Archive for January, 2013

A2: Music

A short post on Pitchfork highlights a four-song self-titled 7″ EP by Chit Chat, an Ann Arbor garage punk band: “With their 30-second shredder, they invoke the guitar heroics of another rock’n'roll band from Ann Arbor: the Stooges.” The post includes a clip of the song “Attitude.” [Source]

Column: Reflections on Two Inaugurations

Editor’s note: Ann Arbor residents Laura Sky Brown and her son Henry attended the 2009 inauguration of President Barack Obama. This year they returned to the nation’s capital, and filed periodic updates for The Chronicle along the way. This column contains their reflections on those trips, beginning with observations by Laura Sky Brown.

Laura Sky Brown, Jan. 21, 2013 on the occasion of the public  inauguration ceremony of President Barack Obama.

Laura Sky Brown, Jan. 21, 2013 on the occasion of the public inauguration ceremony of President Barack Obama.

I was never the kind of person who went to mass events. I could not imagine lining up overnight for concert tickets, crowding in to Times Square to watch the ball drop on New Year’s Eve, or sitting in the midst of thousands at a music festival.

So it’s a little bit amazing that I have now attended not one but two presidential inaugurations. Both times, I have been motivated almost entirely by the desire to give my middle son Henry a thrill. Henry is the guy among my four children who will sit down and watch “Hardball” and CNN with me, who has incisive commentary on political issues, and who understands how to listen to rhetoric and pull out the essential elements (and root out the crap buried inside). I harbor not-so-secret hopes that he will go into political life, although he is reserved and introverted – so as a strategist, not as a candidate.

At this inauguration – much as at the one in 2009 – the event for me was all about the people. We did get to see the President, we did get to be present at important national events, but what was most valuable was to see and interact with people from all over the country. We had our pictures taken by people from Florida, we stood in line behind people from Minnesota, and we sat across a cafe table from a New Yorker. We walked down the street behind a photographer from the White House press corps.

So many people brought little kids with them. You might say that is a crazy idea, perhaps even dangerous – taking a five-year-old or even a ten-year-old into a huge mass of people. You’d be wrong. Most of them had wide eyes that were taking it all in, and you could picture them in 50 years telling their grandchildren how they were there. What would I give, in retrospect, to have been dragged to the inauguration of Richard Nixon in the 1960s or to have seen the Carters get out of the car and walk in their inaugural parade when I was a teenager? [Full Story]

County Lays Groundwork for Budget Talks

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Jan. 16, 2013): Washtenaw County government will be working to erase a projected $24.64 million general fund deficit over a four-year period from 2014 through 2017. County administrator Verna McDaniel and her financial staff gave a budget briefing to county commissioners at their Jan. 16 meeting.

Verna McDaniel, Washtenaw County administrator, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Washtenaw County administrator Verna McDaniel gave a budget update to commissioners at their Jan. 16, 2013 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

Although a much smaller general fund deficit of $3.93 million is projected for 2014, McDaniel hopes to make $6.88 million in structural changes that year – a combination of new revenues and cuts in expenditures. If that happens, “we’d be done – we’d have no deficit” going forward, McDaniel said, because those cuts and revenue increases would compound and carry over into future years.

To do that, for 2014 the goal is to generate an additional $1.2 million in revenue, reduce operating costs by $2.96 million, cut $100,000 from outside agency funding, and find $2.62 million in reductions to employee compensation and benefits.

McDaniel noted that for 2012-2013, the county overcame a $17.5 million deficit – but only about $7.3 million of that came from structural changes. Yousef Rabhi, the board’s chair, noted that even though the $6.88 million target is lower, the cuts will be a challenge because many services are already cut to a minimal level.

The board has set a planning retreat for Thursday, March 7 at 6 p.m. – to be held during its regular working session – to talk about budget priorities.

In other action at the Jan. 16 meeting, commissioners were appointed to more than 40 boards, commissions and committees. [.pdf of 2013 appointments listing] Because of changes approved late last year, commissioners will receive stipends based on the number of groups on which they serve, and the number of meetings that they are expected to attend.

Though there are still some details to be determined, a tentative tally of stipends shows a total of $8,800 for all nine commissioners, with individual pay ranging from a low of $0 for Ronnie Peterson, the only commissioner with no appointments, to $2,700 for Yousef Rabhi, whose appointments include several that are mandatory because of his position as board chair.

Unlike the previous per diem system – when commissioners had to request payments, which were administered by the county clerk’s office – the stipend payments will be pro-rated, aggregated and paid out biweekly as part of a commissioner’s paycheck. No one is responsible for monitoring attendance, and absences will only be addressed if brought to the attention of the board chair.

During the Jan. 16 meeting, commissioners also approved a variety of federal grants, primarily related to funding for homeland security and job training. And given initial approval was an application for a $20,000 grant to fund expansion of an after-school program called “Telling It” in the West Willow and MacArthur Boulevard housing developments – low-income neighborhoods on the east side of Washtenaw County.

The grant application is unusual in that it’s the first time a county unit – in this case, the sheriff’s office – has sought funding through the coordinated funding pilot program, which was designed to support human services more effectively in this community. The coordinated funding is a partnership of Washtenaw County, the city of Ann Arbor, the United Way of Washtenaw County, the Washtenaw Urban County, and the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation. [Full Story]

AADL Board Sets 2013 Meeting Schedule

In an effort to encourage members of the public to participate in its meetings, the Ann Arbor District Library board voted to hold three of its 2103 meetings at library branches. Typically, the board’s monthly meetings are held in the downtown library at 343 S. Fifth Ave.

This year, meetings will be held at: (1) the Traverwood branch at 3333 Traverwood Drive, at the intersection with Huron Parkway (June 17); (2) the Pittsfield branch at 2359 Oak Valley Drive (July 15); and the Malletts Creek branch at 3090 E. Eisenhower Parkway, east of Stone School Road (Sept. 16). In a separate vote, the board voted to adopt the 2013 meeting schedule.

This brief was filed from the fourth floor … [Full Story]

Library Board Forms Two Special Committees

At its Jan. 21, 2013 meeting, the Ann Arbor District Library board voted unanimously to create two special committees – for facilities and communications.

The special facilities committee is a continuation of a committee that was originally formed at the board’s April 16, 2012 meeting. At that time, the purpose of the committee was to make a recommendation to the board regarding a possible new or renovated downtown building. At the board’s July 16, 2012 meeting, the committee – consisting of Prue Rosenthal, Nancy Kaplan and Ed Surovell – recommended that the board place a bond proposal on the Nov. 6 ballot to fund a new downtown library. At that same July meeting, the committee’s charge had been amended … [Full Story]

New Officers Elected for Library Board

The four Ann Arbor District Library board incumbents who were re-elected on Nov. 6, 2012 were sworn in for another four-year term at the board’s Jan. 21, 2013 meeting. Libby Hines, 15th District Court judge, administered the oath to Nancy Kaplan, Margaret Leary, Rebecca Head and Pru Rosenthal.

The seven-member board also held officer elections during its Jan. 21 meeting. Prue Rosenthal was unanimously elected president. Other officers are Jan Barney Newman (vice president); Nancy Kaplan (treasurer); and Rebecca Head (secretary).

This brief was filed from the fourth floor conference room of the downtown Ann Arbor District Library at 343 S. Fifth. A more detailed report will follow: [link]

Inauguration 2013: Obama’s Second Term

Editor’s note: Four years ago, Laura Sky Brown and her son Henry Brown traveled from Ann Arbor to Washington D.C. for the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States of America.

Laura Sky Brown and Henry Brown in Washington D.C. in front of the Washington monument Jan. 20, 2013.

Laura Sky Brown and Henry Brown in Washington D.C. in front of the Washington monument Jan. 20, 2013.

This year they’ve headed back to our nation’s capital to watch the public inauguration ceremony on Jan. 21.  The 20th amendment to the U.S. Constitution set the end of each presidential term at noon on Jan. 20. So President Obama took the actual oath of office on Jan. 20 in a private ceremony.

Laura and Henry are filing brief updates along the way, in the spirit of The Chronicle’s traditional Election Day coverage of the polls. 

19 January 10:44 p.m. (Toledo, Ohio Amtrak Station): Henry and I are waiting inside a festive station full of travelers en route to the inauguration. Cameraman from Channel 13 Toledo is doing a little video reporting in the waiting area. Train will leave at 11:15 p.m.

20 January noon (Washington, D.C. Union Station): We came in by Amtrak train from Toledo, which left at 11:15 p.m. and arrived just past noon at Washington’s Union Station. Among the other passengers, most of whom were on their way here for the inauguration, there was a group of 28 people traveling together who were mostly older, very well-dressed African American women from Toledo. A news reporter from the Toledo ABC affiliate was there with a camera doing some interviews.

 20 January (Rayburn House Office Building, Dingell’s Office): On arrival at Union Station, we walked over to the Rayburn House Office Building. Along the way we passed other Congressional office buildings (they are behind the capitol in the Capitol Hill neighborhood), each with a small line of people waiting to go through metal detectors to go in and get Inauguration tickets, which are handed out by members of Congress to constituents.

I got our tickets, basically, by calling Rep. Dingell’s office nearly every day since November and e-mailing regularly. It paid off in that, when we walked in the door, two aides welcomed us with, “You must be Laura Sky Brown and her son Henry,” and they walked us in to Rep. Dingell’s office and let us sit in his chairs.  [Full Story]

AATA OKs Labor, Agency Fee Accords

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (Jan. 17, 2013): Despite the passage of a right-to-work law by the Michigan legislature in late 2012, a new agreement between the AATA and Transport Workers Union Local 171 (TWU) maintains the same kind of agency fees that the legislation eliminated.

Charles Griffith, chair of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board

At right: Charles Griffith, chair of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board. On the left is board member David Nacht. (Photo by the writer.)

The AATA board ratified the 10-year agreement on agency fees in an accord that is separate from a 4.5-year agreement covering wages and benefits. The board approved both agreements at its Jan. 17 meeting. The agreement on agency fees takes advantage of the fact that the right-to-work law does not take effect until late March, and thus does not apply to agreements that are in place before then. It appears to be a strategy that employers statewide might use as a response to right-to-work, to the extent that they are willing to continue current agency fee arrangements. Agency fees are paid by non-union members based on the idea that they benefit from the union’s representation of their interests during collective bargaining.

The board’s vote on the two labor agreements was not unanimous. Eli Cooper dissented, based at least in part on the fact that the text of the two agreements was not available to all board members before they were asked to vote. David Nacht expressed support for Cooper’s point, but joined other board members in voting for the agreements.

Another vote that did not achieve unanimous support came on a resolution that expressed an intent to work with the board of the newly created southeast Michigan regional transportation authority (RTA) – which includes the counties of Washtenaw, Wayne, Macomb and Oakland, as well as the city of Detroit. The AATA board ultimately voted to table the resolution, with Jesse Bernstein and Anya Dale dissenting. Board members who were in favor of tabling felt that such a resolution was somewhat premature, pending the possible amendment of the RTA legislation, which passed late last year during the lame duck session of the state legislature.

The amendment desired by the AATA – which is supported by the Ann Arbor city council, the Washtenaw County board of commissioners, and the Michigan Public Transit Association – is for Washtenaw County to be excluded from the RTA at this time. AATA board discussion indicated that the window of opportunity for amending the legislation is likely to be the 90-day period for appointing RTA board members, which will close in mid-March.

In other business, the AATA board adopted a revised policy to be used in responding to requests made under the Freedom of Information Act. The board also adopted its categorical and capital grant program through fiscal 2017.

The treasurer’s report indicated a disparity between increasing ridership numbers and the amount of passenger fare revenue – a difference that is significant enough to warrant further inquiry.

Public commentary at the meeting featured a voice that was new to AATA board meetings but familiar as the film critic of the now defunct Ann Arbor News – Christopher Potter. Potter praised the quality of AATA’s service, but asked for weekend buses to run later than they do. [Full Story]

Fountain & Cherry

Power outage in Lower Waterhill due to high winds overnight. 17 F, 26 m.p.h. winds. Brrr!

Parks Group To Weigh In On Downtown Need

Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (Jan. 15, 2013): The city’s park advisory commissioners are embarking on a process to analyze the need for a possible downtown park or open space, with the goal of delivering recommendations to the city council later this year.

Tim Doyle, Graydon Krapohl, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Ann Arbor park advisory commissioners Tim Doyle and Graydon Krapohl at PAC’s Jan. 15, 2013 meeting. It was the first session for Krapohl since being appointed to replace John Lawter, whose term expired on Dec. 31. (Photos by the writer.)

In a 90-minute discussion at PAC’s January meeting, commissioners talked about how they’d like to approach this effort, which stemmed in part from a request that mayor John Hieftje made last summer. Momentum for PAC to weigh in has accelerated in light of recommendations recently delivered to the city council on the Connecting William Street project.

Several councilmembers have expressed concern that those recommendations – made by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority on five city-owned sites – don’t include sufficient green space. PAC has already weighed in on that specific project, passing a resolution on Sept. 18 2012 that urged the council to seek additional evaluation on locations for a downtown park.

During public commentary, several residents – including supporters of the Library Green Conservancy – spoke in support of a substantial downtown park.

A PAC subcommittee plans to draft a plan for how to proceed, with the full commission continuing the discussion at their land acquisition committee meeting on Feb. 5. The process is expected to take 4-6 months.

Also at their Jan. 15 meeting, commissioners got an update on plans for locating a dog park at West Park, across from New Hope Baptist Church. PAC had recommended that location for a dog park, but – as The Chronicle previously reported – objections from church members have resulted in a decision to look for another location. The project had been slated for consideration by the city council on Jan. 22, but has been removed from the agenda.

PAC chair Julie Grand told her fellow commissioners that she was still committed to the concept of a centrally-located dog park, and that PAC and parks staff would pursue other options. A PAC subcommittee that had worked on identifying a new dog park location will be reconvened to bring forward another recommendation.

In other action, commissioners received a mid-year budget update. The parks system is doing better than planned, thanks to a combination of better-than-expected revenues and lower expenses. [.pdf of budget summary] The city’s fiscal year 2013 runs from July 1, 2012 through June 30, 2013. [Full Story]

A2: Restaurant Week

The Pure Michigan website highlights the upcoming Jan. 20-25 Ann Arbor Restaurant Week, noting that the event is the largest one in Michigan. “To prepare, we decided to talk to some of the rock stars of restaurant week in Ann Arbor.” The featured chefs are Duc Tang of Pacific Rim by Kana, Brandon Johns of The Grange Kitchen & Bar; Brendan McCall of Isalita and Mani Osteria & Bar; Eve Aronoff of Frita Batidos; and John Fischer of Gratzi. [Source]

Column: Taylor Lewan Leads the Band

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

With the college football season finally behind us, I wanted to write a sweet little story about a very good guy who plays football for Michigan. But every time I tried, some bad news got in the way.

The first obstacle was Lance Armstrong. In case you missed it – perhaps you live on Mars – it turns out the man who came back from cancer to win a record seven Tours de France and write two bestselling books about his inspirational story is a complete fraud. He was taking performance-enhancing drugs during his entire reign, and whenever someone tried to tell the truth about his drug use – even if they had been forced to – he went out of his way to ruin their careers, their finances, and occasionally their lives.

It appears Lance Armstrong is a genuinely bad person. So, that’s all the time I want to give him.

Now, back to college football. On Monday, January 7th – six days after New Year’s, when the college football season always ended in the old days – I stayed up until midnight to watch the national championship game between Alabama and Notre Dame. I don’t know why I stayed up that late. It was over after Alabama ran up an insurmountable 28-0 lead in the first half. But I did learn Alabama head coach Nick Saban, who already makes more than $5 million a year, earned an additional $400,000 that night. His players – who, as you might recall, actually played the game – received $500 of souvenirs. Think anything’s wrong with this?

I was heartened, at least, to see the head coaches at Penn State, Notre Dame and Oregon all turn down bigger salaries from the NFL to stay with their schools. Until, that is, Chip Kelly, the head coach at Nike University – er, the University of Oregon – changed his mind, took the money, and ran. But that’s barely news.

Okay, now can I get to my favorite story, about Michigan’s Taylor Lewan? No? There’s some bizarre story coming out of Notre Dame I’ve got to talk about first? [Full Story]

AATA Revises FOIA Policy

The AATA board has adopted a revised policy for responding to requests made under Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act. [.pdf of revised FOIA policy] The vote came at its Jan. 17, 2013 board meeting. The new policy replaces the old one, which was approved on Feb. 16, 2004. [.pdf of old FOIA policy]

The old policy was brief (one-page) and essentially outlined how much would be charged for copies, for labor to retrieve records, and how much would be charged as a deposit. The new policy is more detailed, and specifies how requests are to be logged and documented by the FOIA coordinator, a form that requesters can use to request records, and an internal form that is to be … [Full Story]

AATA OKs 4-Year Deal with Bus Union

The Ann Arbor Transportation Authority has ratified a four-and-a-half-year contract with the Transport Workers Union Local 171 (TWU). The contract, which removes all language that deals with agency shop fees and dues, goes through June 30, 2017. Removal of the language is related to “right-to-work” legislation passed by the Michigan state legislature in late 2012.

The AATA and TWU are reaching an agreement separate from the labor contract that covers agency shop fees and dues – which runs for 10 years, through 2023. The contract resets the full wage for newly hired drivers after three years to $21.50 per hour. The wage for current drivers with at least three years of experience is $24.50 per hour. The contract calls for a … [Full Story]

AATA Adopts 2013-17 Categorical Grant Program

The capital and categorical grant program for the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority was given approval at the AATA board’s Jan. 17, 2013 meeting. Having in place such a grant program – a set of allocations for specific categories of capital expenditures – is a requirement to be eligible for federal funding. It’s a plan for how $44 million would be spent over the next five years. [.pdf of grant program]

For example, this year the program includes 11 replacement buses, five buses for expanded service and 25 vans for the van pool program. Two of the new buses for expanded service are related to increased frequency of service on Route #5. Notable in the program is that except for … [Full Story]

Stadium & Main

Many, many black birds (crows?) on golf course, hanging out. Do they know something we don’t?

No Sanctions, But Stern Words for Worthy

Donald Shelton, chief judge of Washtenaw County’s 22nd Circuit Court, has declined to sanction Wayne County prosecutor Kym Worthy in connection with a motion she filed last year in the Neal v. Michigan Dept. of Corrections case.

Washtenaw County Courthouse at Main and Huron streets in downtown Ann Arbor.

Washtenaw County Courthouse at Main and Huron streets in downtown Ann Arbor.

However, in the course of oral arguments heard this week, Shelton appeared to indicate basic agreement with the points of the presentation given by Dick Soble, one of the plaintiff’s attorneys in the case, who had asked for sanctions against Worthy. The Wayne County prosecutor is involved in the case as an intervenor, and was represented during oral arguments by Donn Fresard, the Wayne County prosecutor’s office chief of staff. Sanctions had also been sought against Fresard.

Soble and other opposing counsel had asked for sanctions against the Wayne County prosecutors because of their motion for recusal of judge Timothy Connors from the case – a motion filed on Nov. 1, 2012, five days before the Nov. 6 election. Soble contended that the motion had no legal merit, and instead had political motives. The incumbent Connors was opposed in the race by Michael Woodyard, who works as an assistant prosecuting attorney in Worthy’s office. Connors prevailed in that election.

The oral arguments and Shelton’s ruling from the bench came on Jan. 16, 2013 at the Washtenaw County courthouse at Huron and Main in downtown Ann Arbor.

Despite his decision not to sanction the Wayne County prosecutors, Shelton had some sharp words for their actions. He indicated that if similar filings were to come before him again in connection with the case, he would not hesitate to impose sanctions. [Full Story]

AAPS Board Elects Officers for 2013

Deb Mexicotte has again been elected president of the Ann Arbor Public School board of education. The vote came at the board’s Jan. 16, 2013 organizational meeting. She was unopposed for the position and was unanimously elected. This is Mexicotte’s fourth year as president. She had announced her intention to seek the leadership position at the Dec. 12, 2012 meeting of the board’s committee of the whole.

Other board positions were also filled: vice president,  Christine Stead; secretary, Andy Thomas; and treasurer, Glenn Nelson. Mexicotte reappointed Simone Lightfoot as parliamentarian.

The length of term for the board officer positions is a year – from the board’s organizational meeting to the following year’s board organizational meeting, which is always the first meeting … [Full Story]

County Preps to Overcome Projected Deficit

Washtenaw County government will be working to erase a projected $24.64 million deficit over a four-year period from 2014 through 2017, with a target of eliminating a $6.88 million structural deficit next year. County administrator Verna McDaniel and her financial staff gave a budget briefing to county commissioners at their Jan. 16, 2013 meeting.

The county works on a two-year budget planning cycle. In late 2011, commissioners set the budget for 2012 and 2013. However, because state law mandates that the board must approve the budget annually, commissioners voted in December 2012 on a budget “affirmation” for 2013, making several adjustments to the $102.8 million general fund budget. This year, they’re beginning the two-year cycle anew, planning for 2014-2015, with … [Full Story]

Homeland Security Items OK’d by County

Three agenda items related to homeland security grants were approved by the Washtenaw County board of commissioners at its Jan. 16, 2013 meeting.

The county board was asked to authorize a change in fiduciary for homeland security grants. The Southeast Michigan Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) board oversees homeland security funding and policy for this region. The UASI has named Macomb County as regional fiduciary. Previously, Oakland County held that designation. The change requires that Washtenaw County sign a new inter-local fiduciary agreement with Macomb County before any funds from previously awarded grants can be distributed.

The county is receiving $816,713 in 2011 federal homeland security grant funds, for a period through May 30, 2014. The emergency services division of the county … [Full Story]

Grant Application OK’d for After-School Program

Washtenaw County commissioners have supported an application for a $20,000 grant to fund expansion of an after-school program called “Telling It” in the West Willow and MacArthur Boulevard housing developments, low-income neighborhoods on the east side of Washtenaw County. The initial approval came at the county board’s Jan. 16, 2013 meeting. A final vote is expected on Feb. 6. [.pdf of grant application]

According to a staff memo, the Telling It program focuses on developing creative writing and literacy skills for at-risk youth. It would support an effort to fight gang-related activity – specifically, the dozen or so “cliques” in the Ypsilanti/Willow Run area. The memo defines cliques as gangs “without bi-laws, or a code of ethics, ultimately heightening … [Full Story]

Jobs Training Grants Get Initial County OK

An initial vote to accept funding for three workforce development programs – totaling about $1.35 million – was taken by the Washtenaw County board of commissioners at their Jan. 16, 2013 meeting. Final approval is expected at the board’s Feb. 6 meeting. The programs are overseen by the joint county/city of Ann Arbor office of community and economic development (OCED), which manages the local Michigan Works! office.

The grants include $1.16 million in federal funding for Partnership. Accountability. Training. Hope. (PATH), an orientation and job placement program for people who are applying for or receiving welfare assistance. The program was previously called Jobs, Education and Training (JET).

The county board also gave initial authorization to a $111,750 increase in federal grant … [Full Story]

Main & Huron

Judge Donald Shelton administers oath to new members of the State Bar of Michigan. He observes that he never took the Michigan Bar exam himself – as he was admitted by reciprocity with Illinois. Notes that Michigan’s oath is possibly the longest of any state. Sponsoring one new member was Nader Nassif, who’s also a member of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board.

Main & Washington

Window painter adding information about upcoming event at The Gown Shop. [photo] I think it’s this one: [link]. Or perhaps this one: [link]

First & Liberty

Street markings of where the Allen Creek drain runs under West Liberty, possibly related to the construction of Village Green’s “Ann Arbor City Apartments” at First & Washington. [photo]