Archive for February, 2014

AAATA Bylaws Now Give Public More Time

Speakers during public commentary at Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority board meetings will now have an extra minute per turn to address the board. The time limits per speaker for each of two slots on the agenda have been increased from two to three minutes. So someone could now address the board for a total of six minutes at a meeting.

That additional change to their bylaws came as AAATA board members reviewed their rules and revised them to reflect the addition of two new member jurisdictions in addition to the city of Ann Arbor: the city of Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township. It was last year, under separate processes, that the two Ypsilanti jurisdictions were admitted into the AAATA. The authority … [Full Story]

Planning Commission OKs Change to Bylaws

Revisions to the bylaws of the Ann Arbor planning commission were adopted by commissioners at their Feb. 20, 2014 meeting. The changes relate to two issues: how city councilmembers interact with the commission, and public hearings. [.pdf of staff memo and proposed revisions at start of Feb. 20 meeting]

Commissioners had debated the proposed revisions at a Feb. 4, 2014 working session. Some of the same issues were raised during the Feb. 20 discussion, which was relatively brief.

One revision clarifies the limitations on a city councilmember’s interaction with the commission. The revised section states:
Section 9. A member of the City Council shall not be heard before the Commission during the Councilmember’s term in office.
Other revisions affect speaking turns at … [Full Story]

Donated Land Rezoned for Nature Area

Land that’s been donated to the city by developer Bill Martin is in the process of being rezoned as public land, following action at the Feb. 20, 2014 meeting of the Ann Arbor planning commission. The 2.2-acre parcel is being added to the adjacent Stapp Nature Area, near the Leslie Park golf course.

Land to be donated by Bill Martin to the city of Ann Arbor indicated in red outline.

Land donated by Bill Martin to the city of Ann Arbor indicated in red outline, south of Stapp Nature Area.

Based on advice … [Full Story]

Seventh btw Jefferson and Liberty

Water about 6-8 inches deep is causing most drivers to proceed with caution. There is no way to find and clear the sewer grates without waders and protection from the splashing cars, and the danger of wading out into the road. I’ve never seen this area flood in the last 30 years. [photo 1] [photo 2] [photo 3] [photo 4]

County OKs Marriage License “Fee Holiday”

A proposal giving authority to the Washtenaw County clerk/register of deeds office to reduce the fee for expediting marriage licenses under certain circumstances – from $50 to 1 cent – was approved by the county board of commissioners at its Feb. 19, 2014 meeting. The vote was 5-1, with dissent by Kent Martinez-Kratz. Three commissioners – Felicia Brabec (D-District 4) Alicia Ping (R-District 3), and Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-District 5) – were absent.

Currently, the $50 fee is charged if applicants want to waive the statutory three-day marriage license waiting period. The resolution passed on Feb. 19 allows the county clerk, consulting with the county administrator, to establish a ”fee holiday” on the day preceding a period during which the office’s vital records … [Full Story]

Planning for Platt Road Site Moves Ahead

A broad community planning process for the future of Platt Road property owned by Washtenaw County will move forward, following approval by the county board of commissioners at its Feb. 19, 2014 meeting. With three commissioners absent from the 9-member body, the board voted unanimously to give final approval to a set of recommendations made by a citizens advisory group. Initial approval had been given on Feb. 5, 2014.

The 13.5-acre site at 2260 and 2270 Platt Road formerly housed the juvenile center. The advisory committee, which was created by the board on Sept. 18, 2013 and met three times late last year, recommended that the county use a $100,000 grant from the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) to fund a community design … [Full Story]

County Board Makes Appointments

At its Feb. 19, 2014 meeting, the Washtenaw County board of commissioners approved several appointments to various county board and committees. Nominations were brought forward by board chair Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8). Several openings remain and will be reposted on the county’s website.

The appointments made on Feb. 19 are:

  • Community Action Board, for terms ending Dec. 31, 2016: Ivory Gaines (consumer); James Horton (consumer); Elizabeth Janovic (private sector); Jason Morgan (public sector).
  • Local Emergency Planning Committee, for terms ending Dec. 31, 2016: Daniel Barbossa (broadcast media); Samantha Brandfon (hospital); Linda Dintenfass (first aid).
  • Washtenaw Community Health Organization (WCHO), for terms ending March 31, 2017: Mark Creekmore and Linda King (county representatives).
  • Washtenaw County/City of Ann Arbor Community Corrections Advisory Board, for a term ending Dec. … [Full Story]

County Dental Clinic Gets Final Approval

A new dental clinic for low-income residents of Washtenaw County will be moving forward, following final approval at the Feb. 19, 2014 meeting of the county board of commissioners. The vote was 5-1, with dissent from Dan Smith (R-District 2). Smith also had voted against the project when it was given initial approval on Feb. 5, 2014. Three commissioners – Felicia Brabec (D-District 4) Alicia Ping (R-District 3), and Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-District 5) – were absent.

The project is estimated to cost $1.5 million, using funds from the public health Medicaid liability account ($814,786), the public health fund balance ($663,015) and Washtenaw Health Plan ($50,000). According to the county’s public health staff, 58,000 county residents either don’t have dental insurance … [Full Story]

Liberty at Fifth

Soon this will all seem as if it was a crazy dream. Already I can hardly recall when this sidewalk was an icy narrowly passable mess for pedestrians, and impossible for wheelchair users and strollers. [photo]

Washtenaw County to Accept Kresge Grant

Building on previous funding from the Kresge Foundation, Washtenaw County commissioners gave initial approval on Feb. 19, 2014 to apply for accept a two-year $226,357 ”Prescription for Health” grant from the nonprofit. It will fund a part-time staff position and requires a $54,250 match from the county’s public health department. A final vote is expected at the county board’s March 5 meeting.

The county’s previous funding for this program was a two-year, $361,519 Kresge grant from Jan. 1, 2011 through Dec. 13, 2012. According to the program’s website, the purpose is ”to increase fruit and vegetable consumption among patients with low income, and to build capacity of clinics to expand the traditional medical model to include the food system.” The program also aims … [Full Story]

County Board Briefed on Shelter Services

Washtenaw County board of commissioners working session (Feb. 6, 2014): Following a large turnout of homeless advocates at their Jan. 22, 2014 meeting, county commissioners received an update from the leader of the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County, which operates the Delonis Center shelter near downtown Ann Arbor.

Shelter Association of Washtenaw County, Delonis Center, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Billboard on West Huron, facing eastbound traffic, to seek support for the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County. The Delonis Center homeless shelter is located across the street. (Photos by the writer.)

Ellen Schulmeister, the Shelter Association’s executive director, called this season “The Winter of Great Effort,” with harsher weather and more demand for services. She described efforts to shelter the homeless in the short term, but noted that the broader goal is to find housing and provide support services to eliminate chronic homelessness.

Schulmeister reported that the county’s funding to the Delonis Center had been cut during the economic downturn, and she hoped that levels would increase. ”We need you to do that,” she said.

Washtenaw County government owns the building where the Delonis Center is located, and pays for maintenance. In addition, the county provided $51,230 for the Delonis Center in 2013 and increased that amount to $160,000 this year. The county funding is set to increase again to $200,000 in 2015 and remain at that level through 2017. The Shelter Association’s annual budget is $2.583 million.

Yousef Rabhi, chair of the county board, called the Delonis Center’s work ”inspirational,” but noted that the issue needs to be addressed by the entire community. He’s working to organize a summit, bringing together stakeholders from the government, nonprofits and other entities working to end homelessness. Rabhi said the effort should include representatives from the Ann Arbor District Library – because the downtown library serves as a de facto shelter during the day, even though that’s not the library’s purpose.

Schulmeister agreed on the importance of partnerships, adding that the barriers also include a lack of affordable housing and jobs. “It takes a community to house someone – it really does,” she said.

The Feb. 6 working session also included an update from Barbara Niess-May, executive director of SafeHouse Center, a shelter for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. As with the Delonis Center, the county also owns the SafeHouse building and pays for maintenance, as well as providing funding for the nonprofit’s services.

Niess-May told commissioners that she’s been doing this work for 20 years, but this is the worst time for funding she’s seen for these kinds of programs. She pointed out that funding from the county has dropped to $48,000 annually through 2017, and she hoped that the amount could be increased. The total SafeHouse budget is $1.4 million.

Dan Smith (R-District 2) noted that the number of people that SafeHouse serves each year – more than 5,000 – represents almost 2% of the county’s population. He highlighted the fact that Washtenaw County has fewer domestic violence homicides per capita than any other county in the state. To him, a statistic like that directly connects to the county’s mandates because of the clear reduction of work load on the court system and jail, as well as the number of lives saved. He considered SafeHouse part of the county’s mandate for public safety and justice.

Conan Smith (D-District 9) observed that the board has discussed the option of a human services millage that would support services like those that SafeHouse offers. He encouraged Niess-May to include the county’s funding cuts as part of her communications to others in the community. It might lead them to support raising additional revenue for SafeHouse and other organizations, he said.  [Full Story]

Davis & Brown

City crews working hard to clear storm drains. Rain in the forecast for tomorrow. [photo] [At last night's city council meeting, city administrator Steve Powers encouraged residents to help out with clearing storm drains.] [map of catch basin locations]

Ann Arbor’s Public Art Saga Continues

Four separate agenda items related to public art received action by the Ann Arbor city council at its Feb. 18, 2014 meeting – but three of those actions were to postpone. The end result was that no Percent for Art money was transferred from the public art fund back to its funds of origin.

Back on the council’s March 3 agenda will be two resolutions – or possibly just one – that would make such a fund transfer. Also back on March 3 will be a resolution extending the part-time public art administrator’s contract for six months and appropriating $18,500 for that purpose.

The council’s actions on Feb. 18 began with final approval to an amendment to the city’s public art ordinance. That … [Full Story]

Council Delays Edwards Brothers Decision

The Ann Arbor city council has again postponed a vote on its right of first refusal to purchase a 16.7-acre piece of property from Edwards Brothers Malloy, located at 2500-2550 South State Street. The University of Michigan has offered $12.8 million for the land.

The council will next take up the question at a special session on Feb. 24, 2014, which will also possibly feature a closed session.

The council voted to postpone the question at its Feb. 18, 2014 meeting after a closed session that lasted about 25 minutes. The resolution delayed by the council would approve the exercise of the city’s right of first refusal, appropriate necessary funds, and direct the city administrator to notify Edward Brothers Malloy about the exercise … [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Adopts Green Streets Policy

Infiltration standards for stormwater management will now need to be followed whenever an Ann Arbor city street is reconstructed. The adoption of the “green streets” standards came in action taken at the Ann Arbor city council’s Feb. 18, 2014 meeting. The “green streets” policy initiative came at the direction of the city council in a July 2, 2012 resolution.

The infiltration standards are here: [.pdf of green streets infiltration policy]

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron.

Ann Arbor Acts on Core Equipment

Items related to equipment essential for core services have received approval by the Ann Arbor city council. That equipment includes a combination sewer truck, a hydraulic excavator, a garbage truck, two vans, a wood chipper, and a firefighter training unit. Votes on the equipment came at the council’s Feb. 18, 2014 meeting.

Two pieces of equipment authorized for purchase by the council are used in the repair of water main breaks, which have increased in frequency in recent weeks as the ground moves due to deeper and deeper penetration of frost.

Here’s a sampling of recent water main breaks – from alerts the city of Ann Arbor has sent out:

  • Jan. 15: West Madison between Fourth and Fifth
  • Jan. 22: Devonshire between Washtenaw and … [Full Story]

More Road Salt for Ann Arbor

Purchase of additional ice-control salt has been approved by the Ann Arbor city council. Based on the $47,200 amount to be appropriated, and the $36.23 price per ton, the council authorized the purchase of roughly 1,300 tons of additional salt. The council’s action took place at its Feb. 18, 2014 meeting.

A city staff estimate provided to The Chronicle puts the amount of salt used so far this season – through early February – at about 6,600 tons. That’s roughly at least as much or more than has been used in each of the previous five winter seasons. If the city uses all of the additional salt to be purchased – bringing this season’s total to about 7,900 tons – that would … [Full Story]

Two Scio Properties Added to Greenbelt

Acquisition of development rights for two properties in Scio Township has been approved by the Ann Arbor city council, using funds from the city’s open space and parkland preservation millage. The council’s action came at its Feb. 18, 2014 meeting.

The first is a 24-acre parcel just north of the Huron River in Scio Township. The city of Ann Arbor, through its greenbelt millage, will be contributing $25,200 to the total $84,000 cost of purchasing development rights, with the township contributing the difference. The deal was recommended by the Ann Arbor greenbelt advisory commission at its Jan. 2, 2014 meeting.

[Full Story]

Flashing Beacons for 3 Ann Arbor Locations

A contract between the Michigan Dept. of Transportation and the city of Ann Arbor has been approved by the city council to install rectangular rapid flashing beacons at three locations: on Geddes Road at Gallup Park; Fuller Road 400 feet east of Cedar Bend Drive; and on South University Avenue at Tappan Avenue. The council took action at its Feb. 18, 2014 meeting.

The city’s cost for the $47,971 project would be $14,179. The difference will be reimbursed through a grant.

According to the staff memo accompanying the resolution, part of the rationale for the choice of locations is “a history of pedestrian crashes that made them candidates for safety grant funding.” Responding to an emailed request from The Chronicle, city engineer Patrick … [Full Story]

Zoning Approved for Biercamp Parcel

Final approval to the zoning of the Hofmann property on South State Street – to C1 (local business district) – has been approved by the Ann Arbor city council.

The property houses Biercamp Artisan Sausage and Jerky. The C1 zoning does not have restrictions limiting the products sold to those that are made on-site. The owners of Biercamp wanted the ability to sell products not made on-site, so the zoning accommodates their goal.

The council’s action came at its Feb. 18, 2014 meeting. The council gave initial approval to the zoning on Jan. 21, 2014.

The two parcels in question – just south of Stimson and the Produce Station – are owned by Stefan Hofmann. The site at 1645 S. State is … [Full Story]

Feb. 18, 2014 Council Meeting: Live Updates

Editor’s note: This “Live Updates” coverage of the Ann Arbor city council’s Feb. 18, 2014 meeting includes all the material from an earlier preview article published last week. We think that will facilitate easier navigation from the live updates section to background material already in the file.

The council’s Feb. 18, 2014 agenda is highlighted by public art policy issues leftover from its previous meeting, as well as several items related to acquiring various pieces of basic equipment – from a garbage truck to a wood chipper.

The sign on the door to the Ann Arbor city council chamber, installed in the summer of 2013, includes Braille.

The sign on the door to the Ann Arbor city council chamber, installed in the summer of 2013, includes Braille.

The possible acquisition of land is also on the agenda, in the form of a resolution postponed from an earlier meeting. The resolution would exercise the city’s right of first refusal to purchase the 16.7-acre Edwards Brothers Malloy property on South State Street. This process began when the University of Michigan offered to buy the property. An item authorizing the $12.8 million purchase is on the Feb. 20 UM board of regents agenda, based on the assumption that the city won’t exercise its right of first refusal earlier in the week.

In other action, the council will consider an amendment to the city’s public art ordinance for a second and final vote on Feb. 18, having given initial approval to the item on Feb. 3. The ordinance amendment would allow the council to transfer money that accumulated in the public art fund through the (now demised) Percent for Art funding mechanism in previous years. The money would be transferred back to the funds from which it was originally drawn – but that transfer would require a separate council action. To be approved, the ordinance change will need a six-vote majority on the 11-member council. The enactment of an ordinance can be vetoed by the mayor, but a veto can be overridden by an eight-vote majority.

Dependent on the public art ordinance amendment are two competing resolutions that would return money from the public art fund to the funds from which that money was drawn. That includes funds like the sanitary sewer fund and the street millage fund. Based on the Feb. 3 council deliberations, the debate on such a resolution would likely center on the amount to be returned to funds of origin, not the question of returning at least some of the money. And that point of possible disagreement is reflected in the amounts specified in the two resolutions. A resolution sponsored by Jane Lumm (Ward 2), Jack Eaton (Ward 4) and Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1) would transfer $819,005 back to the funds of origin.

A resolution added later to the agenda is sponsored by Sabra Briere (Ward 1). Briere’s proposal would eliminate funding for the stalled Argo Cascades art project and would return $957,140 to the funds of origin. Briere’s resolution also directs the city administrator to establish a budget for public art administration for both the 2015 and 2016 fiscal years. [An initial list of requests from department heads for FY 2015, released by the city on Feb. 10, shows an $80,000 request for arts administration, which includes funds for a full-time art administrator.]

Either of the two proposed resolutions related to public art funds would require eight votes to pass.

Also expected back from the Feb. 3 agenda is a resolution that was defeated at that meeting – to extend the contract for the part-time public art administrator by six months and to appropriate funds to cover that $18,500 contract. It would need eight votes to pass. The result of the Feb. 3 council vote was that public art administrator Aaron Seagraves cannot currently be paid. The contract is supposed to be back on Feb. 18 for reconsideration – as part of the political bargain among councilmembers on the overall question of how the Percent for Art money that accumulated in the public art fund will be handled.

The council’s Feb. 18 agenda also features several pieces of equipment essential to core services. One of those core services is the repair of water main breaks, which have increased in frequency in recent weeks as the ground moves due to deeper and deeper penetration of frost. The council will be asked to approve the $441,535 purchase of a combination sewer truck, which is outfitted with a vacuum device – often used to control water in an excavation during the repair of a water main break. Also deployed when repairing water main breaks is a hydraulic excavator. So the council will be asked to approve the purchase of one for $176,472. Both of those authorizations are replacements of existing city equipment.

The council will also be asked to approve the purchase of a new garbage truck for $93,800. The purchase of two vans for a total of $50,320 is also on the council’s Feb. 18 agenda. The vans will be used by the parks and recreation staff to shuttle passengers when they start a river trip at one of the cities liveries on the Huron River. Rounding out equipment purchases is a $83,208 wood chipper.

Another piece of equipment shows up on the agenda in the form of a grant application the council is being asked to approve. The $334,140 grant application is being made to the 2013 Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) program of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security – to acquire a mobile training facility to train firefighters. The 48-foot-long unit will allow live fire and tactical simulations.

In addition to the Edwards Brothers deal, several other real estate matters are on the Feb. 18 agenda. The council will be asked to approve the acquisition of development rights for two properties, using funds from the greenbelt millage. The first is a 24-acre parcel just north of the Huron River in Scio Township. The city of Ann Arbor will be contributing $25,200 to the total $84,000 cost of purchasing development rights, with the township contributing the difference. The second greenbelt property on the agenda is a 64-acre property on Zeeb Road, also in Scio Township. For that deal, the city is contributing $39,000 to the total purchase price of $130,335.

Related to land use, council will also be asked to give final approval to the zoning of the Hofmann property on South State Street – to C1 (local business district). The property houses Biercamp Artisan Sausage and Jerky.

On the consent agenda is a contract with MDOT for reimbursement to the city for a portion of the cost to install rectangular rapid flashing beacons at three locations: on Geddes Road at Gallup Park; Fuller Road 400 feet east of Cedar Bend Drive; and on South University Avenue at Tappan Avenue. The city’s cost for the $47,971 project would be $14,179.

This article includes a more detailed preview of many of these agenda items for the Feb. 18 meeting, which was shifted to Tuesday because of the Presidents Day holiday on Monday. More details on other agenda items are available on the city’s online Legistar system. The meeting proceedings can be followed Tuesday evening live on Channel 16, streamed online by Community Television Network.

The Chronicle will be filing live updates from city council chambers during the meeting, published in this article below the preview material. Click here to skip the preview section and go directly to the live updates. The meeting is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. [Full Story]

New Entrance Planned for Downtown Library

Plans for a major redesign to the exterior front entrance of the Ann Arbor District Library’s downtown building at 343 S. Fifth Ave. will move forward, following approval by the AADL board at its Feb. 17, 2014 meeting.

Ann Arbor District Library, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Rendering of new entrance design for the downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library.

The vote followed a presentation of the redesign by Cory Lavigne of InForm Studio, which is handling the project. The architecture firm designed AADL’s Traverwood branch. A final design will likely be brought forward for approval at the board’s April meeting, following a public forum in mid-March.

The entrance … [Full Story]

AADL Board Forms Strategic Plan Committee

At its Feb. 17, 2014 meeting, the Ann Arbor District Library board voted to create a committee to lead the process for developing the 2015-2020 strategic plan.

The need for more strategic planning at the committee level emerged during the board’s Feb. 3, 2014 retreat. Members appointed to the committee on Feb. 17 are Nancy Kaplan (chair), Barbara Murphy and Rebecca Head, to serve through 2014.

Also on Feb. 17, the board appointed members to the director’s evaluation committee for the annual review of AADL director Josie Parker. Members are Barbara Murphy (chair), Jan Barney Newman and Rebecca Head. Responding to a query from Ed Surovell before the vote, Parker explained that the director’s evaluation committee is a standing committee, as … [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Library Policy Updates Approved

Revisions to Ann Arbor District Library policies were approved unanimously by the AADL board at its Feb. 17, 2014 meeting. The proposed revisions had been presented to the board at its meeting on Jan. 20, 2014.

The changes affect more than a dozen sections of the AADL policy manual, which covers a wide range of issues spanning overall library philosophy to circulation policies and rules of behavior for patrons. Among the changes include a new policy to offer free library cards to non-resident students and staff at state-sanctioned schools within AADL’s district.

The board’s policy committee had already reviewed all revisions that were proposed by AADL staff and vetted by legal counsel.

Revisions were made in the following sections of the policy handbook. [Each ... [Full Story]

Planning Group Weighs Council Interactions

Ann Arbor planning commission working session (Feb. 4, 2014): Continuing a discussion that began last year, planning commissioners debated two aspects of their bylaws, in preparation for a vote on proposed revisions to those rules at their Feb. 20 meeting.

Eleanore Adenekan, Jeremy Peters, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Ann Arbor planning commissioners Eleanore Adenekan and Jeremy Peters at a Feb. 4, 2014 working session in the basement of city hall. (Photos by the writer.)

Most of their discussion at the Feb. 4 working session focused on how the city council interacts with the commission. The issue stems from an episode last year when councilmember Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) began to speak during a public hearing on a project in his neighborhood. He hadn’t been aware of the bylaws governing whether councilmembers can formally address the commission.

A similar situation occurred at an ordinance revisions committee meeting later in the year, when councilmember Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1) started to address the commissioners during public commentary. In both cases, the councilmembers were told that the commission’s bylaws prevented them from speaking.

The current bylaws state: “A member of the City Council shall not be heard before the Commission as a petitioner, representative of a petitioner or as a party interested in a petition during the Council member’s term of office.”

Jack Eaton (Ward 4) weighed in during the council’s Feb. 3 meeting, stating his view that if councilmembers are involved in a petition that would prevent them from voting on the item at the council meeting, they should be allowed to address the planning commission. “When we get elected, I don’t think we give up our right to petition government,” he said. Eaton asked Sabra Briere (Ward 1), who serves on the planning commission, to convey his point to commissioners as part of their discussion.

During the working session on Feb. 4, some commissioners expressed concern that any time a councilmember addresses the commission, it can be an undue influence on the process. Another concern is whether councilmembers, by forecasting their view in advance of a council vote, could put the city at legal risk. But at least one commissioner had a different view on the issue of constraining councilmembers from addressing the commission. Eleanore Adenekan told commissioners: “It’s like somebody telling me that ‘You can’t walk into this room because you’re black.’”

There seemed to be general consensus that the current bylaws are unclear, and a proposed revision is intended to simplify the issue: “A member of the City Council shall not be heard before the Commission during the Councilmember’s term in office.”

Briere advocated for additional training of councilmembers, regarding what’s appropriate in these contexts. When the council takes up ethics issues later this year, she said, the issue of communicating with city boards and commissions will be one of the topics. “I call it How to Behave in Public,” Briere said.

Commissioners also discussed revisions to the bylaws related to public hearings. Some of the changes relate to whether someone can speak more than once at the same public hearing, when it is continued over multiple meetings. This situation arose last year during a public hearing on the downtown zoning review. Bonnie Bona cautioned other commissioners against changing the bylaws in ways that are “just making ourselves look more closed.” Some commissioners countered that the bylaws also allow for a majority vote to modify or waive the limitations, if necessary. [.pdf of current planning commission bylaws] [.pdf of Feb. 20 staff memo and proposed revisions]

The commission’s Feb. 20 meeting – held on a Thursday, rather than the typical Tuesday, because of scheduling due to the Presidents Day holiday – has a light agenda. In addition to the bylaws, the only other action item is a proposed rezoning of 2.02 acres at 2225 Traverwood Drive, adjacent to the Stapp Nature Area. Developer Bill Martin is donating the land to the city, and the proposal would rezone it to public land. [Full Story]

Column: Good Ideas, Flawed Process at AAPS

Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen good news and bad news coming out of the Ann Arbor Public Schools.

Ruth Kraut, Ann Arbor Public Schools, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Ruth Kraut

Good news has come in the form of a new, enthusiastic, positive-energy, forward-looking superintendent in Dr. Jeanice Kerr Swift. Her “Listen and Learn” tour was thorough and well-received by the community, followed by some quickly-implemented changes based on feedback from parents, teachers and staff.

Swift also brought forward some longer-term initiatives that required approval from the AAPS board. Those include plans to address underutilized buildings, a new K-8 STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) program, more language programming, and opening up AAPS to students outside the district through the Schools of Choice program. Those ideas are all positive.

The bad news is process-related, tied to actions by the AAPS board. Mistakes of past years are being made again, as the school board fails to follow its own policies when implementing major changes to the schools. Specifically, the board continues to make important decisions after midnight, with scant information about costs or implementation. Some final votes are rushed through at the same meeting when the items are introduced, not allowing time for sufficient public input.

In this column, I’ll look at both the positive actions by the administration as well as the board’s flawed process. And I’ll ask you to weigh in – letting the board and superintendent know what you think on all of these issues. [Full Story]

Olson Park

Ann Arbor dog parks deserve winter maintenance. [Sign next to overflowing garbage can indicates "No winter maintenance."] [photo]

Column: Learning Governance from Legistar

Last spring, The Chronicle began systematically publishing detailed previews of Ann Arbor city council meeting agendas. Part of that effort includes pointing readers to the city’s online agenda management system, which is hosted on a software platform called Legistar.

Extracted screen shot of Legistar interface that allows search of Legislative items by category.

Extracted screen shot of Legistar interface that allows search of Legislative items by category.

Legistar is an information-rich archive for upcoming as well as past meetings. I’ll grant you, it is not perfect. Legistar can at times be sluggish to respond or counterintuitive in its user interface. But Legistar will mostly cough up what you’re looking for.

The city of Ann Arbor has been using Legistar as part of its record management for Ann Arbor’s government for six years. By now I’d guess residents have figured out for themselves as much as they need or want to know about Legistar. So my purpose in writing is not to provide a tutorial on its use.

In this column, I’d like to focus on one feature of Legistar: the ability to classify meeting agenda items by category. The city of Ann Arbor’s Legistar system is set up so that an agenda item can be classified as: appointment, introduction, minutes, ordinance, proclamation, public hearing only, report or communication, resolution, resolution/public hearing, work session. Of those categories, I’d like to focus on just one: introduction.

I think that a more robust and meaningful use of “introductions” by the city council could lead to better public notice of upcoming council work, and more efficient use of limited city staff resources.

The change I have in mind wouldn’t be difficult to implement, and wouldn’t require changing the city charter to do it. But I’ll wrap up this column by noting how a change to the council’s approach to “introductions” could help get the ball rolling on a possible effort to review the city charter. [Full Story]

A2: Library

Celeste Choate, an associate director at the Ann Arbor District Library, has been hired as executive director of the Urbana Free Library in Urbana, Illinois. She’ll start that position on April 1. From a press release issued by UFL: “When asked if she is ready to switch her allegiance from the University of Michigan Wolverines to the Illini, Choate laughed and said she is really looking forward to performances at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.” [Source]