Archive for June, 2014

Campaigns Roll On Amid Ward 3 Ballot Issue

In the Aug. 5 Democratic primary elections for Ann Arbor city council, a possible disagreement might be emerging over how to count absentee ballots that were incorrectly printed for the Ward 3 race. Appearing correctly on the printed ballots were Julie Grand and Samuel McMullen. However, Bob Dascola – who had filed a successful lawsuit against the city in order to be a candidate – was mistakenly left off the ballots.

The incorrectly printed ballots were sent out to about 400 absentee voters last week. But on Monday, June 30, replacement ballots and a letter of instructions were sent, telling voters about the printing error. Voters who have not yet voted were told in the city’s letter that they should destroy … [Full Story]

Alexandra & Newport

Sixty-five years in the making, a proper drainage approach. Let’s hope it eliminates the crazy network of trenches created on Alexandria every time it rains. [photo] [photo]

Chamber Forum: Ypsilanti Mayoral Race

Two of the three candidates for Ypsilanti mayor – Democrats Amanda Edmonds and Peter Murdock – spoke to an audience of Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Regional Chamber members on June 26, describing their vision for the city and answering questions.

Peter Murdock and Amanda Edmonds

Ypsilanti mayoral candidates: Democrats Peter Murdock and Amanda Edmonds.

Murdock, who currently serves on the Ypsilanti city council and was mayor of that city in the 1980s, talked about how Ypsilanti is still struggling with the “economic realities” of the Great Recession. The city needs more financial stability, and to help achieve that goal he supports efforts at collaboration – like Ypsilanti’s membership in the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority. He also talked about the need to quickly deal with eliminating debt on the city-owned Water Street property, which he called the “elephant in the room.”

Responding to questions from the audience, Murdock pointed to efforts to improve public safety through collaboration between the city, Eastern Michigan University, and the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office. “We’ll have more to say about that shortly, in terms of what we’re developing,” he said.

Edmonds is founder and executive director of the nonprofit Growing Hope, and serves as chair of the Ypsilanti Downtown Development Authority board. She described her vision for the city as one where residents and businesses thrive, not just survive. The mayor is the city’s chief ambassador, she said, setting the tone and bringing energy that attracts, retains and excites people to live, work, visit and play in Ypsilanti.

Her role as mayor would also entail building positive relationships with Ypsilanti’s neighbors, she said: “We have to put past differences behind us, and stop blaming, and find the common good.” Edmonds also talked about the importance of building a leadership “pipeline” through nominations to city boards and commissions, giving citizens an opportunity to serve and lead.

Responding to audience questions, Edmonds stressed the importance of public safety, but said the city needs to think more broadly about that issue – it’s not just about adding more police officers. Community involvement, community policing, and strong neighborhood associations are also important, addressing problems in a pro-active way. “We need to really think upstream about a lot of things, including public safety, to think about where those problems are, and how we bring the community together to solve them.”

This report includes written summaries of the Ypsilanti candidates’ responses, as well as audio clips from The Chronicle’s live broadcast of the event. The third candidate for Ypsilanti mayor, Democrat Tyrone Bridges, was not able to attend.

There are no Republicans running for mayor in Ypsilanti. The deadline for independent candidates to file petitions for the Nov. 4 election is July 17.

The June 26 forum also included the four mayoral candidates from Ann Arbor: Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Sally Petersen (Ward 2), Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3). Their remarks are covered in a separate article.

The June 26 event was held at the Ann Arbor Regent Hotel and moderated by chamber president Diane Keller, with audience questions moderated by Andy LaBarre, the chamber’s vice president of government affairs and administration. LaBarre also serves in elected office as a Washtenaw County commissioner. The event was followed by a mixer for chamber members and other candidates for local, state and federal offices. [Full Story]

Hill & Washtenaw

More romantic messages. The Rock is painted white, with lavender lettering on one side that says: “Lauren, you reflect me….” [photo] On the other side: “I love that about U.” [photo]

William & Second

About a dozen people standing at the corner, watching as Grace Shackman gestures toward Liberty Lofts. Looks like a tour in progress.

Chamber Forum: Ann Arbor Mayoral Race

On June 26, the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Regional Chamber hosted a forum for the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti mayoral candidates.

Sabra Briere, Amanda Edmonds, Debbie Dingell, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Ann Arbor mayoral candidate Sabra Briere, Ypsilanti mayoral candidate Amanda Edmonds, and Debbie Dingell, who is running for Congress in District 12, a seat currently held by her husband, John Dingell. All three candidates are Democrats and attended the June 26 A2Y Regional Chamber event at the Ann Arbor Regent Hotel on Carpenter Road.

The four Ann Arbor Democratic candidates for mayor attended: Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Sally Petersen (Ward 2), Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3). They all currently serve on the city council. Both the mayor and city councilmembers serve two-year terms.

There are three Ypsilanti mayoral candidates: Tyrone Bridges, Amanda Edmonds, and Peter Murdock. All are Democrats, but only Murdock currently serves on the city council. Bridges did not attend the June 26 event.

No Republicans are running for mayor in either city for the Aug. 5 primary. More candidates than usual have entered the race at least in part because the incumbent mayors – Democrats John Hieftje of Ann Arbor and Paul Schreiber of Ypsilanti – are not seeking re-election.

This report focuses on the Ann Arbor mayoral race. Each candidate was given five minutes to make a statement and spent another five minutes answering questions from the audience. Questions covered a variety of topics, including regionalism, public transportation, road repair, the possibility of a city income tax, downtown parks, and the regulation of drivers for hire. Taylor was asked specifically about his job as an attorney, and whether he’d continue working in that capacity as mayor. He indicated that he would.

This report includes written summaries of the Ann Arbor candidates’ responses, as well as audio clips from The Chronicle’s live broadcast of the event. (Remarks by the two Ypsilanti mayoral candidates will be reported in a separate article.) Several other forums are planned in the coming weeks, leading up to the Aug. 5 primary.

The June 26 event was held at the Ann Arbor Regent Hotel and moderated by chamber president Diane Keller, with audience questions moderated by Andy LaBarre, the chamber’s vice president of government affairs and administration – who also serves in elected office as a Washtenaw County commissioner. It was followed by a mixer for chamber members and other candidates for local, state and federal offices. [Full Story]

Planning Commission OKs Jesuit Petition

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting (June 17, 2014): On a 7-1 vote, the Ann Arbor planning commission cleared the way for a group of up to six members of the Ann Arbor Jesuit Community to live in a single-family home at 1919 Wayne St. The action came at the commission’s June 17 meeting, when commissioners reconsidered an item that they had initially rejected on June 3, 2014.

Alonzo Young, Dan Reim, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Michael Brinkman, Alonzo Young and Dan Reim, a priest who’ll serve as head of household for the Jesuits at 1919 Wayne. Brinkman and Young supported the Jesuits’ petition, and congratulated Reim after the planning commission’s vote on June 17. (Photos by the writer.)

The meeting included a public hearing that lasted about an hour, with the majority of the 23 speakers supporting the request. More than 100 people attended the meeting, many of them wearing stickers that stated “I Proudly Support The Jesuits.” The Jesuits who would be living in the house are affiliated with the St. Mary Student Parish.

Approval requires six votes, but on June 3 the request had garnered support from only five of the seven commissioners who were present. Voting against it on June 3 were Diane Giannola and Kirk Westphal. Two commissioners – Sabra Briere and Paras Parekh – had been absent. Later in that June 3 meeting, commissioners voted to reconsider the item, then postponed it until June 17, when more commissioners would be present.

Giannola again dissented on June 17 to the special exception use, but the remaining seven commissioners at the meeting – including Westphal – supported the request. Jeremy Peters was absent.

Assistant city attorney Kevin McDonald attended the June 17 meeting and fielded questions from commissioners. The motion was amended slightly, with an intent to emphasize the long-term relationship of the Jesuits to each other.

The property is located in Ward 2. Both of the Ward 2 city councilmembers – Jane Lumm and Sally Petersen– attended the June 17 the planning commission meeting, but did not formally address the commission. The planning commission’s decision is final – as the request from the Jesuits does not need city council approval. Westphal – the planning commission’s chair – is running for city council in the Ward 2 Democratic primary. Westphal and Nancy Kaplan are vying to fill the open seat that’s being left by Sally Petersen’s mayoral candidacy. Councilmember Sabra Briere, who serves on the planning commission, is also running for mayor.

After the vote, members of the audience erupted in applause. One woman approached Ben Hawley, pastor and director of campus ministry for St. Mary Student Parish, saying: “Welcome to the neighborhood!”

Commissioners also acted on another item they’d postponed from June 3: A proposal by the Ann Arbor housing commission to expand low-income housing on North Maple Road. The commission recommended rezoning a 4.8-acre site at 701 N. Maple Road from R1C (single-family dwelling district) to R4B (multi-family dwelling district). They also recommended approval of a site plan and development agreement for the project – part of a major renovation effort by the Ann Arbor housing commission. The site is on the west side of North Maple, between Dexter Avenue and Hollywood Drive.

The project calls for demolishing 20 existing single-family homes – the public housing complex known as North Maple Estates – and constructing an eight-building, 42-unit apartment complex with a total of 138 bedrooms. The units range in size from one bedroom to five bedrooms. Five people spoke during a public hearing on the item, including Gwenyth Hayes, the resident representative on the Ann Arbor housing commission. “A lot of times in Ann Arbor we talk about diversity. It’s important that we also include not just cultural diversity, but also socio-economic diversity,” Hayes said. That’s why the city needs more affordable housing, she added.

Another residential housing proposal – a $10 million, 78-unit apartments complex called State Street Village, across from the University of Michigan athletic campus – received criticism from some commissioners, but ultimately was recommended for approval. Commissioners spent about 30 minutes asking question and pressing the developer, McKinley Inc., to go beyond what the city code requires in terms of design, pedestrian amenities, a reduction of impervious surfaces, and stormwater management. “We’re putting our aspirations on you,” Bonnie Bona told them. The vote, which came near midnight, was unanimous – with only six of nine commissioners present.

Also recommended for approval was a proposal for a new drive-thru restaurant on Jackson Avenue near the I-94 interchange, next to Westgate Shopping Center. The plan calls for demolishing the existing one-story service station and auto repair shop and constructing a single building with a drive-thru restaurant and adjacent retail store. [Full Story]

Dascola Mistakenly Left Off Absentee Ballot

After winning a federal lawsuit to secure the right to be placed on the Ward 3 Ann Arbor city council Democratic primary ballot, Bob Dascola’s name was inadvertently omitted from the first wave of absentee ballots sent out to voters. The Washtenaw County clerk’s office was alerted to the problem on the morning of June 27, 2014.

Ed Golembiewski, chief deputy county clerk and elections director, spoke with The Chronicle by phone and said that corrected ballots were currently being printed and would be provided to the city clerk’s office by noon on Monday, June 30 for mailing. The exact wording of the letter to voters accompanying the corrected ballots was being worked out by the county and city clerk’s … [Full Story]

Column: The Jeopardy of Game Shows

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Last night, I tried my luck on the NPR game show, “Ask Me Another,” which will air in a few weeks. But it brought back memories – traumatic ones – of my disastrous try-out for the Jeopardy game show 24 years ago.

“I’ll take ‘Humility’ for $100.”

“He was one of 48 people to fail the Jeopardy test on Thursday, June 21, 1990.”

“Ah, ‘Who was John Bacon?’”

“That’s correct – you control the board.”

“I’ll take ‘Lame Excuses’ for $100 please, Alex.”

It seemed like a good idea at the time. There I was, lying on the couch with a cold beer and a bag of chips, earning thousands of imaginary dollars for yelling things like “Millard Fillmore,” “The St. Louis Browns” and “Mesopotamia,” when they invited anyone who would be in Los Angeles to try out for the show. Sure enough, I was leaving for LA in 10 days, so I figured, Why not?

Why not, indeed.

“Under ‘Human Folly’ for $300, we have this answer: ‘Time better spent doing something productive, such as cleaning your toilet.’”

“What is ‘Preparing for the Jeopardy Test’?” [Full Story]

Live: A2/Ypsi Chamber Mayoral Forum

Four Democratic candidates for Ann Arbor mayor – and three Ypsilanti mayoral candidates – will be answering questions at a forum today hosted by the A2Y Regional Chamber of Commerce. The event, held at the Ann Arbor Regent Hotel at 2455 Carpenter Road, begins at 4:30 p.m. The Chronicle will be providing a live audio broadcast. Update: The forum has concluded. Here’s a link to the full recording: [link]. Separate files for remarks and answers from individual candidates are included below.


A detail from cover art for the book “If Mayors Ruled the World: Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities” by Benjamin R. Barber. It was displayed on the shelves of Literati Bookstore in downtown Ann Arbor, where another mayoral candidate forum was held on June 25.

All four Ann Arbor mayoral candidates currently serve on the Ann Arbor city council: Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Sally Petersen (Ward 2), Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3).

The Ypsilanti mayoral candidates are Tyrone Bridges, Amanda Edmonds and Peter Murdock. Murdock currently serves on the Ypsilanti city council.

There are no Republicans running for mayor in either city for the Aug. 5, 2014 primary. In both cities, the incumbent mayors – John Hieftje of Ann Arbor and Paul Schreiber of Ypsilanti – are not seeking re-election.

The June 26 chamber event will include audience questions as well as an opportunity for candidates to talk about their vision for Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. After the forum, a mixer will be held for chamber members and candidates for local, state and federal offices.

The Chronicle’s live audio broadcast is planned to start around 4:20 p.m. to allow for sorting through technical issues that might arise. [Full Story]

Sky over Old West Side

Low flying plane with a banner reading “I trust you Joe (heart) snowflake” – now you know there must be a back story to this.

Live from the Taxicab Board: June 26, 2014

At its June 26, 2014 meeting, the Ann Arbor taxicab board will be considering a draft ordinance that would deregulate rates in the taxicab industry, as well as a draft ordinance  that would require all livery drivers for hire – including those who work for Uber and Lyft – to register with the city.

These issues have been discussed at the two previous monthly meetings of the taxicab board, on April 23, 2014 and May 22, 2014. The June 26 meeting has a scheduled start of 8:30 a.m. from the city council work room on the second floor of city hall. After the live broadcast, the Mixlr player below will be replaced with a link to the recorded … [Full Story]

Live from Literati: Mayoral Candidate Debate

A debate for Ann Arbor’s four Democratic Party mayoral primary candidates is being hosted tonight, June 25, at 7:30 p.m. by Literati Bookstore. [.mp3 of audio from the event]

Events chalkboard at Literati Bookstore at the corner of Washington and Fourth streets in downtown Ann Arbor.

Photoshopped “art” of the chalkboard at Literati Bookstore at the southwest corner of Washington and Fourth in downtown Ann Arbor.

Literati is located at the southwest corner of Washington and Fourth in downtown Ann Arbor.

All four mayoral candidates currently serve on the Ann Arbor city council: Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Sally Petersen (Ward 2), Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3).

It’s likely that the winner of the Democratic primary on Aug. 5 will also win the general election in November. No Republican candidate took out nominating petitions this year. One independent candidate – Bryan Kelly – has taken out petitions for mayor, but not yet submitted them to the city clerk’s office.

Ann Arbor’s mayorship is an open race with no incumbent this year, because current mayor John Hieftje announced last year that he would not be seeking re-election to an eighth term. Terms for the mayor of Ann Arbor, like those of city councilmembers, last for two years.

The Chronicle is planning to broadcast live audio from the event (see below) and – if events unfold favorably – provide live text corresponding to that audio (see further below).

The event is described by Literati co-owners Hilary and Michael Gustafson on their bookstore’s website as follows: “As a new downtown business, we here at Literati are part of a growing and changing Ann Arbor landscape. But one thing that doesn’t change is our community. We’re proud to not only serve our community as a general bookseller, but to act as a space where our community can come together.”

The event will focus on downtown issues. It will be moderated by the Gustafsons.

The Chronicle’s live audio broadcast is planned to start around 7:20 p.m. to allow for sorting through technical issues that might arise. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor LDFA Looks to Extend Its Life

Ann Arbor Local Development Finance Authority board meeting (June 17, 2014): The LDFA board’s meeting convened around 8:20 a.m. – about seven hours after the city council’s meeting adjourned the previous evening. And the council’s meeting was the topic of small talk among LDFA board members as they waited for their meeting to convene.

Carrie Leahy is chair of the LDFA board.

Carrie Leahy is chair of the LDFA board.

The council’s meeting was of more than just passing interest to the LDFA board members – because the council voted at that meeting to table a $75,000 contract for business development services with Ann Arbor SPARK, a local nonprofit economic development agency. Ann Arbor SPARK is also the LDFA’s contractor – but not for the same kind of services that SPARK delivers under its contract with the city. The council will likely take up its contract with SPARK again at a future meeting, possibly as soon as July 7.

The city’s annual contract with SPARK, which is paid for with general fund money, is meant to cover the attraction and retention of mature companies to the Ann Arbor area. In contrast, the LDFA contracts with SPARK for entrepreneurial support services – for companies that are in some phase of starting up.

On the LDFA board’s June 17 agenda was the annual contract with Ann Arbor SPARK for entrepreneurial support services – which the board voted to approve. This year that contract is worth nearly $2 million – $1,891,000 to be exact.

An unsuccessful bid by councilmembers made during the city’s FY 2015 budget deliberations would have reduced the total LDFA expenditures by $165,379. The goal of that expenditure reduction would have been to increase the fund balance that was available for infrastructure improvements in the LDFA district – specifically, for high-speed telecommunications. At the LDFA’s June 17 meeting, city CFO Tom Crawford indicated that sometime in the FY 2015 fiscal year, the city would be making a proposal to install fiber throughout Ann Arbor.

The contract between the LDFA and SPARK covers a range of items, with the top two line items consisting of staffing for the business incubator ($420,000) and provision of services to start-up companies in Phase III of their development ($550,000). SPARK classifies its engagement with companies in terms of phases: preliminary screenings (Phase I); due diligence (Phase II); intensive advising (Phase III); and accelerating opportunities (Phase IV). [.pdf of FY 2015 budget line items] [.pdf of LDFA-SPARK FY 2015 contract]

At its June 17 meeting, the LDFA board also approved a routine annual $42,600 contract with the city of Ann Arbor – for administrative support services. Those include items like the preparation of meeting minutes, stewardship of public documents, and preparation of budgetary analyses. [.pdf of FY 2015 LDFA contract with city of Ann Arbor]

The final voting item for the board was approval of its meeting schedule for the next fiscal year. The LDFA board meets in eight out of 12 months, with the next meeting taking place on July 15, 2014, starting at 8:15 a.m. in the city council chambers. [.pdf of 2014-2015 meeting schedule]

These voting items did not, however, generate the majority of the board’s discussion at its June 17 meeting.

The board focused most of its discussion on issues surrounding its application for an extension of the LDFA past its current 15-year lifespan, which ends in 2018. Legislation passed in 2012 allowed for either a 5-year or a 15-year extension – with different criteria for those time periods. The 15-year extension requires an agreement with a satellite LDFA, with two communities currently under consideration to partner with Ann Arbor’s LDFA: Brighton and Adrian. Flint had also been a possibility, but is no longer on the table.

With an extension, the LDFA would continue to capture school operating millage money, which would otherwise go to the state’s School Aid Fund. At least some of the school taxes subject to capture by LDFAs statewide are required to be reimbursed to the School Aid Fund by the state. Questions about how that applies to Ann Arbor’s LDFA have been raised – and a review of the state statute appears to support the conclusion that the key clause requiring reimbursement is inapplicable to the Ann Arbor SmartZone LDFA. That understanding was confirmed to The Chronicle by the Michigan Dept. of Treasury communications staff in a telephone interview on June 23.

The exact nature of that tax capture arrangement and possible reimbursement was also the subject of LDFA board discussion on June 17 – because the LDFA board is being pressed by city councilmembers to account for how the LDFA tax capture impacts the state’s School Aid Fund. Board member Stephen Rapundalo expressed some frustration about that – based on his perception that this material had been well explained in the past: “What’s it take – for them to understand unambiguously how that works? I mean, we have told them. Why is the onus on the LDFA to have to show them that?”

Besides the tax capture mechanism, two other issues raised by city councilmembers are factoring into the LDFA board’s approach to seeking an extension of its term. Board chair Carrie Leahy told her colleagues that she took away two main messages from recent appearances in front of the Ann Arbor city council. Some councilmembers, she said, would like to see: (1) an independent audit of job creation numbers; and (2) a provision for infrastructure investments as part of an LDFA extension.

On the infrastructure side, the LDFA board’s discussion focused on the existing TIF (tax increment finance)/development plan, which provides for investments in high-speed telecommunications (fiber) networks, but not for projects like street construction, sewer construction and streetlight installation. The question was raised as to whether the LDFA could use its school tax capture to pay for a fiber network in the whole geographic district of the LDFA – or if school taxes could only be used to fund a fiber network to an business incubator.

The Ann Arbor LDFA’s district covers the geographic areas of the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti downtown development authorities – although Ypsilanti’s DDA area does not generate any LDFA tax capture. As a consequence, money captured by the LDFA is not spent in the Ypsilanti portion of the district. But that could change under an extension of the LDFA – based on board discussion at the June 17 meeting.

On the job creation numbers audit, the June 17 board discussion indicated that the LDFA will now be looking possibly to incorporate a job numbers audit as part of an upcoming financial audit. The financial auditing firm will be asked to provide some explanation of how it might be able to incorporate a jobs audit as part of its scope of work for the upcoming financial audit. The board appears to understand that some type of jobs audit would be important for winning ultimate city council support for a 15-year extension of the LDFA.

The city council’s representative to the LDFA board, Sally Petersen, made that explicit more than once during the June 17 meeting, saying that “taking the lead on establishing an independent audit would go a long way towards getting city council support for an extension.”

The LDFA’s deliberations and other agenda items are reported in more detail below. [Full Story]

Sound Bites: Two for Ward 1, One for Mayor

A candidate forum held last week at Arrowwood Hills Cooperative Housing on the city’s north side drew both of the Ward 1 city council candidates, but just one of the candidates for mayor. The event was announced only about a day in advance.


Ward 1 city council candidates in the Aug. 5, 2014 Democratic primary: Don Adams and incumbent Sumi Kailasapathy. (Photos by the writer)

Ward 1 Democratic primary city council candidates Sumi Kailasapathy and Don Adams, along with mayoral candidate Stephen Kunselman, answered questions posed by moderator Charles Lewis, who is the program director at the Arrowwood Hills community center. Not able to attend were three other mayoral candidates: Sabra BriereSally Petersen, and Christopher Taylor.

The forum was hosted in the context of a collaboration between Arrowwood Hills and the Ann Arbor Democratic Party called “Finding Your Political Voice.”

Kunselman used the occasion to talk about growing up in the 1970s on the west side of Ann Arbor in the Maple-Miller area, and how the west side kids had a rivalry with the kids from the north side – where the forum was being hosted.

Questions posed by Lewis included some contributed by forum attendees, covering a wide range of topics: affordable housing, Ann Arbor SPARK, the balance between downtown and outer neighborhoods, the candidates’ number one priority, police staffing, and the public transit millage.

With the affordable housing question, Lewis focused on the immediate surroundings, by inviting candidates to reflect on the role of local government in supporting cooperative housing – like Arrowwood Hills, which was built in 1969. The cooperative housing complex has an income limit of no more than 95% of the median income for Washtenaw County. Other questions specific to Ward 1 included one about road work on Pontiac Trail and another about crosswalks on Plymouth Road.

Below are clips of recorded audio from The Chronicle’s live audio broadcast of the event, organized by question. [Full Story]

In it for the Money: Chosen People

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]

Our Jewish Community Center in Ann Arbor is small. This seems to throw a lot of people off. They think of Ann Arbor as a fairly Jewfull town, because the University of Michigan brings in a lot of East Coast Jews, as well as basically every Midwestern Jew who can make the cut.

David Erik Nelson Column

David Erik Nelson

This probably sounds harsh, bordering on bigoted: When some guy with a generic Englishman’s surname and a very Nordic “K” in his conspicous middle name starts sounding off about the preponderance of Jews in town . . . well, it doesn’t sound good, does it? So, to clarify for the Occasional Readers and those who have not yet grown to know and love me: I’m a Midwestern Jew, born and raised in Metro Detroit, like my father before me.

And to us Metro Detroit Jews, UM has long been the Promised Land: At last count something like 40 of my relatives have attended the university (with most ultimately earning a degree or two!) The latest of these, my nephew, will be joining the rolls this September. We are kvelling (well, maybe less so his step-dad  – who is a Spartan, but still a pretty OK guy).

But the university’s Jews don’t tend to stick around, so the actual number of Jewish families in Ann Arbor is pretty small – or, at least, small compared to where I grew up. The point being that we have a small JCC here. It’s pretty heavily used by all the congregations, of which there are three with actual buildings – if you count the Reform folk, who share a building with Episcopalians – and then a handful of gathered congregations. I’d guestimate that more than half of the JCC’s square-footage is dedicated to children: There’s a large daycare, and a K-5 Hebrew Day School, plus an after-care program and several summer camps.

Our tiny JCC has an armed guard. In my mind, this is pretty common. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a JCC without an armed guard – but it came as a surprise to my wife and in-laws, who are not Jews.

Our guard is a guy I’ll call G. He’s a high-and-tight retired Army Ranger with a drawl. All the kids love him, because he is an excellent security guard: He makes it his business to be sure that all the kids know him and like him, so that they will listen to him in an emergency. Most of the emergencies are weather-related (naturally), but during my son’s final year in preschool at the JCC three armed robberies took place within a 1-mile radius of the JCC in a two-week stretch. In all three cases the school was locked down, because three men with shotguns were running around the neighborhoods, evading cops. In such situations, I’m glad G. is handy, because he is sharp and disciplined – and I am very comfortable with him and his role and his being armed in this setting.

To the uninitiated it maybe sounds a little nuts, that my kid’s daycare – which is also the building where we make our religious practice – has an armed guard. But this is the way of the world: Now and again white men with gun-show stockpiles take it upon themselves to take a stab at Zion, and they disproportionately target JCCs when they do so. And JCCs almost invariably have daycares and schools.

But that’s not what I want to tell you about. I want to share a Terrible Revelation I had at the end of May. [Full Story]

Newport & M-14

The “horse” I fell off a couple weeks ago. [photo] Rode it to Maple Road and back. Yes, I was nervous.

Not all Newport hazards are man-made: nearly kissed a deer who stepped out from behind a bush 10 feet in front, and then retreated, all before I could react. Still, good to see signs of repairs soon to come to some of the decayed road surface.

Photos: Skatepark Grand Opening

Ann Arbor celebrated the opening of its new skatepark on Saturday, June 21.

Trevor Staples addressed the gathering at the grand opening of the new Ann Arbor skatepark.

Trevor Staples addressed the gathering at the grand opening of Ann Arbor’s new skatepark.

The facility is located on the southeast corner of Maple and Ann Arbor-Dexter roads on Ann Arbor’s west side, in Veterans Memorial Park.

Festivities surrounding the late morning ceremonial ribbon cutting were started off by remarks from Trevor Staples, president of the Friends of the Ann Arbor Skatepark.

He reminded everyone that the park where the skating facility has been constructed is not just named Ann Arbor’s Veterans Memorial Park. The entire park, he noted, was a memorial to veterans who served our country, and he asked for a moment of silence to reflect on their sacrifice.

The ribbon cutting ceremony itself featured several speakers who recited the history of the more than seven-year effort that finally resulted in the skatepark’s construction.

The day’s events included skating competitions that culminated in some demonstration skates by pro skaters – including Tony Hawk and Andy MacDonald. Although the half pipe facility is no longer there, MacDonald learned to skate at Ann Arbor’s Veterans Memorial Park, at a facility that had been constructed on the opposite side of the park.

Below are some photos of MacDonald, Hawk and other skaters who celebrated the opening. [Full Story]

Maple & Ann Arbor-Dexter

On grand-opening day at the Ann Arbor skatepark, a tyke demonstrates the fall-down-get-back-up attitude that got the facility built. [.gif animation]

Art Commission, In Transition, Takes Hiatus

Ann Arbor public art commission meeting (June 18, 2014): In what might be their last formal meeting for the foreseeable future, the city’s public art commissioners discussed their role in the context of ongoing transitions for the public art program.

Aaron Seagraves, Ann Arbor public art commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Aaron Seagraves, the city’s outgoing public art administrator.

One aspect of that transition is the departure of the part-time public art administrator, Aaron Seagraves. His current contract ends on June 30 – the final day of the current fiscal year. Seagraves has been working as the public art administrator on a contract basis since May of 2011.

In addition, one of the art commissioners – Ashlee Arder, who was appointed in March of 2013 – has resigned because of a move to Detroit. She did not attend the June 18 meeting.

Six of the nine commissioners who were present at the meeting approved a resolution about AAPAC’s near-term future. It states that the commission “will not initiate any new public arts projects, nor take any action to seek public or private funds for new projects, until it receives: direction on implementing a transition, a plan to support the Public Art Commission in the furtherance of public art, and guidelines for the funding and management of public art projects…” The resolution also states that AAPAC won’t meet until feedback is needed on the transition plan or for ongoing projects.

AAPAC chair Bob Miller, who introduced the resolution, described it as a way “to tie things up in a neat package for us, until the city has a clear direction for us to move forward.”

In other action, the commission authorized using $10,981 for a project called “PowerArt,” to be administered by the nonprofit Arts Alliance in response to a request by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. The DDA is contributing $20,000 to the first phase of the project, which involves wrapping eight traffic signal boxes in the DDA district with vinyl printed replicas of artwork. The expenditure from the city is not from Percent for Art funds, but rather from money donated to the city for public art, and held by the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation.

Discussion among commissioners focused on the fact that the Arts Alliance is proposing a roughly 40% project management fee for the first cycle – $9,100 on top of the $23,000 budget for the project expenses. The fee, as a percentage of the project’s later cycles, is expected to decrease in subsequent cycles. If the entire project is completed, an additional 34 boxes would be wrapped.

Commissioners also were updated on several ongoing projects that have been previously undertaken by AAPAC: (1) the Coleman Jewett memorial; (2) sculptures at a rain garden at Kingsley & First; (3) artwork for East Stadium bridges; and (4) Canoe Imagine Art.

Another effort that’s being developed by commissioner KT Tomey – maps for walking, cycling or running self-guided tours of public art – is also moving ahead, though it’s not an official city project. Commissioners intend to continue work on these projects to some degree, despite their decision to hold off on meetings and new initiatives. [Full Story]

First Absentee Ballots Sent for Aug. 5 Primary

The Ann Arbor city clerk’s office has announced that the first wave of absentee ballots have been sent to voters who’ve requested them for the Aug. 5, 2014 primary election.

Absentee ballots sent in first wave by ward. (Data from the city of Ann Arbor, chart by The Chronicle.)

Absentee ballots sent in first wave by ward. (Data from the city of Ann Arbor, chart by The Chronicle.)

Based on the dataset released by the city clerk’s office, the first wave included a total of 1,879 ballots. Among the city’s five wards, the largest number of ballots (599, or about 32%) was sent to Ward 2 voters. Ward 2 offers a closely-watched city council race  – for the seat that no incumbent is contesting. Sally Petersen, the current councilmember in that position, is running for mayor. Kirk Westphal and Nancy Kaplan are contesting the Democratic primary to fill that seat.

By ward, the smallest number of ballots in the first wave (160 or 8.5%) was sent to Ward 1 voters.

The total number of absentee ballots sent in the first wave two years ago (1,919), for the August 2012 primary, was roughly on par with this year.

Of the 1,879 ballots sent in this year’s first wave, 1,138 or 60% of them were also sent to voters in the August 2012 first wave.

An application to receive an absentee ballot can be downloaded from the city clerk’s website. [.pdf of absentee ballot application form] Completed applications can be mailed or hand delivered to the clerk’s office on the second floor of city hall, 301 E. Huron St., Ann Arbor, MI 48104. The applications can also be scanned and emailed to [Full Story]

First & Liberty

Near the entrance to the 415 W. Washington parking structure, a dog owner apparently has not noticed that the recent squat of his or her loving beast was productive. [photo] Nonetheless it inspires a haiku:  pile of brown nuggets  / slowly melts in warm June rain / flows to the river.