Archive for November, 2011

A2: Sweet Potato Casserole

On the blog for Davies House Inn & Cottage, proprietor Jan Davies McDermott posts her grandmother’s recipe for sweet potato casserole, just in time for Thanksgiving. Ingredients include dark brown sugar, butter, and heavy cream, and in a final note, McDermott writes: ”Innkeeper’s secret: put in a pie shell to bake and serve as dessert!” [Source]

Council OKs 15th District Court Grants

At its Nov. 21, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council authorized receipt of a total of $512,898 in grants for programs associated with the 15th District Court.

The largest of the grants – $399,898, from the U.S. Dept. of Justice – is provided over the course of two years and is intended to help prevent domestic violence. The money will be used to fund an existing program. Of the grant amount, $217,696 will pay for one full-time domestic violence probation officer, and four other part-time positions to support the program. Another $90,000 will pay for a contract with SafeHouse Center for domestic violence prevention services. And $77,202 will pay for a contract with the 14A District Court for domestic violence probation services and domestic violence data entry services. Training costs amount to $15,000.

Smaller grants come from the Michigan Supreme Court Administrative Office (SCAO) – for $63,000 and $50,000 – that will help fund the 15th District Court’s sobriety court. The council also approved a $75,000 contract with Dawn Farm to provide in- and out-patient drug abuse counseling for defendants in the sobriety court program.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

City Council OKs Arbor Hills Crossing Plan

At its Nov. 21, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council approved the site plan for Arbor Hills Crossing, a proposed retail and office complex at Platt and Washtenaw.

The project involves tearing down three vacant commercial structures and putting up four one- and two-story buildings throughout the 7.45-acre site – a total of 90,700-square-feet of space for retail stores and offices. Three of the buildings would face Washtenaw Avenue, across the street from the retail complex where Whole Foods grocery is located. The site would include 310 parking spaces.

The city’s planning commission unanimously recommended approval of the site plan at its Oct. 18, 2011 meeting. Action had been postponed at the commission’s June 7, 2011 meeting so that the developer – Campus Realty – could address some outstanding issues with the plan.

The council also approved the brownfield plan for the project, which includes $6.7 million in tax increment financing to be paid back over a 19-year period. The Washtenaw County board of commissioners will still need to sign off on the brownfield plan. Commissioners scheduled a public hearing on the brownfield plan to be held at their meeting on Jan. 18, 2012.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Opposes Bill to Limit Protections

At its Nov. 21, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council unanimously passed a resolution expressing its opposition to a proposed Michigan state house bill from Tom McMillin, a Republican representing District 45, which includes Rochester. McMillin’s bill would amend Michigan’s Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act by declaring null and void legislation enacted by local units that expands the set of protected classes in the Civil Rights Act. [.pdf of Michigan's Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act] [.pdf of McMillin's proposed bill (HB 5039)]

The protected classes enumerated in the Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act include categories based on religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, or marital status. The city of Ann Arbor’s non-discrimination ordinance adds sexual orientation, gender identity, or student status as classes of people against whom discrimination is prohibited. [.pdf of Ann Arbor's Chapter 112 non-discrimination ordinance]

So McMillin’s bill, if eventually signed into law, would nullify Ann Arbor’s Chapter 112 of its city code. The Ann Arbor city council’s resolution cites Michigan’s Constitution, which provides that ”Each such city and village shall have power to adopt resolutions and ordinances relating to its municipal concerns, property and government, subject to the constitution and law.” [.pdf of Section 22 of Michigan Constitution]

The bill has been referred to the state House judiciary committee. The 17-member judiciary committee for the state House includes 10 Republicans and seven Democrats, one of whom is Jeff Irwin (D-53), who represents a district that includes most of Ann Arbor.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Initial OK for Hoover Mansion Rezoning

At its Nov. 21, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council gave initial approval to altering the University Bank site plan for its property at 2015 Washtenaw Ave., known as the Hoover Mansion. The bank would like to revise the existing planned unit development (PUD) for the site (originally approved in 1978), allowing an increase in the total number of employees and parking spaces permitted on the parcel. The site serves as the bank’s headquarters.

The proposal includes a request to build 14 new parking spaces on the east side – behind the main building – for a total of 53 spaces on the site. The city planning commission unanimously recommended approval of the change at its Oct. 4, 2011 meeting, after the proposal had been initially submitted to the city about a year earlier.

Because the proposal is a change to the city’s zoning, it’s a change to the city’s ordinances – a process that requires a second approval by the council at a separate meeting, preceded by a public hearing.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Greenbelt Expansion Gets Initial OK

At its Nov. 21, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council gave initial approval to a change in the boundaries for the city’s greenbelt program – an open space preservation effort funded by a 0.5 mill tax approved by voters in 2003.

The area in and around Ann Arbor eligible for land preservation under the greenbelt program is defined in Chapter 42 of the Ann Arbor city code. The council has expanded the boundaries once before, in 2007. The current proposal is essentially to square-off the area by adding a mile to the southwest in Lodi Township, and one mile to the northeast in Salem Township. [.jpg of map by The Chronicle showing original boundaries, the 2007 expansion and the currently proposed expansion]

As part of the amendment to Chapter 42, the council gave initial approval to a change that allows a parcel of land adjacent to the greenbelt boundary to be eligible for projection, if it is also adjacent to a parcel under the same ownership within the greenbelt boundary. The greenbelt advisory commission had voted to recommend the ordinance changes at its Sept. 14, 2011 meeting.

Since the start of the greenbelt program, roughly $18 million has been invested by the city of Ann Arbor in protecting open space. That has been matched by roughly $19 million from other sources, including the federal Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program, surrounding townships, Washtenaw County and landowner donations. That funding has protected roughly 3,200 acres in 27 separate transactions.

At the Nov. 21 council meeting, it was announced that Cherry Republic – a retail store selling cherry products that has an Ann Arbor location on Main Street – will be donating $2,500 to the city, to support the greenbelt program.

Also at the Nov. 21 meeting, the city council approved the appointment of Shannon Brines to the greenbelt advisory commission. The current commission had recommended his appointment at its Oct. 12, 2011 meeting.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Ann Arbor: “No Newspaper” Law Delayed

At its Nov. 21, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council postponed consideration of a revision to its ordinance on the distribution of handbills and newspapers that, among other things, would give residents the ability to prevent delivery of any undesired newspaper onto their porches by posting a notice expressly forbidding the delivery of a specific paper.

The ordinance revision reads in part: “No corporation, limited liability company, or partnership and no corporate officer or director, managing member, partner, or other person shall cause to be placed any newspaper upon private property where there is a notice posted on the front door of the structure on the property that the occupant forbids the delivery of that specific newspaper. ” [.pdf ... [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Gives Initial OK to Halving Art

At its Nov. 21, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council gave initial approval to a revision to its public art ordinance that temporarily reduces the amount allocated to public art from all capital project budgets from 1% to 0.5%. Currently, the city has a law (enacted in 2007) that requires 1% of all capital project budgets to include 1% for public art – with a limit of $250,000 per project. An effort by newly elected Jane Lumm (Ward 2) to reduce the allocation even more – to 0.25% – did not gain enough support to win approval.

The reduction in the allocation would apply for the next three years, from 2012-2015. The three-year timeframe is also a key part of a sunsetting amendment to the public art ordinance, which was also given initial approval on Monday night. That amendment requires that future funds reserved for public art under the ordinance must be allocated within three years. Money that is unspent or unallocated after three years must be returned to its fund of origin. However, an amendment offered from the floor and approved at Monday’s meeting makes it possible for the council to extend the deadline for successive periods, each extension for no more than six months.

The sunsetting clause comes in response to criticism about the pace at which public art has been acquired. More than $500,000 has accumulated for public art over the last five years, just from projects funded with the street repair tax – money that has yet to be spent on the acquisition of public art. Critics of the program also point to legal issues connected with the use of dedicated millage funds or fee-based utility funds for public art.

In addition to the temporary reduction from 1% to 0.5% and the sunsetting clause, the set of amendments approved by the council included a definition of capital improvement projects that excludes sidewalk repair from the ordinance requirement. Voters on Nov. 8 approved a new 0.125 mill tax that is supposed to allow the city to take over responsibility for the repair of sidewalks. Previously, sidewalk repair was paid for by adjacent property owners.

The amendments also excluded the ordinance from applying to any capital projects funded out of the general fund. Such projects are rare.

As with all changes to city ordinances, the amendments to the public art ordinance will need a second approval from the council, following a public hearing.

A common approach for councilmembers to take to ordinance revisions is to approve them on first reading, reasoning that it’s important for the public hearing to take place before voting down a proposal. However, on Monday night, the measure was opposed by Tony Derezinski (Ward 2), Margie Teall (Ward 4) and  Mike Anglin (Ward 5). [Additional Chronicle coverage: "Council Preview: Public Art Ordinance"]

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

EMU: Kwame

The Detroit News reports that a Nov. 29 speech by  former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick at Eastern Michigan University is being opposed by some students, including those who have created a Facebook page called Stand Up Against Kwame Kilpatrick @EMU. The speech is sponsored by B.L.A.C.K., Black Leaders Aspiring for Critical Knowledge, and Kilpatrick is expected to talk about “second chances.” Kilpatrick will go on trial next year on public corruption charges. [Source]

Higgins Elected Ann Arbor Mayor Pro Tem

At its Nov. 21, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council elected Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) as mayor pro tem. According to the city charter, the council must elect from its members a mayor pro tem “at its first meeting after the newly elected members have taken office following each regular city election…” That meeting was Nov. 21, which was the first meeting after Nov. 14, when councilmembers who won their elections on Nov. 8 took office.

Chris Easthope finished his service on the Ann Arbor city council as mayor pro tem. After Easthope left the council in 2008, Higgins has been elected mayor pro tem each year.

The mayor pro tem acts as mayor when the elected mayor is unable to do so. When acting as the mayor, the mayor pro tem enjoys all duties and responsibilities of mayor except that of the power of veto. With respect to other duties and responsibilities of the mayor as compared with other councilmembers, they consist largely of serving as emergency manager, making nominations to boards and commissions, presiding over meetings, and fulfilling a ceremonial function.

The mayor pro tem’s salary is the same as other councilmembers. Although the local officers compensation commission recommended in 2007 that the mayor pro tem be given additional compensation, the city council that year rejected that part of the commission’s recommendation.

Also at the meeting, the council determined the order of succession to the mayor. After the mayor pro tem, the seniority-based order is: Margie Teall (Ward 4), Mike Anglin (Ward 5), Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Tony Derezinski (Ward 2), Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5), Sandi Smith (Ward 1), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Jane Lumm (Ward 2).

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

A2: Schools

Michigan Radio reports on the Paint for Kids program, founded by Gene Firn of Ann Arbor: “Firn, who teaches a DIY painting class, was looking for practice walls for his students when he learned that the Ann Arbor school system doesn’t have a painting department. He thought he could help, so he submitted a proposal. The concept is simple: an experienced painter supervises parent volunteers as they transform hallways and classrooms over holiday weekends.” [Source]

Chelsea: Sermon

On his Falling Off The Horse blog, Len Niehoff – the preacher-in-residence at the First United Methodist Church in Chelsea – posts some reflections on thanksgiving: ”On a pleasant weekend afternoon, with a cool breeze rustling through the leaves, the woods and fields taught me a lesson about being thankful for this life. But they taught me another lesson as well. They taught me to remember that God does most of His work out of sight; that underneath the leafy paths and the crazy clutter of fallen limbs God was making something beautiful and new; and that paths we have not encountered, through gates we cannot conceive, will someday lead us to places we cannot imagine.” [Source]

West Park

A man and boy doing squats on the plaza in front of the bandshell. Also, now that the leaves are gone you can see exactly how rickety those treehouses overlooking West Park really are. [photo]

Washtenaw & Hogback

About 30 elected officials and county staff listened to HUD official Antonio Riley laud the area for its forward thinking on regional cooperation. It inspired him to say: “Not only is this region in good hands, but the entire country is in good hands.”  From the Washtenaw County board of commissioners,  Leah Gunn spoke in lieu of board chair Conan Smith, and councilmember Tony Derezinski spoke in lieu of mayor Hieftje.

An oversized check for $3 million was presented to county administrator Verna McDaniel.  The payment was a grant that is to support ReImagine Washtenaw, though no mention of an actual corridor authority was made. Riley mentioned that Lansing is getting an identical amount.

Washtenaw County Budget Set for 2012-2013

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Nov. 16, 2011): The main item on the Nov. 16 agenda was a final vote on the two-year budget for 2012 and 2013. Despite extensive public commentary – mostly from supporters of the Humane Society of Huron Valley (HSHV), and various nonprofits that provide human services like food and housing for low-income residents – there were no amendments that changed funding allocations from the version of the budget given initial approval two weeks ago.

Kirk Tabbey, Dan Smith

Kirk Tabbey, left, chief judge of the 14A-2 District Court in Ypsilanti, talks with Washtenaw County commissioner Dan Smith, vice chair of the county board's Ways & Means Committee. Smith chaired the Nov. 16 Ways & Means meeting in the absence of chair Rolland Sizemore Jr. Tabbey was on hand to introduce his new court administrator, Robert Ciolek, who replaces former court administrator Gene DeRossett. (Photos by the writer.)

The $97 million general fund budget included a range of funding cuts, aimed at overcoming what had been a $17.5 million deficit for the two-year period. Discussion focused for the most part on cuts to HSHV and Head Start, and drew sometimes heated rhetoric from commissioners – primarily from Ronnie Peterson. He advocated vigorously for support for both entities, but did not offer specific alternatives for funding.

The budget reduced HSHV’s contract from $500,000 this year to $250,000 each year in 2012 and 2013, an amount that HSHV officials have said doesn’t cover the cost of the services they provide. The state mandates that counties provide certain animal control services, but there’s disagreement between the county and HSHV about what those mandated services entail.

The HSHV’s current contract expires on Dec. 31, and the two groups continue to negotiate. Meanwhile, the county’s attorney has drafted a request for proposals (RFP) to solicit bids for animal control services. That RFP is being reviewed by other county officials – including the sheriff and prosecuting attorney – and will likely be issued within the next week or so.

Head Start’s situation remains unchanged, and the county will likely hand off the local program to federal administrators at the start of 2013. During deliberations, Peterson raised a range of concerns over how a transition would be handled, its impact on employees and children in the program, and the county’s debt obligations on the Head Start building in Ypsilanti.

Board chair Conan Smith lobbied for the county to explore other options, including keeping the federal grantee status but designating a single sub-recipient to administer it. There’s also new state legislation that could allow for creating an intergovernmental consortium – perhaps in partnership with the Washtenaw Intermediate School District and the University of Michigan – to fund and operate the program. Smith proposed an amendment would have required a vote of the board before relinquishing control of the Head Start program, but that amendment failed. A majority of commissioners felt it would simply delay the inevitable.

The only amendment that passed involved re-hiring of retired employees. The amendment was initially proposed by Dan Smith, then approved in a modified form to require the county administrator to report to the board when retirees are hired back on a temporary basis. The issue will come to the fore as roughly 100 of the county’s 1,300 employees are expected to retire in the coming weeks, a situation described by Conan Smith as a potentially catastrophic loss of institutional expertise. The practice of hiring retired staff on a temporary basis is likely to be used to manage the transition. County administrator Verna McDaniel said she plans to use the turnover as an opportunity to restructure county operations in some areas.

Related to that turnover is the possibility that McDaniel will approve 8% raises for certain employees who take on extra work. Ronnie Peterson cautioned that giving raises in the wake of getting salary and benefit concessions from employees will hurt morale, and make labor unions less likely to agree to additional concessions in the future. The county is projecting deficits of $11.6 million in 2014 and $14.7 million in 2015.

The final budget vote was unanimous, though three commissioners voted no on specific line items. (Rolland Sizemore Jr. was absent.) Peterson, Felicia Brabec and Alicia Ping voted no to cuts for animal control services. Peterson and Brabec also voted no to cuts for Head Start and the coordinated funding of human services. Conan Smith voted no to the line item for the board of commissioners, referring to it only by the line item number. He later said he’d been joking. [.pdf of 2012-2013 general fund budget]

The Nov. 16 meeting included several items not directly related to the 2012-2013 budget. Public hearings were set for brownfield plans at Ford Motor Co.’s Rawsonville plant and the Arbor Hills Crossing development in Ann Arbor. The board also gave initial approval to comply with the state’s “80/20″ rule, which will require about 95 employees represented by five collective bargaining units – those that did not agree to labor concessions – to pay for a greater amount of their health care costs.

The board gave initial approval to issue bonds for a new $3.2 million facility to be operated by the Western Washtenaw Recycling Authority (WWRA). The topic of county-issued bonds also arose during public commentary, when a resident of Sylvan Township asked what would happen now that township voters rejected a millage intended to repay the county for bond payments on a water and sewer facility. The answer? It’s not yet clear, commissioners said. [Full Story]

Lenart, Hall Take New Jobs in Housing

As Jennifer L. Hall prepares to start her new position as executive director of the Ann Arbor housing commission, Brett Lenart has been named to replace her as housing and infrastructure manager at the joint Washtenaw County/city of Ann Arbor office of community development. Hall sent an email on Sunday night to announce the transition.

Hall had been offered the housing commission job at the commission board’s Oct. 19, 2011 meeting. The commission oversees the city of Ann Arbor’s public housing units, as well as the Section 8 program for Washtenaw, Monroe, and western Wayne counties. Hall’s last day with the office of community & economic development is Nov. 23.

Among his various responsibilities at the county, Lenart has managed the … [Full Story]

A2: Restaurants

Two Ann Arbor restaurants were featured in recent posts on food blogs. The aut\ BAR was reviewed in CloverEats: “The Eggs Benedict came with little spiced parmesan potatoes, which had such a rich, cheesy flavor that complemented the eggs perfectly. The hollandaise sauce was creamy, warm, and so rich. Fred calls Aut Bat his favorite brunch restaurant in Ann Arbor, and I have to say that their food is certainly delicious!” [Source] And Wolverine Cuizine reviewed Frita Batidos: “The whole spirit and vibe of the Cuban culture inspired the style of the restaurant as well as many of the dishes and ingredients on the menu. However, Frita Batidos is more than just traditional Cuban cuisine. [Eve] Aronoff has put … [Full Story]

UM: Startup Funding

A column in the Des Moines Register reports on the University of Michigan’s plan to invest up to $25 million of its endowment in startups spun out of the university, and looks at how some faculty at Iowa public universities would like to see the same thing happen there. The column notes that UM president Mary Sue Coleman served as president of the University of Iowa from 1995-2002. [Source]

AATA OKs Ann Arbor-Ypsi Route Increases

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (Nov. 17, 2011): The board’s agenda Thursday night contained two items that were fairly uncontroversial.

Carlisle Participation Tool

Ben Carlisle mans the laptop for the projection onto the screen as his father Dick Carlisle explains to the unincorporated Act 196 (U196) board how an online community input tool can be used to map out suggestions from attendees at public forums. The men are with Carlisle Wortman Associates, an Ann Arbor consulting firm hired by the AATA to help with district planning meetings. The U196 meeting took place on Nov. 14. (Image links to the online participation tool.)

One item was the ratification of a new policy on public input for changes in bus fares and schedules. When the board arrived at the item on the agenda, board member David Nacht, who was first to speak to the issue, suggested the issue was so straightforward that the board could vote immediately.

The board unanimously approved the new public input policy, which distinguishes between major and minor changes to fares and routes, and provides a range of ways that the public is to be notified about such changes. The policy also includes a range of ways the AATA will receive the public’s feedback on such changes.

Another item generating little controversy at the board table was approval of an increase to the number of buses running on the Washtenaw Avenue corridor – between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, which is served by AATA Route #4. Again, Nacht led off board discussion on the issue, calling it a “no-brainer.” At the conclusion of his brief remarks, he declared, “Let’s vote!” Others had more to say, but the board eventually approved the increased bus frequency – up to eight buses per hour during peak periods.

Nacht’s apparent eagerness to dispatch with those items with extra efficiency could be attributed to a hour-long closed session the board had held before those votes.

The session was held to deliberate on a request from the American Civil Liberties Union that the AATA accept an advertisement for the sides of its buses that had been previously rejected. When the board emerged from the closed session – held to consider a written opinion of its legal counsel, which is allowed under the Michigan Open Meetings Act – the board voted to affirm the rejection of the ad. The ad includes the text, “Boycott ‘Israel’ Boycott Apartheid.”

In addition to taking those three votes, the board entertained its usual range of committee and staff reports, including updates on a possible transition by the AATA into a countywide authority. Those updates included a report on the second meeting of the U196 – an unincorporated board of a countywide transit authority likely to be formed under Michigan’s Act 196 of 1986.

Another update connected to countywide expansion related to progress on a four-way agreement between Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Washtenaw County and the AATA. The four-way agreement would establish the contribution of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti millage funding to the new countywide authority, and set the role of Washtenaw County to incorporate the new authority.

CEO Michael Ford also announced a $2.1 million federal grant the AATA had received (in addition to a previously announced $2.65 million grant in October) to fund the incremental cost of purchasing hybrid-electric buses.

Thursday’s meeting likely marked the penultimate monthly AATA board meeting for Sue McCormick, who is currently public services area administrator for the city of Ann Arbor. She’s leaving that position to take a job, beginning at the start of 2012, leading Detroit’s water and sewerage department. [Full Story]

Webster Township

Locally sourced, free-range heritage-breed turkey. It’s the ultimate Thanksgiving bird. But you have to pick it up. No one is welcome before 7 p.m. on Turkey night at John Harnois‘ farm. That means driving along rural roads to find the farm in the dark. Since I go by myself, I don’t have a navigator to tell me where to turn, and this year the moon was not full. Last turn: the farm is marked by smudge pots, with a sign that reads “crows yield.”

UM: Jim Toy

A nearly 5-minute video pays tribute to Jim Toy, marking the 40th anniversary of the University of Michigan’s Spectrum Center. Toy is a leader in the gay rights movement and an initial staff member of UM’s first office for LGBTA affairs, set up in the early 1970s. The video includes comments from Toy as well as from a range of community and UM leaders, talking about Toy’s impact. [Source]

UM: Scoreboards

An article by James Tobin, published in the latest edition of Michigan Today, looks at the history of University of Michigan scoreboards, beginning with the first scoreboard on the football field in 1899. ”In the 1890s, many of the football fans at Michigan’s Regents Field spent at least part of every game in a state of desperate uncertainty about what, exactly, was happening down on the field. ‘It is impossible,’ the Michigan Daily noted, ‘for everyone on both sides of the field as well as in the grandstand and bleachers to keep track of the number of downs, yards to gain, etc., as their only method of information is through the referee, who can not be heard all over the field.’” … [Full Story]

Half Percent for Art for a While?

A proposed amendment to the city’s public art ordinance – on the Ann Arbor city council’s agenda for Monday, Nov. 21, 2011 – was made the subject of a proposed revision on Friday. Attached to the city’s online Legistar agenda is an alternative amendment that would reduce the amount of city funding from 1% to 0.5% – from July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2015.

The city of Ann Arbor’s current public art ordinance requires that 1% of all capital project budgets (up to a limit of $250,000 per project) be set aside for public art. [.pdf of originally proposed ordinance amendment] [.pdf of possible revision to the ordinance amendment]

The revised amendment would not, as the original amendment does, exclude the … [Full Story]

Skies of Ann Arbor

Two fighter jets  – hopefully just practicing for Military Appreciation Day tomorrow at the Big House.

Washtenaw Gets $3 Million Community Grant

The Washtenaw County Sustainable Community project has been awarded a $3 million federal grant for a project focusing on the Washtenaw Avenue corridor, spanning Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Pittsfield Township and Ypsilanti Township. County administrator Verna McDaniel announced the news at a Nov. 17, 2011 working session of the county board of commissioners, saying she had received word of the award earlier in the day.

The Community Challenge Planning Grant grant was awarded by the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development. According to the grant application, the project focuses on “removing barriers to create a coordinated approach to expanding existing affordable and energy efficient housing options and connecting them to job centers and healthy food through an enhanced multi-modal transportation corridor.” [link to .pdf of ... [Full Story]

UM: State Economy

University of Michigan economists are forecasting that nearly 32,000 jobs will be added statewide during 2012, with another 45,000 during 2013, according to a Detroit News report. The article quotes George Fulton, director of UM’s Research Seminar in Quantitative Economics: “For Michigan, 2011 will go down as a year of solid job growth and one that saw the higher-wage segment of the labor market grow more rapidly than the economy overall.” [Source] The forecast was presented Friday morning at an annual UM economic outlook conference.

Update for Non-Motorized Transit Plan

An update to Ann Arbor’s non-motorized transportation plan (NTP) – originally adopted by the city council in 2007 – is in the works. Planning commissioners got briefed on the effort at a recent committee meeting.

A "sharrow" on Fourth Avenue near Catherine

A "sharrow" on Fourth Avenue near Catherine, indicating that the road is shared by bicyclists and motorists. (Photos by the writer.)

The plan focuses on ways to make it easier for people to walk or ride their bicycles, as alternatives to driving a vehicle. The idea is that by providing a safe, convenient network for pedestrians and bicyclists – including bike lanes and shared paths – more people will choose to use those modes of transportation. The longer-term goal is to create a healthier community, both in terms of individual lifestyles as well as a more sustainable environment.

At the Nov. 7 meeting of the master plan review committee, Parrish Bergquist, an intern with the city who’s working with transportation program manager Eli Cooper, gave planning commissioners an overview of how the update will proceed. It was the first time that staff presented their plan for updating the NTP.

The issue of non-motorized transportation cuts across several city units. It’s a concern for parks and recreation staff, for example, as many paths run through city parks. The topic came up during public commentary at the October meeting of the park advisory commission, when Ann Arbor resident Eric Boyd spoke about the need for more non-motorized connectivity between west and south central Ann Arbor – essentially the area between South Main to South State streets.

The Nov. 7 meeting also included an update on the South State Street corridor study that planning staff is undertaking. This report focuses on the non-motorized transportation update. [Full Story]

Column: Speaking Truth to Power

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

College football coaches are far from the richest people in sports, but they could be the most powerful. That might seem far-fetched, but not to the disciples of Bear Bryant, Woody Hayes, and Tom Osborne, to name just three, who rose to become almost spiritual leaders at their schools.

At University of Michigan president James Duderstadt’s retirement banquet in 1996, he said being president wasn’t easy, but it came with some nice perks. He even got to meet the man thousands of people considered God. “No,” he said, “not Bo Schembechler, but the Dalai Lama.”

It got a laugh, but it also revealed how much presidents both fear and resent their coaches’ power, which can eclipse almost everything else on campus. The best that schools can hope for is an enlightened despot, one who keeps things clean – while winning ten games a year and beating their arch-rival.

Michigan has been lucky. Its biggest icons – Fielding Yost, Fritz Crisler, and Bo Schembechler – were not just revered, they were restrained, refusing to resort to the dirty tactics their opponents used on and off the field.

No one in the history of Penn State stamped the school more than Joe Paterno did. He led the Nittany Lions to five perfect seasons, and did it the right way. He didn’t spend a dollar to expand his humble ranch home, instead donating more than $4 million to expand the university.

As Mark Twain said, once a man earns a reputation for hard work, he can sleep until noon. Likewise, Paterno’s image eventually took on a life of its own, one so powerful no mere mortal dared question it.

The acid test was his former top assistant, Jerry Sandusky, who received the first formal complaint about his questionable conduct from a boy’s mother back in 1998. This introduced a pattern of reports, with all of them systematically squelched by Paterno and Penn State. Having seen Michigan’s coaches spend 16-hour days together – which is typical at that level – I find it impossible to believe Penn State’s coaches weren’t all too aware of Sandusky’s behavior, and the danger it posed. [Full Story]