Archive for September, 2011

Washtenaw: Transit

An advocacy group for regional transit – with members including Washtenaw County commissioners Conan Smith and Kristin Judge – was announced Friday, as part of the 2011 Southeast Michigan Regional Summit, according to a Detroit Free Press article. Regional Partners Advocating Transit Here (R-PATH) will lobby for a regional transit authority to tap federal funding, according to the report. [Source] The Washtenaw County board passed a resolution in support of regional transit at its Sept. 21, 2011 meeting. Earlier on Friday, Judge announced plans to resign from the county board on Oct. 9, to take a national cyber security job.

UM: Tailgate

A video posted on YouTube highlights the annual football tailgate party hosted by Ted Spencer, the University of Michigan’s associate vice provost and executive director of undergraduate admissions. This year, he sent out over 350 invitations to the event, which features his “authentic Memphis barbeque.” [Source]

A2: Power Outage

On a day with high winds, as of 3:07 p.m. DTE’s online outage maps are showing several large areas of Ann Arbor without power. Much of the area north of Plymouth Road but inside of M-14 and US-23 is without power (6,175 customers are affected). Another large area without power lies to the south, along Stone School Road stretching southward from Eisenhower Parkway (1,043 customers are affected).  [.jpg screen shot of map]

Update as of 3:21 p.m. In the north, significant areas outside the M-14 and US-23 boundary are now shown without power, bringing the total number of customers without power in the northern part of the city to 8,431.


2:30 p.m. Cop sitting on car at Stone School watching. Eisenhower traffic backing up both ways.  [Ed. note: DTE power outage map is available online. It indicates an area with 1,043 customers affected, due to an "auto-protection device"]

Stone School & Eisenhower

2:30 p.m. Power is out at Stone School and Ike. Big explosion, bright lights, power lines down. Dog wedged under bed. TeacherPatti at Caribou. [Ed. note: DTE power outage map is available online. It indicates an area with 1,043 customers affected, due to an "auto-protection device"]

Main & RR

High winds today have mocked the architectural stability of the A-frame by blowing over several sidewalk sandwich board signs downtown. But the rock cairns, recently acknowledged by the city of Ann Arbor with a Golden Paintbrush award, and today wedged together in the form of mortar-less arches, remain standing. [photo] [photo]

Kristin Judge Resigns from County Board

Kristin Judge is resigning from the Washtenaw County board of commissioners, effective Oct. 9. She went public with the news on Friday morning, sending a formal letter of resignation to board chair Conan Smith. A Democrat who was first elected in November 2008, Judge represents District 7, which covers Pittsfield Township. She was re-elected in November 2010 to a two-year term, which ends in December 2012.

Dan Smith, Kristin Judge, Wes Prater

From left: Washtenaw County commissioners Dan Smith (R-District 2), Kristin Judge (D-District 7), and Wes Prater (D-District 4), attending a meeting earlier this year of the county reapportionment commission. Judge announced her resignation from the county board on Friday.

Judge has accepted a job with the Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center (MS-ISAC), which could put her in conflict with her elected role.

“My new position will focus on outreach efforts and will involve working with local governments across the nation,” Judge said in a written statement. “In my current role as county commissioner, I have been involved in cyber security initiatives at the local, state and federal level. To avoid an appearance of conflict between my role as commissioner and my new position, it is best served that I resign from elected office before beginning work with local governments across the country.” [.pdf of press release] [.pdf of resignation letter]

At a county board retreat earlier this year, Judge cited issues of public safety, and her activism against Walmart – because of safety issues the store in Pittsfield Township posed – as reasons prompting her to run for office in 2008. She’s been active in public safety issues on the local, state and national levels, and more recently in efforts related specifically to cyber security. [Full Story]

Column: Detroit Fans Might Party Like It’s 1935

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Once in a while something happens that is so unusual, even those who don’t normally pay attention have to stop and take notice.

Halley’s Comet, for example, only comes along once every 75 years. Man has landed on the moon just six times in the entire history of the universe. And Lindsay Lohan goes to jail – no, wait, that happens almost every week.

Well, this week, Detroit sports fans got Halley’s Comet, a moon landing, and a clean and sober Lindsay Lohan all wrapped up into one: The Tigers clinched the American League Central Division, and even more shockingly, the Lions won their first three games.

That’s right: It’s September 30, and both the Tigers and the Lions are in first place. Go find a newspaper – if your town still has one – pull out the standings, and get them laminated. This might not happen again in our lifetimes. [Full Story]

Stadium & Packard

The University of Michigan urban planning weather bike and two shy researchers gathering data on heat islands. [photo]

Literacy Coalition Faces Uncertain Future

In April 2010, Washtenaw County commissioners marked a transition – handing over leadership for a literacy coalition the county had spearheaded.

Washtenaw Literacy Coaltion meeting

At left, Amy Goodman, executive director of Washtenaw Literacy (a different entity from the Literacy Coalition of Washtenaw County), led the Sept. 26 membership meeting of the Literacy Coalition of Washtenaw County.

At the time, the Literacy Coalition of Washtenaw County had just hired its first executive director – Vanessa Mayesky – and reported progress in goals outlined in the county’s ambitious Blueprint to End Illiteracy.

But at a recent working session of the county board, commissioner Rob Turner reported that the coalition is now in crisis.

Mayesky resigned earlier this month to take a job at the University of Michigan, and funding for the coalition’s efforts is nearly depleted. Amy Goodman, chair of the coalition’s steering committee, had sent out an email on Sept. 20 stating that the coalition is at a crossroads. Based on the coalition’s financial situation, action needed to be taken, she wrote – and one of the options is to dissolve the coalition.

Goodman’s email was also a call for supporters to attend a Sept. 26 membership meeting at the NEW Center, to give input on the future of the coalition. At that meeting, which The Chronicle attended, Goodman and other steering committee members outlined the status of coalition finances. The faltering economy has tightened funding from both private and government sources, and the situation has been made even more challenging by a new coordinated funding approach being used by the county, city of Ann Arbor, Washtenaw United Way and other funders.

The coordinated funding focuses on six community priorities, ranging from homelessness to health care. But despite intense lobbying from coalition members – who noted that illiteracy is at the root of nearly every other social challenge, including unemployment and poverty – literacy is not on that list of coordinated funding priorities.

Options discussed at Monday’s meeting include: (1) trying to operate the coalition at a fully-funded level, which would entail raising funds for an annual budget of at least $71,000; (2) operating at a significantly reduced capacity, with a part-time coordinator and annual budget of $45,000; (3) creating a volunteer group to continue the effort; or (4) dissolving the coalition completely. [Full Story]

Housing Commission to Hire New Director

The Ann Arbor Housing Commission expects to hire a new executive director by mid- to late October, following the resignation of former AAHC executive director Marge Novak this summer. Novak resigned effective July 29, 2011 to take a position with an affordable housing investment firm.

The Chronicle has not observed any mention of this transition at public meetings of the Ann Arbor city council. The June 2011 AAHC board minutes record that Novak had tendered her resignation by that commission meeting, with AAHC deputy director Nick Coquillard appointed as interim at the July 2011 AAHC board meeting.

As recently as Sept. 23, 2011, the AAHC website read: “The Board of Commissioners announced that the Executive Director of the AAHC, Margaret … [Full Story]

Fifth & Huron

Elderly gentleman racing with a large U.S. flag outside city hall.

UM: Sustainability

The Detroit Free Press reports on the University of Michigan’s new major sustainability initiative, announced by UM president Mary Sue Coleman at a speech on Tuesday. Efforts include building a solar panel field on north campus, investing in additional hybrid buses and other vehicles, cutting greenhouse gas emissions at the Ann Arbor campus by 25%, using 40% fewer chemicals for campus landscaping, and supporting more Michigan farmers and other food producers. The article quotes Coleman: “I want the message to be clear: Sustainability defines the University of Michigan. Combine maize and blue, and you get green.” [Source]

Fifth & Huron

Installation of the Herbert Dreiseitl water sculpture is underway in front of city hall. [photo]

Superman, Spiderman, Feynman, Councilman


[Editor's note: HD, a.k.a. Dave Askins, editor of The Ann Arbor Chronicle, is also publisher of an online series of interviews on a teeter totter. Introductions to new Teeter Talks, like this one, also appear on The Chronicle's website.]

Jim Ottaviani

Jim Ottaviani – University of Michigan librarian and graphic novel author. His latest book is "Feynman," a biography of physicist Richard Feynman.

For  a graphic novel with a title like “Feynman,” my smart-aleck reflex is to pronounce the word silently to myself with deliberately wayward stress – so the final vowel gets its full flavor, instead of an unstressed schwa.

That way, it patterns with Superman, Spiderman, Aquaman, Ironman, Batman and other comic book heros. And that allows me to wonder what special powers this Feynman might have, how he got those powers, what his home planet was …

Of course, the Feynman in Jim Ottaviani’s recently published graphic novel is actually not a comic book hero. It’s Richard Feynman, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1965 for his work on quantum physics. (So Feynman’s home planet was Earth, you see.)

Ottaviani explained during his teeter totter ride a couple of weeks ago that he’d not intended the title of his most recent graphic novel to be a word play. It was the publisher who had chosen the title, when Ottaviani had “punted” on that task.

Soon after talking with me on the totter, Ottaviani left town for a book tour. He’ll be back in Ann Arbor in a couple of weeks when he gives a talk on “Feynman” in the University of Michigan’s Hatcher Library Gallery, on Oct. 13, 2011 at 5:30 p.m.

To prepare for his talk, you can buy “Feynman” at Nicola’s Books.

To me, the most interesting part of my conversation with Ottaviani involved the graphic novel as a mechanism for telling a story – in the case of “Feynman,” it’s a physicist’s biography. There’s nothing particularly novel about that – Ottaviani has covered scientific subject matter before in comic book form. His previous work includes a number of books that contain episodes from the lives of Feynman, J. Robert Oppenheimer and Marie Curie, among others.

But that led me to contemplate a different idea. What if one of the staples of Chronicle coverage, a government meeting report, were presented in the form of a graphic novel?

Ottaviani’s reaction to the idea: “Do that, please, is all I can say.” At least the title of that comic book (with apologies to Sabra Briere, Margie Teall, Sandi Smith and Marcia Higgins) would be straightforward: “Councilman.”

Though I can’t draw, I did take a shot at creating two panels of “Councilman.” [Full Story]

Skyline High School

Skyline High School Capsule Night. First year with all four grades. Parking lot is full, for the first time.

A2: Stadium Bridge Detour

Starting Nov. 28, 2011 the East Stadium bridges over State Street and the Ann Arbor railroad tracks will be closed in order to start the reconstruction of the bridges. The city of Ann Arbor has set up a website for the project:, which contains information about detour routes. State Street will be also be closed for about two weeks starting Nov. 28. The East Stadium Boulevard bridges are not expected to be open for traffic again until mid-November 2012. [Source]

Packard & Main

Baker Commons. Elderly man carrying enormous American flag on a huge pole.

Road Commission Takes Step on Possible Tax

On Friday, Sept. 23, the Washtenaw County road commission submitted a plan to the county clerk’s office for road improvements it would like to undertake countywide. It’s a step required before seeking funds from a millage that would need approval from the county board of commissioners, but that would not require voter approval. [.pdf of proposed projects] The county board of commissioners could take up the issue at its Oct. 5 meeting.

Representatives from the road commission had been expected to present the plan at the county board’s Sept. 21 meeting. However, an email sent on Sept. 20 to the board from the county’s corporation counsel, Curtis Hedger, laid out his understanding of the process that the road commission would need … [Full Story]

Ypsi: Solar Power

A video posted on YouTube features Dave Strenski talking about the project, which has installed solar panels on the Ypsilanti Food Coop, the Riverstreet Bakery, Ypsilanti City Hall, and an Ann Arbor Transportation Authority bus stop. Strenski says his dream is to have a hundred solar installations throughout the city. [Source]

Proposed County Budget Brings Cuts

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Sept. 21, 2011): County administrator Verna McDaniel and the county’s finance staff formally presented the two-year general fund budget on Sept. 21, showing how the administration proposes to balance the 2012-2013 budget with a mix of labor concessions, fee increases and funding cuts. Previously, an estimated $17.5 million deficit had been projected for that two-year period.

Ronnie Peterson and supporters of Washtenaw HeadStart program

County commissioner Ronnie Peterson, right, talks with supporters of the Washtenaw Head Start program. (Photos by the writer.)

Although the budget calls for a net loss of 32.22 full-time-equivalent jobs, most of those positions are either already vacant or will be handled through retirements, McDaniel said. One significant retirement was recognized during the meeting: Donna Sabourin, executive director of the county’s community support & treatment services (CSTS) department, who’s worked for the county for 20 years. Commissioners awarded her a resolution of appreciation, and also gave final approval to the CSTS budget for the coming year.

But the meeting’s main focus was the proposed general fund budget, which was discussed at length and will be the topic of most board meetings and working sessions at least through November. The county budget is based on a calendar year, from Jan. 1 through Dec. 31, and is developed in two-year cycles.

Among the recommended cuts is a reduction of $1.2 million to local nonprofits and other agencies. For example, funding for the Humane Society of Huron Valley’s contract is proposed to drop from $500,000 in 2011 to $250,000 in 2012 and 2013. The Delonis Center homeless shelter’s funding could decline from $160,000 to $25,000.

The budget also calls for the county to relinquish its status as the federal “grantee” for the Head Start program in Washtenaw County, which would trigger a process to find a replacement entity. The county has administered the program for 46 years. About a dozen Head Start supporters showed up to Wednesday’s meeting, and urged commissioners to continue support for the program.

Though commissioners had several questions and comments about the 2012-2013 budget, several of them expressed even more concern for what’s on the horizon: Projected deficits of $11.6 million in 2014 and $14.7 million in 2015.

Board chair Conan Smith characterized the 2012-2013 budget as a recommendation that’s “ripe for public discussion at this point.” Everything is still on the table, he said. The board is expected to take up the topic again at its Oct. 5 meeting, and a public hearing on the budget is set for Oct. 19. The target date for approving the budget is Nov. 16.

There was no vote taken on the 2012-2013 budget directly, but the board took action on several other budget-related items. Among them, commissioners gave final approval to levy two taxes: for (1) services for indigent veterans; and (2) economic development and agriculture.

The board also passed a resolution in support of developing a regional transportation authority, after a failed attempt to postpone the vote. The resolution is a prelude to a Sept. 30 summit with Detroit and the counties of Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and St. Clair, which will focus on region transit issues.

Two issues of note did not come before the board as expected. A proposed reorganization of county administration was pulled from the agenda at the start of the meeting. It would have replaced the deputy administrator position by giving additional responsibilities to four managers, paying them annual stipends of $15,000 each. The stipends were a sticking point – during public commentary, AFSCME Local 2733 president Caryette Fenner objected to the timing of that pay, in light of recent labor concessions made by employees.

And not on the agenda was an anticipated proposal by the Washtenaw County Road Commission, which was discussed by the board at its Sept. 8 working session. The road commission is presenting a request for a countywide millage to help pay for road repair. It’s a tax that the county board could impose without seeking voter approval. The plan was subsequently submitted to the county clerk on Friday, and could be addressed at the board’s Oct. 5 meeting. [Full Story]

Manchester & Washtenaw

There are Chinese tourists in front of my house taking pictures of each other standing with my neighbor’s sugar maple.

Washtenaw: Patents

Dan Smith of Whitmore Lake, who serves as Washtenaw County commissioner for District 2, is one of three inventors listed for U.S. Patent 8,024,745, awarded on Sept. 20: “Communication mechanism between disconnected applications in a web browser.” The patent is assigned to Autodesk Inc., where Smith is employed. [Source] On the same day, Kevin O’Dea of Ann Arbor was one of two inventors awarded U.S. Patent 8,024,098: “System and method for determining the engagement point of a clutch.” That patent is assigned to GM Global Technology Operations. [Source]