Archive for February, 2013

A2: Art Competition

First Martin Corp. is expanding its collection of locally-themed artwork by commissioning 25 new pieces depicting scenes of Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County. Marsha Chamberlin – chair of the Ann Arbor public art commission and recently retired president of the Ann Arbor Art Center – is managing the project. The deadline for submission is March 15. Artwork will be installed at local First Martin properties. [Source]

A2: Bangalore Brewpub

A post on highlights the opening of Arbor Brewing Company (ABC) India in Bangalore, a partnership between University of Michigan graduate Gaurav Sikka and Matt & Rene Greff, who own Arbor Brewing in Ann Arbor and Corner Brewery in Ypsilanti. ABC India features variations on familiar beers – Bollywood Blonde and Bangalore Bliss – as well as new recipes for the Indian market, like Chai PA and Garam Masala Pale Ale. [Source]

Round 3 FY 2014: Housing Commission

After a Feb. 11, 2013 budget work session that included separate presentations on the city’s capital improvements plan (CIP) and the Ann Arbor Housing Commission (AAHC), both of these topics came up again briefly at the city council’s most recent regular meeting.

During communications time for the council’s meeting on Feb. 19, 2013, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) expressed his view that the CIP should start including the 360 units of public housing managed by the AAHC.

Ann Arbor Housing Commission Properties

Ann Arbor Housing Commission properties. The size of the dot is proportional to the number of units in the location. (Map by The Chronicle. Image links to interactive map.)

Kunselman’s argument for future inclusion of AAHC properties in the city’s CIP is based in part on the fact that the city of Ann Arbor currently holds the deeds to those properties. But his broader point is that he’s opposed to the city relinquishing title to the properties – as part of a proposal made to the council by AAHC executive director Jennifer L. Hall. Hall has served in that capacity for about a year, and began her Feb. 11 presentation at the council work session with an overview of improvements that AAHC has achieved since she took the post.

Hall’s proposal stems from a need to cover an estimated $500,000 per year funding gap for needed capital investments, coupled with a perceived shift in priorities by the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in its funding strategy. That shift is somewhat away from subsidized public housing, where rent is subsidized in units owned by a housing commission. [Ann Arbor's situation is apparently unique – because the city, not the AAHC, holds the deeds.] While HUD still allocates several billion dollars nationally for public housing, it subsidizes even more in programs that are based on vouchers. And based on the last three years, the trend is toward more funding on the federal level for vouchers than for public housing.

Some HUD vouchers are tied to a tenant – a person. A potential tenant can take that voucher to a private landlord – and it’s the tenant who receives the rent subsidy, wherever that tenant is able to rent a place to live. Other HUD vouchers are tied instead to privately-owned property, and whoever lives in that private project receives the rent subsidy.

The strategy that Hall will be asking the council to authorize is one that converts AAHC properties to part private ownership, in order to take advantage of project-based HUD vouchers. The private ownership of the AAHC properties will also allow the possible use of tax credit financing to pay for needed capital investments – roofs, boilers, plumbing and the like.

The conversion to project-based vouchers would take place under HUD’s Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program. To set the stage for that, the board of the AAHC selected a co-developer at its Jan. 10, 2013 meeting: Norstar Development USA.

The council would need to take two specific steps in order to proceed with the RAD: (1) approve the contingent transfer of the city-owned AAHC properties to the AAHC; and (2) approve a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) for the properties so that they’d owe just $1/unit in property tax per year. As city-owned properties, no property tax is currently owed. Without the PILOT provision, taxes would be owed. Requests to take those steps are expected to come to the council in March. March will also be a period during which public hearings will take place on this issue.

Although Kunselman expressed clear opposition to the idea of transferring the deeds, and Mike Anglin (Ward 5) joined him in expressing significant skepticism, other councilmembers were more positive. They still had several questions about the complexities and the risks associated with the RAD program. [For more background on the AAHC’s efforts to prepare for the RAD program, see Chronicle coverage: “Housing Commission Eyes Major Transition.”]

The Feb. 11 budget work session included the 15th District Court and the capital improvements plan (CIP). A session held on Feb. 25 covered the fund-by-fund budget picture for the next two years. Presentations on those topics are covered in separate Chronicle reports. The council’s discussion of its budget priorities – identified at a planning retreat late last year – is expected to begin at a March 11 work session. [Full Story]

AAPS OKs New Apple Computers

The Ann Arbor Public School board approved the purchase of new Apple computers at its Feb. 27, 2013 meeting. The district will use money from the technology bond to purchase the 1,900 iMac 21-inch desktop computers and the 400 MacBook Pro 13-inch laptops for a total cost of $2,431,700 – $1,974,100 for the iMacs; $457,600 for the MacBooks.

The iMacs will replace the eMac computers currently in use in computer labs district-wide. They will be used for Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) testing next fall.

The MacBooks will replace the older laptops in one computer cart at each elementary school. The older computer cart laptops will then be used to replace other failing laptops.

Apple, Inc. had initially offered … [Full Story]

Skyline High to Get New Turf

AAPS board has approved a contract to AstroTurf in the amount of $858,056 for a synthetic turf field at Skyline High School.

AstroTurf was the lowest bidder out of the four bids received. AstroTurf was recommended not only because it was the lowest bidder, but also because it is the only field that has an antimicrobial product applied at the factory as a standard. The district would not need to apply an antimicrobial every year, as with other field surfaces.

The bid was posted on Dec. 20, 2012 on the AAPS and the State of Michigan websites.

The board voted on the contract at its Feb. 27, 2013 meeting. The trustees were initially briefed on the item at the Feb. 13, 2013 meeting.

This brief … [Full Story]

Plante Moran Considered for AAPS Financial Audit

The AAPS board has been briefed on a recommendation to award Plante Moran the district’s financial audit contract for a cost of $161,000 over three years, with the potential for two one-year renewals.

An audit services request for proposal (RFP) was released in December 2012, and three bids were received. After reviewing the bids, Plante Moran and Yeo & Yeo were invited to make a presentation to the committee tasked with the audit services bid.

The committee unanimously recommended Plante Moran because of their extensive experience in K-12 education market, the detailed and clear audit process outlined by the firm, and its local presence – with an office in Ann Arbor.

The briefing took place at the board’s Feb. 27, 2013 meeting. The board … [Full Story]

AAPS To Renew Insurance

The Ann Arbor Public School board was briefed on the district’s liability insurance renewal at its Feb 27, 2013 meeting. For the past couple of months, the district’s insurance agent, The Hyland Group, has been bidding out the district’s liability insurance in anticipation of a Feb. 1, 2013 renewal. Several insurance carriers for property and casualty were contacted and responded, but the district’s best option for renewal was to stay with its current carriers, according to a district memo. Those carriers include: Affiliated FM for buildings and property; Zurich for general liability, crime, auto; Ace for lawyers liability; and Selective for flood insurance.

The district’s final liability insurance premium will be $716,476. The renewal premium reflects an overall increase of 5.9%, … [Full Story]

AAPS Briefed on Copier Purchase

The AAPS board has heard a recommendation to replace 103 district copiers at a cost of $385,242 for a 39-month lease. The recommended copiers have been tested in several district offices for performance, durability, functionality, and easy of use. While the primary functionality of the new machines is comparable to the current machines, the interface is easier to use and should reduce the amount of paper used.

Because the district made the choice to delay the five-year replacement schedule until the spring of 2012, maintenance costs have increased.

In the past, the lease and corresponding maintenance cost for copiers have been funded with the general fund. Robert Allen, deputy superintendent for operations, recommends that the district fund the purchase of the copiers … [Full Story]

AAPS Briefed on Projectors, Amplifiers

The AAPS trustees have been presented with a recommendation for a district-wide replacement of classroom projectors, approximately 200 sound amplification systems, and supporting electrical equipment. The briefing took place at the board’s Feb. 27, 2013 meeting.

A request for bids on the project went out on Jan. 10, 2013. Bids were received and publicly opened on Feb. 5, 2013. After various companies were interviewed by the district’s technology bond professional team, the team recommended the following contract awards:  Great Lakes Power and Lighting  ($393,000 for electrical work); The Professional Group ($1,879,619 for audiovisual equipment); and to AVI-SPL ($183,168 for the sound amplification systems).

As this was a first briefing, the board will vote on the purchase at its next regular meeting.

This brief … [Full Story]

In the Archives: Lightning Rod for Swindles

Editor’s note: Laura Bien’s most recent “In the Archives” column highlighted a 19th century scam involving oats. That column briefly mentioned a lightning rod scam. In this month’s column Bien provides a bit more background on lightning rod swindles.

Edward Roes 1904 "How to Do Business" warned readers to be wary of itinerant agents.

Edward Roe’s 1904 “How to Do Business” warned readers to be wary of itinerant agents.

Scams and swindles proliferated in the late 19th century, despite a sometimes idealized modern-day view of the period. “Work at home” offers targeted housewives in an era with very few opportunities for women to gain respectable work outside of the home. The candidate had to purchase a sample embroidery kit or small artwork, complete it, and return it to the company. Invariably, the finished work was never acceptable – because the companies made their money not in farming out work to home-based workers, but in selling samples.

Patent medicines were rife. Food adulteration was common. Fake doctors took trains from town to town, offering miraculous cures. Promissory-note shenanigans took place.

One little-known yet strange swindle, which affected Washtenaw County farmers, the state as a whole, and elsewhere, involved no more than a simple metal stick – a lightning rod. [Full Story]

UM: Snow on Campus

Michigan Today has posted photos of snowy scenes around the University of Michigan campus, coupled with quotes from folks like Carl Reiner: “A lot of people like snow. I find it to be an unnecessary freezing of water.” [Source]

Parks Group OKs Landscaping Contract

Several parks in Ann Arbor will get plantings and other landscaping improvements this summer, if the city council acts on a recommendation by the Ann Arbor park advisory commission. At its Feb. 26, 2013 meeting, PAC recommended approving a $53,248 contract with Terra Firma Landscape for plantings at Cobblestone Farm, Gallup Park Livery, Huron Hills Golf Course Club House, Leslie Park Golf Course entrance, and the Veterans Park Pool and Ice Arena entrance.

The work would be funded through a $112,442 donation from the Henrietta Feldman Trust. Terra Firm submitted the lowest of two qualified bids, coming in under a $103,695 bid from Crimboli Nursery Inc. The contract with Terra Firm will include a 10% contingency of $5,325, bringing the project … [Full Story]

Custodial Contract OK’d for Cobblestone

A three-year contract with Magic Finish to provide custodial and event services at Cobblestone Farm was recommended for approval by the Ann Arbor park advisory commission at its Feb. 26, 2013 meeting. The contract would not exceed $44,250 annually, from fiscal year 2013 through fiscal year 2016. It would include an option to renew administratively for an additional two years at an amount not to exceed $47,200.

Four firms bid on the contract, according to a staff memo, but two of those bidders – Kristel Cleaning and Pristine Cleaning – were disqualified. Magic Finish submitted a lower bid than H & K Janitorial Services.

The city-owned Cobblestone Farm, located at 2781 Packard, is used as office space for the parks … [Full Story]

PAC OKs Lease for Parking at Argo

A $3,000 lease to accommodate overflow parking for the Argo canoe livery was recommended for approval by the Ann Arbor park advisory commission at its Feb. 26, 2013 meeting. The lease of a parking lot at 416 Longshore Drive – with about 40 spaces – will cover Saturdays, Sundays and holidays from May 25 to Sept. 2, 2013, with an option to renew administratively for two successive one-year periods.

City parks staff reported that the overflow parking at this lot had been used during the 2012 season, and they recommended continuing the lease. According to city records, the land is owned by the Stewardship Network.

This brief was filed from the second-floor council chambers of city hall at … [Full Story]

City Golf Cart Leases Approved

A two-year contract for leasing golf carts was recommended for approval by the Ann Arbor park advisory commission at its Feb. 26, 2013 meeting. The contract with Pifer Inc. – for up to $40,260 – covers the leasing of 65 golf carts for the 2013 and 2014 seasons, with an option to renew for 2015. The carts will be used at Huron Hills and Leslie Park golf courses.

PAC also recommended authorizing the sale of 24 city-owned golf carts to the company. That sale is a trade-in of carts that are no longer suitable to rent, and will be used to offset the lease.

The city received four bids for this contract, from Club Car-Midwest Golf & Turf; Ellis Sales Inc.; Michigan … [Full Story]

Contract for Esch Park Upgrades OK’d

Ann Arbor park advisory commissioners have recommending approval of a $39,219 contract with D&J Contracting for improvements to the 4.5-acre Esch Park, located off Fenwick between Packard and Eisenhower Parkway on the city’s south side. PAC voted on the item at its Feb. 26, 2013 meeting. The contract would include a 10% construction contingency of $3,922, bringing the total project to $43,141.

The city received 12 bids on the project, which entails repairing an asphalt walk and game court, adding pathways to the playground that will make the area compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and installing picnic tables, benches and shade trees. The bids ranged from a high of $106,904 by DRV Contractors to the lowest bid, which came … [Full Story]

Fifth & Liberty

The driver of a parked taxi outside the post office is playing a ukelele.

UM: Public Policy

The Detroit Free Press profiles a University of Michigan public policy course, taught by David Harding, that uses HBO’s “The Wire” to look issues like housing, local government, employment, public safety, mental health and substance abuse. Says Harding: “The main thing that makes this course different from other courses is our emphasis on understanding the connections between areas of policy that are not usually studied together.” [Source]

Planners: Same Answer on Ellsworth Zoning

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (Feb. 21, 2013): Acting under the direction of the city council, Ann Arbor planning commissioners reconsidered the zoning they had previously recommended for a parcel on Ellsworth Road, east of Stone School. Commissioners came to the same conclusion – that it should be zoned R3 (townhouse district).

University of Michigan, Beyond the Diag, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

University of Michigan students with Beyond the Diag, a neighborhood outreach program. They attended the Feb. 21, 2013 meeting of the Ann Arbor planning commission, which included a brief presentation about the program. (Photos by the writer.)

The vacant lot at 2081 E. Ellsworth Road is the location for the proposed Summit Townhomes project, where the developer wants to build 24 attached residential units in four separate buildings. Because it’s being annexed into the city from Pittsfield Township, the parcel needs to be given a zoning designation. Planning commissioners had recommended R3 zoning (townhouse district) at their Nov. 20, 2012 meeting.

The zoning request was on the council’s Feb. 4, 2013 agenda for final approval, but during a public hearing on the item, several people raised concerns related to increased density in that part of town. So councilmembers voted unanimously to refer the zoning issue back to planning commissioners for another look.

At the commission’s Feb. 21 meeting, planning staff reviewed two other zoning options that would fit with the city’s master plan for that area. But even those options with lower density – for single-family homes – would result in more driveways accessing Ellsworth, causing more traffic concerns. Nor would stormwater management be improved with the other options. So planning staff again recommended the R3 zoning.

Three people spoke to commissioners during a public hearing on the zoning reconsideration, including two residents who live at the nearby Forest Hills Cooperative. They expressed concern about broader issues with the area – including crime and a lack of recreational facilities – as well as the specific proposed zoning and project for that site. Planning manager Wendy Rampson indicated that based on the council’s discussion, city administrator Steve Powers is asking the city’s parks and police staff to look into concerns raised about that area. There is also the opportunity for input on the city’s master plan, she said, when the planning commission holds a public hearing on that topic each May.

In other action at the Feb. 21 meeting, commissioners recommended that the city council approve a site plan for an expansion of the Theta Delta Chi house at 700 S. State St. The historic structure, built in 1922, is located at the southwest corner of State and Monroe, across from the University of Michigan law school. The building had been leased to another fraternity after the Theta Delta Chi chapter at UM became inactive in 1997. The chapter “recolonized” a few years ago, then took possession of the building again in May of 2012. The local architecture firm HopkinsBurns Design Studio has been hired to handle the expansion. It includes making a rear addition to the building, although there are no plans to increase the current occupancy of 33 residents.

The Feb. 21 meeting included another UM connection. Commissioners heard a presentation about Beyond the Diag, a relatively new neighborhood outreach program. It’s a student-initiated effort to build community among students and non-students, and to raise safety awareness on campus and near-campus neighborhoods. One of the program assistants – Matt Lonnerstater, a graduate student in urban and regional planning – also works as an intern with the city’s planning staff. [Full Story]

Fourth & Liberty

Red bean moon cakes at Eastern Accents. [photo] Clerk says the shop is still set to close in mid-March, with no plans to re-open elsewhere.

Power Outage: Over

A power outage at 9:50 a.m., leaving several thousand Ann Arbor residents without power, resulted from an open relay in a substation, according to DTE media relations. It’s analogous to a circuit breaker tripping in a household. Once it was reset, power was restored – a bit after 11 a.m, according to DTE.  DTE is following up to determine the cause of the open relay.

A2: Broadway Photos

On his blog Michigan Exposures, Mikoyan has uploaded a set of photos taken in the Broadway bridges area of Ann Arbor, including shots of the St. Vincent de Paul building and the Gandy Dancer. [Click on a photo and arrow through the set to view the larger-sized images] [Source]

Site Plan Moratorium: Commentary, No Action

Ann Arbor city council meeting (Feb. 19, 2013): Land use was the predominant theme of the meeting, linking several different agenda items – but the council chambers were filled mostly with people interested in just one of them.

Orange Almonds

The architecture of councilmember snacks at the Feb. 19, 2013 meeting provided a nutritional buffer against zoning out during the meeting: a stacked configuration of units for fruit and nuts. (Photos by the writer.)

The item drawing that interest was a proposed six-month moratorium on site plan review by the city for projects in the D1 (downtown core) zoning district. After holding a nearly one-hour closed session to review written legal advice from the city attorney’s office, the council decided to postpone the issue until March 4, its next regular meeting.

Exceptions to the proposed moratorium are provided for projects that have already received a recommendation of approval from the city’s planning commission. While that exception applies to a large residential project at 624 Church St., it does not exempt a larger project at 413 E. Huron. Planning staff had concluded that the East Huron project meets all the zoning requirements. But the planning commission’s vote on 413 E. Huron was only 5-3 in favor of recommending approval – one vote short of the six it needed. Ordinarily developers can, on their own initiative, bring a site plan to the city council for action, even without the planning commission’s recommendation.

If the resolution is enacted, then during the period of the moratorium, the planning commission would be directed to review the D1 zoning standards against site plans submitted since 2009, when new zoning regulations were established. The commission would be asked to make recommendations by June 4, its first meeting in June. The postponed resolution states that the council is supposed to take any action by Aug. 19, its second meeting in August.

Legal counsel for the 413 E. Huron developer addressed the council, intimating that if a moratorium were enacted, then a lawsuit would be filed against the city. Attorney Susan Friedlaender expressed skepticism about a provision in the postponed resolution that provided a way for an aggrieved party to have a hearing before the council. The council will take up the moratorium again on March 4.

Also postponed was a related resolution to reconvene the design guidelines task force, which would be asked to recommend improvements in the design review process. That resolution also will be taken up on March 4.

In another item related to downtown land development, the council completed an accounting step – establishing a project budget – in connection with roughly $9 million of bonds recently sold by the city. Those bonds are funding the public parking deck portion of the private City Apartments project now under construction at First and Washington. The Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority will be making the bond payments.

Another land use issue postponed by the council was the proposed purchase of a parcel immediately adjacent to the Bluffs Nature Area. The postponement was based on council questions about the need for additional access from the west side of the nature area, and the price to be paid out of the city’s open space and parkland preservation millage. Related to that same millage, the council approved applying to the USDA Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program (FRPP) for matching funds to acquire development rights on two farms as part of the city’s greenbelt program.

In other land zoning issues, the council gave final approval to the owner-requested rezoning of some residential properties in the Arbor Hills neighborhood. The council also gave initial approval to a rezoning that would allow a retail project called The Shoppes to be built near the junction of Plymouth and US-23.

The council took action related to city-owned land at 721 N. Main, approving a $30,000 physical study of the main building on that former maintenance yard, to see if it can be re-used. At least part of that site is slated to become part of an Allen Creek greenway.

Across the street from 721 N. Main stands a collection of vacant houses that were supposed to be demolished to make way for the Near North affordable housing project. With that project now defunct, the city is moving to demolish the houses as nuisances. The council’s action on Feb. 19 was to accept about $96,000 in additional federal funds through a community development block grant, which can be used only for demolition of houses on the former Near North site.

In other action, the council formally adopted a sustainability framework that now will be part of the city’s master plan. And related to sustainability, the city council authorized the issuance of up to $1 million in bonds for the property assessed clean energy program (PACE). The PACE program provides low-interest loans for owners of commercial properties to invest in energy saving improvements.

Changes to the city’s living wage ordinance also were on the Feb. 19 agenda. The council had previously contemplated but ultimately postponed those changes. This time around, they were tabled. That means the issue will not come back, unless the council proactively decides to take up the proposal again in the next six months.

Also as a result of council action on Feb. 19, the municipal airport will get new fencing. [Full Story]

Snyder’s Transit Funding: AATA Nods Yes

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (Feb. 21, 2013): The board’s meeting was relatively uneventful, but included a routine application for state funding – which this year contains a message of measured support for transit funding in Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposed budget.

Before the Feb. 21, 2013 meeting of the AATA board, Terry Black (manager of maintenance) and Eli Cooper (AATA board member) inspect the construction site of the new Blake Transit Center on Fifth Avenue in downtown Ann Arbor.

From right: Before the Feb. 21, 2013 meeting of the AATA board, Terry Black (manager of maintenance) and Eli Cooper (AATA board member) inspect the construction site of the new Blake Transit Center on Fifth Avenue in downtown Ann Arbor. It’s using an earth retention system similar to that used for the construction of the underground Library Lane parking garage located across the street – but on a much smaller scale. (Photos by the writer.)

The resolution approved by the board includes the AATA’s view that “an increased level of state transit funding such as has been proposed by Governor Snyder would assist AATA in maintaining existing service and operating expanded transit service to satisfy the expressed public demand …” To increase funding for transportation as a general category by $1.2 billion – including roads, bridges and public transportation – Snyder’s budget would rely on proposed increases to the state’s gasoline tax and to vehicle registration fees.

The Michigan state constitution requires that 90% of all fuel taxes be used to fund the maintenance of streets, roads and bridges designed for motor vehicles that use tires. Part of the remaining 10% can be used to fund public transportation operating expenses. Partly as a function of the overall increase, Snyder’s budget would increase the amount of local operating assistance for transit agencies statewide from around $166 million for each of the past two years to about $181 million.

The AATA’s estimated budget for the next fiscal year (2014) is being reported to the state of Michigan as totaling $33,653,000. Those total expenses would be covered by the following breakdown of revenue estimates: federal funds ($4,276,104); state funds ($9,939,035); local funds ($12,088,861); fare revenue ($7,258,000); and other funds ($91,000). The AATA’s current year’s budget – for FY 2013, which ends on Sept. 30 – calls for $32,700,181 in expenditures.

The AATA’s portion of the $166 million in state operating assistance last fall took an unexpected roughly $800,000 dip around the time the AATA set its budget for the current fiscal year. The reduction in funding relates to the way the state’s formula applies when spending is reduced by other transit agencies in the AATA’s category. AATA CEO Michael Ford told the board at its Feb. 21 meeting that he’d been to Lansing and had received assurance that an additional appropriations bill – which is currently the “placeholder” bill SB 126 – is likely to be passed, and would restore the $800,000.

Meanwhile, the most recent financial update through the first four months of the 2013 fiscal year – which started in October – shows the AATA with a slight positive variance. But the AATA is operating with a level of cash reserves that equates to about 2.88 months of operating expenses. Board policy is to keep a minimum of 3 months’ worth reserves on hand. Notes to the treasurer’s report indicate that for the year, the AATA now expects about $160,000 less in fare revenues that it had budgeted – based on fewer rides being taken by University of Michigan affiliates than the AATA had projected.

Besides authorizing the application to the state of Michigan for state operating assistance, the board authorized two contracts in connection with construction on the new downtown Ann Arbor Blake Transit Center – one for the elevator and the other for millwork. Both contracts were under the project’s budgeted amount for those items.

The board also approved a contract for the printing of its RideGuide, a printed version of its schedules. Also authorized was a contract to perform environmental cleanup from a gas line that had been seeping at the AATA’s facility on South Industrial Highway.

Updates at the meeting included notes on the board’s upcoming retreat, which is to include a discussion of AATA customer needs. That led to comments from the public asking the board to think about who the AATA’s customers actually are.

During the meeting, the board also held a closed session to conduct a performance review for CEO Michael Ford. [Full Story]

West Park

Three dogs romping off leash in the West Park ballfield, with their owners nearby – an unofficial dog park.

County Board Continues Labor Strategy Talks

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Feb. 20, 2013): In a meeting with few new action items, the board gave final approval to a resolution protesting the state’s right-to-work law, and spent more than an hour in executive closed session to discuss collective bargaining strategies.

Diane Heidt, Greg Dill, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Diane Heidt, the county’s human resources and labor relations director, talks with Greg Dill, director of infrastructure management. (Photos by the writer.)

The resolution taking a stance against the state law was approved on a 6-2 vote, with dissent from the board’s two Republican commissioners – Dan Smith (District 2) and Alicia Ping (District 3). Felicia Brabec (D-District 4) was absent. Though Smith had stated his objections on Feb. 6, when an initial vote had been taken, there was no discussion on the item at the Feb. 20 meeting.

The resolution directed the administration to negotiate new four-year contracts “to protect and extend each bargaining unit’s union security provisions.” Current contracts with most of the 17 unions representing county employees expire at the end of 2013. New contracts, if completed before the right-to-work law takes effect in March, would not be required to comply with the new law, which makes it illegal to require employees to support unions financially as a condition of their employment.

Negotiations with the unions began earlier this month.

In other action at the Feb. 20 meeting, the board appointed Dan Smith to the Washtenaw County parks & recreation commission – the third county commissioner to be appointed to that 10-member board. Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6) raised concerns about having too many commissioners serve on that entity, noting that Smith was filling a slot designated for the general public.

Yousef Rabhi, who as board chair made the nomination, responded to Peterson’s comments, saying that he and Smith had discussed this issue – because Smith had the same concerns as Peterson. Rabhi assured Peterson that the commission will continue to provide opportunities for citizens to serve, and that the slot filled by Smith would remain designated as one for the general public for future appointments. Five members of the general public currently serve on the parks & rec commission.

In communications to the board, Rabhi noted that he planned to form a task force to explore establishing a county land bank. A land bank is a mechanism for the county to take temporary ownership of tax- or mortgage-foreclosed land while working to put it back into productive use. The board had previously voted to establish a land bank at its Sept. 1, 2010 meeting, but never took the next step of funding it or getting approval from the state. Only three commissioners from that period – Ronnie Peterson, Rolland Sizemore Jr. and Conan Smith – still currently serve on the board.

Among the other items handled at the Feb. 20 meeting included: Resolutions of appreciation for two Chelsea organizations – Purple Rose Theatre and Chelsea Lanes; a final vote to authorize borrowing up to $40 million against the amount of delinquent property taxes in all Washtenaw County jurisdictions; and final approval to add the Detroit Region Aerotropolis board to the list of boards, committees and commissions that are eligible for commissioners to receive stipend payments.

The Feb. 20 meeting was attended by several students, including nursing students from the University of Michigan who were observing the proceedings as part of a psychiatric nursing course. [Full Story]