Garden, is missing. From DHG’s Facebook page: “Lewis, our beloved store cat, has gone missing. He’s a 15 lb, 15-year-old orange tabby, missing one of his long front fangs. If you’ve seen him, please let us know here, or call us at 734-662-8122.”

A2: Crime Maps

The city of Ann Arbor’s police department has begun reporting its crime data so that it is available via a mapping interface at The interface provides for searches during specific date intervals and types of crimes. [Source]

Elbel Field

“Band Practice” field has been carpeted with AstroTurf. Gonna be hard to play roller hockey now. [photo]

DDA Letter: “No funds should be returned…”

On request from The Chronicle, the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority has provided the text of a letter sent by its executive director, Susan Pollay, to the taxing authorities in its tax increment finance (TIF) district, explaining the DDA’s position on the issue of redistributing TIF revenue. From the letter text: “There can be no doubt that as long as the DDA is spending its TIF monies according to its plan, no funds should be returned to the taxing units. All of the DDA TIF is now committed to debt service for the existing downtown development projects and the administration ofthose projects.”

Earlier this year, in May – after city of Ann Arbor staff pointed out a provision in Chapter 7 … [Full Story]

A2: Newshawks

The summer 2011 video report of the Ann Arbor Newshawks includes updates on local coffee shops, non-motorized path construction, street repair and more. As always, the Newshawks break news – this time by reporting on the city’s adopt-a-pothole program. [Source]

Washtenaw: Bill Reynolds

The Pensacola News Journal reports that Bill Reynolds, former Washtenaw County deputy administrator, has been hired as the new city manager for Pensacola, Fla., at a salary of $130,000 a year. [Source] Reynolds had been on the job in Washtenaw County just under a year when he went on paid medical leave in April 2011, citing post-military issues. He had been hired here at a salary of $138,000. He turned in his resignation in late May, effective June 17. While on paid leave, he was interviewing for other jobs nationwide, according to several news reports, and was a finalist for a county administrator job in St. Croix County, Wisc.

Column: Pies, Politics, Polls

“Pie lovers … unite!”

As over 50 people throw their fists into the air, the contest resembles a superhero’s meeting more than a pie competition. On Sunday, July 24, Slow Food Huron Valley (SFHV) hosted its 5th annual Pie Lovers Unite! event at the Ypsilanti Ladies Literary Club. Most participants easily fit the “pie lover” label, considering themselves connoisseurs of crusts and aficionados of fillings.

Chronicle Pie Lovers Cutouts

Cardboard cutouts of the five wards of the city of Ann Arbor – not arranged in their actual geographic proximity to each other. (Photo for art by the writer)

But consistent with The Chronicle’s appetite for all things government-related, we could not simply let them eat pie. Instead, we brought handmade cardboard cutouts of Ann Arbor’s five wards and asked a roomful of pie enthusiasts which ward most resembles a slice of pie.


At its July 5 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council discussed redrawing the boundaries for the city’s five wards. And the city charter states: “The five wards should each have the general character of a pieshaped segment of the city with the point of such segment lying near the center of the city …” That discussion revealed that at least one councilmember holds some reservations about whether the current wards really are pie-shaped wedges of the city.

Kim Bayer, the program coordinator of Pie Lovers Unite!, began the night’s festivities by articulating the event’s mission beyond eating pie: “To strengthen our region’s food system, build community food security, and preserve our culinary heritage.”

She continued, saying, “When something is made from love, you can taste it.” [Full Story]

A2: Take Back the Night

WXZY-TV, Detroit’s ABC affiliate, reports on a “Take Back the Night” march in downtown Ann Arbor, a response to recent sexual assaults against women. “Accompanied by a few men, they chanted “Hey hey, ho ho, sexual assault has got to go,” as they marched through Ann Arbor’s streets Thursday night. While Ann Arbor Police and the FBI search for the suspect or suspects responsible, a young woman from Ypsilanti organized a rally. Rebecca Craigmile says someone had to step up to the plate and bring people together to march against fear.” [Source]

Washington & Division

7:02 a.m.: A 40-something bicyclist east-bound on Washington hand-signals for a left-turn on to Division, while holding an umbrella in his right hand.

Options Weighed for Washtenaw Head Start

Washtenaw County board of commissioners working session (July 21, 2011): As part of a strategy to deal with a projected $17.5 million two-year deficit for 2012-2013, county administrators briefed commissioners about the possibility of eliminating support for Washtenaw Head Start, a program that the county has administered for 46 years.

Pat Horne McGee

Pat Horne McGee, director of Washtenaw County's Head Start program, at the county board's July 21, 2011 working session. (Photo by the writer)

The presentation stressed that Head Start – which serves over 500 preschool children of low-income families in the county – would not be eliminated. Rather, the county would relinquish its status as the program’s federal “grantee,” triggering a process to find a replacement entity. Federal Head Start officials would be responsible for selecting another agency to take over from the county.

The county currently spends about $900,000 each year in support of Head Start, which has a local budget of $4.8 million – the bulk of its funding comes from federal sources. In addition, the county owes $2.68 million in bond payments related to an Ypsilanti facility it built for Head Start in 2002-03.

Seven of the board’s 11 commissioners attended the working session, and several expressed support for exploring the transition. They praised the program, which has been recognized nationally for its performance, but noted that education isn’t part of the county’s core mission. Some suggested that an organization like the Washtenaw Intermediate School District would be a better fit to administer the program.

However, commissioner Ronnie Peterson spoke passionately and at length in defense of the county maintaining its support of Head Start. He said this was the first time he’d heard about the plan, and he criticized the administration for not alerting the board publicly about their intent to jettison the program. County administrator Verna McDaniel noted that she had laid out a schedule of topics for budget-related working sessions at the board’s first budget working session on June 16. Head Start as a general topic had been on that list.

McDaniel pointed out that the board had set priorities and instructed her to review closely all the county programs and services to determine whether the county should continue to offer them, in light of current economic conditions. “At the risk of maybe making some of you uncomfortable, I’m doing just that,” she said. The discussion about Head Start is in that context, she said.

Peterson argued that the board should look at Head Start in relation to other non-mandated programs that receive general fund support. What other programs should be part of the budget discussion? The county funds the Humane Society of Huron Valley, for example, he noted. [Rather than run its own shelter, the county pays $500,000 annually to the HSHV to provide animal shelter services mandated by the state.] Peterson said he loves his pets, but at the end of the day, Head Start is more important. [Full Story]

UM: Unions

The Mackinac Center Legal Foundation filed a motion on July 28 with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission to prevent University of Michigan graduate student research assistants from being unionized as public employees. The motion – filed on behalf of Melinda Day, a GSRA with UM’s Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology Department – is in response to a resolution passed by UM regents in May that supported the right of GRAs to unionize, if they choose. UM president Mary Sue Coleman spoke against the resolution, and the board’s two Republican regents voted against it. [.pdf file of motion filed with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission]

A2: Power Outages

DTE Energy’s interactive map of power outages shows that more than 1,000 customers are without power in the Ann Arbor area following Wednesday night’s storms. Type in a zipcode to see the location of outages in that area. For example, as of 9:30 a.m. on Thursday, July 28, the map shows that 954 customers were without power in the 48014 zipcode. The map is updated every 15 minutes. [Source]

Ann Arbor DDA: No Redistribution Required

Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority special board meeting (July 27, 2011): At a special meeting, the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board passed a resolution stating that it was accepting the general guidance of its legal counsel, Jerry Lax: The DDA does not believe that any redistribution of captured taxes to relevant taxing authorities is required.

At issue is the interpretation of a city ordinance about tax increment finance (TIF) capture in the DDA’s downtown district.

The decision at the special meeting, which was unanimously approved by the nine board members present, came after a closed session with Lax that lasted nearly an hour. The language of the resolution is somewhat vague, citing the city’s ordinance only in general terms and stating that “no redistribution to relevant taxing authorities is required.”

In separate phone interviews with The Chronicle following the meeting, three board members confirmed that the DDA’s position, as expressed in the resolution, is that the city’s ordinance does not require the DDA to redistribute TIF money to other taxing authorities. The DDA’s interpretation would render moot any argument about the method used in calculating that redistribution.

Earlier this year, the DDA had calculated that the city of Ann Arbor – as one of the taxing authorities – was owed $711,767, but the city waived payment of that amount. The DDA did return a total of $473,000 to Washtenaw County, Washtenaw Community College, and the Ann Arbor District Library. The resolution passed at Wednesday’s special meeting is consistent with the DDA’s position that the return of that money was not actually required.

Executives from the library and WCC, in phone interviews with The Chronicle following Wednesday’s meeting, indicated that they’ll be following up with a response to the DDA board’s decision. [Full Story]

Meyers Resigns Ann Arbor Art Commission

Jeff Meyers, who was appointed to the Ann Arbor public art commission in early 2010, sent a formal notice of resignation last month to mayor John Hieftje, stepping down from AAPAC about mid-way through his three-year term. Meyers had been appointed in early 2010, with a term running through Dec. 31, 2013.  The news was discussed at the July 27, 2011 AAPAC meeting, as commissioners considered who might take over leadership of a task force for a new mural program that Meyers had initiated.

His resignation was foreshadowed at AAPAC’s June 2011 meeting, which he did not attend. AAPAC chair Marsha Chamberlin had told other commissioners that Meyers wanted to relinquish his leadership of the mural program – she … [Full Story]

UM: Tree

A four-minute video posted on YouTube by Michigan Today describes the removal of one of the oldest trees on the University of Michigan Diag, which had died of Dutch Elm disease and was estimated to be about 165 years old. It’s a jumping off point to discuss how trees have been planted over the years around the Diag. A sugar maple was planted near the spot where the elm was removed. [Source]

N. Fifth & Ann

Questionable place for signage: on a signal box. “Attention: Ann Arbor Police Department is located inside the Justice Center.” [photo]

A2: Crime

A woman was sexually assaulted on Tuesday, July 26 at 11:30 p.m. at 720 S. State St., in a parking lot near Monroe Street. She was able to break away, according to police. Officials indicate that it’s not yet clear if this assault is connected to five previously reported recent incidents in downtown Ann Arbor. The suspect in Tuesday’s assault is described as a male with a tan complexion, 5’10″-6′, in his early 20s with no facial hair, wearing a black hoodie pulled over his hair, blue jeans and black sunglasses. Anyone with information should contact the Ann Arbor Police tip line at 734-794-6939 or [.pdf of crime alert] [photo of suspect composite from previous assaults]