Archive for November, 2011

A2: Media

Michigan Radio reports that the Ann Arbor A.V. Club, a publication with content from the satirical franchise The Onion as well as arts & entertainment features, is closing. It started publishing locally in September 2011 and was run by Bobby Mitchell and his company Bopper Media, according to the report. Mitchell told Michigan Radio that ”there’s a slight possibility The Onion corporate might want to take over the Ann Arbor A.V. Club and publish it.” [Source]

Main Street

Main Street traffic back-ups have increased significantly at Stadium and Ann Arbor-Saline [since start of bridge reconstruction on Nov. 28]. It’s gonna be a long year. [For information on detour routes and timelines, see bridges reconstruction website]

East Stadium Bridge

Stadium Bridge deck over State about 1/2 demolished now. Interesting process, like snapping apart a giant Kit-Kat bar. [photo] [photo]

Greenbelt Group Recommends Land Deal

At a special meeting called for Nov. 30, 2011, the Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission spent most of the 30 minutes in a closed session to discuss possible land acquisition. When commissioners moved back into the public portion of their meeting, commissioners unanimously passed a resolution recommending that the city partner with the Southeast Michigan Land Conservancy and Washtenaw County to preserve a parcel of land within the greenbelt.

The property was identified only by application number – #2005-27. The location of the properties and their owners aren’t revealed until resolutions are voted on by the Ann Arbor city council. However, the property discussed by GAC at its Nov. 30 meeting was likely part of an initiative mentioned briefly at GAC’s … [Full Story]

Huron & Fifth

Walking along Huron and hear muffled sounds of children’s laughter, but no signs of kids on the sidewalk. Realize it’s coming from inside the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum, but audible above the Huron Street traffic. Somebody’s having fun!

EMU Rehires O’Dell as Police Chief

Eastern Michigan University has issued a press release stating that Greg O’Dell is returning to EMU as executive director of public safety and chief of police, reporting directly to EMU president Susan Martin. He had previously held that position since February 2008, but in August 2011 took a job as the University of Michigan’s executive director for the Department of Public Safety and chief of police.

O’Dell’s salary will be $149,000. That’s $20,000 less than his previous salary at EMU, and $51,000 less than his $200,000 salary at UM, where he supervised a larger department. At O’Dell’s request, the $20,000 will be considered for support of the public safety unit, according to EMU. In a written statement, O’Dell said: “I’m thrilled to … [Full Story]

Culture of Spending: JunketSleuth


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.

Chris Carey Junket Sleuth Ann Arbor

Chris Carey of JunketSleuth.

Even if all you do is stare right into your own belly button, you can still wind up thinking about drinking too much Diet Coke out of a hotel minibar in Tel Aviv.

Let’s start close to home, at 618 S. Main St. in Ann Arbor, Mich. That’s where local developer Dan Ketelaar is currently planning a six-story residential project – it will consist of about 180 studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments.

It’s also the former location of Fox Tent & Awning.

Gazing into my navel, I think of Teeter Talk’s history with that business. Back in 2007, I pedaled my bicycle trailer, loaded with a wooden teeter totter, into Fox Tent & Awning. There, Lynda, Don, and Diane measured out and sewed together a custom canvas cover for the totter plus trailer rig. Teeter Talk was ready to leave my back yard. It was ready to travel.

That’s right, travel. Ever wonder how much the U.S. government spends on travel to Ann Arbor? Maybe you never wondered that because you figured the answer is hard to find.

Yet in about 15 minutes, using an online searchable repository of federal travel records available on, here’s what I learned: For a roughly three-year period from 2008 to 2010, at least $847,970 in federal money from 11 different federal agencies was spent on 970 trips to Ann Arbor, Mich. [Google Spreadsheet with summary Ann Arbor JunketSleuth data]

Chris Carey is editor and president of, which operates JunketSleuth. And Carey lives in Ann Arbor, so it worked out that he was able to join me as a guest on the teeter totter back in mid-October.

Now, the financier of the enterprise, Mark Cuban, is to my knowledge not fascinated with a little college town like ours. So the point of the JunketSleuth enterprise is not to document federal spending on travel to Ann Arbor. JunketSleuth describes itself as an “independent Web-based news site aimed at exposing travel patterns of U.S. government employees.” So is more interested in looking at the travel patterns of people – people like Securities and Exchange Commissioner Kathleen Casey, whose bill at a Tel Aviv Hilton Hotel included (for one day) $24 worth of Coke and Diet Coke.

canvas cover of teeter totter

Custom-made canvas cover for the teeter totter, sewn by Fox Tent & Awning (File photo.)

To summarize, traveling from my belly button to Tel Aviv cost you right around 350 words – a real bargain by Chronicle standards. For readers whose final destination is actually Carey’s complete Talk, thanks for flying with The Chronicle. At your final destination, you’ll find topics like the challenges facing journalists today, how Carey wound up in Ann Arbor, and what he has in common with Chronicle sports columnist John U. Bacon.

For those who are continuing with us here on The Chronicle, I’ve pulled one theme out of his Talk to highlight here: the culture of spending taxpayer money. [Full Story]

A2: Music

A series of videos recently posted on YouTube feature Ann Arbor musician David Menefee – in this one, he sings “The Christmas Song.” [Source]

UM: Pfizer

CNBC publishes a report on how Pfizer is trying to keep hold of revenues in the face of losing its patent for its cholesterol- lowering drug Lipitor on Wednesday. The article quotes Erik Gordon of University of Michigan Ross School of Business, who says that Pfizer’s tactic “spits in Congress’s face.” The company is cutting deals with insurers and pharmacies to cut the price of Lipitor, in exchange for agreements that would prevent the use of lower-cost generics. [Source]

RR & North Main

Behind the NEW Center, train (Amtrak?) stopped and police cars nearby.

ACLU Files Motion in AATA Bus Ad Lawsuit

On Nov. 29, 2011, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan filed with the U.S. District Court (Eastern District of Michigan) a motion for a preliminary injunction or temporary restraining order, to compel the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority to accept an advertisement it had previously rejected. [.pdf of Nov. 29 ACLU motion]

The previous day, on Nov. 28, the ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of activist Blaine Coleman, who had sought to purchase an advertisement for the sides of AATA buses. The AATA refused to run the ad. The proposed ad includes the text, “Boycott ‘Israel’ Boycott Apartheid,” and an image depicting a scorpion-like creature with a skull for a head. [.pdf of image and text of proposed ... [Full Story]

More Concerns Aired on Fuller Road Station

Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (Nov. 15, 2011): With no action items on the agenda, PAC’s November meeting was filled with updates and honors, farewells and a few pointed comments regarding Fuller Road Station.

Lynn Bowen, Julie Grand, Colin Smith

At left: Lynn Bowen, an administrative assistant with the city who provides staff support for the park advisory commission, is retiring and was honored at PAC's November meeting. She has worked at the city for 26 years, including the last six years with parks and recreation. To the right are PAC chair Julie Grand and Colin Smith, the city's parks and recreation manager. (Photos by the writer.)

Commissioners were briefed by city staff about annual finances related to the land acquisition for parks and greenbelt programs, which are funded by a 30-year millage. They also got an update on the city’s marketing efforts for parks and recreation, and heard a report on the status of a sustainability project – several PAC commissioners had attended a September joint work session to help prioritize city goals related to environmental quality, economic vitality, and social equity.

Updates were also given about a sediment removal project in the Ruthven Nature Area, and about two parking-related projects at Riverside Park and Veterans Memorial Park.

In his manager’s report, Colin Smith noted that he’d taken a canoe run through the under-construction Argo Dam bypass pools – the new channel was a ”bit sportier” than he had expected, and is still being tweaked. He also told commissioners he’d received word that two state grant applications made by the city of Ann Arbor – $300,000 for the proposed Ann Arbor skatepark at Veterans Memorial Park, and $300,000 for improvements at the Gallup Park canoe livery – had ranked in the top 12 out of 100 applications statewide for funding from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund. That bodes well for the possibility that the grants will be awarded – a decision from the state is expected in December.

During the meeting commissioners also honored two volunteers with the city’s natural area preservation program – Sarah Newman and Drew Lathin – and said farewell to Lynn Bowen, the administrative assistant who works with PAC. The meeting was her last before retiring from the city.

An item not on the agenda – the proposed Fuller Road Station – drew focus from public commentary as well as some questions from commissioners later in the meeting.  [Full Story]

A2: Title IX

A post on the Title IX Blog reports that the Ann Arbor Public Schools has reversed a decision to cut all freshman high school sports teams except for freshman football. Erin Buzuvis writes: “I recently learned via personal correspondence from someone connected to the matter, that someone filed complaint with OCR [Office for Civil Rights] to challenge the cuts, and that OCR commenced an investigation. I further learned that the complaint was eventually withdrawn upon assurances from the school district that it would not put that particular reduction plan in place.” [Source] Locally, the Ann Arbor Schools Musings blog has a post on the same issue. [Source]

Lawsuit Filed Over Rejected AATA Bus Ad

On Nov. 28, 2011, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan filed a lawsuit against the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority in U.S. District Court over an advertisement the transit agency refused to accept for the sides of its buses. [.pdf of complaint] ACLU of Michigan staff attorney Dan Korobkin told The Chronicle by phone that on Nov. 29 a motion will be filed with the court asking for a preliminary injunction, to compel AATA to run the ad.

The ad features the text “Boycott Israel” and “Boycott Apartheid,” with an image depicting a scorpion-like creature with a skull for a head. At its Nov. 17 meeting, the AATA board voted to affirm the rejection of the ad, inviting Blaine Coleman … [Full Story]

State & Stadium

6:42 a.m. Took last trip over the bridge for a while [photo]. Detour maps for construction here: [link]

Ashley & Madison

Used City of Ann Arbor online interface to report water burbling up between driveway slab and sidewalk, draining to storm sewer. [link] A short walk north, inside the Washtenaw Dairy, a couple is buying dry ice. Sign advises “No Returns on Dry Ice.”

Library to Restart Downtown Facility Review

Ann Arbor District Library board meeting (Nov. 22, 2011): After pausing a project to redevelop the library’s downtown building three years ago, the AADL board voted at their November meeting to provide funds for consultants to help resume the process.

Ann Arbor District Library downtown building

The Ann Arbor District Library four-story downtown building, located on the northeast corner of Fifth and William. The crane on the left is part of the construction of the underground parking structure to the north of the library. (Photos by the writer.)

A transfer of $45,000 from the library’s fund balance to the administration’s consulting budget will be used to start the process for determining the future of the AADL’s downtown location, director Josie Parker told the board. In late 2008, economic conditions had prompted the board to call off plans to construct a new downtown building – a process that had been well underway. It’s time to start that discussion again, Parker said.

The downtown library is adjacent to several other projects that will impact its future, including the large underground parking structure – and whatever is eventually chosen to be built on top of it – being constructed immediately to the north of the library.

In other business, the board approved a one-year lease extension of the office space that houses the Ann Arbor News archives. The library took possession of the archives in January 2010. AADL is digitizing and posting the archives online, as part of the library’s Old News project.

The board also was briefed about an audit for its 2010-2011 fiscal year, which ended June 30. The auditor – Dave Fisher of the accounting firm Rehmann – described it as a clean audit. He suggested that the board consider implementing a fund balance policy in response to a new reporting standard issued by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB). The board’s finance committee plans to take on that issue.

In her director’s report, Parker noted that AADL had again received the Library Journal’s five-star rating. It’s the highest rating awarded to libraries, and AADL was the only library in Michigan to achieve five stars.

Later in the meeting, Eli Neiburger – AADL’s associate director of IT and product development – gave a presentation about the library’s popular summer game, which this year had added an online component and achieved an unprecedented level of participation. He noted that although the game is AADL’s version of the traditional summer reading program, the word “reading” isn’t used to promote it. Feedback from previous years indicated that reading seems too much like homework, and discourages participation. ”Take the word reading out of the game, and people will read a lot more,” he said. [Full Story]

UM: Urban Planning

The New York Times published an op-ed piece by Christopher B. Leinberger, a professor of practice in urban and regional planning at the University of Michigan, who writes about the negative impact of America’s “suburban fringe”: “For too long, we over-invested in the wrong places. Those [suburban] retail centers and subdivisions will never be worth what they cost to build. We have to stop throwing good money after bad. It is time to instead build what the market wants: mixed-income, walkable cities and suburbs that will support the knowledge economy, promote environmental sustainability and create jobs.” [Source]

A2: Buy Local

Writing on his Speak \aut\ blog, Keith Orr – co-owner of the \aut\ Bar and Common Language Bookstore in Ann Arbor’s Kerrytown – encourages people to “Buy Local” this holiday season. He describes the many locally owned business in his neighborhood, and mentions the names of their owners, too: “See…I have names to all these businesses. When you buy local you are supporting Alice and Vicki and Paul and more than one Mary, and so many others. And they support the community, and their employees are a part of the local community and the local economy. I feel like quoting the ‘Bank Run’ scene from ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’.” [Source]

Initial OK: Less Art Money, Bigger Greenbelt

Ann Arbor city council meeting (Nov. 21, 2011): After the ceremonial swearing in of councilmembers who won their elections on Nov. 8, the council devoted more time to deliberations on modifying its public art ordinance than on any other item on its agenda.

Leslie Morris Jane Lumm Ann Arbor City Council

Before the Nov. 21 meeting, former councilmember Leslie Morris (left) might be reminding Jane Lumm (Ward 2) which ward Lumm represents on the Ann Arbor city council. (Photos by the writer.)

In the end, the council gave initial approval to an ordinance amendment that would temporarily reduce the required allocation to public art from city capital improvement projects – from 1% to 0.5% for a period of three years. After three years, the percentage would automatically revert to 1%. Of the various amendments to the ordinance, the percentage of the required allocation was the focus of the most controversy during council deliberations. A bid by Jane Lumm (Ward 2) to lower the percentage further to 0.25% gained little support.

Other art ordinance amendments given the council’s initial approval include a requirement that public art money be returned to its fund of origin after three years, if not encumbered by a specific art project. The amendment also included a definitional change that effectively excludes sidewalk repair from the public art ordinance. The amendments also addressed the general fund, making explicit the exclusion of general fund projects from the public art ordinance.

During deliberations, city staff confirmed that at least a portion of the public art allocation required from the new municipal building (aka the police/courts building) could be associated with the general fund – about $50,000 out of the $250,000. [This is for art in the interior of the building, and is separate from the outdoor fountain designed by German artist Herbert Dreiseitl.]

As part of her Ward 2 election campaign, Jane Lumm had argued that general fund dollars were connected to supporting public art at the new municipal building – an idea that had been, until Monday’s meeting, poo-pooed by some councilmembers, including mayor John Hieftje, who had said no general fund money had been used for the public art program.

Lumm was active in her first council meeting since serving in the 1990s. During deliberations on a revision to the ordinance on the city’s greenbelt boundaries, she prompted extended discussion on the part of the revision dealing with the boundary expansion. A less controversial part of the proposed revision involved allowing parcels adjacent to the boundary to be eligible for protection. In the end, the council gave initial approval to both parts of the greenbelt boundary change.

Also related to land use were two site plans on the agenda. The council gave initial approval to altering the University Bank site plan for its property at 2015 Washtenaw Ave., known as the Hoover Mansion. And the council signed off on the site plan, as well as the brownfield plan, for Arbor Hills Crossing, a proposed retail and office complex at Platt and Washtenaw.

Because the content of a proposed revision to the city’s littering and handbill law was not available to the public until late in the day Monday, just before the council met, the council postponed its consideration of that item. The ordinance amendment would allow residents to prevent delivery of unwanted newspapers to their homes by posting a notice on their front doors.

In other business, the council expressed its opposition to a bill pending in the Michigan legislature that would nullify an Ann Arbor ordinance on non-discrimination against people based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or student status. At the meeting, the council also authorized acceptance of several grants for the 15th District Court for programs on domestic violence and substance abuse.

In routine business for the first council meeting after newly elected councilmembers take office, the council elected Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) as mayor pro tem. Committee appointments and rule changes were postponed until Dec. 5. [Full Story]

Washtenaw: Turkeys

Michigan Radio profiles John Harnois of Harnois Farms in Webster Township, who raises heritage turkeys: “These birds, the heritage breeds, were real close to dying out. It’s funny… you’ve gotta eat ‘em to keep ‘em going. To keep their genetics in the gene pool, there has to be a market for them.” [Source]

Thanksgiving Funnies: Totter Toons


Editor’s note: Thanksgiving is all about leftovers. This cartoon originally appeared in The Chronicle on Thanksgiving in 2009. We’ve kept it in the freezer since then and are thawing it out for you today. Enjoy!

turkeytoon1 [Full Story]

AAPS Budget Planning Continues

Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education meeting (Nov. 16, 2011): The AAPS board of education heard updates on the district’s budget planning efforts, and received a favorable annual review from its financial auditor.

Randy Trent AAPS

Randy Trent, AAPS executive director of physical properties, gave the board an update on the technology bond millage and gave bid recommendations to the board. (Photos by the writer.)

Trustees approved moving the technology bond millage vote from February to May 2012, and passed a set of resolutions opposing pending state legislation.

A packed consent agenda passed unanimously.

Among other items on the consent agenda, one made official the board’s shift from maintaining two standing committees to meeting monthly as a committee of the whole.

Notable in light of the board’s organizational change was the increase in use of the agenda planning section of the Nov. 16 meeting.

The board’s meeting agenda is now set by the whole board – instead of by an executive committee consisting of the board chair and the committee chairs. [Full Story]

UM Regents Criticize “Formula Funding”

University of Michigan board of regents meeting (Nov. 17, 2011): A meeting that began 20 minutes late included two items that spurred discussion among regents: The possible use of a formula to allocate state funding for higher education, and the need for a more comprehensive housing strategy on the Ann Arbor campus.

Block M cookies

Regent Andrea Fischer Newman passed around a tray of Block M cookies before the Nov. 17 board meeting. Later, regent Martin Taylor objected to a potential “cookie cutter” approach to appropriating money for higher education, via formula funding. It was fairly clear that he wasn’t referring to these cookies. (Photos by the writer.)

This year, as part of the standard budget appropriations process, the state also has asked universities to provide suggestions for how to implement “formula funding” – a mechanism that’s being considered as a way to standardize appropriations for higher education. Martin Taylor and other regents expressed concerns over the approach, and asked for revisions to a letter being sent from the university to the state budget director that would explicitly state UM’s opposition to this kind of funding model.

Also on the agenda were two requests related to renovations at East Quad on central campus and Baits II on north campus. The topic prompted regent Andrea Fischer Newman to call for a broader strategy for student housing in the coming decades, saying that more attention needs to be given to that aspect of the university. Regent Larry Deitch noted that UM charges a healthy price, and he doesn’t believe there’s full value for UM’s lower-division students when some facilities aren’t up to snuff.

The child rape scandal at Penn State was mentioned at two points during the Nov. 17 meeting. Toward the start, board chair Denise Ilitch read a brief statement on behalf of the regents, saying that the board fully supported president Mary Sue Coleman’s Nov. 16 letter to the campus community. The university plans to use this tragic situation, Ilitch said, for thoughtful re-examination of UM’s values, culture and priorities.

At the end of the meeting, Douglas Smith spoke during public commentary, criticizing the university for not protecting alleged victims of sexual assault by UM athletes Brendan Gibbons and Jordan Dumars. Penn State was only an anomaly because the victims were children, he said. But it’s not an anomaly for university administrators to protect their athletic programs rather than the victims, he added – that’s the norm.

Two others spoke during public commentary. Stephen Raiman, founder of Students Against GSRA Unionization, lobbied regents to reverse their previous vote of support for the right of graduate student research assistants to unionize. And Courtney Mercier, founder of Michigan Student-Athletes for Sustainability, advocated for support to improve integration of the athletic department into the university’s sustainability efforts.

Student filmmakers also made a presentation during the meeting, highlighting video public service announcements (PSAs) they’d made for UM’s “Expect Respect” campaign. After they finished, Ilitch asked whether they’d be interested in making a PSA for the regents, too. [Full Story]

Farmers Market

Busy Thanksgiving Eve at the Ann Arbor farmers market. Almost to that point in the season when stalls with holiday greenery outnumber food vendors. But not quite. [photo]