Archive for May, 2014

Main btw William and Liberty

New lampposts were getting installed when I rode past earlier this morning. Looks like the result of the morning’s work was replacement of most of the posts between William and Liberty. [photo 1] Not yet replaced are lampposts north of Liberty. Rust at the bases – which prompted the replacement project – is clearly visible. [photo 2] [photo 3]

Political wrangling between the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority and the city of Ann Arbor over which entity would pay for the project likely won’t be remembered by many people.

Newport Road at Englave

The very worst stretches of lower Newport have been been smoothed over with asphalt. Many hazards yet remain. One limitation of this (appreciated!) quick fix is that cars will rut the patches since the road has not been closed to let the asphalt harden. [photo 1] [photo 2] [photo 3] Nearby parts of Huron River Drive have been smoothed over as well. Don’t know if this is about tomorrow’s Dexter-Ann Arbor run – or the work of a Ward 1 councilmember. Imperfect as this is, it is a vast improvement. [previous related item]

Hotel Project Moves Ahead, Condos Delayed

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (May 20, 2014): Development of a new extended-stay hotel on West Huron and North Ashley received a unanimous recommendation of approval from planning commissioners, following a lengthy discussion and concerns voiced by some residents and business owners at the adjacent One North Main building.

Mike Martin, First Martin Corp., Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Mike Martin of First Martin Corp. answered questions from planning commissioners at their May 20, 2014 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

Issues included blocked views, noise from rooftop mechanicals, and problems with egress from One North Main’s underground parking. But even people who raised these concerns applauded the project, saying a hotel there would help bring vitality to that part of town. The site on the northeast corner, owned by First Martin Corp., now includes a building that houses the Ann Arbor Convention & Visitors Bureau and the bus depot for Greyhound, which will be relocating next month to the city’s Fourth & William parking structure.

First Martin’s proposal includes a six-floor, 88,570-square-foot building with a ground-floor restaurant or retail space facing Huron and an extended-stay hotel on the upper five levels, with an entrance off of Ashley. The hotel will be operated by Marriott. The bus depot facade – including an iconic art moderne sign – will remain in place.

The project will be forwarded to the city council for consideration.

Also heading to the council with a recommendation of approval is an expansion of the Bank of Ann Arbor’s downtown building at the northeast corner South Fifth and East Washington. The plan involves reorienting the main entrance – moving it from the center of the bank’s South Fifth Avenue side to the corner of Fifth and Washington. A 9,179-square-foot third-floor addition would be constructed over the rear of the building’s east side.

The bank has an existing drive-thru teller window on its north side, which will not be altered. The site’s D1 zoning requires a special exception use for drive-thrus, which the planning commission granted in a separate vote. Because the project is going through a site plan approval process, the requirement for a special exception use was triggered. Special exception uses do not require additional city council approval.

Commissioners amended the special exception use to limit the drive-thru to a financial institution, so that it can’t be used in the future for other businesses – like a pharmacy or fast food restaurant. That amendment, put forward by Sabra Briere, was approved on a 6-2 vote, over dissent from Wendy Woods and Eleanore Adenekan. Briere also proposed an amendment that would restrict the hours that the drive-thru could be open. The concern was that vehicles pulling out from the drive-thru onto Fifth Avenue could cause a threat to pedestrians and bicyclists in the evening. But after discussion – including some comments from Hans Maier, a senior executive for the bank – Briere withdrew that amendment.

Two other special exception use requests were granted during the May 20 meeting – from companies selling seasonal Class C fireworks for the July 4 holiday. Phantom Fireworks will be putting up a tent in the parking lot of the Maple Village Shopping Center, across from Veterans Memorial Park. In previous years the business operated in the parking lot of Colonial Lanes on South Industrial. Patriot Fireworks will be selling fireworks in the parking lot of the Twin Valley shopping center at 2750 Jackson Ave., west of the I-94 overpass. Both special exception uses were amended to limit the sales to fireworks only – not other seasonal items – and to put specific limits on the days of operation.

One item was postponed by commissioners on May 20 – a site plan for Mark Condominiums on West Liberty, brought forward by developer Alex de Parry. The postponement was based on a recommendation from the planning staff, to allow time for a public water system issue to be addressed. City staff determined that the six-inch water main along Liberty needs to be replaced with a 12-inch main. De Parry told commissioners that the development team had just recently been informed about this issue, and they are now analyzing the budget impact and alternatives they might pursue. [Full Story]

June 2, 2014: City Council Meeting Preview

The council’s first meeting after adopting the budget for fiscal year 2015 – which was approved on May 19, 2014 – features a housekeeping adjustment for the current year’s budget, so that expenditures don’t exceed allocations.

Screenshot of Legistar – the city of Ann Arbor online agenda management system. Image links to the next meeting agenda.

Screenshot of Legistar – the city of Ann Arbor’s online agenda management system. Image links to the June 2, 2014 meeting agenda.

But the June 2 meeting agenda is dominated by items related to the physical attributes and layout of the city. Several items deal with city-owned physical assets, while several more involve land use and planning.

Possibly one of the more controversial agenda items related to physical infrastructure – and future development in the city – is a contract extension with CDM Smith Inc. for work related to the city’s footing drain disconnection (FDD) program. While the city council suspended the program in certain areas of the city in 2012, it continued in other areas, backed by the city’s ordinance under which the city can require residents to disconnect their footing drains from the sanitary sewer system.

Also not suspended was the city’s developer offset mitigation program, which requires developers to offset the increased flow from new construction into the sanitary sewer system. The vote on the CDM Smith Inc. contract extension was postponed from the council’s May 5 meeting. The dollar amount of the contract extension has been substantially reduced in the meantime – from about $750,000 to $143,000.

Part of the backdrop of the CDM Smith contract extension is a lawsuit that’s been filed against the city, challenging the legal foundation of the footing drain disconnect ordinance. The city sought to remove the case from state court to the federal system, but at a hearing on the matter this week, a federal judge indicated he’d be remanding the case back to the Washtenaw County 22nd circuit court.

City assets on the June 2 agenda include trees – as the council will be asked to approve the city’s urban and community forest management plan. The council will also consider a resolution on the city’s possibly most recognizable asset – the city hall building. The resolution would remove a $4 million renovation of city hall (a “reskinning”) from the city’s capital improvements plan for 2017 and 2018. This resolution was postponed from the council’s May 19 meeting.

Another city-owned asset on the agenda is the Library Lane underground parking garage. The council has already directed the city administrator to engage a real estate broker to test the market for the development rights for the surface of the garage. The resolution on the June 2 agenda, which was postponed at the council’s April 7 meeting, would set a policy to deposit 50% of the net proceeds from the sale of the development rights into the city’s affordable housing trust fund.

Land use and planning items on the June 2 agenda include a roughly $300,000 contract for study of the State Street transportation corridor. Related to transportation infrastructure, the council will also be asked to approve resolutions that move along the process of special assessing property owners on Stone School Road for the cost of installing a sidewalk on the west side of the road in connection with a road reconstruction project.

Also related to land use, three Ann Arbor housing commission properties will be given initial consideration for rezoning. A site plan and associated rezoning for the Delta Gamma house will be given final consideration. Also up for final consideration is a revision to the ordinance regulating drive-thrus. And the site plan for a new Ruth’s Chris restaurant to be located downtown on South Fourth Avenue will be given consideration.

A rate increase for Ann Arbor water, sewer and stormwater rates is on the June 2 agenda for final approval.

Two items connected to parks and recreation appear on the agenda. One is approval of the receipt of funding for a program that helps Bridge cardholders purchase local produce at the farmers market. The second item is approval of a five-year agreement with the Community Action Network to continue operating the city’s Northside and Bryant community centers.

The council will also be considering a resolution in support of the local development finance authority’s application to the Michigan Economic Development Corp. for a possible 15-year extension of the arrangement under which the LDFA captures taxes. The captured taxes are used to fund a business accelerator that’s operated by Ann Arbor SPARK through a contract with the LDFA. Without an extension, the LDFA would end in 2018.

This article includes a more detailed preview of many of these agenda items. More details on other agenda items are available on the city’s online Legistar system. The meeting proceedings can be followed Monday evening live on Channel 16, streamed online by Community Television Network starting at 7 p.m. [Full Story]

Fourth & William

Leaving the school board meeting at 11:30 p.m. (They haven’t gotten to the budget). A cop car has stopped a truck [photo

Footing Drain Lawsuit Back to State Court

A lawsuit filed against the city of Ann Arbor over its footing drain disconnection ordinance will be remanded from federal court back to Michigan’s state court system – over the objection of the city of Ann Arbor. The indication came at an 11-minute hearing on Wednesday May 28, 2014 before federal district judge Avern Cohn at the Theodore Levin U.S. Courthouse in downtown Detroit.

Theodore Levin U.S. Courthouse in downtown Detroit.

Theodore Levin U.S. Courthouse in downtown Detroit.

The lawsuit had originally been filed against the city three months ago, on Feb. 27, in Washtenaw County’s 22nd circuit court. There it had been assigned to judge Donald Shelton. On March 17, about two weeks after it was filed, the city removed the case from the state court to the federal court.

But the plaintiffs in the case – Ann Arbor residents who had their footing drains disconnected from the sanitary sewer system under the city’s ordinance – filed a motion for remand back to the 22nd circuit court. At the Wednesday hearing, Cohn indicated that he’d be granting the motion for remand.

By way of background, the ordinance that’s being challenged was enacted in 2001. It establishes a program under which property owners can be required to disconnect their footing drains from the city’s sanitary sewer system. Its intent is to diminish the risk of sanitary overflows into the Huron River and of sanitary sewage backups in homeowners’ basements.

The lawsuit – Yu v. City of Ann Arbor – claims the city’s FDD ordinance violates: (1) the Michigan state law setting forth requirements for a government to take private property for public use; (2) the Michigan state constitutional prohibition against taking private property for public use without just compensation; (3) the corresponding U.S. constitutional prohibition against taking private property, which is a Fifth Amendment claim; and (4) the prohibition against violating the federally protected rights of others, which is a claim under 42 U.S. Code Section 1983.

In broad strokes, Cohn summarized all of the plaintiffs’ claims against the city as reducible to claims about inverse condemnation – taking of private property without just compensation. The plaintiffs contend that the city’s ordinance requiring disconnection of footing drains from the sanitary sewer system – and its associated installation of a sump with a pump – is a physical occupation of a homeowner’s property with equipment not belonging to the homeowner.

Inverse condemnation is a kind of claim for which remedies in the state courts must first be exhausted, before moving to federal court. And although the complaint cites federal law in its causes of action, Cohn was not willing to sever the state claims from the federal claims or to stay the federal claims in the complaint.

Because all the claims were about inverse condemnation, Cohn said, “All I know is that I don’t have subject matter jurisdiction until there’s an exhaustion of remedies under state law. I’m going to have to remand it – I can’t keep it. The only way they can exhaust their remedies is in Washtenaw County circuit court.”

Cohn made his position so clear in his initial remarks that the plaintiffs’ counsel – Dan O’Brien of Woods Oviatt Gilman in Rochester, New York – was initially content not to offer oral argument: “I’ll rely on my papers, your honor.”

So assistant city attorney Abigail Elias, who represented the city at the May 28 hearing, was arguing before a judge who’d essentially already indicated how he would rule. She still made a bid to convince Cohn at least to dismiss the federal claims without prejudice, if he was going to remand the state claims back to the circuit court. She opened her remarks by saying, “I understand generally it’s an uphill battle…” but Cohn interrupted, “Not generally. Specifically.”

In the course of the short hearing, Cohn was not generous in his assessment of the city’s legal briefs that had been filed, calling them “jurisprudential legerdemain.”

For previous Chronicle coverage, see “Lawsuit Filed on City Footing Drain Program” and “Backups: Lawyers, Sewers, Pumps.”

The hearing is reported below in more detail. [Full Story]

In it for the Money: Equal Marriage

Editor’s Note: David Erik Nelson’s short story “The New Guys Always Work Overtime” won the 2013 Asimov’s Readers’ Award for Short Fiction. You can buy it or download a free copy: [here]

Back in March, for just shy of 24 hours, Michigan was willing to license, solemnize, and recognize the marriage of any two people without getting all particular about their genitals. [1] The three-judge appellate panel is still out on whether the question of a happily-ever-after for non-bigots and wedding-lovers here in Michigan. But that was still a pretty wonderful day.

David Erik Nelson Column

David Erik Nelson

In one sense that day resulted from a specific victory in court: A courageous couple embarked on a legal battle in order to protect their adopted children in the case that either parent dies, lawyers argued the case, and based on the merit of those oral arguments and the testimony of experts a federal judge issued a very strongly-worded decision.

By itself, all of that was a wonderful example of our legal system basically working as we’d hope.

But here’s the thing:  If that was all that had been done – just plaintiffs and lawyers and experts and a level-headed judge – no one could have gotten married on Saturday, March 22, 2014. No offices would have been open, no staff would have been on hand, and the appropriate forms would not have existed.

So today I want to sing the praises of the quiet heroism of county clerks – who are, for the vast bulk of law-abiding citizens, the daily executors of the Law, which is to say our Will as a People. This column is meant to record in something approaching a permanent way their mettle in helping to bend the Arc of the Moral Universe towards Justice. [Full Story]

Task Force: Millage, Endowment for Housing

An ambitious plan to help the homeless – by creating 500 or more units of housing with support services, paid for through a millage and endowment fund – was presented to Washtenaw County commissioners at their May 22 working session.

Bob Guenzel, Mary Jo Callan, Norm Herbert, Washtenaw County, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Former Washtenaw County administrator Bob Guenzel and Mary Jo Callan, director of the county’s office community & economic development, talk with former University of Michigan treasurer Norm Herbert before the start of the May 22, 2014 county board working session. Guenzel and Herbert are members of a task force on supportive housing. (Photos by the writer.)

The leadership team of the Task Force on Sustainable Revenues for Supportive Housing Services briefed commissioners on their recommendations, including the goal of building a $50 million endowment over 20 years. Payouts from the endowment would fund supportive services – such as treatment for mental illness and substance abuse – with the intent of addressing the root causes of homelessness. The concept is called permanent supportive housing, and is part of the community’s broader Blueprint to End Homelessness, which was created in 2004 and is being updated.

A possible millage – recommended at 0.25 mills, for no more than 20 years – would help fund supportive services while the endowment is built. County commissioners are being asked to consider putting such a millage on the ballot, possibly in 2015.

Former county administrator Bob Guenzel, a task force member, told commissioners that the task force believes this approach “is absolutely the right thing to do, to end homelessness and keep people housed. We feel very strongly about that. It’s a moral issue.” There’s also a strong business case for this approach when looking at the cost of emergency services and the criminal justice system, compared to the cost of permanent supportive housing, he said.

Several steps have already been taken to achieve these goals. An endowment was established in 2011, with $2.1 million in commitments so far. That amount includes a $1 million gift from the St. Joseph Mercy Health System to create the endowment, which is called the Sister Yvonne Gellise Fund for Supportive Services for Housing. Gellise is the former CEO of St. Joe’s. She’s on the task force and is a founding board member of the Washtenaw Housing Alliance. Another $1 million commitment comes from the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation (AAACF), where the endowment is housed. AAACF Cheryl Elliott is another task force member. In addition, an anonymous donor has contributed $100,000.

The first fund distribution – of $26,100 – will be made this fall in a competitive grant process. AAACF’s distribution committee – an all-volunteer group – will be responsible for making grant recommendations.

AAACF is also helping provide a three-year, part-time development job to support fundraising for this endowment. Funding for the position will come from the Washtenaw Housing Alliance ($25,000), the AAACF ($5,000) and an anonymous donor ($10,000).

The foundation will post this position in early June, Elliott reported, with the intent of making a hire as soon as possible. The position would be in place until at least mid-2017. The employee will report to AAACF’s vice president for development and donor services, and to the Sister Yvonne Gellise Fund development committee. Members of that committee are the same people who’ve served on the leadership team of the task force, Elliott said. In addition to herself, members are Bob Chapman, Sister Yvonne Gellise, Bob Guenzel, Norm Herbert and Dave Lutton. They hope to get an additional two or three members, she said.

The next steps in this process include a request to the county board to sunset the task force at the June 4 board meeting. The board will also be asked to consider the task force’s recommendation for a millage. “Please use this year and into 2015 to set a millage strategy,” Elliott said.

The task force also stressed the importance of a public outreach and education effort, to help build awareness and support for the endowment.

The task force presentation was attended by five of the county’s nine commissioners. During their discussion, Conan Smith (D-District 9) expressed interest in having the county bond for this initiative – either for the full $50 million, or some portion of that amount. The county now has a triple-A bond rating, Smith noted. [That news had been announced earlier in the day. In general, higher ratings allow organizations to secure better terms for borrowing funds.] “This gives us an opportunity… to actually have some real impact in the community,” Smith said.

Task force members indicated that they hadn’t considered the option of bonding, and Elliott had some concerns about whether it would be legal to use taxpayer dollars for an endowment. They plan to explore the possibility, including consultation with legal counsel. [Full Story]

Memorial Day: A Different List This Year

The 2014 edition of the annual Glacier Highlands Neighborhood Association Memorial Day parade resembled the parades of previous years in almost every way.

Capt. Brian Cech read aloud a list of Michigan servicemen and servicewomen who died this past year – even if not in combat.

Capt. Brian Cech read aloud a list of Michigan servicemen and servicewomen who died this past year in non-combat incidents.

The parade itself – which winds through a northeastern Ann Arbor neighborhood – featured a squad car from the Ann Arbor police department, a fire truck, a bagpiper, several candidates for local political office, the drum line from Huron High School marching band, and a herd of neighborhood kids bringing up the rear on their decorated bicycles.

The parade ended as it does every year at Glacier Highlands Park – where free donuts, and for-sale hotdogs are on offer. But the focus immediately after the parade is always on the memorial service: “Lay off the donuts until after the ceremony!” came an admonishment over the PA system this year.

The memorial service is not complicated. The colors are presented, a bagpiper pipes Amazing Grace, a trumpeter blows Taps, and the names of Michigan servicemen and servicewomen who were killed in action over the last year are read aloud.

The ceremony was officiated by Capt. Brian Cech – commander of the 1776 Military Police Company out of Taylor, Mich. What was different this year was the lack of the customary list: No Michiganders were this year among those who fell in combat.

But Cech still read aloud a list of names – those Michigan citizens in uniform, who died of illness, accidents, or suicide in the past year. “As we have learned over time,” Cech said, “the toll of the war zone does not stop after our warriors have returned home.” [Full Story]

Taxicab Board Considers Rates, Drivers

Ann Arbor taxicab board meeting (May 22, 2014): Two topics addressed by the board at its April 23, 2014 meeting received additional conversation this month. First, the board discussed the possibility of deregulating taxicab fares, or setting them at a much higher maximum. The board also continued discussing whether to recommend that the city council enact an ordinance to regulate all drivers for hire – taxicab drivers, limo drivers, as well as those who drive for Uber and Lyft.

Screen of iPhone showing Uber vehicle responding to request for a pickup on May 24. The resulting trip – from Jackson & Maple to Liberty & Main was calculated by Uber as $8. With the current introductory promotion it cost nothing.

Screen of iPhone showing Uber vehicle responding to request for a pickup on May 24. The resulting trip – from Jackson & Maple to Liberty & Main – was calculated by Uber as costing $8.

Both topics will also be considered at the board’s next meeting on June 26.

Consideration of a general driver-for-hire ordinance comes in reaction to the recent entry of Uber and Lyft into the Ann Arbor market. However, taxicab board chair Michael Benson stressed during the meeting that the point of the possible new ordinance was not to “target” Uber and Lyft, but rather to ensure that all drivers for hire are registered with the city. Those two companies, which coordinate drivers and passengers through software applications, have been sent cease-and-desist letters by the Ann Arbor city attorney’s office – for aiding and abetting the violation of a state statute regulating limousines. [.pdf of cease-and-desist sent to Lyft] [.pdf of cease-and-desist sent to Uber]

But the board heard from a University of Michigan student during public commentary time, who reported that the cease-and-desist letters, dated May 14, 2014, were having no impact – as he’d used one of the services three times the previous evening. In the course of his remarks, the UM business undergrad outlined several advantages of Uber and Lyft, including price, convenience and efficiency.

The board had voted at its April 23 meeting to ask the city attorney’s office to draft general driver-for-hire ordinance language for consideration at its May 22 meeting, but that draft was not yet available.

So at its next meeting on June 26, the board is expecting two possible proposals to be ready for consideration: (1) a new rate structure proposal; and (2) a draft ordinance on regulating all drivers for hire. The taxicab board could forward a recommendation to the city council to enact either proposal. A decision on enactment rests with the city council.

Discussion of the driver-for-hire issue at the May 22 meeting included themes familiar from the board’s April 23 conversation, mostly centering on the desire of board members to ensure public safety for patrons of businesses that operate on the public right-of-way. They want to ensure that drivers who are being compensated for their work are registered with the city, that their vehicles are inspected, and that they are adequately insured.

The rate changes to be considered by the board on June 26 come in the context of board interest in seeing the taxicab industry able to compete with limousine services, as well as with services with business models like those of Uber and Lyft. Currently the maximum rate in Ann Arbor is $3 to get in, $2.50 per mile, and 40 cents per minute waiting time.

Those maximum rates were last adjusted upwards three years ago, on May 16, 2011, in response to gas prices that had nudged past $4 per gallon. At that time, the taxicab board indicated it did not anticipate considering another rate change until the gas prices were over $5 for at least two consecutive months.

So the board’s thinking is not being driven by gas prices, which are currently between $3.75 and $4 in the Ann Arbor area. Instead, a possible increase in allowable fares is based on concern that the taxicab industry in Ann Arbor might not be able to survive unless taxis are allowed to charge more. Taxicab board member Robert Goeddel supported setting a significantly higher maximum, saying that if the taxicab industry does not survive, he does not want it to be because the basic costs of doing business can’t be covered.

City CFO Tom Crawford, who sits on the taxicab board as an ex officio member, noted that it’s a challenge to consider changes in rate structures at the same time as new entrants have come into the market – who have a lower cost structure than the taxicab industry. He expressed some concern that the result could be a “race to the bottom” for pricing that could work to destroy the taxicab industry.

In other business, the board elected its officers for the next year – an annual task. Benson and Stephen Kunselman were re-elected as chair and vice chair of the board.   [Full Story]

Fountain & Cherry

Person in minivan flinging copies of Ann Arbor News ad section onto lawns and into driveways.

Main & Liberty

Street musician: saxophone on northeast corner.

Stadium & Packard

Bicycle versus AAATA #5A bus ends in a dead heat at State & Packard.

Platt & Ellsworth

Long line at recycling drop-off station. Washtenaw County sheriff’s deputy community service work detail made super quick work of unloading my bicycle trailer load of glass and Styrofoam. Thanks!

Library Board Acts on Budget, Infrastructure

Ann Arbor District Library board meeting (May 19, 2014): Trustees approved the library’s 2014-15 budget with no increase in the tax rate, following a pattern they’ve established over the past several years.

Ed Surovell, Margaret Leary, Ann Arbor District Library, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Ann Arbor District Library trustees Ed Surovell and Margaret Leary at the board’s May 19, 2014 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

The rate of 1.55 mills is also lower than the 1.92 mills that the library is authorized to levy. The $12.568 million budget assumes a 2.4% increase in tax revenues, based on an increase in property values. No one spoke during a public hearing on the budget that was held during the May 19 meeting.

The budget includes a 3% raise for AADL director Josie Parker, increasing her current salary of $143,114. As part of an annual director’s evaluation, board president Prue Rosenthal read aloud a letter from the board that praised Parker for her work and accomplishments.

Related to infrastructure, trustees authorized Parker to negotiate with Ann Arbor-based O’Neal Construction Inc. for work related to the downtown library entrance. O’Neal would be contracted to provide construction management services for the entrance’s renovation. This is the next step in a process that began several months ago, with construction to begin this summer.

The board also got an update from Parker about the public elevator for the downtown library, which is out of service. It’s expected to cost about $100,000 to repair and will take several months to fix. That work will also take place this summer, and requires closing the lower level of the building, where many public events are held.

The May 19 meeting included approval of contracts for janitorial services and HVAC maintenance, for three-year periods. Also approved was the renewal of a space-use agreement with the nonprofit Friends of the Ann Arbor District Library. FAADL operates a bookstore at the downtown library, with proceeds given to AADL.

The board also got a monthly update on library statistics, “top Tweets” and a viewing of a new video to promote AADL’s summer game, which starts on Friday, June 13, and runs through Sunday, Aug. 31. The video was produced by AADL staff and 7 Cylinders Studio. [Full Story]

Sunset & Spring

All better. A-1 Asphalt came by today [photo 1] and repaired the previous repair [photo 2]. They left a cone this time.  They came, again, on refuse day, but after trash and recycling (compost truck yet to come). Still, I’m not taking any chances [photo 3].

Column: Michael Sam’s Saga

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Last February, University of Missouri defensive end Michael Sam publicly declared he was gay – a first for a likely NFL draft pick. Last week, the St. Louis Rams drafted him in the last round – another first. But I believe the trickiest terrain is still ahead.

When Michael Sam told his University of Missouri teammates he was gay before last season, no one seemed to care very much. No one tweeted the news to the public, and Sam had a great season. It’s a safe bet that NFL teams – who know what kind of gum their prospects chew – already knew he was gay, too. But when Sam came out publicly, it changed the equation.

The NFL has already had gay players, so that isn’t new. But publicly declaring you’re gay is new – and so is the onslaught of media attention.

After Sam came out, he dropped from a projected fourth- or fifth-round draft pick to the seventh and final round. There’s no way to prove this, of course, but it’s hard to believe part of the reason wasn’t homophobia – though that term isn’t accurate. As the saying goes – often attributed to Morgan Freeman – “It’s not a phobia. You are not scared. You are an asshole.” [Full Story]

Newport & M-14

One pothole too many. Hugging the shoulder to let a car pass, must have hit an asphalt chunk. X-rays show nothing broken. But that’s not how it feels. Bike came through better than I did, but the helmet is toast. [photo] Please fix the roads. [See update on May 31, 2014]

Performance Network Theatre Shuts Doors

The board of Performance Network Theatre, a professional theater company based in downtown Ann Arbor, has suspended operations after determining that the theater ”is not currently financially viable.” The theater issued a press release announcing the decision on May 22. [.pdf of press release]

According to the group’s website, the board of directors are: Ron Maurer, president; Tom Crawford, vice president; Steve Gerber, vice president; Tom Dezure, treasurer; Linda Levy, secretary; Ed Abbott; Mary Avrakotos; Norman Bash; Gene Dickerson; Joe Grimley; Hanna Goodstein; David Herzig; Steven Klein; Jessica Litman; Stephen Palms; Myra Poplin; Sheila Sasser; and Phil Stoffregen.

Seven staff members are also listed on the site: Erin Sabo, managing director; David Wolber, artistic director; Carla Milarch, associate artistic director; Logan Ricket, associate … [Full Story]

S&P Upgrades County Bond Rating

Washtenaw County has received an upgraded bond rating from Standard & Poor’s – from AA+ to AAA, the highest debt rating from that agency. Only two other counties in Michigan – Oakland and Kent – have a triple-A rating. County administrator Verna McDaniel announced the news on May 22. [.pdf of press release] In general, higher ratings allow organizations to secure better terms for borrowing funds.

In an email to the media sent a few minutes after the press release was issued, commissioner Conan Smith (D-District 9) questioned the value of the upgraded rating:
This is a solid testament to the county’s investments in its institutional security, but I think the real story is at what cost this incremental improvement came. … [Full Story]