Archive for July, 2014

A2: Candidates

The Jim Toy Community Center has released the results of its first municipal candidate questionnaire for the 2014 primary elections. The center received responses from 25 candidates, answering questions that were designed to gauge and elicit commitments to LGBTQ issues and equality. Candidates’ responses were then coded and rated on a five-point scale. All but two of the candidates received 4, 4.5 or 5 points. [Source]

AADL Makes Infrastructure Investments

Ann Arbor District Library board meeting (July 21, 2014): Action at the July board meeting allocated in total nearly $570,000 toward three infrastructure projects, mostly related to the downtown library. A special meeting on July 29 added $75,000 to that amount.

Rachel Coffman, Ann Arbor District Library, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Rachel Coffman spoke during public commentary to earn points in the AADL summer game. (Photos by the writer.)

Most of the funding was for renovations of the downtown library’s front entrance. The board authorized a $425,523 construction budget for that project at 343 S. Fifth Ave., which has been in the works for several months. The budget covers new doors, a redesigned facade, and heated sidewalks, among other changes. The construction manager is O’Neal Construction of Ann Arbor.

Also related to the downtown library, trustees authorized a $93,598 contract with Schindler Elevator Corp. to repair the public elevator, which has been out of commission since this spring.

A week after the July 21 meeting, the board called a special meeting for July 29 to address additional issues related to the elevator. The four board members present at that meeting voted to authorize an additional $75,000 for elevator work.

Because of the elevator repair work, the Friends of the AADL bookshop is now located in the main first-floor lobby of the downtown building, rather than its normal location in the lower level, which is closed. It’s been in the lobby since June 30, and is open all of the hours that the building is open. Books are sold at the circulation desk.

The third infrastructure project approved on July 21 was $50,000 for carpet replacement in parts of the downtown library, as well as at the branch located at the Westgate Shopping Center.

The money for all three projects will be taken from the fund balance, which stood at $8.17 million as of June 30.

In other action on July 21, the board approved five adjustments to the 2013-14 budget, for the prior fiscal year ending June 30, 2014. The adjustments totaled $96,300.

Public commentary was dominated by fans of AADL’s summer game – in part because they could earn points by speaking to the board. Other issues raised during public commentary included concerns about communication, outreach to underserved populations, the cost of renovations to the downtown library entrance, and the “purging” of reference books.

The board’s August meeting is canceled. The next scheduled board session is on Sept. 15. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor-Saline and North Woodland

About 1/4 to 1/2 mile north of Woodland Drive a helicopter – which  could be University of Michigan Survival Flight based on the blue and yellow markings – has made a landing in a soybean field. [photo 1] [photo 2]

Poll: Clear Favorite for Ann Arbor Mayor

From July 28-29, several Ann Arbor residents reported being polled by telephone about their preferences in the upcoming Democratic mayoral primary election. The Chronicle has obtained the results of that poll of 435 likely voters by Public Policy Polling (PPP), a North Carolina polling firm.

July 28-29, 2014 Survey of 435 likely Democratic primary voters by Public Policy Polling. <strong>Top Chart among all voters:</strong> Christopher Taylor (39%); Sabra Briere (19%); Stephen Kunselman (15%); Sally Petersen (13%); Undecided (15%).  <strong>Bottom Chart (if the election were conducted among those who disapproved of current mayor John Hieftje's performance)</strong>: Christopher Taylor (19%); Sabra Briere (19%); Stephen Kunselman (32%); Sally Petersen (20%); Undecided (9%).

July 28-29, 2014 survey of 435 likely Democratic primary voters by Public Policy Polling. Top Chart among all voters: Christopher Taylor (39%); Sabra Briere (19%); Stephen Kunselman (15%); Sally Petersen (13%); Undecided (15%). Bottom Chart (if the election were conducted among those who disapproved of current mayor John Hieftje’s performance): Christopher Taylor (19%); Sabra Briere (19%); Stephen Kunselman (32%); Sally Petersen (20%); Undecided (9%).

They show Ward 3 councilmember Christopher Taylor to be a clear favorite, with about a week to go before the Aug. 5, 2014 primary. Taylor polled at 39% compared to 19% for Ward 1 councilmember Sabra Briere.

Ward 3 councilmember Stephen Kunselman and Ward 2 councilmember Sally Petersen polled a few points behind Briere at 15% and 13% respectively.

The poll indicates that 15% of voters still haven’t made up their minds. Margin of error for the poll is plus or minus 4.7%.

The relatively large four-candidate field is attributable to the fact that no incumbent is in the race.

Kunselman was the first of the four candidates to declare his candidacy – before mayor John Hieftje announced last year he would not be seeking reelection to an eighth two-year term.

The PPP poll also asked respondents if they approved of the job that Hieftje was doing as mayor.

One of the patterns revealed in the analysis of the poll responses is that Kunselman would be a 12-point favorite if the election were held just among those voters who disapproved of Hieftje’s performance. But the poll indicated that only 27% of Ann Arbor voters disapproved of Hieftje’s performance.

A polling question that asked about favorable or unfavorable opinions of candidates – independently of an inclination to vote for them – showed Kunselman polling with the highest unfavorable opinion numbers, at 36%. But the “not sure” category for that question polled fairly high across all candidates, ranging from 29% to 43%.

The poll also included two questions about future growth – one about downtown development, and the other about the need for an improved train station. The poll indicated 46% support for the downtown projects that have been approved and built in recent years and 39% opposition. The need for a new train station polled at 52%, while the alternate view – that the current station is adequate – polled at 35%.

The content of the poll – which evinces some knowledge by its creator of the Ann Arbor political landscape – was not commissioned by The Chronicle or by any of the four mayoral campaigns. Tom Jensen grew up in Ann Arbor and is now director at Public Policy Polling, a firm based in Raleigh, North Carolina. But Jensen still follows Ann Arbor politics. It was Jensen who put the poll together – out of his own interest. And it was Jensen’s voice that was used in the interactive voice response (IVR) technology deployment of the Ann Arbor mayoral poll.

The poll drew as a sample all those who’d participated in any primary election (Democratic or Republican) since 2006. Poll respondents included 32% Republican or other non-Democratic affiliation.

In a telephone interview, Jensen stressed that any poll result should be viewed with a lot of caution, especially with local elections. “I would definitely, as a pollster, encourage people to take caution in over-interpreting one poll of a low-turnout race in the middle of the summer. You’re definitely prone to more error.”

But based on the results of this poll, he said he was 99% confident that Taylor was going to be the next mayor of Ann Arbor.

Additional charts and some additional background on the polling methodology are presented below. [Full Story]

A2: Local History

A post in the Local in Ann Arbor blog reflects on the importance of historic buildings in creating a city’s sense of place. It includes a review of “Historic Ann Arbor,” a new book by local authors Susan Wineberg and Patrick McCauley: ”This book should be on the bookshelf of everyone who lives in Ann Arbor and values any sense of our history and architectural diversity. As Grace Shackman says in her introduction to the book, ‘Susan and Patrick’s love of Ann Arbor shines through every page.’” [Source]

Main & Washington

Friendly foursome from Madison, Wisc. in town for the  National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee (NJATC) of National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA). They are complimentary of Ann Arbor as a town. We received a token of their esteem – a pin for their Local 159. [photo]

AADL Board Calls Special Meeting for July 29

The Ann Arbor District Library board has called a special meeting for Tuesday, July 29 at 6:30 p.m. The agenda includes an item on the elevator replacement for the downtown library. The special meeting will be held in the fourth-floor boardroom of the downtown library, 343 S. Fifth Ave.

The board recently took action at its regular July meeting – on July 21, 2014 – related to the downtown public elevator, which has been out of commission since this spring. The board authorized a $93,598 contract with Schindler Elevator Corp. to repair the elevator. Leaks had developed in the hydraulic piston, causing it to fail a weight test.

The July 21 resolution designated $57,988 for elevator repair, plus $35,610 for “well drilling (after-drill) of … [Full Story]

Column: Get Your Sign Outta My Yard

Over the weekend, local attorney Laurie Longo brought to my attention a political sign placed on North Main by probate court candidate Julia Owdziej – who’s also the incumbent in that race.

This is the sign that was placed on North Main Street by the Julie Owdziej campaign.

This Photoshopped “art” took as its starting point a sign that was placed on North Main Street by the Julie Owdziej campaign. The alteration of the sign was undertaken so readers could be shown the physical dimension of the sign in context, without providing whatever publicity benefit that comes from having a photo of a candidate’s yard sign replicated on The Chronicle’s website. The bicycle is included for a sense of scale. The tagline is a Southern expression I grew up with that essentially means: Do not ask me what time it is, little one.

The incumbency is the result of a gubernatorial appointment made just two months ago, on June 2, 2014. And that forms a part of Longo’s objection to the sign – because it displays the text “Judge Julia Owdziej” in the context of the campaign tagline “Protecting the County’s Most Vulnerable for Over 20 Years.”

The sign seems to implicate that Owdziej has been serving as judge for two decades, not two months. Certainly if I were editing an endorsement op-ed that included a sentence like, “Judge Julia Owdziej has protected Washtenaw County’s most vulnerable for over 20 years,” I would move to strike the word “judge.”

I imagine some readers might agree with Longo’s conclusion – that because the sign is misleading (and violates Ann Arbor’s political sign ordinance), voters should consider other candidates instead. Other candidates in the race are: Jane Bassett, Tamara Garwood, Constance Jones, and Tracy Van den Bergh.

That conclusion is, I think, somewhat debatable. Some voters will likely consider that message to be, technically speaking, factually accurate – even if misleading – and within the latitude that is typically afforded political candidates who are trying to market themselves to voters.

What does not seem open to debate is Longo’s point that the billboard-sized sign was in obvious violation of the Ann Arbor ordinance on political signs – most clearly the maximum size for such signs, which is 4′ x 3′. [.pdf of Ann Arbor ordinance on political signs]

When I reached Owdziej by phone Sunday night (July 27), she indicated that the city of Ann Arbor had contacted the campaign about the sign and that the trailer to which it was affixed was to be removed on Monday. And on Monday it was removed.

That’s consistent with remarks made by all probate court candidates in response to a question posed about yard signs at a July 19 forum hosted by the Washtenaw County Democratic Party: They’ll remove signs that are in violation, if the violations are pointed out to them.

So in this final week leading up the election, I would first like to encourage all candidates – not just those in judicial races – to make sure they adhere to local laws on political signs. If you don’t know that you’re not supposed to have any signs in the public right-of-way or within 5 feet of a sidewalk (with some exceptions), then please read up on the details.

For readers, there are at least two options for addressing political signs that you think aren’t in conformance with Ann Arbor’s ordinance. Contact the candidate and tell them where the offending sign is, and ask them to remove it – or to explain why they think the sign is actually in compliance. A second option is to contact community standards by phone at 734.794.6942, or by email at ​

Below are the responses that probate court candidates gave on July 19 to the question about campaign yard signs – as well as some thoughts of my own about yard signs, with a look back to a 2006 interview with Washtenaw County clerk Larry Kestenbaum. [Full Story]

Judge to Ann Arbor: You’re NOT in Contempt

Federal judge Lawrence Zatkoff has concluded that the city of Ann Arbor is not in contempt of court for mailing out nearly 400 absentee ballots that omitted the name of one of the candidates in the Ward 3 Democratic primary. The order was issued on July 28, 2014. [.pdf of July 28, 2104 order]

The ruling came after the city of Ann Arbor  responded to a show cause order from Zatkoff by giving arguments that the city should not be found in contempt of court – for sending out 392 absentee ballots for the Aug. 5, 2014 primary election that did not contain Bob Dascola’s name. The court had earlier ruled that the city charter eligibility requirements for elected officers could … [Full Story]

2014 Pre-Primary Finance: Donor Analysis

A dataset analysis of pre-primary contributions to 11 different local campaigns for Ann Arbor elected office confirms some clear patterns among the donors. The primary election will be held Aug. 5, 2014.

Excerpt from summary report of a dataset of campaign contributions made to Ann Arbor local campaigns during the pre-primary reporting period for the Aug. 5, 2014 primary election.

Excerpt from summary report of a dataset of campaign contributions made to Ann Arbor local campaigns during the pre-primary reporting period for the Aug. 5, 2014 primary election.

The dataset was compiled by The Chronicle after the Friday, July 25 deadline for filing campaign finance reports. It includes contributions to the 2014 mayoral Democratic primary campaigns for the four candidates – Sabra Briere, Sally Petersen, Christopher Taylor and Stephen Kunselman – as well as contributions to Democratic city council primary campaigns of seven candidates in three wards: Don Adams and Sumi Kailasapathy in Ward 1; Nancy Kaplan and Kirk Westphal in Ward 2; and Julie Grand, Bob Dascola and Samuel McMullen in Ward 3.

Contributors to those 11 campaigns appear to perceive city council candidates Don Adams, Kirk Westphal and Julie Grand as aligned with mayoral candidate Christopher Taylor – as well as with each other. And judged by their donations, contributors appear to perceive city council candidates Sumi Kailasapathy, Nancy Kaplan and Bob Dascola as politically similar to each other – and to some extent politically similar to mayoral candidates Sabra Briere and Stephen Kunselman.

Those conclusions are based on the 1,278 individual contributions totaled across all the campaigns (517 for city council races and 761 for the mayoral race). The Chronicle counted at least 312 contributions that were made by people who gave to more than one of the campaigns. Those 312 contributions came from 99 different people. Not typical of the contributions were those of 22nd circuit court candidate Veronique Liem, who gave money to seven of the 11 campaigns, including all four mayoral candidates.

The Chronicle also tagged donors in the dataset as current or past members of public bodies – like the city council, the city planning commission and the Ann Arbor District Library board. That exercise revealed that every current member of the library board made at least one contribution to mayoral or council campaigns. Taylor received contributions from five of seven library board members and Briere from one. Westphal received contributions from three library board members.

Stephen Kunselman has campaigned in part based on his endorsements from four current city councilmembers – all of whom contributed money to his campaign. Ward 2 council candidate Nancy Kaplan received contributions from the same four, plus a former councilmember.

When former councilmembers are included in the count, Taylor received contributions from a total of seven. Briere received contributions from four former councilmembers. Among council candidates, Westphal received the most contributions from current and former councilmembers – a total of seven.

The Chronicle initially compiled the set of data – for three city council races and the mayor’s race – in order to generate analyses of geographic trends and distribution of amounts that have been contributed to each campaign. Those analyses are presented in previous coverage: “Council Election Finance 2014: Charts, Maps” and “Mayoral Election Finance 2014: Charts, Maps.”

The dataset should be viewed with the caveat that data entry was done manually from scanned documents generated by the campaigns, so they include a range of spelling variants and other minor inconsistencies. In addition, The Chronicle’s institutional knowledge about donors’ background, even when combined with online research, is imperfect. Some donors in various categories might have been missed.

Below we present some of the patterns of contributions made by donors to the campaigns.  [Full Story]

Local Candidates Sketch Views on the Arts

Editor’s note: The candidate forum was moderated by the writer, Chronicle publisher Mary Morgan.

Twenty candidates for political office attended a forum hosted by the Arts Alliance on July 23, held at the Michigan Theater in downtown Ann Arbor and focused on the creative sector.

Arts Alliance executive director Deb Polich

Arts Alliance executive director Deb Polich. (Photos by Dave Askins.)

The event included presentations by each candidate as well as opportunities for questions from the audience, and drew out policy positions related to the arts.

County-level candidates shared their thoughts on the possibility of a countywide arts millage.

And mayoral candidate Sally Petersen took the occasion to float the idea of an Ann Arbor city income tax as an approach that would generate more revenue, at the same time shifting some of the burden of local government funding to those who work in Ann Arbor but do not live here.

Bryan Kelly, independent candidate for mayor of Ann Arbor in the Nov. 4 general election, made his first public appearance since qualifying for the ballot. “I can say firsthand that being an artist is the toughest damn job in the world. I’d rather run for mayor than keep writing novels,” he quipped.

Ypsilanti mayoral candidate Tyrone Bridges shared an example of his daughter’s artwork with forum attendees.

Favorite public art named by the candidates included the mosaic adorning the Fourth and Washington parking structure, as well as the half-mile of daffodils planted in The Arb.

And Ann Arbor Ward 5 incumbent Chuck Warpehoski delivered his opening statement in the form of a rap.

In her remarks at the end of the forum, Arts Alliance executive director Deb Polich urged candidates and elected officials to tap into the experts who know the creative sector. She encouraged candidates to touch base with ArtServe Michigan and the Arts Alliance to get accurate information. Ann Arbor is losing ground to other communities like Grand Rapids and Detroit, she said, and that’s why public funding and investment in the arts is important. “Private funding is absolutely here in this county, but it’s not enough – there’s not enough.”

It’s not just about funding, however. Polich stressed the importance of public policy to make the city a fertile ground for the creative sector.

Polich reported that the Arts Alliance will be holding a statewide conference called Creative Convergence on March 19, 2015. Thought leaders from across the country, state and Washtenaw County will be coming to speak about these issues, she said.

This report focuses on state and local candidates, including the Ann Arbor mayoral and city council races, Washtenaw County commissioners, and state legislators. It also includes responses to a candidate survey distributed by the Arts Alliance prior to the forum. Not included here are statements by the two Congressional candidates who attended the forum: Democrat Debbie Dingell, who’s running in the primary against Raymond Mullins of Ypsilanti for the District 12 seat in the U.S. House of Representatives; and Republican Douglas Radcliffe North, who’s running against incumbent Republican Tim Walberg for the District 7 seat in the U.S. House.

The outcomes of many of the local races will be determined in the Aug. 5, 2014 Democratic primary elections, if no Republicans or independent candidates are running. More information about candidates can be found on the Washtenaw County elections division website. Check the Michigan Votes website to find out your polling location and view a sample ballot. [Full Story]

Depot Street

A deer popped out for a visit on Depot Street! Luckily, he quickly turned away and ran back towards Argo Pond area.

Council Election Finance 2014: Charts, Maps

According to reports filed with the Washtenaw County clerk’s office, seven Ann Arbor city council candidates in three contested Democratic primary races on Aug. 5, 2014 have raised a total of $57,877 in itemized cash contributions.

Contributions made to candidates in Ward 1, Ward 2 and Ward 3 council races are plotted based on the address of the contributor.

Contributions made to candidates in Ward 1, Ward 2 and Ward 3 council races are plotted based on the address of the contributor. (Image links to sets of dynamic maps by broken down by candidate.)

That’s about $100,000 less than the amount raised by four candidates in the mayoral primary. The filing deadline for pre-primary reports was July 25.

In Ward 4, incumbent Democrat Margie Teall is not seeking re-election and only one candidate is running – Graydon Krapohl. So he did not need to file campaign finance reports. In Ward 5, Leon Bryson announced several weeks ago that he was withdrawing from his challenge of first-term incumbent Chuck Warpehoski. Even though both Ward 5 candidates filed campaign finance reports, this article does not analyze them.

Accounting for more than half of the total amount raised in the other three wards were the two candidates in Ward 2: Kirk Westphal and Nancy Kaplan. Kaplan’s $16,314 was easily more than any other candidate. By way of comparison to recent Ward 2 races, for the pre-primary campaign period in 2011 and 2013 Jane Lumm raised about $19,000 and $20,000 in those respective years. Westphal raised $12,420 this year, which is about $2,000 more than he raised during the comparable period in his unsuccessful 2013 campaign against Lumm. Westphal and Kaplan are competing for the Ward 2 seat currently held by Sally Petersen. She decided to run for mayor instead of seeking re-election to the Ward 2 seat.

This year’s Ward 3 contest features Julie GrandBob Dascola and Samuel McMullen, who are all competing for the seat that Christopher Taylor is leaving in order to run for mayor. Among the three, Dascola raised the most money with $7,385 in contributions compared to $6,595 for Grand and $5,248 for McMullen. (McMullen’s campaign reported a total of $5,315 in itemized contributions, but The Chronicle’s calculation was for $67 less than that, based on the documents.) Grand’s total this year is significantly less than the $10,825 she raised in the comparable period in 2013 for her unsuccessful campaign against Stephen Kunselman.

The Ward 1 race features one-term incumbent Sumi Kailasapathy and Don Adams. Kailasapathy raised $5,345 compared to $4,570 for Adams. Kailasapathy’s amount this year is about $1,000 more than what she raised during the pre-primary period for the 2012 primary, which she won against Eric Sturgis.

While the raw totals provide some insight into how the campaigns are being financed, there’s more to it than that.

Here’s a read-only link to the Google spreadsheet used by The Chronicle to generate charts and maps: [2014 Council Campaign Finance: Ann Arbor] For readers who’d like full-sized versions of the maps embedded below, here’s a link to the Google Fusion tables: [2014 Council Campaign Finance Maps]

Below we present charts and maps to illustrate the distribution of donations by amount and geography. [Full Story]

Liberty at the RR Tracks

Around 6:30 this morning, along with the usual tank-cars and ordinary-looking freight cars, there were number of flat train cars heading south with military equipment including numerous tanks with turrets and various related vehicles, something we have never noticed on this railway line before.

Mayoral Election Finance 2014: Charts, Maps

According to reports filed with the Washtenaw County clerk’s office, the four Ann Arbor mayoral candidates in the Aug. 5, 2014 Democratic primary have raised a total of $153,847 in itemized cash contributions. The filing deadline for pre-primary reports was July 25.

Based on Ann Arbor’s population of about 114,000, that works out to about $1.35 per resident.

Plots of campaign contributions for four candidates in the Ann Arbor mayoral primary.

Plots of campaign contributions for four candidates in the Ann Arbor mayoral primary.

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).

Raising by far the most of any candidate was Christopher Taylor with $75,198. (The campaign reported a total of $75,698 in its filings, but that amount was $500 more than the contributions calculated by The Chronicle, based on the campaign finance itemized list.) [link to WC clerk filing by Christopher Taylor] Taylor’s total came from 365 contributions, with an average contribution of $206.

Next was Sally Petersen with $44,495 from 133 contributions for an average contribution of $334 per donation. Petersen’s total was boosted with a $10,000 contribution of her own and $15,000 from her husband. The $2,000 limit does not apply to candidates themselves or members of their immediate family. [link to WC clerk filing by Sally Petersen] That total does not include a $5,000 late contribution filed by Petersen, bringing the total she and her husband contributed to $30,000.

Raising $26,680 was Sabra Briere. That total came from 204 contributions, for an average contribution of $130. [link to WC clerk filing by Sabra Briere]

Raising $7,474 from 59 contributions for an average donation of $126 was Stephen Kunselman. He had been the first to announce his candidacy for mayor – before current mayor John Hieftje decided that he would not be seeking an eighth two-year term. [link to WC clerk filing by Stephen Kunselman]

By way of comparison, when Jane Lumm raised roughly $18,000 for her pre-general election race for Ward 2 council in 2011 and then raised $20,000 for the same period in 2013, those totals were considered remarkable.

Here’s a read-only link to the shared Google Spreadsheet used by The Chronicle to generate charts and maps: [2014 Mayoral Campaign Finance: Ann Arbor]

Below we present charts and maps to illustrate the distribution of donations by amount and geography. [Full Story]

How Much They Raised: Ann Arbor Races

Candidates in the Aug. 5, 2014 primaries had until Friday, July 25 to file pre-primary finance reports for the reporting period that ended July 20.

Based on filings made so far, here’s a breakdown of how much cash (as opposed to in-kind contributions) was raised in the city council and mayor’s races in Ann Arbor. Links go to the detailed filings available from the city clerk’s office.

[Not all candidates had filed by Friday morning, but they'll have until 5 p.m. to get their paperwork in. Links and dollar amounts will be updated as that information becomes available.]

Column: Dave Brandon’s Fireworks

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

The University of Michigan’s athletic director sent a proposal to the university’s board of regents, requesting permission to set off fireworks during two football games this fall.

At first blush, the question of post-game fireworks didn’t seem like a very big deal either way. On Michigan fan blogs, reactions were mixed. As for the university’s regents, they have bigger things to worry about than fireworks. Even the athletic department’s budget – which has grown by 50%, currently pushing $150 million – might seem like a lot to us, but that’s a rounding error at the university’s hospital.

So when the regents voted down the proposal for fireworks for two games this season, it got people’s attention.

The regents rarely split their votes, or deny the athletic director’s wishes. But when the regents looked into the fireworks proposal, they were surprised to find the department wanted to set off fireworks not just after both games, but during the second game, after touchdowns – replacing the century-old tradition of celebrating success with the marching band blasting “The Victors.”

Once bloggers saw that, they exploded like – well, fireworks. They didn’t like the idea any more than the regents did.   [Full Story]

AAATA OKs More North-South Rail Study

Additional study of north-south commuter rail has been approved by the board of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority. The contact for work to be done by SmithGroupJJR for up to $800,000 worth of planning work was approved by the AAATA board in action taken at its July 24, 2014 board meeting. [.pdf memo for July 24, 2014 WALLY resolution]

Planning and work for north-south commuter rail between Ann Arbor and Howell in Livingston County has been going on for several years in a project that has been called WALLY (Washtenaw and Livingston Railway). The AAATA appears to be transitioning to a project label that incorporates “N-S Rail” as part of the description.

About two years ago, at its  Aug. 16, … [Full Story]

AAATA OKs Environmental Work

GZA GeoEnvironmental has been awarded a $234,360 contract for environmental remediation work at the 2700 S. Industrial Highway headquarters of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority.

The need for the work dates back four years to 2010, when an in-ground gasoline leak was discovered during an upgrade to the fuel tank monitoring system.

The AAATA board approved the contract with GZA at its July 24, 2014 board meeting.

The $25,000 insurance deductible through Chartis, the AAATA’s insurance company, has already been paid through previous work associated with this contamination. The current work – up to the $234,360 amount of the contract – will be reimbursed by Chartis for the total project price.

The work includes the following:

  • Installation of new monitoring wells.
  • Perform baseline groundwater … [Full Story]
  • AAATA Adjusts FY 2014 Budget

    The budget for the 2014 fiscal year has been amended for the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority – to increase total expenses by $41,597 – from $34,073,795 to $34,115,392. Revenues have been adjusted to incorporate proceeds from the new millage, approved by voters on May 6, 2014. Of that additional $4,543,695 in local millage revenues, $3,850,000 is being put toward next year’s FY 2015 budget.

    The AAATA fiscal year runs from Oct. 1 through Sept 30. It’s not uncommon for public bodies to make adjustments to the budget toward the end of the fiscal year. Board action came at its July 24, 2014 meeting.

    The AAATA’s amended budget reflects a number of changes related to the new millage and the service expansion that … [Full Story]

    AAATA Mission Statement Tweaked

    The mission statement of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority has been updated to reflect the new name of the organization and a few other tweaks. The modified mission statement, adopted by the AAATA board at its July 24, 2014 meeting, reads as follows [added words in bold, deleted words in strike-through]
    It is the Mission of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority to provide accessible useful, reliable, safe, environmentally responsible, and cost-effective public transportation options for the benefit of the Greater Ann Arbor Area Community.
    The mission statement had been last affirmed over five years ago at the AAATA’s Feb. 18, 2009 board meeting.

    The changes had been discussed at the board’s June 10 retreat. The word “useful” was critiqued … [Full Story]

    AAATA Adopts Plan for 20 New Buses

    A plan to acquire new buses needed by the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority to implement expanded services has been approved by the AAATA board. The services will be funded by the new millage that voters approved earlier this year on May 6, 2014. The expanded services are scheduled to begin on Aug 24.

    The AAATA board approved the modification to its capital and categorical grant program to add, over the next three years, a total of 20 new buses to its existing fleet of 80 buses. Total cost for the vehicles is $9 million. Action was taken at the board’s July 24, 2014 meeting.

    The initial service expansion will not require many additional buses – as expanded services focus on extended hours … [Full Story]

    Live from the Taxicab Board: July 24, 2014

    At its July 24 meeting, the Ann Arbor taxicab board is scheduled to consider 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 three previous monthly meetings of the taxicab board, on April 23, 2014May 22, 2014 and June 26, 2014. The July 24 meeting has a scheduled start of 8:30 a.m. from the sixth floor conference room of city hall. After the live broadcast, the Mixlr player below will be replaced with a link to the recorded .mp3 audio file…. [Full Story]

    County Concerned by Rise in Juvenile Crime

    Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (July 9, 2014): An increase in violent crime committed by teens in Washtenaw County has spurred the need for additional funding from the county’s Child Care Fund. County commissioners have authorized using $642,707 from the Child Care Fund balance to pay for a range of services overseen by the county’s dept. of human services.

    Wes Vivian, Yousef Rabhi, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

    From left: former Congressman Wes Vivian talks with Washtenaw County board chair Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) before the board’s July 9 meeting. Vivian is advocating for the board to put a proposal on the Nov. 4, 2014 ballot regarding the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling. (Photos by the writer.)

    Linda Edwards-Brown, the county’s juvenile division administrator, told commissioners that there’s been an increase in young men “terrorizing” their communities. The sheriff’s office and court had started working together several months ago after they began observing an increase in gang-type activity, she said, including home invasions, firearm larceny, and assaulting police officers. They’d been hopeful that they could stem the tide of violence, she added, but it had escalated with a death in Ypsilanti earlier this summer.

    So the sheriff’s office and court officials have reached consensus to remove some of these young men from the community and put them into residential facilities in other parts of the state, Edwards-Brown said. The juvenile division of the Washtenaw County trial court will place at least six youths in residential facilities this month, in addition to six youths who are currently in residential placements. According to a staff memo, residential placements are costly, with a typical length of stay at nine to twelve months.

    At the July 9 meeting, commissioners and staff expressed the need to continue working on this issue as a community-wide effort.

    In other action, commissioners were asked to pass a resolution making mid-year budget adjustments and allocating this year’s higher-than-expected property tax revenues, as well as putting the $3.9 million surplus from 2013 into unearmarked reserves.

    The adjustments passed on a 6-2 vote, with Dan Smith (R-District 2) and Conan Smith (D-District 9) dissenting. Andy LaBarre (D-District 7) was absent. Dan Smith objected to spending more than was budgeted and making budget changes outside of the annual budget affirmation process, which takes place later this year. Conan Smith didn’t state his reason for voting against it on July 9, though in the past he has advocated for spending more of the surplus, rather than setting it aside in the fund balance.

    Commissioners also authorized putting a proposal on the Nov. 4, 2014 ballot to renew a 10-year, 0.2353-mill countywide parks and recreation operations tax. They held public hearings related to other millages that the county plans to levy later this year: (1) for support of indigent veterans and their families; and (2) to fund economic development and agricultural activities, under Act 88. The hearings drew one speaker – Thomas Partridge.

    Related to the health department, the board created a new board of health to help oversee public health services in the county. A state official was on hand to talk about the accreditation process that the Washtenaw County public health department completed earlier this year.

    Commissioners voted to accept the recommendations of a task force that’s been working on a funding strategy to help end homelessness, and to sunset that task force. The board also made appointments to a new committee that’s charged with exploring funding options for road repair.

    Several issues were raised during public commentary. Former Congressman Wes Vivian urged the county board to place a proposal on the Nov. 4, 2014 ballot enabling Washtenaw County voters to ask the state to support a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United decision. That U.S. Supreme Court ruling has resulted in corporations “sloshing big money into our elections at all levels,” Vivian said.

    Also during the meeting, commissioners honored Arthur Williams, who is retiring as principal of Huron High School in Ann Arbor after 19 years in that job. The board also passed proclamations welcoming the United Association (UA) of plumbers and pipefitters and the Ironworkers International. Both unions hold training programs in Washtenaw County each summer.

    At the beginning of the meeting, Rabhi asked for a moment of silence in memory of Rowan David LaBarre, the newborn son of commissioner Andy LaBarre and his wife Megan LaBarre. Rowan David had passed away earlier in the week. “We all pray and hold Rowan in the light of our prayers and thoughts,” Rabhi said. [Full Story]