Archive for September, 2013

Art Commission Supports “PowerArt” Project

Ann Arbor public art commission meeting (Sept. 25, 2013): The main item on this month’s AAPAC agenda was a request to partner with the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority on a project called “PowerArt,” to be administered by the Arts Alliance.

Marsha Chamberlin, Devon Akmon, Ann Arbor public art commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Ann Arbor public art commissioners Marsha Chamberlin and Devon Akmon. Akmon is AAPAC’s newest member, and was attending his first commission meeting on Sept. 25. Chamberlin is the longest-serving commissioner. (Photos by the writer.)

The project would involve wrapping about 40 traffic signal boxes in the DDA district with vinyl printed replicas of artwork. The initial pilot phase would focus on 14 boxes at a total cost of $41,000, to be split between the city and the DDA. That cost includes a 30% administrative fee paid to the Arts Alliance, which is based in Ann Arbor. Another $80,000 would be needed for the final phases.

Deb Polich, executive director for the Arts Alliance, told commissioners that the DDA board is expected to vote on the project at its Oct. 2 meeting.

Commissioners were supportive of the project, but concerned about how to approach the funding, given constraints tied to the remaining Percent for Art funds. “I want to make sure we don’t step in something that we then get slapped for,” Marsha Chamberlin said.

Ultimately, commissioners unanimously voted to approve participating in the PowerArt project, contingent on the city’s legal review of potential funding sources.

AAPAC also authorized allocations for other projects that have been discussed for several months. They approved $10,000 for a community project called Canoe Imagine Art, and $5,000 for a Coleman Jewett memorial at the Ann Arbor farmers market. Both of these projects will rely on grants and private fundraising for the majority of their budgets.

Action on three other projects was tabled, as commissioners wanted more detailed proposals before allocating funds. Those projects were: (1) artwork for a roundabout at State & Ellsworth; (2) a community art project at Arbor Oaks Park, adjacent to Bryant Elementary School; and (3) a proposal for enhancing the fence along the south side of Scio Church Road, between Maple and Delaware.

These projects prompted some discussion about broader issues, included the process that AAPAC uses to vet proposals. Ashlee Arder, one of the newer commissioners, advocated for continuing to develop a more structured approach. “I do think we need to have a larger conversation or retreat about who we are and what we’re trying to do here,” she said.

The commission has been grappling with a transition to a new funding model for public art, after the city council voted to eliminate the previous Percent for Art mechanism this summer. That model set aside 1% of the budget for each of the city’s capital projects for public art – up to a cap of $250,000. Because that money was taken from restricted funds – such as millage funds for parks or street improvements –  a thematic link must exist between the funding source and the public art expenditure. About $840,000 in Percent for Art funds remain available for projects, but there will be no additional Percent for Art funding.

Instead, the city has adopted an approach in which city staff will work with AAPAC to determine whether a specific capital improvement should have enhanced design features “baked in” to the project – either enhanced architectural work or specific public art. The funding for any of the enhanced features would be included in the project’s budget and incorporated into the RFP (request for proposals) process for the capital project. There is also an increased focus on private fundraising and partnerships.

On Sept. 25, commissioners also received several updates from Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public art administrator. He reported that a reception is planned for Thursday, Oct. 10 at 6 p.m. to dedicate the hanging sculpture Radius, located in the Justice Center lobby next to city hall. Oregon artist Ed Carpenter is expected to attend.

And two finalists for artwork at Argo Cascades – Jann Rosen-Queralt of Maryland and Mags Harries & Lajos Heder of Cambridge, Mass. – will be coming to town on Oct. 17 to present their conceptual designs to the public. A task force will make a recommendation to AAPAC on which of the artists to select for the project.

The Sept. 25 meeting was the first one for AAPAC’s newest member, Devon Akmon. Appointed by the Ann Arbor city council on Sept. 3, 2013, Akmon is director of the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn. [Full Story]

Liberty & Stadium

Workers are putting in sod and other landscaping at the new GFS. “Now hiring” signs are out. Looks close to opening.

AAATA: Ypsilanti Township Boards Bus

Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority board meeting (Sept. 26, 2013): The board took two significant actions at this month’s meeting. First, board members approved AAATA’s operating budget for the 2014 fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1. The board also approved a revision to its articles of incorporation, adding Ypsilanti Township as a member and expanding the board from nine to 10 members.

Ypsilanti Township is now a member of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, pending consideration by the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti city councils.

Ypsilanti Township is now a member of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, pending consideration by the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti city councils. (Green indicates the geographic area included by the AAATA.)

If the Ann Arbor city council does not object, this would be the second expansion of the AAATA board this year. The item is expected to be on the Ann Arbor city council’s Oct. 21 agenda.

The earlier expansion was given final approval by the AAATA board at its June 20, 2013 meeting. That’s when the city of Ypsilanti was admitted as a member of the AAATA and its board was increased from seven to nine members, one of whom is appointed by the city of Ypsilanti.

Regarding the budget, on Sept. 26 the board approved a $33.97 million expenditure budget for fiscal year 2014. The budget includes revenues that almost exactly balance those expenditures, leaving an excess of $20,500. About half of the revenue to the AAATA comes from local sources (taxes, purchase of service agreements and fares) with most of the rest funded from state and federal support. The budget will fund roughly 7 million total passenger trips for the next year, according to the AAATA.

Also at its meeting, the board approved the selection of the law firm Pear Sperling Eggan & Daniels P.C. to handle AAATA’s legal work. The firm already handles legal work for the transit authority, so the board’s approval means that Pear Sperling will continue in that capacity for the next five years.

As a result of another board action at the Sept. 26 meeting, Charles Griffith will be leading the board for another year as chair. He was first chosen as chair last year by his colleagues. The pattern of chairs serving for two years is typical for the AAATA.

It was the first board meeting Jack Bernard attended as a board member since being confirmed by the Ann Arbor city council on Aug. 19, 2013. However, three other board members did not attend the AAATA meeting: Roger Kerson, Anya Dale and Gillian Ream Gainsley.

Those who did attend received several updates on various projects, including construction on the new Blake Transit Center in downtown Ann Arbor, AAATA’s new website, and activity related to the southeast Michigan regional transit authority (RTA). The next board meeting of the nascent four-county authority – which includes the city of Detroit and the counties of Washtenaw, Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb – will be held at 2 p.m. on Oct. 2 at the downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library. [Full Story]

A2: Road Repair Fund Raising

The Ann Arbor BicycleTouring Society has launched a fundraising campaign to pay for the repaving of Huron River Drive between Foster Road and Barton Dam – a popular cycling route. According to AABTS, the money raised by its members would be matched by the Washtenaw County Road Commission. The society has a fundraising goal of $30,000. Checks made out to the Washtenaw County Road Commission can be sent to Road Repair Projects c/o Theodore Green, 2773 Holyoke Lane, Ann Arbor, MI 48103. [Source]

Maple & Dexter-Ann Arbor

Forms for concrete pour of the skatepark bowl features look like they’re well under way. [photo]

Main Street

Hare Krishna folks singing on one side of street, across way from big party dressed up as walking dead.

Miller & Saunders Crescent

Crews working on Miller Avenue even on Saturday. The south lane is still completely torn up, with major excavations. The inbound north lane is technically open, but not easily traveled.

Library Board Weighs Pittsfield Twp. Proposal

Ann Arbor District Library board meeting (Sept. 16, 2013): Representatives from Pittsfield Township briefed AADL trustees about a proposed State Road corridor improvement authority (CIA) that would entail capturing a percentage of taxes from several local entities, including the Ann Arbor District Library.

Dick Carlisle, Craig Lyon, Pittsfield Township, Ann Arbor District Library, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Consultant Dick Carlisle and Craig Lyon, director of utilities and municipal services for Pittsfield Township, attended the Sept. 16, 2013 meeting of the Ann Arbor District Library board, which was held at the Malletts Creek branch on East Eisenhower. The men gave a presentation on a proposed State Road corridor improvement authority in the township. (Photos by the writer.)

Planning consultant Dick Carlisle and Craig Lyon, director of utilities and municipal services for Pittsfield Township, described the new authority and the roughly $30 million in improvements it would fund between the I-94 interchange and Michigan Avenue. The intent is to create a four-lane boulevard with a median, bike lanes and pedestrian pathway.

The library’s Pittsfield branch is located in the township, and a portion of the AADL district is included in the northern part of the proposed CIA. Under the CIA’s tax increment financing plan, 50% of the increase in taxable value would be captured over a 20-year period to fund the CIA projects. The captured taxes would otherwise go to the entities that levy those taxes. Currently, AADL receives about $8,536 in taxes from taxpayers in the proposed CIA boundaries.

In responding to questions from trustees, Carlisle alluded to ongoing controversy related to the TIF capture by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. He said that’s why Pittsfield Township is offering to enter into specific agreements with each taxing jurisdiction “that will carefully spell out the limitations on what will actually occur here. So this way, there is no blank check. It is very specific that what we are saying here is exactly what we are going to do.”

A two-year disagreement has persisted over the way the Ann Arbor DDA  calculates its TIF capture, which includes capture of AADL taxes. For the latest Chronicle coverage on this issue, see: “Library View on DDA TIF Capture: Unchanged.”

When the Ann Arbor DDA was formed in the early 1980s, the state enabling legislation for DDAs did not allow for taxing jurisdictions to opt out of participation. However,  CIA legislation includes an opt-out provision. AADL and other taxing entities will have a 60-day period to make that decision. That period is expected to begin when the Pittsfield Township board holds a public hearing about the CIA proposal on Oct. 9.

Based on questions from AADL trustees, they may be skeptical about whether participating in the CIA would be a wise move for the library.

The CIA presentation was the library board’s main agenda item on Sept. 16. The board also reviewed data for the month of August in five categories: Collections, users, visits, usage and participation. In addition, associate director Eli Neiburger presented highlights from the AADL summer game, which wrapped up last month.

During her director’s report, Josie Parker noted that AADL recently released an archive feature on the history of the Ann Arbor Garden Club. It’s part of a broader archiving effort on local history, which includes architecture, cooking, the Ann Arbor police department and several other organizations and topics. Parker said AADL staff would be pleased to talk to anyone who’s interested in archiving the history of other local organizations online.

Parker also told trustees that she’s been invited by the Journal of Library Administration to serve on its editorial board and to write a quarterly column. The journal has historically been limited to administration in academic and specialty libraries, but the new editor and review board wanted to add a public library administrator’s voice to the publication. “I’ve been invited to be that voice, and I’ve accepted,” Parker said.

Items raised during public commentary on Sept. 16 related to a Freedom of Information Act request regarding the 2012 library bond campaign, as well as a plea to renovate the front entrance of the downtown library “from bunker chic to pedestrian friendly.” A topic mentioned at the AADL board’s Aug. 19, 2013 meeting was replacement of the front doors to the downtown library, and possibly undertaking broader renovations at the entrance. [Full Story]

A2: Business

In his Forbes leadership column, Bruce Rogers profiles Lauren Bigelow, an Ann Arbor resident and CEO of the Growth Capital Network, which manages the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition. The column quotes Bigelow describing the Accelerate Michigan program: “With the competition, we’re trying to be a shot of nitrous to get the companies to the next step. We introduce additional capital flow to Michigan and it’s a great way to get ex-pats back to the state.” [Source]

Fifth & Depot

A plea on Twitter for spare camera battery led me to Amtrak Station. There I learn I have not mastered the make/model of my camera. But I run into city transportation program manager Eli Cooper, who’s there to greet the same people with the battery deficiency. [photo 1] [photo 2] [Details in first comment.]

Kunselman Pulls Petitions for 2014 Mayor’s Race

Ward 3 Ann Arbor city councilmember Stephen Kunselman, a Democrat, has taken out petitions to run for mayor in 2014.

Kunselman obtained the paperwork from the city clerk’s office just before noon on Sept. 27, 2013. Kunselman is currently seeking re-election to represent Ward 3. He’s contesting the Nov. 5, 2013 city council general election with independent Sam DeVarti.

Kunselman would need to submit 50 valid signatures from each of the city’s five wards, in order to qualify for the ballot in the 2014 August mayoral primary election.

Terms on the Ann Arbor city council are two years. Each of the city’s five wards is represented by two councilmembers. So each year, one of the two seats is up for re-election. The position … [Full Story]

Column: Lessons the NCAA Needs to Learn

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

On November 5, 2011, Penn State’s former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky was arrested on forty criminal counts, including the sexual assault of eight boys over a fifteen-year period, one of them in the showers of Penn State’s football building.

That put in motion a series of events that few could have imagined: it exposed the worst scandal in the history of modern sports; it led to the midseason firing of the iconic Joe Paterno; it prompted the hiring of little-known New England Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien; it resulted in Penn State’s commissioning the Freeh Report, which concluded university leaders knew enough about what Sandusky had done, but cared more about protecting the university’s image than his young victims; and it surely accelerated Paterno’s decline and death – all within three months of Sandusky’s arrest.

But Penn State’s troubles were far from over. [Full Story]

Ypsilanti Township in AAATA: Qualified OK

As a result of Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority board action, Ypsilanti Township will become a member of the AAATA – assuming the move is also approved by the Ann Arbor city council, as well as other involved parties. The AAATA board resolution, which approves new articles of incorporation for the transportation authority, was passed unanimously at its Sept. 26, 2013 meeting.

Adding Ypsilanti Township would expand the AAATA board from nine to 10 members. The additional seat would be appointed by the supervisor of Ypsilanti Township – an elected position held currently by Brenda Stumbo – with the approval of the township board.

If the Ann Arbor city council does not object, this would be the second expansion of the AAATA board … [Full Story]

AAATA Keeps Pear Sperling for Legal Work

The law firm Pear Sperling Eggan & Daniels P.C. will continue to represent the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority, after AAATA board action taken on Sept. 26, 2013.

The contract runs five years starting on Oct. 1, 2013, and is based on an hourly rate. The value of the contract is expected to exceed a total of $100,000. That’s the amount triggering a requirement of board approval.

According to the staff memo on the resolution, 48 vendors downloaded the RFP (request for proposals) issued by the AAATA and 10 firms responded to it. Written proposals were evaluated and scored and the top four proposers were offered interviews. After the interview process, “best and final” offers were requested from the top two … [Full Story]

AAATA FY 2014 Budget OK’d: $33.97M

A $33.97 million expenditure budget for fiscal year 2014 has been approved by the board of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority. The budget for FY 2014, which starts on Oct. 1, includes revenues that almost exactly balance those expenditures, leaving an excess of $20,500. The approval came at the board’s Sept. 26, 2013 meeting.

The FY 2014 budget restores a three-month operating reserve. The board previously had authorized dipping below that level after the state of Michigan’s allocation for operating support last year was less than expected. During the past year, however, the state legislature made an additional appropriation increasing the percentage of operating expenses subsidized by the state from 27.11% to 30.65%.

According to CEO Michael Ford’s monthly written report … [Full Story]

Griffith to Lead AAATA Another Year

Charles Griffith will continue as chair of the board for the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority as a result of annual officer elections, held at the Sept. 26, 2013 regular board meeting.

Griffith is climate & energy program director for the Ecology Center. He has already served for seven years on the AAATA board, and his current appointment lasts another three years. He was re-appointed to the board on May 2, 2011 to another five-year term after first being appointed on Sept. 19, 2006.

Griffith’s election was uncontested, as officer elections on the AAATA board typically are. Other board officers elected at the Sept. 26 meeting were Eli Cooper as treasurer and Anya Dale as secretary.

The AAATA board … [Full Story]

Two Applicants Vie for Road Commission Seat

Two people have applied for the job of Washtenaw County road commissioner, a position that’s expected to be vacated by current commissioner Ken Schwartz when he takes over as supervisor for Superior Township on Oct. 1. The two applicants are Barbara Fuller and Lisa Solomon.

The deadline to apply was Sept. 25. The position would be for the remainder of a six-year term, through Dec. 31, 2018.

Schwartz held one of three seats on the road commission, which oversees the maintenance of about 1,650 miles of roads in the county that are outside of cities and villages, including about 770 miles of gravel roads. Road commissioners are appointed by the county board of commissioners. Board chair Yousef Rabhi plans to nominate a … [Full Story]

UM: Minority Enrollment

Bloomberg reports on declining minority enrollment at the University of Michigan, following the state’s 2006 voter referendum that prohibited raced-based admissions policies. The report states that black student enrollment is down about 30% at UM’s undergraduate and law schools. The article quotes UM regent Mark Bernstein: “I don’t think anybody accepts the numbers. We are, as a campus, as a university, committed to diversity, and we’ll just have to soldier on using less-effective tools.” [Source]

Ann Arbor Considers Broad Park Fee Waiver

Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (Sept. 17, 2013): With about a half dozen Camp Take Notice supporters watching, commissioners recommended approval of a broad park fee waiver for charities that distribute “goods for basic human needs” in Ann Arbor parks.

Ingrid Ault, Alonzo Young, Camp Take Notice, Ann Arbor park advisory commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Ingrid Ault, who was elected chair of the Ann Arbor park advisory commission on Sept. 17, shakes hands with Alonzo Young of Camp Take Notice. (Photos by the writer.)

The waiver, which would require approval by the city council before taking effect, follows action by the council this summer to waive all park rental fees for the use of Liberty Plaza during a one-year trial period, also based on a PAC recommendation. The goal of that waiver is to spur more activity in that urban park, at the southwest corner of Liberty and Divisions streets.

The issue of fee waivers arose earlier this year when city staff considered charging a rental fee to the church that hosted Pizza in the Park, a weekly homelessness outreach ministry. Members of Camp Take Notice, a group that advocates for the homeless, has been urging the city to apply a broad fee waiver throughout the entire park system for entities that provide humanitarian aid. The recommendation approved on Sept. 17 is a compromise worked out with city staff and Camp Take Notice representatives.

Discussion among commissioners focused on how the waiver would be handled. Parks & recreation manager Colin Smith stressed that all park rules would still apply, and that applicants would need to go through the standard permitting process in order to receive a waiver.

During their Sept. 17 meeting, commissioners also discussed the issue of releasing raw data to the public, in the context of two recent surveys – on dog parks and downtown parks. Tim Berla and others advocated for making the survey results available in a form that could be used by the public for analysis. [The data from both of those surveys had been available in a .pdf format, and can now be downloaded from the city's website as Excel files.] Other commissioners pushed for the city to develop a policy regarding the release of data – a standardized approach that would be approved by the city council.

The Sept. 17 meeting also included PAC’s annual election of officers. Commissioners unanimously selected Ingrid Ault as chair and Graydon Krapohl as vice chair. Bob Galardi was re-elected chair of PAC’s budget and finance committee. There were no other nominations. Current PAC chair Julie Grand is term limited and will be cycling off the commission in October.
[Full Story]

West Park at Chapin

The crabapples are finally ripe and taste as good as crabapples can taste. Tart with good texture. Jelly, jam, as a component in apple sauce, or just a treat as you pass by. [photo]

Action Postponed on Traverwood Apartments

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (Sept. 17, 2013): A major new apartment project in northeast Ann Arbor was discussed but ultimately postponed by planning commissioners, pending unresolved issues that the planning staff did not have sufficient time to review.

Wendy Rampson, Mike Martin, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

City planning manager Wendy Rampson talks with developer Mike Martin of First Martin Corp. prior to the Ann Arbor planning commission’s Sept. 17, 2013 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

Traverwood Apartments is a proposed complex of 16 two-story buildings and 216 one- and two-bedroom units on nearly 22 acres off of Traverwood Drive, north of Plymouth Road. It’s one of the first large residential developments in the last few years that’s come forward outside of downtown Ann Arbor. For part of the site, a rezoning would be required – from ORL (office, research and light industrial) to R4D (multi-family residential).

Developer First Martin Corp. is making the proposal. In response to a query from commissioner Bonnie Bona, Mike Martin explained that although the site would allow for denser development – taller buildings and more units – the cost of construction would have been high, and they didn’t think they’d be able to charge the amount of rent necessary to make a larger project feasible.

The site is east of the city’s Leslie Park golf course, and south of Stapp Nature Area – created on land that First Martin sold to the city in 2003. Some of the discussion on Sept. 17 centered on pedestrian connections between those parks and the apartment complex, which will include a path running along the west side of the site, next to Leslie Park.

During a public hearing on the project, resident Paul Bruss supported the concept of that kind of public trail. He described a vision he shares with others, of a trail that would start at Stapp and loop south then west around the Leslie Park golf course, going north all the way to the Dhu Varren Woods Nature Area. “If we could figure out a way to connect all that as a necklace around Leslie golf course, this would be one of the premium trails in Ann Arbor,” Bruss said.

Commissioners Bona and Ken Clein advocated for more of a pedestrian focus within the complex. Calling First Martin and the architect firm Hobbes + Black “kind of the dream team for developing in Ann Arbor,” Clein – a principal with Quinn Evans Architects – expressed disappointment at the “cookie cutter” site design.

Depending the outcome of a staff review, the apartment project might be on the planning commission’s agenda for consideration as early as Oct. 1.

The other action item on Sept. 17 was authorizing two planning commissioners – Paras Parekh and Sabra Briere, who also serves on city council – to attend the Michigan Association of Planning annual conference, held this year from Oct. 2-4 in Kalamazoo. Their expenses will be paid for out of the city’s training budget for planning staff and related commissions.

Also during the meeting, planning manager Wendy Rampson gave a brief update on the work of consultants who are developing recommendations as part of a downtown zoning review. The consultants – Erin Perdu and Megan Masson-Minock – plan to present their report at the planning commission’s Oct. 8 working session, with commissioners considering the recommendations at their Oct. 15 regular meeting. [Full Story]

First & Washington

A classic book in the Kiwanis dumpster out behind the 8-ball Saloon. [Complete vignette in the first comment.]

Council on DDA: Delay on TIF, OK McWilliams

Ann Arbor city council meeting (Sept. 16, 2013): Of the roughly 3.5-hour session, about an hour was devoted to two separate items that were added to the agenda the day of the Monday meeting.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5), city administrator Steve Powers

From left: city administrator Steve Powers and Mike Anglin (Ward 5). (Photos by the writer.)

One of those late agenda additions was a confirmation vote of Al McWilliams’ appointment to the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority (DDA) board. The vote tally was 6-5, which was declared sufficient for confirmation. However, the city attorney is still reviewing the possibility that the confirmation required an eight-vote majority, under the council’s rules.

The debate on that item came late in the meeting, because that’s where nominations and appointments are slotted on the agenda template, based on the council’s current rules. But that will change in the future – due to a change in the council’s rules that was also on the Sept. 16 agenda. The council adopted some revisions to the rules that were three months in the works. Those included: adding an opportunity for public commentary to work sessions; changing the order of the agenda to move nominations and appointments for boards and commissions to a slot toward the start in the meeting; and prohibiting the use of personal electronic communications devices while at the council table.

Also related to the DDA on the Sept. 16 council agenda was the final approval of revisions to the city ordinance regulating the DDA’s tax increment finance (TIF) capture. The council again put off a vote on the question, which was given initial approval five and a half months ago – on April 1. The question was put off this time until Oct. 21.

The initially-approved amendments to Chapter 7 of the city code include various changes to governance, including term limits for board members, as well as clarifications to the existing language on TIF capture. The initially-approved amendments would enforce the existing language of the ordinance in a manner that would impact the DDA’s TIF revenue in a way roughly matching the DDA’s projected revenues in its 10-year planning document.

At the council’s Sept. 16 meeting, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) sketched out a different conceptual approach to the way the TIF capture is constrained. It’s an approach being developed by a joint committee of councilmembers and DDA board members as a “dual track” to the ordinance revisions currently under consideration.

Under the existing ordinance language, the amount of DDA TIF capture is calibrated to projections in the DDA TIF plan, which is a foundational document for the DDA. The different conceptual approach would establish a basis level for the maximum captured taxable value in the DDA district – a “cap” on TIF revenue – and then set some clearly defined annual increase, keyed to a specific percentage or some variant of a consumer price index (CPI).

A working document used by the joint committee at its Sept. 10 meeting showed two basic scenarios, one of which could roughly mimic the TIF revenue levels that would be provided under the current proposal, while the other might not provide any practical cap.

The second item added to the Sept. 16 agenda on the same day as the meeting was reconsideration of a vote on fossil fuel divestment taken by the council at its previous meeting, on Sept. 3. At that meeting, the council had voted 5-4 on a resolution calling on its employee retirement system to divest from fossil fuel companies. That tally defeated the resolution because it failed to achieve the necessary six votes on the 11-member council.

However, Margie Teall (Ward 4) voted with the prevailing side – one of the votes against it – giving her the right to bring a motion for reconsideration, which the council passed at its Sept. 16 meeting. But on the fossil fuel divestment resolution itself, after about 45 minutes of debate, the council voted to postpone the matter – until its Oct. 21 meeting.

In other business, the council approved the site plan for an expansion of a Honda testing facility, north of Ellsworth on Research Park Drive. The council also approved the rental of 8 extra trucks to supplement the city’s fleet during fall leaf collection season, at a cost of $117,200. It’s an annual expenditure.

Also on Sept. 16, the council formally accepted the final report of the North Main Huron River corridor task force.

The council also heard an update from Ann Arbor police chief John Seto on the preliminary assessment of newly implemented street closures for University of Michigan home football games. That preliminary assessment did not include any major problems, but Seto indicated that he wouldn’t draw conclusions until after a community meeting that’s being held to get additional feedback. That meeting takes place on Tuesday, Sept. 24 at 6 p.m. at Pioneer High School. [Full Story]

2013 General Election: Absentee Ballot First Wave

Based on data provided by the Ann Arbor city clerk’s office, by the end of the day on Monday, Sept. 23, 2013, at least 1,698 absentee ballots will have been mailed to voters who requested such ballots for the Nov. 5, 2013 general election.

On the ballot for Ann Arbor residents are two items: (1) city council races; and (2) continuation of the Ann Arbor Public Schools sinking fund millage.

A precise breakdown of absentee ballots by ward is difficult, because some of the combined precincts in the election cross wards. However, at least 380 of the first wave of ballots will be sent to residents of Ward 2, which will be a carefully watched race. That’s a contest between independent incumbent … [Full Story]

County Board Quickly Covers Broad Agenda

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Sept. 18, 2013): With a third of the nine-member board absent, commissioners dispatched their business in one of the shortest sessions in recent memory, lasting only 45 minutes. The early adjournment elicited a round of applause from staff in attendance – the previous meeting on Sept. 4 had lasted about five hours.

Dan Smith, Catherine McClary, Conan Smith, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Commissioner Dan Smith (R-District 2), county treasurer Catherine McClary, and commissioner Conan Smith (D-District 9). The treasurer’s office is instrumental in a new approach to helping local municipalities pay off bonds backed by the county, which received initial approval on Sept. 18. (Photos by the writer.)

Even so, a wide range of resolutions were passed – mostly with no discussion. The absence of three commissioners also led to non-votes on two items originally on the agenda, out of concern that there would not be sufficient support to pass them.

During the meeting, the board postponed a final vote on a countywide micro loan program for small business. Under the county board rules, a resolution requires votes from “a majority of the members elected and serving” in order to pass – that is, five votes. Supporters of the resolution weren’t certain they could achieve that number. A resolution regarding the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law had been pulled from the agenda earlier in the day for the same reason.

Opponents of the “Stand Your Ground” resolution – which called on the state legislature to repeal the law enacted in 2006 – had been expected to appear at the meeting in force, prompting county administration to add extra security. However, after the resolution was pulled, only a handful of people attended to speak against it, as did one supporter.

In another resolution that addressed a statewide issue, commissioners voted to direct staff to explore options – including possible legal action – to help set cleanup criteria in Michigan for the carcinogen 1,4-dioxane. In part, the item relates to a 1,4 dioxane plume stemming from contaminants at the former Gelman Sciences plant, west of Ann Arbor.

Dan Smith (R-District 2) stated “present” during that vote, rather than voting for or against the resolution – because board rules do not allow for abstention. After the meeting, corporation counsel Curt Hedger told The Chronicle that he’d be looking at the board rules to determine how Smith’s vote will be recorded. Hedger pointed out that the resolution needed five votes to pass, which it garnered even without Smith’s vote.

Commissioners also gave initial approval for a new approach to paying off debt incurred from bonding – typically for public works projects in local municipalities. The proposal would allow local units of government to repay bonds early via the county’s delinquent tax revolving fund (DTRF), which is administered by the county treasurer. The intent is to reduce interest rate payments and the county’s debt burden. In a related resolution, commissioners gave initial approval to restructuring debt held by Bridgewater Township, using this new approach.

Several items that received initial approval at the board’s previous meeting on Sept. 4 were passed in a final vote on Sept. 18 with minimal discussion, including: (1) strengthening the county’s affirmative action plan, as well as other nondiscrimination in employment-related policies; (2) authorizing a range of grants administered by the county’s office of community & economic development, as well as a resolution that would give blanket approval in the future to nearly 30 annual entitlement grants received by the county; (3) adding three new full-time jobs for stewardship of the county nature preserves; (4) adding a new 10-bed treatment program for female teens in the county’s youth center that will create a net increase of 5.46 jobs; and (5) budgets for the county’s public health and community support & treatment service (CSTS) departments.

And after postponing action on Sept. 4, the board voted to create a 13-member community advisory group to look at options for the county-owned Platt Road site in Ann Arbor. The Sept. 18 resolution was much more general in its direction than the one that was debated on Sept. 4, stripping out most of the details related to a previous focus on affordable housing.

Also on Sept. 18 as an item of communication, Yousef Rabhi updated the board on plans to fill a vacancy on the county road commission, which will result from the recent appointment of current road commissioner Ken Schwartz as Superior Township supervisor. Applications for the road commissioner job are being accepted until Sept. 25, with the county board likely making an appointment at its Oct. 2 meeting. [Full Story]

Plymouth near Beal

Saturday, Sept. 21 at 11:20 p.m.: A dozen yellow lights (with red aspects) in the sky below the overcast clouds. They moved silently south, disappearing from view in about five minutes. Chinese lanterns?