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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]

DDA Takes on Transit, Energy

Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting (May 7, 2014): The board’s meeting highlighted two main themes – transportation and energy – the day after a new public transportation millage was approved by voters in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township.

Fourth & William parking structure viewed from the Fourth Avenue side, where Greyhound buses will likely be staging, when a lease of space in the structure is finalized. Currently that's where AAATA buses stage, but they'll be moving when the driveway is poured for the new Blake Transit Center in the next few weeks.

Fourth & William parking structure viewed from the Fourth Avenue side, where Greyhound buses will likely be staging, when a lease of space in the structure is finalized. Currently that’s where AAATA buses stage, but they’ll be moving when the driveway is poured for the new Blake Transit Center in the next few weeks.

Though the board did not take action on adding circulator bus service to the downtown, the idea was brought up and referred to the operations committee. That was not unexpected, as the board had previously passed a resolution pledging possibly to increase the DDA’s support of transportation, if the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority’s new millage were to be approved. One specific idea mentioned at the May 7 meeting was to provide a shuttle on Saturdays between the Ann Ashley parking structure and the Ann Arbor farmers market.

The board did take action on two other transportation-related items: a lease to Greyhound for use of office space to be built out in the Fourth & William parking structure; and the setting of a $5 million project budget for  renovations at that same parking structure.

The Greyhound lease would provide a temporary location for Greyhound over the next two years as the bus company will not be able to remain in its Huron Street location – because the property owner, First Martin Corp., is planning a hotel at that spot. After assessment of operations at AAATA’s new Blake Transit Center (BTC), when construction is complete, Greyhound could eventually find a home at the BTC – if it turns out to be feasible.

Establishing a $5 million project budget for the Fourth & William parking structure renovations will allow the creation of construction drawings, and after that a request from the city council to approve the issuance of bonds to cover the cost of the project. The renovations are prompted by a need to replace the aging elevator in the southwest corner of the building, but will likely include improvements to facades and possibly a build-out of ground-floor area for use as retail space.

The Fourth & William parking structure was also part of the meeting’s energy theme. It already includes two parking spaces that are equipped with chargers for electric cars. During public commentary, the board heard from a monthly permit holder at Fourth & William, who wanted to transfer her monthly parking permit to the Library Lane structure. The two spaces at Fourth & William are often occupied, she reported, and she thinks she might have better luck at Library Lane, which offers six electric vehicle chargers.

In another energy-related action, the board delayed a decision on paying roughly $100,000 for the conversion of DTE-owned streetlights in the downtown area to LED technology. In delaying, board members cited the fact that the roughly $20,000 in energy savings would not be realized by the DDA, but rather by the city of Ann Arbor’s general fund. The resolution could be approved at the board’s June meeting and still meet a DTE deadline.

Among other information reported at the meeting, the DDA has decided that it will not lease the former Y lot back from Dennis Dahlmann so that it can continue to be used as part of the public parking system until Dahlmann develops the property. Under the terms of the purchase agreement between the city of Ann Arbor and Dahlmann a certificate of occupancy for a new building on that site is required by January 2018.

In other business, the board voted to deny an appeal made under Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act. [Full Story]

Millage at the Village: Ward 2 Transit Talk

Voters in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township will decide on May 6, 2014 whether they want to pay an additional 0.7 mill tax for five years – to fund increased public transportation service.

Exactly one week before the vote, Ward 2 Ann Arbor city councilmembers Jane Lumm and Sally Petersen hosted a resident meeting on the topic.

Route map is the current route configuration of AAATA fixed route buses from the AAATA route map. Label and icon for Earhart Village added by The Chronicle.

This AAATA route map shows the current configuration of fixed-route buses. Label and icon for Earhart Village added by The Chronicle.

Invited were all residents of Ward 2, city residents at large, as well as representatives of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority. The AAATA board voted in February to place the millage on the May 6 ballot.

About 50 people attended. Among others, the meeting drew Ward 2 city council candidate Nancy Kaplan, former Ward 1 council candidate Jeff Hayner, former mayor Ingrid Sheldon, Ward 3 council candidate Julie Grand, and state rep Jeff Irwin (D-53).

This is a report of that meeting.

Lumm and Petersen had previously co-hosted a half dozen similar meetings for their constituents on a variety of topics. The April 29 event had a potentially broader impact: At a candidate forum held on April 16, 2014, mayoral hopeful Petersen had stated that she was planning to wait until after the April 29 ward meeting to decide on a possible endorsement of the millage.

At that time, Petersen was still a little bit on the fence – but leaning toward supporting it. By then, the three other candidates in the Democratic mayoral primary – Sabra Briere, Christopher Taylor and Stephen Kunselman – had already indicated support for the additional tax.

The April 29 evening meeting was held at Earhart Village – a 174-unit condominium community just off the north-south Earhart Road, between Plymouth and Geddes. The Route #2 bus line runs from downtown to the northeast up Plymouth – with a relatively infrequent variant, Route #2C, that offers service down from Plymouth to the Earhart Village area. Accessing Route #3 to the south, on Geddes, would mean about a 1-mile walk up Earhart for an Earhart Village resident.

Frequency of service to the Earhart Village area was among the complaints of some attendees. Many in the room were negatively inclined toward the millage, as one woman announced she’d already voted no, using an absentee ballot. But there were some voices in the room that backed the proposal. Responding to criticism that the AAATA was not a “lean-and-mean” organization, a teacher in the audience made a comparison to cuts by the school district: “Lean-and-mean is not serving our students.”

AAATA staff Chris White, Michael Benham, and Mary Stasiak gave a presentation to the group before fielding questions. Lumm and Petersen structured the interaction by reading questions that attendees had written on index cards, but people were also free to ask direct questions. Some questions were pointedly critical in tone: “Does the millage money cover the additional wear and tear on the roads due to the additional buses?” And some were softballs: “Do Ward 2 constituents understand the benefit of bus expansion for low-income people and people with disabilities?”

At the conclusion of the meeting, Petersen quipped: “We had loaded questions, we had loaded answers. Hopefully one way or another we’ll have loaded buses sometime soon!” And Petersen announced her support for the millage two days later at a May 1 morning meeting of the Main Street Area Association.

However loaded the questions might have been, they elicited some useful information about how public transportation works. This report is organized along three broad themes reflected in the questions and comments from residents: overall efficiency of the AAATA as an organization; the nature of transportation funding; and some basics of public transportation service. The report is supplemented with charts generated from a national transit database. [Full Story]

Column: Taking a Long Look at Redistricting

The new Ann Arbor Public Schools superintendent, Jeanice Swift, is on her “listening tour,” visiting each and every one of Ann Arbor’s schools. If you haven’t gone to one of those sessions yet, I encourage you to go. Here’s the schedule.

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

Ruth Kraut

One thing that has come up in discussions at some schools is the possibility of school closings. This is a natural outgrowth of the fact that in the AAPS district, the prospect of school closings was raised explicitly by the school board in the spring, and by the fact that the Ann Arbor schools have been under financial pressure for several years. (As has every school district in Michigan. You can visit Michigan Parents for Schools to find out more about why that is.)

In fact, in the spring of 2013 the district issued requests for proposals for consultants to help on redistricting. Eventually, they began discussions with the University of Michigan to help the district decide what schools, if any, should be closed. Since nothing has been fully negotiated, I can’t say whether the University of Michigan’s proposal is a good plan or not. They may have a role to play. But I can say this: parents and community members have “skin in the game” when it comes to discussing redistricting schools, and I believe there is an effective way to make these decisions.

As it happens, shortly before I moved to town in 1985, Ann Arbor went through a redistricting process. It was thoughtful, involved a broad sector of the community, and resulted in significant realignments and school closings – with long-lasting benefits. It’s worth taking a look at what happened then. If redistricting is in Ann Arbor’s future, this process may be worth copying and updating. [Full Story]

Planning Commission OKs Non-Motorized Plan

Ann Arbor planning commission meeting and work session (Sept. 10, 2013): Planning commissioners acted on a change to the city’s master plan, by approving an update to the non-motorized transportation plan.

Ken Clein, Ann Arbor planning commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Architect and Ann Arbor planning commissioner Ken Clein shows evidence of his non-motorized transportation – his bicycle helmet. In the background is commissioner Diane Giannola. (Photos by the writer.)

Items in the city’s master plan must receive approval from both the planning commission and the council, so councilmembers will be asked to vote on the update as well. [.pdf of draft 2013 non-motorized transportation plan update]

The 79-page document includes sections on planning and policy, as well as recommendations for short-term and long-term projects, such as bike boulevards, crosswalks, sidewalks and larger efforts like the Allen Creek greenway and Border-to-Border Trail. An additional document – over 100 pages – outlines the update’s public participation process, including emails and comments received during public meetings.

Eli Cooper, the city’s transportation program manager, briefed commissioners on this update, and much of their discussion centered on how to prioritize and implement the items in the plan – especially the funding for sidewalk “gaps.”

Cooper pointed out that implementation relies on including these projects in the city’s capital improvement plan (CIP), which the planning commission reviews and recommends for approval each year. City planning manager Wendy Rampson suggested that the commission could reconvene its CIP committee to talk about these issues.

In its other item of business, commissioners unanimously recommended approval of a proposed expansion to the U-Haul business at 3655 S. State St., south of the I-94 interchange. It will be forwarded to the city council for consideration.

The relatively short meeting – lasting about 90 minutes – was followed by a working session focused on Michigan’s “Redevelopment Ready Communities” program, in which the city of Ann Arbor is participating. [.pdf of program overview]

Rampson described the program as a tool to help communities put in place elements that would allow redevelopment to happen. Those things include master plans that are clear about what community expectations are for new developments, and zoning needs to reflect those expectations in a very specific way. It means that when developers look at a specific property, they’ll be able to know exactly what they can do.

If the city completes the state’s evaluation successfully, Rampson said, then it would be certified as a “Redevelopment Ready” community. This is a relatively new program, but the state has indicated that communities with this certification could receive priority points on grants from the Michigan Economic Development Corp. and the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA).

Before the staff can proceed, Rampson explained, the city council must pass a resolution stating that the city can participate. On Oct. 14, the issue will be on the agenda for a joint city council and planning commission working session, although the main topics will be the current downtown zoning review and R4C/R2A zoning revisions.

Commissioners discussed how this program might be received by the community, with Sabra Briere – who also serves on the city council – pointing out that for some people “redevelopment ready” sounds like “tear down all the old stuff.” She noted that development is a very sensitive topic right now.

The issue of development also arose during a brief update from Rampson about the ongoing downtown zoning review. The consultants who are leading this effort – Erin Perdu and Megan Masson-Minock – have put together a workbook that they’ve been presenting at public forums. [.pdf of workbook] The same information is part of an online survey that’s underway through Sept. 17. A final public forum to review all of the feedback gathered so far will be held on Thursday, Sept. 19 starting at 7 p.m. at Workantile, 118 S. Main in downtown Ann Arbor.

The goal is to review the consultants’ recommendations at an Oct. 8 planning commission working session, and then take action on those recommendations at the commission’s Oct. 15 regular meeting. At that point, the recommendations will be transmitted to the council, Rampson said. [Full Story]

Late-Night Bitter Politics Set Stage for May 6

The Ann Arbor city council meeting that started on Monday evening, April 15, 2013 did not end until after 3 a.m. the following day. This was due in part to a stream of about 100 citizens who took the podium for general public commentary and two significant public hearings. The three-minute allocation of time per speaker translated into about five hours of public speaking time.

Mayor John Hieftje

Mayor John Hieftje at the April 15 Ann Arbor city council meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

Conversation amongst audience members at the meeting – as well as subsequently in the community – described the effort as a “citizens filibuster.” The result of all the commentary: Two significant items on the agenda were postponed until the council’s May 6 meeting.

One of those items was the site plan approval for 413 E. Huron. Postponement of a decision on that project was lumped in with the general motion to postpone all remaining action items on the agenda until May 6. It was not necessarily expected that the council would postpone the 413 E. Huron site plan that evening, even if it was hoped by opponents that councilmembers would put off the decision – for a third time.

But there was a reasonable expectation that another significant item would be postponed – the council’s final action on a proposed revision to the city ordinance governing the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. It was during the often acrimonious debate on that decision that the council ultimately opted to postpone all of its remaining action items until May 6.

The acrimony stemmed in part from the fact that the stated intention of Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) at the start of the meeting was to postpone a final decision – and that was the expected outcome. The fact that this expected outcome was called into question heightened the tension in an already emotional debate. The tension was heightened by the fact that deviation from the anticipated postponement was made possible mainly by the absence of two councilmembers – Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) and Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1).

By the time the council reached the DDA ordinance on its agenda, the hour was approaching 2 a.m. And by then Higgins and Kailasapathy had needed to leave the council meeting. Both of them had supported the ordinance changes in the 7-3 vote taken at the council’s April 1, 2013 meeting. But for the final reading on April 15, neither of them were at the table when the debate on the DDA ordinance began.

Kailasapathy described herself to The Chronicle as on the verge of physical exhaustion when she left – having had little sleep over the several days leading up to the meeting. She earns her livelihood as a certified public accountant, and tax season is a time of peak workload.

So apparently recognizing that the absence of Kailasapathy and Higgins would mean defeat for the ordinance change – if it were voted up or down, instead of being postponed – mayor John Hieftje led an effort to force an up-or-down vote on the issue. And councilmembers who were willing to put off the issue were not unified in their view about the parliamentary procedure to use to achieve that delay. So the council voted on two different options – postponing until a date certain (June 17) or tabling the issue. Sabra Briere (Ward 1) provided a crucial vote against postponement, but voted in favor of tabling.

Kunselman argued for the postponement by pointing out that because the sequence of the roll-call vote that evening allowed him to vote last, he could simply assess how the tally stood, and vote accordingly with the prevailing side. That would give him the right to bring back the vote for reconsideration at the council’s subsequent meeting. But Kunselman’s argument was not persuasive to a six-vote majority.

Without a six-vote majority in favor of either tabling or postponing, the council was left to deliberate on the actual ordinance amendments. As some attempted amendments failed – clearly due to the dynamic that had resulted from the absence of two councilmembers – Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) eventually proposed adjourning the meeting until the following Monday, when the meeting could continue. However, after a brief recess it was decided that the council would simply postpone all remaining voting items until its May 6 meeting, and put an end to the April 15 meeting.

After approving the motion to postpone the action items, councilmembers ticked through the remaining “housekeeping” items on the agenda, which largely included various reports and communications. Of those, one highlight worth noting was the nomination by Hieftje of Eric Mahler to replace David Nacht on the board of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority.

The public commentary at the April 15 meeting exceeds The Chronicle’s capacity to report in its customary way. Still, some accounting of the meeting is important for the archives.

This report provides: (1) a summary of votes taken; and (2) a summary of actions that will now appear on the May 6 agenda as a result of the April 15 postponement. In addition, this report begins with details of the deliberations on the proposed DDA ordinance revisions. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Council Handles Green Agenda

Ann Arbor city council meeting (Dec. 17, 2012): The agenda for the council’s final regular meeting of the year was relatively light, but was weighted toward “green” issues – including parks and more general environmental items.

Chart showing projected greenhouse gas emissions if the city of Ann Arbor does nothing, compared to enacting the steps outlined in the climate action plan, which was adopted by the city council at its Dec. 17, 2012 meeting.

Chart showing projected greenhouse gas emissions if the city of Ann Arbor does nothing, compared to enacting steps outlined in the climate action plan, which was adopted by the city council at its Dec. 17, 2012 meeting.

The council approved two grant applications for future development of at least part of the city-owned property at 721 N. Main St. as a park. It’s seen as an element of a future Allen Creek greenway that would arc northward along the railroad tracks, starting from the East Stadium bridges to the Huron River. The applications were for unspecified amounts from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund (MNRTF) and the Washtenaw County parks & recreation Connecting Communities program. Last year the city received two $300,000 grants from the MNRTF – for the future skatepark at Veterans Memorial Park, and for renovations to the boating facilities at Gallup Park.

The current grant applications came in the general context of an initial recommendation made by a council-appointed task force that has been meeting since the summer. That task force has a much broader geographic charge, which includes the North Main corridor, extending eastward to the Huron River and over to the MichCon property. The task force is due to make recommendations to the council on that broader area by the summer of 2013. However, the group was asked to weigh-in specifically on the 721 N. Main property by the end of this year – because of the grant application deadlines.

The North Main task force had been appointed at the same May 7, 2012 meeting when the council had heard from representatives of 555 Nonprofit Gallery and Studios on the physical survey work necessary for another city-owned property – at 415 W. Washington. At least part of that property is also envisioned as part of a future Allen Creek greenway. After appropriating $50,000 for physical testing at its July 16, 2012 meeting, the council on Dec. 17 allocated another $32,583 after bids came back.

In addition to green space, the council’s Dec. 17 agenda included two “green” resolutions – one that adopted a climate action plan and the other calling on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to enforce the Clean Air Act. Ann Arbor’s climate action plan calls for a reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of 8% by 2015, 25% by 2025, and 90% by 2050. The reductions are compared to baseline levels measured in the year 2000. The action steps identified in the climate action plan are divided into four main categories: energy and buildings; land use and access; resource management; community and health. Those categories align with the city’s sustainability framework. The plan is also coordinated with a similar effort by the University of Michigan.

Other business handled by the council included another request to the Washtenaw County water resources commissioner’s office in connection with stormwater infrastructure for a street reconstruction project. The petition requested an application for $1.4 million in low-interest loans for a three-year project in the Platt-Packard neighborhood. Also connected to bricks-and-mortar infrastructure was an additional allocation of about $148,000 for the 2012 sidewalk repair and ramp installation program – the first year of a five-year cycle, corresponding to a millage approved by voters in 2011. The total mount of the 2012 sidewalk program was about $965,000.

The council also gave its recommendation to grant a micro brewer license to Biercamp Artisan Sausage & Jerky, a retail shop located at 1643 S. State St.

Initial approval was given by the council for a revision to the city’s ordinance regulating parking on front lawns. The change will make it easier to make arrangements for events other than University of Michigan football games.

And the council approved a $90,000 project budget that will allow for documents to be submitted digitally to the planning and development department. The project includes a public kiosk for reviewing plans.

The council also heard its typical range of public commentary, with topics including pedestrian safety, towing, and Palestinian rights. [Full Story]

AADL Gets Input on Downtown Library

Ann Arbor District Library board meeting (Nov. 19, 2012): Though turnout didn’t match the attendance at a typical Ann Arbor city council meetings, several members of the public came to the AADL board meeting on Monday evening. It was the first board meeting since the Nov. 6 general election, when voters rejected a $65 million bond proposal that would have funded a new downtown library.

Ingrid Sheldon, Ann Arbor District Library, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Ingrid Sheldon, a member of the Our New Downtown Library campaign committee, reviews her notes before speaking during public commentary at the Nov. 19 meeting of the Ann Arbor District Library board. (Photos by the writer.)

Two people spoke during public commentary, directly addressing the issue of the downtown building at 343 S. Fifth Ave. Ingrid Sheldon – representing the Our New Downtown Library committee, which had campaigned in support of the bond proposal – told the board that committee members were disappointed but willing to continue supporting the library however they can. Other committee members in attendance included Betsy Jackson and Donald Harrison.

Also addressing the board was Lyn Davidge, who had run for a seat on the library board but had not been elected. During her campaign she had advocated for renovation of the downtown building, not new construction. She volunteered to serve on any citizen advisory group that she hoped the board would form soon, to give input on the building’s future. Davidge also urged the board to add a public commentary slot at the end of their monthly meetings – because she felt it would encourage more participation.

There was scant discussion among board members about the Nov. 6 outcome or next steps for dealing with the downtown building. In a brief report to the board, Prue Rosenthal – chair of the board’s special facilities committee – indicated that the committee members hadn’t yet made any decisions or had any substantive discussions about what to do next. There was no discussion about the possibility of forming an advisory committee.

In other action, the Nov. 19 meeting included an audit report by the accounting firm Rehmann for AADL’s 2011-2012 fiscal year, which ended June 30. The audit was clean, and included a recommendation to start conducting periodic inventories of “moveable capital assets” – items like furniture and fixtures.

During her director’s report, Josie Parker highlighted a financial concern that is outside of AADL’s control: The possible elimination of the state’s personal property tax. PPT legislation will likely be handled in the state legislature’s lame duck session. If the PPT is eliminated and no replacement revenue is provided, the library would lose about $630,000 annually in revenues, Parker said. The library’s annual budget is roughly $12 million.

Parker also related positive news. Again this year, AADL has been ranked with five stars by the Library Journal – the highest ranking awarded by the journal for library use in a community. AADL is the only library system in Michigan that achieved that level. In its category – libraries with budgets between $10 million to $29.99 million – AADL ranked fourth nationwide.  [Full Story]

AAPS Board Starts 2013-14 Budget Discussion

Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education regular meeting (Nov. 7, 2012): The Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS) board of education’s Nov. 7 meeting contained significant discussion of the district’s finances, straddling three fiscal years – past, present, and future.

AAPS superintendent Patricia Green and deputy superintendent for operations Robert Allen.

AAPS superintendent Patricia Green and deputy superintendent for operations Robert Allen.

Before receiving an “unqualified opinion” on the district’s 2011-12 audit and reviewing the first quarter financials from 2012-13, the board took a first pass at framing the discussion surrounding the development of the district’s budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year – a step the board has not typically taken as early as November.

Also at the meeting, the board approved the renaming of two facilities at Pioneer High School – the tennis courts and the planetarium. The tennis courts are being renamed for long-time tennis coach Tom “Brick” Pullen. And the planetarium is being co-named in regnition of a $100,000 gift from the IMRA America company.

The board also recognized Huron High School cross-country runner Allie Cell, for an extraordinary display of sportsmanship during a recent meet.  [Full Story]

22nd Circuit Judicial Race: Kuhnke, Fink

Attorneys Carol Kuhnke and Jim Fink, the top two vote-getters in the Aug. 7, 2012 primary, are now vying for a vacancy on the 22nd Circuit Court bench to be left by retiring judge Melinda Morris. The nonpartisan judicial elections on Nov. 6 are for six-year terms.

Ballot for 22nd circuit court race

Names on the ballot for the non-incumbent position on the 22nd Circuit Court: Jim Fink and Carol Kuhnke. (Photos by the writer.)

At a candidate forum held in Ann Arbor’s Bach Elementary School cafeteria earlier this month, sponsored by the Washtenaw County Bar Association and the Old West Side Association, Kuhnke and Fink fielded questions on fairly standard topics: judicial temperament, experience, role models and the like.

In addition, Kuhnke and Fink have both provided written responses to questions on the League of Women Voters website. And they previously participated in a June 23 forum for the primary race covered by The Chronicle, which included a total of four candidates.

Campaign finance statements filed with the state show that the cumulative total amounts raised by Kuhnke and Fink for their campaigns are $82,018 and $93,465 respectively.

Of her $82,018 total, Kuhnke has raised $46,738 since the primary election, and had spent just $13,892 between the primary and the close of books on Oct. 21. That left her with $34,405 to spend in the final two weeks of the general election campaign. Of his $93,465, Fink has raised $37,635 since the primary, and has spent $20,967 during the same period. He has $21,417 left to spend in the final two weeks.

Kuhnke has been practicing law for 18 years, longer than Fink’s 14 years, and is campaigning with the slogan, “The most experienced.” Fink is inclined to add to the mix his previous 20 years of experience working in law enforcement, starting in 1977 as a Washtenaw County sheriff’s deputy and moving up the ranks to commander.

Fink argued implicitly that the quality of the endorsements he’s received – from local judges – is better than some Kuhnke has received, from judges in other counties in southeastern Michigan where she’s argued cases. One local judge, Tim Connors – who is seeking re-election to the 22nd Circuit Court in a separate race against Mike Woodyard – is listed on websites for both Fink and Kuhnke among their endorsements. Connors and Woodyard participated in the Oct. 16 forum with Fink and Kuhnke – their responses are included in a separate Chronicle report.

Fink challenged any perception that he felt entitled to the judgeship based on the service of his father and older brother as judges, by stating it’s not the case that he felt entitled. He described how he’d always planned to practice law, even though he took a “side trip” to work in law enforcement.

Kuhnke described her vocation to the law as stemming in part from her undergrad studies in philosophy, and the impact that the meaning of words can have on people’s lives. She was matter of fact in drawing out one contrast between herself and Fink: “I’m a woman.” She thinks that having a woman’s voice on the court is important, but stated that she did not think she deserved a vote just because she is a woman.

An issue related to women’s health was highlighted in a question fielded from the audience. Fink is endorsed by Right to Life of Michigan – so the question related to whether Fink had pledged to rule against young women who were requesting a “judicial bypass” for permission to have an abortion. Fink was emphatic in stating that in order to receive that organization’s endorsement, he’d made no such pledge and that he hadn’t been asked such a question.

Even though the judicial bypass question came last at the forum, this detailed report of candidate responses begins there. [Full Story]

AADL Board Briefed on Public Library Trends

Ann Arbor District Library board meeting (Aug. 20, 2012): With no major action items on the agenda, highlights of this week’s AADL board meeting related to the effort to build a new downtown library: (1) a presentation on trends for public libraries, including digital media and non-traditional collections, and (2) an update from the bond proposal campaign committee.

Lynn Davidge

Lynn Davidge, left, talks with Sheila Rice before the start of the Aug. 20, 2012 Ann Arbor District Library board meeting. Davidge is the only non-incumbent running for a library board seat in the Nov. 6 general election. Incumbents on the ballot are Rebecca Head, Nancy Kaplan, Margaret Leary and Prue Rosenthal. (Photos by the writer.)

Ellie Serras, chair of the Our New Downtown Library campaign committee, spoke during public commentary to brief the board on actions of that group. It was formed earlier this year to support a $65 million, 30-year bond proposal that the board voted to put on the Nov. 6 ballot. Serras described the committee’s outreach efforts, including its website, Twitter account (@OurNewLibrary), Facebook group, promotional mailing, yard signs, and meetings with individuals and groups in the community.

Committee members are committed to this project and they want everyone to know how important it is, she said. ”It’s a life changer.”

In the context of the proposed building project, AADL director Josie Parker told the board that library staff are being asked about the relevancy of public libraries, so she thought it was appropriate to address that question at a formal board meeting by looking at changes that public libraries are facing. Associate director Eli Neiburger described how the library is responding to changes in the publishing industry regarding digital content. Currently, publishers are fairly restrictive in allowing public libraries to access digital content for patrons. So the Ann Arbor library has started negotiating licensing deals directly with creators – including filmmakers of the 2009 “Grown in Detroit” documentary, and the author of the graphic novel “Poopy Claws” – to allow AADL patrons to access those works through online streaming and limitless downloads, respectively.

Associate director Celeste Choate described the library’s non-media, non-traditional collections, which include art prints, energy meter readersScience to Go kits, telescopes and electronic musical “tools.” The full list of collections is on the “Unusual Stuff to Borrow” page of AADL’s website. Additional collections are in the works, including art tools and kits for science experiments.

Though Neiburger described storage needs for digital media as trivial – he could keep 200,000 copies of “Poopy Claws” on his cell phone, if he were so inclined – the needs for non-traditional physical items are more challenging. The library’s tracking/circulation software is well-suited to adapt, because that system doesn’t care about size, he said. “But the shelf sure does.” It was an implicit reference to some of the arguments put forward in the board’s decision to pursue a new downtown building.

Also during the Aug. 20 meeting, Choate reported on a recent satisfaction survey for patrons of the Washtenaw Library for the Blind and Physically Disabled, which is operated by AADL and serves over 400 people. The library received high marks from those who responded to the survey, she said. [.pdf of survey results] [Full Story]

Library Bond Moves Toward Nov. 6 Ballot

Ann Arbor District Library special board meeting (July 30, 2012): Setting language for a $65 million bond proposal was the focus of Monday’s special meeting, when the board voted unanimously to approve text for the Nov. 6 ballot. Board member Ed Surovell was absent.

Jan Barney Newman

AADL board member Jan Barney Newman reads the resolution regarding bond language for the Nov. 6 ballot. (Photos by the writer.)

Earlier this month, the board had voted to move forward on this bond initiative. If approved by voters, it would fund a new downtown building at the current site. At Monday’s meeting, AADL director Josie Parker stressed that the $65 million covers the cost of the entire project, not just the building itself. Other costs include demolition of the existing structure, moving costs and leases for temporary locations.

Passage of the bond proposal on Nov. 6 would result in an initial bond millage levy in July of 2013. It’s estimated that 0.56 mills would be levied in the first year, with an average annual rate of 0.47 mills over the 30-year period.

The new building would be on the downtown library’s current site at 343 S. Fifth Ave., on the northeast corner of Fifth and William. Parker gave a brief history of the site, to explain why that location is preferred. One major factor relates to the site’s previous ownership by the Ann Arbor Public Schools. Until 1995, the library was part of the AAPS.

A separation agreement with the school system gives AAPS the right of first refusal if AADL decides to sell the site. If the school system decides to buy it, AAPS would pay only 65% of the market value. If AAPS doesn’t buy the property and AADL sells it to another entity, AAPS gets 35% of the net sale proceeds. All of that factored in to the board’s decision to stay on the site, Parker noted.

Two advisors to AADL on this bond issue – James P. Kiefer of Dykema and Paul R. Stauder of Stauder, Barch & Associates – attended the July 30 meeting and answered questions from the board. Board members asked only a few clarificational questions, including some related to the millage rate, use of bond proceeds, and the possibility of local downtown development authorities capturing a small portion of the bond millage.

After the meeting, the library immediately posted a six-page information sheet with frequently asked questions about the project. The FAQ includes a chart showing estimates of how much individual property owners will pay. For example, the owner of a house with a market value of $200,000 is expected to pay $56 annually, based on a levy of 0.56 mills.

For additional background, see Chronicle coverage: “AADL Board: Renovation Not the Best Option” and “Campaign Launches for Library Bond.” [Full Story]

Campaign Launches for Library Bond

A campaign to support the Ann Arbor District Library’s $65 million bond proposal for a new downtown building has officially launched. The Our New Downtown Library campaign committee has been working informally for several weeks. Some of its members attended the July 23 board meeting, when the AADL board voted to put the bond proposal on the Nov. 6 ballot. The $65 million bond would pay for a new building at the same location as the current structure, at 343 S. Fifth Ave.

Campaign committee members include Ellie Serras (chair), Mike Allemang, (treasurer), Sally Allen, Janis Bobrin, Leah Gunn, Debbie Herbert, Norman Herbert, Pat McDonald, Paul Morel, Omari Rush, Paul Saginaw, Ingrid Sheldon and Robin Wax. The group has already … [Full Story]

AADL Board: Renovation Not the Best Option

Ann Arbor District Library board meeting (July 16, 2012): Following a discussion that focused on why rebuilding was preferable to renovation, the AADL board voted unanimously to put a 30-year, $65 million bond proposal on the Nov. 6 ballot to fund a new downtown library at its current location.

Ellie Serras, Ed Surovell

Ellie Serras talks with Ann Arbor District Library board member Ed Surovell after the board's July 16, 2012 meeting, when trustees voted to put a 30-year, $65 million bond proposal on the Nov. 6 ballot. Serras is part of a group working to support a bond campaign. (Photos by the writer.)

The issue of renovating had emerged during public commentary near the start of the meeting, when two speakers – Lyn Davidge and David Diephuis – urged the board to support renovation of the existing building rather than a new structure.

But board members all spoke in favor of rebuilding, citing the condition of the existing building and the need for features – like a raked auditorium – that couldn’t be incorporated into a renovated structure. Several trustees pointed to the library’s role as a community gathering place, and said that the building’s current configuration can’t be modified to accommodate the growing number of events, meetings and other activities that resulted in over 600,000 visits to the downtown library last year.

Some board members also noted that a new library building could be a catalyst for other downtown changes. Ed Surovell described the area around the library as an “architectural Sahara” dominated by parking, and said the library has the opportunity to build a monument that would be a centerpiece for the city. The site at 343 S. Fifth is south of a new underground parking garage and across the street from the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority’s Blake Transit Center, which is being rebuilt.

Surovell was also the impetus behind a debate about the term of the bond. The initial resolution proposed by Nancy Kaplan – who serves with Surovell and Prue Rosenthal on a special facilities committee that recommended the bond proposal – included a 25-year term. But Surovell, founder and CEO of Edward Surovell Realtors, argued strenuously for a 30-year term. A longer term would increase the total interest payment over the life of the bond, but lower the millage rate that taxpayers would pay each year – from an estimated 0.59 mills over 25 years, to an estimated 0.56 mills for the longer period. [Details on the interest and millage rates will vary, depending on market conditions when the bonds are issued.]

Surovell’s argument eventually proved persuasive to a majority of board members, and on a 4-3 vote the bond resolution was amended to a 30-year term.

The board also set a special meeting for Monday, July 30 at 7 p.m. to approve ballot language for the bond proposal. The deadline for filing the ballot language is Aug. 14. The board also voted to amend its charge to the special facilities committee. Rosenthal, Surovell and Kaplan will continue to serve on the committee through 2012, making recommendations to the board on issues leading up to the Nov. 6 vote, as well as on next steps after the bond proposal is approved or rejected by voters. [Full Story]

AADL Board to Vote on New Downtown Library

A new $65 million downtown library could be in the relatively near future for Ann Arbor, as the Ann Arbor library board prepares to place a bond proposal on the Nov. 6, 2012 ballot to fund the project. A resolution authorizing the proposal is on the agenda for the board’s July 16, 2012 meeting. The specific ballot language would be approved at a separate special meeting, sometime before Aug. 14.

Library building on South Fifth Ave.

Looking east from the top of the Fourth & William parking structure, the large brick building on the right is the downtown Ann Arbor library on South Fifth Avenue. To the left is the new Library Lane, running between Fifth and Division atop the underground parking structure.

Update: The board approved a 30-year, $65 million bond proposal on Monday evening and set a meeting for July 30 at 7 p.m. to vote on ballot language.

A millage to cover bond payments would be levied in addition to the AADL’s current operating millage. The library is authorized to collect up to 1.92 mills, but currently levies only a portion of that – 1.55 mills.

The board packet for July 16 includes a six-page memo from a special facilities committee that the board appointed in April 2012.  The committee’s task was to make a recommendation about the building. The three-member committee is chaired by Prue Rosenthal and includes Ed Surovell and Nancy Kaplan. Their recommendation calls for building a new structure on the current site, at the northeast corner of South Fifth and William, next to the new underground parking garage.

The memo states: ”Our community continues to feel that the Ann Arbor District Library’s Downtown location is a vital hub to our community. In conversations with community leaders, they are virtually unanimous in supporting steps to ensure our library can meet the needs of this community for the next 50 years.”

The AADL is about a month away from an Aug. 14 deadline to put a millage proposal on the November ballot. Also on Monday’s agenda is an item to set a special board meeting for approval of ballot language. The board packet does not indicate when the special meeting would be held. The board’s next regular meeting is Aug. 20. [Full Story]

AADL Board: What’s Your Library Vision?

Ann Arbor District Library public forum (Saturday, June 9, 2012): At the first of three forums to gather input on the future of the library’s downtown building, AADL staff and board members outlined their goals and answered questions about a possible new facility.

Ken Nieman, Glenn Nelson

From left: Ken Nieman, AADL associate director of finance, HR and operations, with Ann Arbor Public Schools trustee Glenn Nelson at the June 9, 2012 library forum. (Photos by the writer.)

The board faces an Aug. 14 deadline to put a millage on the November 2012 ballot, if they decide to seek tax funding for a bond that would support a new downtown library. The current structure, at the northeast corner of South Fifth and William, was built in the 1950s, with expansions and renovations in the mid-1970s and early 1990s. AADL director Josie Parker joked that one of the building’s boilers is “the same age as I am – I just hope it lasts as long as I plan to last.”

Several years ago, board members and library staff had worked on similar a building project, but suspended the effort in late 2008 because of declining economic conditions. Board members revisited the topic in 2010 as part of their strategic planning process. One of the strategic goals emerging from that process directly related to the downtown building: “Renovate or replace the downtown library with attention to the condition of the existing building, tax base, revenue stream, development of surrounding properties and demographics.”

In November 2011, the board voted to provide $45,000 in funding for consultants to help resume the process, and earlier this year a special facilities committee was appointed to oversee the effort and make a recommendation to the full board. That recommendation is expected to be presented at the board’s July 16 meeting.

At the Saturday morning forum, Parker told the group that the library had commissioned a survey by the Lansing firm EPIC-MRA, which she said “asked questions that we were afraid to ask.” [.pdf of survey results] The survey, conducted in March of 2012, showed that if a vote were taken now – on funding a $65 million renovation or new construction project with a property tax increase of 0.69 mills – 45% of survey respondents would vote yes, and another 15% would lean toward a yes vote. That compares with a total 37% who said they would either vote no or lean toward no. Results indicated even stronger support for a scaled-back project.

The forum provided an opportunity for questions. Topics covered the board’s decision-making process, financial considerations, design and operational issues, and whether the library was coordinating with efforts to develop surrounding properties – such as the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority’s Connecting William Street project.

In addition to library staff, about a dozen people attended the forum. Many of them – including former mayor Ingrid Sheldon and Ellie Serras of the Ann Arbor Main Street Business Improvement Zone – are already supporters of the library and will likely be part of a millage campaign, if the board decides to pursue that option. Four of the seven library board members also attended the forum: Rebecca Head, Margaret Leary, Barbara Murphy, Jan Barney Newman.

Two additional public forums will be held this month: on Tuesday, June 12 from 7-9 p.m.; and Wednesday, June 20 from 7-9 p.m. The June 20 forum will be held in the downtown library’s basement multi-purpose fourth-floor conference room at 343 S. Fifth Ave. in Ann Arbor. In addition, public commentary is open at the library board’s monthly meetings – upcoming meetings are on June 18 and July 16 starting at 7 p.m. in the fourth-floor conference room of the downtown building. Comments or questions can also be emailed to A video of the June 9 forum is posted on the AADL website, along with other information related to this effort. [Full Story]

Memorial Day 2012: A Neighborhood Parade

As they have for nearly three decades, residents of Ann Arbor’s Glacier neighborhood paid tribute on Memorial Day to soldiers who lost their lives serving this country.

Jim Mitchiner

Jim Mitchiner leads the Memorial Day parade down Bardstown Trail through the Glacier neighborhood. (Photos by Dave Askins)

The Monday morning event is the only Memorial Day parade in Ann Arbor. Though it includes some of the usual parade fare – a fire truck, drum corps and people campaigning for elected office – it’s a relatively low-key affair that winds through this east side neighborhood of wide, tree-lined streets and ends up at Glacier Highlands Park.

There, more than 200 people converged to stand quietly during a brief ceremony. A trumpeter played “Taps,” a bagpiper played “Amazing Grace,” and resident Stephen Landes made brief remarks, thanking soldiers for their service, and for “your dedication to our country and to your comrades here or in our thoughts.”

To a silent crowd, Landes read a list of Michigan residents who were killed while serving in the military over the past year and who received flag honors from Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. Jim Mitchiner, who had carried the American flag at the head of the parade, then retired the colors.

After the ceremony, Girl Scouts sold water to raise money for a trip to Switzerland, and the Optimist Club passed out red, white and blue popsicles. A table was set up in the park for people to make cards that will be sent to military personnel serving overseas – this year’s goal was to make 100 cards.

Here’s a chronicling of this neighborhood tradition, which is hosted by the Glacier Area Homeowners’ Association and the Ann Arbor Breakfast Optimist Club. [Full Story]

Subscribing to The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Please Note: As of Sept. 2, 2014, The Chronicle will no longer be publishing regular reports of public meetings and other civic affairs. Voluntary subscriptions will continue to be accepted through that date.

However, it is important for readers to understand that their contributions now will not fund additional coverage beyond Sept. 2, 2014. The financial support will fund coverage until that date, as well as future costs to maintain the archives.

Readers who have set up their subscription for automatic administration through PayPal should make appropriate changes to their own account settings. The Chronicle does not have the authority to alter PayPal account settings; however, we will assist readers who encounter any difficulties. Thanks for your support over the past … [Full Story]

2011 Ward 2 Race: Looking Ahead to the ’90s

On a rainy Wednesday evening late last month, around 55 Ann Arbor residents gathered inside the Thurston Elementary School media center to hear Ward 2 Ann Arbor city council candidates respond to questions. This year, the general election in Ward 2 is contested between three-term Democratic incumbent Stephen Rapundalo and independent challenger Jane Lumm, who served on the council as a Republican from 1994-1998.

Stephen Rapundalo Jane Lumm Ward 2

Stephen Rapundalo and Jane Lumm were adamant in their positions, but appeared in relatively good humor. (Photos by the writer.)

Rapundalo has made the city’s past and future a central theme of his campaign, and the Oct. 26 event amply reflected that. Rapundalo spent much of the evening trying to characterize the city councils of the 1990s, on which Lumm served, as unable to work cooperatively as a group. That contrasts with his own approach and that of the current council, said Rapundalo, which is based on consensus and cooperation, even if councilmembers don’t agree on everything.

Even as Rapundalo appealed to the past in criticizing Lumm – for supporting what he called luxurious labor contracts during her tenure of service – he also criticized what he perceives her attitude to be towards the future. He calls it a “hunker down” mentality, which he says doesn’t take into account the steps the city needs to take to ensure future generations have what they need.

For her part, Lumm tells a narrative in which city government has become, since the time she served on the council, disconnected from the priorities of residents. She wants to restore community input and open conversation back to city government, which she contends is now lacking. At the Thurston forum, she responded to Rapundalo’s criticism about her prior service as a councilmember by saying she welcomed the comparison between “the bad old days” and now. She characterized herself as a fiscal watchdog, who pressed financial issues, even if there was not the same appetite for that on the rest of the council.

Certain aspects of Lumm’s record are portrayed on Rapudalo’s campaign website in a way that could fairly be described as out of context. [A closer examination of Rapundalo's portrayals based on city council minute archival material is included in The Chronicle's write-up of the League of Women Voters forum, earlier in the campaign: "2011 Election: Ward 2 City Council"] At the Thurston forum, however, Rapundalo was right about a point of contention that emerged over whether Lumm had enjoyed a Republican majority on a city council committee. The city council archives show a 3-2 Republican majority on the labor negotiating committee in 1996.

The forum was hosted by the Orchard Hills/Maplewood Homeowners Association, moderated by Peter Mooney, who’s president of that group. Rapundalo is a member of the association, and Thurston Elementary is in Rapundalo’s neighborhood. But if there was a general leaning among the assembly, it seemed to be in favor of Lumm – based on response to a few laugh lines sprinkled throughout the forum.

The format of the event contrasted with many other similar events, in that it featured no rigid time constraints on candidate responses – just a general guideline from Mooney to try to limit responses to around three to four minutes.

Mooney took questions written by audience members on cards and synthesized them into prompts for the candidates. Paraphrased questions and responses below are summarized in the order they were given. [Campaign websites: Jane Lumm , Stephen Rapundalo] [Full Story]

General Election 2011: City Council Money

For nine candidates in Ann Arbor city council races this year, Oct. 28 was the pre-election campaign filing deadline.

Overridge Drive

Magenta dots indicate addresses of donors to the campaign of Ward 2 independent Jane Lumm. Overridge Drive is Lumm's home street, located near Huron Hills golf course, visible to the north in this image.

In an uncontested Ward 1 race, documents filed with the Washtenaw county clerk’s office show Democratic incumbent Sabra Briere raised $3,640 from 48 donors since the primary election (which for her was also uncontested).

In the contested Ward 3 race, Democratic incumbent Stephen Kunselman raised an additional $20 from one donor, bringing his total to $4,045 for this year’s election cycle. Kunselman prevailed in a three-way primary in August. Kunselman’s Republican challenger David Parker filed a waiver request – which is allowed if a candidate expects to spend less than $1,000.

In Ward 4, Democratic incumbent Marcia Higgins raised $1,075 from seven donors, compared with no contributions raised by her Republican opponent Eric Scheie. Scheie filed a negative balance (–$1,173.73), which earned him a notice of error from the county clerk’s office – the source of funds used to pay for expenditures must be given, even if it is a loan by the candidate to the campaign.

In Ward 5, Democratic incumbent Mike Anglin, who also had a contested primary, raised an additional $185 from three donors to bring his total this year to $7,405. Anglin’s Republican challenger Stuart Berry filed a waiver request.

In Ward 2, filing documents for Stephen Rapundalo show he raised an additional $4,420 since the primary, which was a contested race for him, bringing the total indicated on his paperwork for this year’s campaign to $8,505. [The Chronicle's arithmetic calculates $4,380, not $4,420, for this filing period.]

Independent challenger Jane Lumm, who of course did not participate in a partisan primary, outpaced all other candidates’ combined totals since the primaries by raising $18,950 from 193 donors.

After the jump we break down the Ward 2 contributions with charts and maps. [Full Story]

Ward 2 City Council Race Gets Started

Jane Lumm, an independent candidate who’s challenging three-term incumbent Democrat Stephen Rapundalo for a Ward 2 city council seat, launched her election bid in a press release on Sept. 15, by announcing members of her campaign committee.

Co-chairing the committee will be Leslie Morris and Ingrid Sheldon.

Morris served on the city council as a Democrat from 1977-83, and Sheldon served as mayor of Ann Arbor as a Republican from 1993-2000. They reflect the mix of support for Lumm from prominent members of both parties, who are cited in her press release.

Lumm’s press release counts the following prominent Democrats among her committee members or supporters: Robert Faber, Barbara Bach, Seth Hirshorn, Michael Morris, Thomas Wieder, David DeVarti, Doris Preston, Vivienne Armentrout, Peter … [Full Story]

DDA Takes “Baby Step” for Ypsi Buses

Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board meeting (Dec. 1, 2010): At its last meeting of the year, the DDA board transacted only one piece of business: It authorized a grant of $14,417 to the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority to fund service improvements, like greater frequency and reduced travel times, for the AATA #4 bus, which runs between Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor.

Fifth and Division Street Improvements

Bricks: Part of the new streetscape improvements on Fifth Avenue in front of the DDA offices. Money: New ePark payment kiosks. As part of the Bricks and Money Committee report to the DDA board, John Splitt noted that the new street lights were being "wired as we speak." That was literally true – as evidenced by the yellow-vested, hooded electrician observed an hour before the meeting started. (Photo by the writer.)

The money is offered by the DDA as a challenge to other local organizations to support service enhancements on the route, which are estimated to have a total cost of $180,000. Board member Newcombe Clark described the grant as a great first step, adding “but man, is it a baby one.”

Although the transportation grant was the only vote taken by the board at the meeting, board members entertained discussion on two topics that are likely to receive a great deal of focus in the broader community over the next few months: (1) the future use of the Library Lot; and (2) the “mutually beneficial” discussions between the city and the DDA about the parking contract under which the DDA operates the city’s parking system.

The board also heard the usual range of reports from its committees. No one addressed the board during either of the two slots set aside for public commentary. [Full Story]

Authorship in News, Science, Totter Riding


[Editor's Note: HD, a.k.a. Dave Askins, editor of The Ann Arbor Chronicle, is also publisher of an online series of interviews on a teeter totter. Introductions to new Teeter Talks appear on The Chronicle.]

Gareth Morgan on a teeter totter.

Gareth Morgan is a scientist working on problems of protein folding and stability.

The Dec. 11, 2009 edition of the scientific journal Molecular Cell includes an article called “Optimizing Protein Stability In Vivo.” It’s a paper co-authored by nine people. The first two names on the list of nine authors are Linda Foit and Gareth Morgan. The paper combines expertise in genetics and chemistry, reflected in the specific strengths of Foit and Morgan, who are two young scientists working in James Bardwell’s lab at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at the University of Michigan.

Foit’s name might already be familiar to Ann Arbor Chronicle readers in connection with what might be called a “unsuccessful physics experiment” near downtown Ann Arbor – an attempt to achieve greater residential density with a project called The Moravian. Foit addressed the city council in support of the project.

Morgan’s name is certainly familiar to our readers, but he’s no relation to the publisher of The Chronicle, Mary Morgan. Gareth Morgan was visiting Ann Arbor from England for a two-week span recently and will return to Michigan in October for around a month to continue his collaboration with the Bardwell lab.

The fact that Gareth and Linda’s contribution to the paper was equal is made clear through the last of seven footnotes on the author line:

7 These authors contributed equally to this work.

The collaborative nature of modern science was one of the topics that Gareth and I talked about on the teeter totter last Saturday afternoon, just before the University of Michigan football team started its season against the University of Connecticut Huskies.

We also touched on the issue of health and safety culture in U.S. labs compared to British facilities, and the role that game-playing might play in the future of science. For details, read all of Gareth’s Talk. By way of preparation, it might be worth thinking about where it’s easier to drink a cup of coffee – a U.S. lab or a British lab.

I took the occasion of Gareth’s explanation of the credit conventions for a scientific paper as a chance to reflect very briefly on how the allocation of credit is indicated in other lines of work, including journalism. [Full Story]

Packing Pyramids: UM and Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor is home to the University of Michigan, which makes it different from other similar-sized Midwestern cities lacking a world-class research institution. You can’t swing a dead Greek philosopher without hitting someone in this town who can tell you how significant the connection is between Ann Arbor and UM.

Elizabeth Chen

Elizabeth Chen assembles a tetrahedron from connectors and straws. (Photos by the writer.)

In that way, at least, Ann Arbor is densely packed.

This is a story about that town-gown connection. It’s a story that connects a recent UM mathematics PhD thesis defense to the Ann Arbor planning commission – and takes a continuous path though topics like Klingons, grocery bags, affordable housing, yard waste collection and Valentine’s Day.

We begin with Elizabeth Chen, who successfully defended her PhD dissertation last Friday in East Hall on the UM campus. Her presentation included several hands-on assignments for those in the audience of around 30 people – several of whom assured The Chronicle that hers was an “unconventional” thesis defense.

Chen exhorted the assembled mathematicians to paste together plastic pyramid shapes with gummi putty to help them get an intuitive feel for the shapes: “It’s not so scary!” she admonished them. After half an hour, one member of her thesis committee prodded her to get to the mathematics part – he really had “better things to do.” The Chronicle, however, did not. [Full Story]

Recount Confirms: Kunselman Wins

Greden Kunselman recount Ward 3 city of Ann Arbor city council election

Matt Yankee, deputy clerk with Washtenaw County, marks ticks in columns as candidate names are read aloud during the recount of the Aug. 4 Democratic primary election for the Ward 3 city council seat. (Photo by the writer.)

Friday morning in the lower level of the county building at 200 N. Main, Letitia Kunselman held her cell phone out in the general direction of Melodie Gable, chair of Washtenaw County’s board of canvassers. Gable was wrapping up about 90 minutes of ballot recounting from the Ward 3 Democratic primary for Ann Arbor city council. By that time, her official announcement stated an outcome that everyone in the room already knew.

We’d followed the hand recount of paper ballots table-by-table, as one precinct after the other confirmed individual vote totals from the initial Aug. 4 results.

What Gable reported was exactly the news that Letitia Kunselman’s husband Stephen – on the other end of the cell phone line – wanted to hear: his own 511 votes compared to Leigh Greden’s 505 had been confirmed, leaving Kunselman the winner of the primary. The third candidate, LuAnne Bullington, picked up one vote in the recount in precincts 3-4 and 3-7 (these precincts shared a single polling location on election day), bringing her total to 382.

We include in our report the vote totals, some anecdotal bits from the morning recount, but more importantly, a brief look at the impact that Greden’s departure will have on council’s committee composition. [Full Story]

Art Center Outreach Program Survives

Former participants in the Ann Arbor Art Centers Artmakers Teens summer outreach program mug for the camera at an awards ceremony in the Ann Arbor City Council chambers on June 1. Ann Arbor Public Art Commission Vice Chair Jan Onder (left) and Chair Margaret Parker playfully duck down by the table where they just presented the teens with a 2009 Golden Paintbrush Award for a mural the Artmakers created last summer.

Former participants in the Ann Arbor Art Center's Artmakers Teens summer outreach program mug for the camera at an awards ceremony in the Ann Arbor City Council chambers on June 1. Ducking down by the table are Jan Onder, Ann Arbor Public Art Commission vice chair, left, and AAPAC chair Margaret Parker. The teens had just been presented with a 2009 Golden Paintbrush Award for a mural the Artmakers created last summer.

In the hallway outside the city council meeting room last month, a group of teenagers leaned into each other and grinned as multiple cameras flashed. People passing by paused to say “Congratulations!” The teens – former participants in the Ann Arbor Art Center’s Artmakers Teens summer outreach program – had just received a 2009 Golden Paintbrush Award from the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission for a mural they created last summer.

Standing and smiling with them was Sarah Winter, an Ann Arbor Public Schools art teacher and project coordinator for the teens who created the mural. Winter said she was happy about the award, and called working with the Artmakers a “truly amazing experience.”

However, it was also bittersweet, she said.

“There’s no funding for the program this summer,” Winter explained. “It was great for the teenagers in a lot of ways this past summer, and now it’s over. I’m very sad it’s not happening this year.” [Full Story]

EMU President: “My Advice Is to Take Risks”

Susan Martin, president of Eastern Michigan University.

Susan Martin, president of Eastern Michigan University.

It turns out that at least two high-profile women in this area  got their educational start in a one-room schoolhouse – both were at Tuesday’s Washtenaw Community College Foundation Women’s Council Lunch. One we’ve written about before, and one – Susan Martin, president of Eastern Michigan University – gave the luncheon’s keynote speech.

As we summarize below, that speech ranged from slaughtering chickens to kicking down doors.

But before that, three women – Lisa Hesse, Ann Mattson and Ellie Serras – were honored for their leadership roles in the community. Hesse is founder of the nonprofit Girls on the Run of Southeastern Michigan, which works with preteen girls to develop healthy lifestyles through running. Mattson recently retired as 15th District Court Judge, a position she held for 15 years. Serras serves on several nonprofit boards, and was the longtime executive director of the Main Street Area Association. [Full Story]

Leadership Conference at Huron High

Former Ann Arbor mayor Ingrid Sheldon, speaking to a leadership forum at Huron High School.

Former Ann Arbor mayor Ingrid Sheldon, speaking to a leadership forum at Huron High School.

Some facts that students learned about former Ann Arbor mayor Ingrid Sheldon on Saturday: 1) She spent the first part of her schooling, through 7th grade, in a one-room schoolhouse on Earhart Road, 2) she thinks a large part of the mayor’s job entails cheerleading for the city, 3) she doesn’t take herself too seriously. This last fact was demonstrated as she pulled items out of a large “gift box” she’d brought, full of things she said would be useful for students in leadership roles – including a pair of yellow pompoms. And yes, she gave a little cheer.

Sheldon was keynote speaker at a leadership conference held Saturday at Huron High School. The event was organized by the school’s Interact Club, a service organization for  teens that’s affiliated with Rotary International. (Sheldon is a member of Ann Arbor Rotary, which sponsors Huron’s Interact Club.) About 40 students attended from Huron, Pioneer High, and several other local schools. [Full Story]

Column on Caucus: Make It a Real Event

Larcom Building 2nd Floor Bulletin Board

Larcom Building 2nd floor bulletin board

Already on Wednesday of this past week the decision had been made to cancel city council’s Sunday caucus. I received a two-sentence email that morning – sent in equitable fashion to both The Chronicle and The Ann Arbor News by Mayor John Hieftje: “We have another light agenda for Monday night so caucus has been cancelled for this Sunday. Enjoy the evening.”

But the way I enjoy my evenings on the Sunday before a regular city council meeting is to attend caucus. You can’t cancel the thing I enjoy and then invite me to enjoy myself. Well, you can, actually, as Mayor Hieftje proved. But you can’t do it without causing me to ask some questions. Like: How was this decision made and who makes it?

Before diving into that, let me address a possible point of skepticism in readers’ minds. I do enjoy caucus. Really, I do. [Full Story]