Archive for December, 2011

Medical Marijuana: Local Board Eyes 2012

On Dec. 14, 2011, Ann Arbor’s medical marijuana licensing board met to continue deliberations on applications that the city has received for a limited number of medical marijuana dispensary licenses. At its Nov. 30 meeting, the board had taken an initial straw poll on one license application. Board members were favorably inclined to make a recommendation to the city council that a license be awarded to MedMarx at Arborside Compassion, located at 1818 Packard St.

Map fo 10 License applications

The city of Ann Arbor has received 10 applications from businesses seeking to be licensed as medical marijuana dispensaries. Their locations are indicated with the green pushpins. In January, the licensing board will decide whether to made recommendations to the city council to award licenses. (Image links to dynamic Google Map)

At its Dec. 14 meeting, the board continued to review materials that had been submitted to determine completeness of other applications, and heard an argument from a business owner that his application should be considered as a pre-moratorium business.

The moratorium had been imposed by the Ann Arbor city council on Aug. 5, 2010 for 120 days – it prohibited the future use of property inside the city for cultivation facilities or dispensaries, and was extended several times in the course of the council’s consideration of the medical marijuana issue. That consideration culminated on June 20, 2011 in the enactment of zoning and licensing requirements for medical marijuana businesses.

Ann Arbor’s local laws require that businesses operate in conformance with the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act, which was enacted by statewide voter referendum in 2008. The city has explicitly required of applicants for dispensary licenses that they explain how their business conforms with the law, including an Aug. 23, 2011 court of appeals ruling that has been interpreted by many authorities to mean that no medical marijuana dispensaries are legal. [.pdf of the McQueen case ruling]. Based on remarks made at the Dec. 14 meeting, it appears that Ann Arbor’s city attorney is open to the possibility that dispensary business models may exist that do conform to the McQueen case ruling.

Recommendations by the board on the award of licenses, along with recommendations for any revisions to the ordinance, are due to be submitted to the city council by the end of January 2012.

The licensing board’s work comes even as some marijuana advocates have begun to recruit volunteers for an eventual petition drive that would seek an amendment to Michigan’s constitution to repeal the state’s general marijuana prohibition. If successful, such a constitutional amendment would appear to remove state-level legal hurdles to obtaining medical marijuana or operating a medical marijuana dispensary. However, the legal ability of federal agents to enforce federal drug laws would be unaffected by a change to Michigan’s constitution.

A sign-up sheet for people to indicate willingness to help with the petition campaign was passed around by audience members at the Dec. 14 licensing board meeting. To place the constitutional amendment on the Nov. 6, 2012 ballot, the beginning and end dates for the signature collection period (based on typical strategies used by petition initiatives and Michigan’s election law) translate to Jan. 12 and July 9, respectively. To qualify, 322,609 valid signatures would need to be collected.

The Jan. 12 petition start date comes a day after Michigan’s Supreme Court is scheduled to begin hearing arguments in two medical marijuana cases. One involves the growing of medical marijuana in an “enclosed, locked facility” (People v. King) and the other involves the timing of a physician’s recommendation that is needed to support a defense against prosecution (People v. Kolanek). [Full Story]

Seventh & Pauline

Out for a New Year’s Eve test run just to see what the fitness gap looks like if I were to attempt a June marathon. Was reduced to walking a stretch. Busted by city of Ann Arbor staffer who was out running … training for June marathon.


Joe O’Neal, owner of Kerrytown Market & Shops, pointed out a new alcove outside the building – with benches and a plaque – honoring Ginny Johansen, a former Ann Arbor city councilmember and farmers market supporter who died last year. The plaque reads, in part: “Ginny left Ann Arbor a better place and we are all grateful to her.” [photo][photo]

Ann Arbor Adds Flashers, Alters Traffic Law

Ann Arbor city council meeting (Dec. 19, 2011): At its last meeting of the year, the council ended the current round of discussion on the city’s pedestrian safety ordinance by finalizing changes that clarified conditions under which vehicles are required to stop for people who are trying to cross the street.

Jane Lumm crosswalk ordinance approaching air quotes

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) made air quotes around the word "approaching" as the council discussed the city's ordinance on crosswalks. (Photos by the writer.)

The current ordinance amendment maintains an existing requirement that motorists accommodate not just pedestrians who are “within” a crosswalk, but also those who are verging on entering a crosswalk. What’s different is the way the concept is expressed. In July 2010, the council chose to describe pedestrians who are about to enter a crosswalk as “approaching” the crosswalk. The version of the ordinance finalized on Dec. 19 requires motorists to accommodate “… a pedestrian stopped at the curb, curb line or ramp leading to a crosswalk and to every pedestrian within a crosswalk …”

As part of the previous amendments made in 2010, the council also had removed language that specified a half of the roadway where drivers needed to accommodate pedestrians. This time around, the council restored similar language, which reads, “… when the pedestrian is on the half of the roadway on which the vehicle is traveling or when the pedestrian is approaching so closely from the opposite half of the roadway as to be in danger.”

In other crosswalk-related business, the council approved an expenditure of $81,000 to install five rectangular rapid flashing beacons (RRFB) on existing pedestrian islands in the city. Four of the locations are along Plymouth Road, at Georgetown, Traver Village, Beal and Bishop. The fifth location is at Seventh and Washington.

Also at the Dec. 19 meeting, the council ended a long process of review by the city and negotiation with neighbors by approving a change to the zoning of the Hoover Mansion property on Washtenaw Avenue, which University Bank uses as its headquarters. The change will allow University Bank to build 13 new parking spaces on the east side – behind the main building, allowing the bank in accommodate expanded employment.

Towards the end of the council’s meeting, a relatively rare debate unfolded about a mayoral nomination to a city board. At issue was the nomination of a city employee – transportation program manager Eli Cooper – to the board of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. He’s replacing another city employee on the board, public services area administrator Sue McCormick, who left her position with the city in mid-December. In the end, Cooper’s nomination was confirmed with dissent from two councilmembers. A separate vote on a general policy opposing nominations of city employees to boards and commissions received only four votes of support.

The council considered two compensation-related issues – one for its city attorney, Stephen Postema, and another for election workers who staff the polls. After a closed session to discuss Postema’s performance review, the council voted with dissent from one councilmember to award Postema the ability to cash out 250 hours of banked time. The council delayed its vote on pay increases for election workers, on the possibility that their pay could be increased more than what’s proposed, to match the amount specified in the city’s living wage ordinance.

In other business, the council approved a bond re-funding, authorized reimbursement for a broken electromagnet at the materials recovery facility, accepted additional federal money for solar projects, and heard about a possible strategy for addressing vacant and dilapidated properties. [Full Story]

Ellsworth & Stone School

Ann Arbor K-9 unit pulling into the Wheeler Service Center. Play date at the dog park?

Column: Depression’s Darkest Day

I last saw Greg O’Dell at the November meeting of the University of Michigan board of regents. At the time, he was UM’s police chief and head of the department of public safety, a job he’d taken in August.

Greg O'Dell at the Nov. 17, 2011 University of Michigan regents board meeting, before his resignation as UM police chief.

We spoke only briefly, and he was polite and respectful – just as he’d been in all the other interactions I’d had with him. Though he seemed a bit more quiet and restrained that day, I thought nothing of it. After all, he’d taken on a significant high-profile responsibility, and was standing in a room full of his new bosses at a public meeting.

Just a few days later, I was surprised to learn that he had decided to resign from UM and return to a post he’d previously held at Eastern Michigan University. EMU had rehired Greg as police chief in late November, and his public statements indicated that he’d decided his position there was a better fit.

Less than a month after that, on the Friday before Christmas, Greg was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, an apparent suicide. He was 54. Shocking is the only way to describe the news – a sentiment I’ve heard expressed repeatedly over the last few days.

As a respected and well-liked leader in local law enforcement – he had spent the bulk of his career with the Ann Arbor police department – Greg was well known throughout the community. That fact was reflected in the hundreds of people who came to pay their respects on Wednesday night at the visitation held at the Nie Family Funeral Home, a diverse crowd of family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances.

He was smart and easy-going with a wry sense of humor, professional yet personable, confident and approachable. His death has stunned us, and even those of us who weren’t close to him will mourn the loss.

I’m sure I’m not alone in spending much of the past few days reflecting on Greg’s death. Not well-known outside a limited community was his struggle with depression. I don’t know the circumstances of his personal situation – and it’s not my business. But as the daughter of someone who suffered from chronic depression, that dark landscape is familiar to me.

This past summer, in the same regents boardroom where I last saw Greg, the director of UM’s Depression Center, John Greden, spoke to regents about the difficulty of fighting the stigma of this illness called depression. In the wake of Greg’s death, it’s worth pausing to reflect on the way that nearly all of us, at some point, grapple with our inner demons or unfathomable despair, and how those struggles can be even more profound for those who work in law enforcement. [Full Story]

A2: Ann Arbor SPARK

In a letter to the editor of the Livingston Daily Press & Argus, Pinckney resident Everett Livingston Jr. complains about the decision to award a contract for economic development in Livingston County to Ann Arbor SPARK: “So as far as I can see, once again our county leaders have been duped into committing $375,000 to this new boondoggle. The only thing I can see happening is that we will be sending a little over $1 million over three years to Washtenaw so they can achieve their goals of enriching their county.” [Source]

William & Thompson

Thompson closed south of William – large crane in the road lifting materials to the roof of Zaragon West building. [photo]

Art Commission Plans for the Future

Ann Arbor public art commission meeting (Dec. 13, 2011): Marsha Chamberlin, who chairs the city’s public art commission, began the meeting by congratulating her colleagues on the recent defeat of a city council proposal to reduce funding for the Percent for Art program, which AAPAC oversees. “What that means is a lot of work in the next year,” she added.

Aaron Seagraves

Aaron Seagraves, Ann Arbor's public art administrator, goes over some ideas for possible programs to be funded through the city's Percent for Art program. (Photos by the writer.)

Most of AAPAC’s December meeting was spent looking forward to the coming year – discussing how to develop the next annual art plan, which is due to be delivered to the city council in April. Commissioners talked about how to increase the amount of public art funded through the city’s Percent for Art, including putting in place new programs that would expedite the process. Some city councilmembers have raised concerns that few public art projects have been completed since the Percent for Art was created in 2007. The program, overseen by AAPAC, allocates 1% for public art from all of the city government’s capital projects.

So far, only two projects have been installed: (1) a tree sculpture at West Park, and (2) a large water fountain in front of city hall. Updates on several other projects were reviewed at AAPAC’s December meeting, and several days after the meeting, action was taken toward the selection of artists for two projects. A task force for a mural in Allmendinger Park is recommending Ann Arbor muralist Mary Thiefels for that work, with a $10,000 budget. And a task force that’s selecting artwork for the lobby of the Justice Center is recommending Ed Carpenter of Portland, Oregon for that $150,000 project. AAPAC is expected to get more details and vote on both recommendations at its Jan. 25 meeting.

During Dec. 13 discussion of the annual plan, it emerged that there’s been a revision to a key constraint on Percent for Art spending: The aspect of permanence. Previously, city staff had told AAPAC that because all artwork needed to be capitalized, it had to last a minimum of five years. Now, Chamberlin reported, the city’s finance department has revised its definition of “permanent” to a minimum of two years, not five. “That does change things a lot,” she observed.

One item that fits the “permanent” requirement, but posed other concerns, was a proposed donation to the city via local attorney Kurt Berggren. The work is an eight-panel set of gates called the Global Peace Gateway, originally located at a cathedral in Los Angeles. Commissioners discussed several issues related to that donation, including the cost of transporting the work to Ann Arbor and the fact that the gates contain religious iconography. Ultimately, they voted to reject the donation.

One thing that wasn’t mentioned during the meeting: Margaret Parker’s decision to leave the commission one year before her term expired. The news was revealed later in the month at a city council meeting, when mayor John Hieftje put forward a nomination for her replacement – John Kotarski. Parker, a local artist, has served on AAPAC since its inception, including three years as its chair, and was instrumental in creating the Percent for Art program. [Full Story]

Liberty & Ashley

Crates of tissue-wrapped holiday ornaments and semi-empty shelves at Downtown Home & Garden, as this season’s wares are being packed up.

Memorial Services Set for Greg O’Dell

Visitation for Greg O’Dell, who died last week, will be on Wednesday, Dec. 28 from 5-8 p.m. at Nie Funeral Home, 3767 W. Liberty Road in Ann Arbor. A memorial service will be held on Thursday, Dec. 29 at 11 a.m. at Eastern Michigan University’s Pease Auditorium, located at College Place and Cross Street in Ypsilanti.

The O’Dell family has requested that in lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to EMU Athletics or to the Ann Arbor Police Department. Contributions to the community policing endowment fund can be made through the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation. The online AAACF donation form includes an option for a designation (Ann Arbor Police Department) and a dedication (Greg O’Dell).

O’Dell most recently served as Eastern Michigan … [Full Story]

UM: Hockey

Ann Arbor author John U. Bacon’s first book – “Blue Ice: The Story of Michigan Hockey” – has been made into a movie that’s playing several times over the next two weeks on Fox Sports Detroit TV. [Source] A DVD of the film is available for purchase on the online MGoBlue Multimedia Store and at M Den stores.

A2: Food

The Ann Arbor food blog Mother’s Kitchen posts a recipe for stuffed cabbage – a traditional New Year’s dish, for some: ”When I was a kid, I would eat mine ‘naked’ – I’d peel off the cooked cabbage, but I love cooked cabbage now. I’d recommend doing that still for kids or adults that don’t share the cooked cabbage love.” [Source]

City Council Approval Not Required

An article about the Dec. 20, 2011 Ann Arbor planning commission meeting incorrectly stated that the site plan approval for Traver Village would be forwarded to city council for consideration. The site plan, which was unanimously approved by planning commissioners, does not require city council action. We note the error here, and have corrected the original article.

AATA Preps Stage for Future Transit Choice

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (Dec. 15, 2011): At its last meeting of the year, the AATA board bid farewell to boardmember Sue McCormick, voted to give its CEO Michael Ford a 3% raise, and paused a proposed $247,000 contract with a pair of consultants, who’ve been selected to conduct an internal organizational review of the AATA.

Sue McCormick AATA board member

Outgoing AATA board member Sue McCormick receives the traditional token of appreciation from the AATA – a mailbox marked up to resemble an AATA bus. (Photos by the writer.)

Background for the meeting included a proposed four-party agreement between the AATA, Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Washtenaw County that would set a stage to allow voters countywide to transition AATA into a countywide-funded transit authority. On Dec. 7, 2011, Ford presented the four-party agreement to the Washtenaw County board of commissioners. The Ann Arbor city council also received a presentation on the proposed four-way agreement at a Dec. 12, 2011 working session.

The four-way agreement is in large part an if-then statement: If an adequate funding source can be identified for a countywide authority (likely through a voter-approved tax) then the assets of the AATA would be transfered to the new authority, along with the existing transit tax the cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti currently levy. The county would file the articles of incorporation, but would not incur any liability.

Also in December, a subcommittee of the advisory group that is reviewing financial aspects of the countywide transit master plan (TMP) met to continue its work analyzing the proposed elements of expanded service. The intended early January finish date for the group’s white paper to be delivered to the AATA has slipped somewhat, because of legislation that may start moving through Michigan’s House of Representatives in January 2012.

Current AATA initiatives mentioned at the Dec. 15 board meeting include ongoing contract negotiations with Michigan Flyer to provide public transit service from Ann Arbor to Detroit Metro airport, the reconstruction of the downtown Ann Arbor Blake Transit Center, and the development of a new website.

Other highlights from the board’s meeting included a discussion of the two-grocery-bag limit for AATA’s para-transit service, and public commentary on a pending lawsuit against the AATA over its decision to reject an advertisement for the sides of its buses that calls for a boycott of Israel. [Full Story]

Fourth Ave. & Washington

Mounted on a light pole out of reach for regular-height people is what I would describe as a whirly-gig, which is really getting a workout in the gusting winds today (Christmas Day). It has blinky lights that are apparently powered by the whirling action – they go out when it stops spinning. The label describing it was not totally readable to me given the angle, the fading daylight and my old man eyes, but I think I could make out “experimental public art” and “Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority.” Also a warning about a GPS tracking device (in case someone was thinking of stealing it). [photo]

State & Huron

Christmas Eve candlelight service at First United Methodist Church begins with announcement of “Christmas Miracle” – four $120 tickets to the Sugar Bowl had arrived unsolicited in the mail. (An Ann Arbor school is participating in the event, which is a game of American football to be played in New Orleans.) Some University of Alabama fans in Georgia mistakenly believed their team, the Crimson Tide, would be participating in the game and purchased the tickets early. Also good Methodists, the Alabama fans sent the tickets northward. There will be a drawing.


Anonymous rolled up note in front door with “Share the Road” button and “One Less Car” magnet: “GUERRILLA SANTA WISHES YOU A MERRY CHRISTMAS” [photo]

Holiday Greetings from The Chronicle

This time of year, it’s a tradition in our house to play Christmas tunes on my great grandfather’s music box. We shared this video of the music box with Chronicle readers during our publication’s first holiday season four years ago, and wanted to revive that tradition this year. Whatever you celebrate – Christmas, Hanukkah, solstice or the coming of a new year – we hope your holidays bring you memories worth chronicling. [Full Story]

2011: Ann Arbor $1.6M Better than Planned

Editor’s note: Before this article was finalized for publication, it was inadvertently posted for a brief time, then removed from the website. Between versions, some added material gave more precision to the planned expenditures and use of fund balance in the city of Ann Arbor’s FY 2011 budget.

Ann Arbor city council audit committee 2011

The Ann Arbor city council audit committee met on Dec. 19 to review the audit for FY 2011, which ended June 30, 2011. Clockwise, starting with Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), with his back to the camera, are Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Sandi Smith (Ward 1), city administrator Steve Powers, auditor Alan Panter, accounting services manager Karen Lancaster, and Margie Teall (Ward 4). Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) was absent. (Photo by the writer.)

In mid-December, the audit committee of the Ann Arbor city council received what could be considered good news from the final audit for the last fiscal year. It was clean. The city also managed to add incrementally to its fund balance, instead of using more than $1 million from that balance, which it had anticipated doing.

The council’s audit committee met on Monday, Dec. 19 at 6 p.m. just before the council’s last meeting of the year, which started at 7 p.m. Last year, the committee did not meet at all, a point of complaint made by committee member Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) at a recent council meeting.

Alan Panter of the accounting firm Abraham & Gaffney, P.C. presented the audit committee with an overview of his findings for fiscal year 2011, which were summarized in the report as “an unqualified (‘clean’) opinion on the City of Ann Arbor financial statements for the year ended June 30, 2011.”

One finding that was not deemed a “material weakness” – but was nonetheless described as a “significant” deficiency in internal controls – involved adequate documentation of employee purchase card (P-Card) use. It’s an issue familiar to the city from previous audits.

In terms of the overall financial state of the city, as reflected in the audited numbers, the city added around $127,000 to its general fund balance.

That’s significant, because the city council-approved FY 2011 budget had anticipated drawing around $1.5 million from the fund balance reserve to help cover about $81.5 million in planned general fund expenditures. So on balance, the city appears to have done at least $1.6 million better than it had planned for FY 2011. No single factor was identified during the audit committee’s discussion to account for the better performance.

At the end of FY 2011, the city’s fund balance reserves stood at around 13.6% of expenditures – which is within the range of 12-15% that Panter said was recommended.

The audit committee’s discussion included the fact that the city’s audit is required by the city charter to be completed by Sept. 30 each year – within 90 days of the end of the fiscal year. This year’s audit was not completed until Dec. 9. Based on discussion among the audit committee members and accounting services manager Karen Lancaster, missing the charter’s deadline has become routine. Lancaster indicated that the first year she’d worked for the city, in the early 1990s, that deadline had been met.

In order for the city’s overall audit to be completed, the audits from the component units have to be done first. Lancaster attributed at least part of the now-routine delay to the fact that two such units – the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority and the city employees’ retirement system – have their own accounting staff. That was not the case when she first began working for the city. Because the auditor first works with those separate staff to complete their individual audits, the overall process is slower than it might otherwise be, she said.

The audit committee voted to recommend acceptance of the auditor’s report.

Based on its responsibilities described in the 2006 council resolution creating the committee, next up for committee members in 2012 will be working to come up with a recommendation on the selection of an auditing firm – the contract with Abraham & Gaffney expires with this year’s audit. [Full Story]

Greg O’Dell Dies in Apparent Suicide

Greg O’Dell, a widely respected local law enforcement officer who most recently served as Eastern Michigan University’s chief of police, was found dead today of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. He was 54.

According to the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office, police were contacted this morning after a family member found what appeared to be a suicide note at O’Dell’s Ann Arbor home. His vehicle was found in the 3000 block of Huron River Drive in Scio Township at about 12:30 p.m., and his body was found in the area nearby.

O’Dell had a long tenure in local law enforcement, spending the majority of his career in the Ann Arbor police department. He joined EMU in February 2008 as chief of police and … [Full Story]