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July 7, 2014: Council Live Updates

Editor’s note: This “Live Updates” coverage of the Ann Arbor city council’s July 7, 2014 meeting includes all the material from an earlier preview article published last week. The intent is to facilitate easier navigation from the live updates section to background material already in this file.

The Ann Arbor city council’s first meeting of the fiscal year is also the next-to-last one before the Aug. 5, 2014 primary elections for city council and mayor.

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

The sign on the door to the Ann Arbor city council chamber includes Braille.

A month before the dog days actually begin, the council will be considering as part of its July 7 agenda a resolution that would pay Washtenaw County $135,570 for animal control services. The county in turn contracts with the Humane Society of Huron Valley for those services. This is a new arrangement, based on recommendations from a 2012 county task force. The idea is that local governments in the county with their own dog licensing programs, which generate revenue through licensing, should shoulder part of the cost of the county’s animal control contract. Ann Arbor has its own dog licensing program.

The July 7 agenda is heavy with items related to infrastructure. Three special assessments for the construction of new sidewalks are on the agenda for final approval: Stone School Road, Barton Drive and Scio Church Road. And the council will be considering approval of contracts for street repair associated with utilities work, the replacement of a clarifier at the drinking water treatment plan, the replacement of liners for the swimming pools at Buhr and Fuller parks, and for monitoring work at the now-dormant Ann Arbor city landfill.

Several development items also appear on the July 7 agenda. The rezoning of three Ann Arbor Housing Commission (AAHC) properties will be given final consideration in connection with major renovations and improvements the commission is making to its inventory – at Baker Commons, Green/Baxter Court Apartments, and Maple Meadows. Initial approval for rezoning of another AAHC property is also on the council’s agenda: North Maple Estates.

In addition to the AAHC properties, the council will consider rezoning for parcels on Research Park Drive, in the southern part of the city, and a site plan for the expansion of Rudolf Steiner High School on the city’s north side.

The council will give initial consideration to changes in the ordinance that defines how city boards and commissions are appointed – changes that focus on the environmental commission. The changes involve clarifications of the nomination process and other housekeeping issues. The council will also consider confirmation of three appointments to the environmental commission: Allison Skinner, Benjamin Muth and Mark Clevey.

The summertime theme of the agenda is reflected in the approval of temporary outdoor sales and consumption of alcohol for several downtown businesses during the art fairs, which run from July 16-19. A permanent liquor license for Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse also appears on the council’s agenda. The theme of transition from summer to fall is reflected on the council’s July 7 agenda in the set of street closing approvals, which include closings around the University of Michigan stadium for home football games.

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

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

Ann Arbor’s Public Art Saga Continues

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

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

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

Feb. 18, 2014 Council Meeting: Live Updates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Survey: Majority Favorable on Transit Tax

Results of a survey of 841 registered voters in the city of Ann Arbor, the city of Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township show a 63% positive reaction to a possible additional transit tax in those communities. Those three jurisdictions are the members of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority. [.pdf of Feb. 7, 2014 press release] [.pdf of survey questions]

Fall 2013 AAATA Survey: Of the 841 registered voters surveyed, 63% said they would definitely or probably vote for an additional transit tax, while 31% said they definitely or probably vote against an additional transit tax.

Chart 1: AAATA Millage Vote Survey. Of the 841 registered voters surveyed, 63% said they would definitely or probably vote for an additional transit tax, while 31% said they definitely or probably would vote against an additional transit tax. Half the respondents were asked about a tax at the rate of 0.5 mills while the other half were asked about a 0.9 mill tax. There was not a significant difference in the two groups. The amount of the potential millage request in 2014 is 0.7 mills.

The AAATA’s release of partial survey results on Feb. 7 comes about two weeks before the next monthly meeting of its board of directors, on Feb. 20. At that meeting, the board will almost certainly consider whether to place a millage on the ballot – either for May 6 or later in the fall of this year.

The purpose of the potential millage – which would be the first one ever levied by the AAATA – would be to fund a 5-year plan of service improvements, approved by the AAATA board at its Jan. 16, 2014 meeting. The millage itself would last for five years.

Generally, those improvements include increased frequency during peak hours, extended service in the evenings, and additional service on weekends. Some looped routes are being replaced with out-and-back type route configurations. The plan does not include operation of rail-based services. The AAATA has calculated that the improvements in service add up to 90,000 additional service hours per year, compared to the current service levels, which is a 44% increase.

If a millage were approved in May, those improvements that involve extending the hours of service later in the evening and the weekend could begin to be implemented by late 2014. However, increases in frequency along routes, which would require acquisition of additional buses, would take longer.

The AAATA refers to the plan in its communications as the 5YTIP. The AAATA has calculated that the additional tax required to fund the 5YTIP is 0.7 mills. A draft five-year plan was presented to the public in a series of 13 meetings in the fall of 2013. Changes to the five-year plan made in response to public feedback were included in the board’s information packet for the Jan. 16 meeting. [.pdf of memo and 5-year improvement plan] [.pdf of presentation made to the board on Jan. 16]

The dedicated transit tax already paid by property owners in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti is levied by each city and passed through to the AAATA. Those taxes would stay in place if voters in the AAATA’s three-jurisdiction area approved a 0.7 mill tax. For Ann Arbor, the rate for the existing millage is 2.056 mills, which is expected to generate a little over $10 million by 2019, the fifth year of the transportation improvement plan. For the city of Ypsilanti, the rate for the existing transit millage is 0.9789, which is expected to generate about $314,000 in 2019. For the owner of an Ann Arbor house with a market value of $200,000 and taxable value of $100,000, a 0.7 mill tax translates into $70 annually, which would be paid in addition to the existing transit millage. The total Ann Arbor transit tax paid on a taxable value of $100,000 would be about $270 a year.

The transit improvement program also calls for an additional $1,087,344 to come from purchase-of-service agreements (POSAs), based on increased service hours in Pittsfield, Saline, and Superior townships.

A subset of a financial task force that had formed during an effort in 2012 to expand the AAATA to a countywide authority has concluded that the 0.7 mill would be adequate to fund the planned additional services. At the most recent meeting of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, on Feb. 5, DDA board member Bob Guenzel stated that he had continued to participate on that task force, and reported that the group had forwarded its finding on the currently contemplated 0.7 millage to the AAATA.

Besides Guenzel, who is former Washtenaw County administrator, the current configuration of that group includes Mary Jo Callan (director of the Washtenaw County office of community and economic development), Norman Herbert (former treasurer of the University of Michigan), Paul Krutko (CEO of Ann Arbor SPARK), and Mark Perry (director of real estate services, Masco Corp.) and Steve Manchester.

The survey on voter attitudes toward a millage was conducted for the AAATA by CJI Research with a mixed methodology – of telephone contacts, and a mail invitation to respond online – during October and November of 2013. The sample of respondents was divided into two groups – those who were asked about their attitudes toward an additional 0.5-mill tax and those who were asked about their attitudes toward an additional 0.9-mill tax. According to CJI, the groups showed virtually no difference in the distribution of responses.

Of the 841 registered voters surveyed, 63% said they would definitely or probably vote for an additional transit tax, while 31% said they definitely or probably would vote against an additional transit tax.

The Feb. 7, 2014 press release issued by the AAATA highlighted three of its conclusions from the survey results: (1) that the AAATA is highly regarded by voters in the three member jurisdictions; (2) residents in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township are supportive of transit service expansion even if it means a new tax; and (3) among survey respondents, the best reasons to support a transit expansion are to help retain and attract jobs, generate economic activity by taking customers and workers to area retailers and other employers, and to improve service for seniors and the disabled. The margin of error for the survey was no more than 3.4%, according to the press release. [Full Story]

County Board Debates Infrastructure Issues

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Sept. 4, 2013): A five-hour meeting was dominated by two debates: funding for a new software system for the Washtenaw County trial court, and the future of county-owned property on Platt Road.

Charles Beatty Jr., Washtenaw Head Start, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Charles Beatty Jr. attended the Sept. 4 Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting to accept a resolution in honor of his father, Charles Beatty Sr. The board supports naming the Head Start building at 1661 LeForge in Ypsilanti – owned by the county – in honor of the late Charles Beatty Sr., who was influential in early childhood education. (Photos by the writer.)

For the site at 2260 and 2270 Platt Road – the former juvenile center – staff have proposed a process that focuses on possibly using the site for affordable housing. A $100,000 planning grant is available to explore that option. However, several commissioners – while expressing support for affordable housing in general – wanted to look at a broader range of alternatives, including the possibility of selling the site, which some believe could be worth $2 million. After more than an hour of debate, the board voted to postpone action until its Sept. 18 meeting, directing staff to prepare an alternative resolution to consider.

Another lengthy debate focused on the funding mechanism for new trial court software, estimated to cost $2.3 million. The vendor of the current system went out of business several years ago, and replacement is critical. Donald Shelton, chief judge of the trial court, told commissioners: “If this [software] system goes down, our judicial system in the county simply stops operating.”

Some commissioners wanted a more formal mechanism to repay the county’s investment in the system, which includes nearly $1.3 million from capital reserves. The board eventually passed a resolution stating that revenues from the court’s electronic filing fees will be used to reimburse the capital reserves. E-filing fees – likely to be $6 per filing – are expected initially to generate only about $45,000 in revenues. The e-filing will start with civil cases, with phased roll-out to other cases, including criminal and probate. At some point, e-filing might become mandatory.

A range of other significant action items yielded far less discussion. The board gave initial approval to a new micro loan program for small businesses, to be managed by the Center for Empowerment and Economic Development. Also getting initial approval was a range of grants administered by the county’s office of community & economic development, as well as a resolution that would give blanket approval in the future to nearly 30 annual entitlement grants received by the county totaling an estimated $8.8 million, beginning in 2014. Currently, each of those grants requires separate annual approval by the board.

Commissioners also gave initial approval to strengthen the county’s affirmative action plan, as well as other nondiscrimination in employment-related policies. The primary change adds a prohibition of discrimination on the basis of gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation. Community activist Jim Toy and Jason Morgan, who serves on the board of the Jim Toy Community Center, spoke during public commentary to support the changes.

Other items receiving an initial vote from the board include: (1) adding three new full-time jobs for stewardship of the county nature preserves; (2) adding a new 10-bed treatment program for female teens in the county’s youth center that will create a net increase of 5.46 jobs; and (3) budgets for the county’s public health and community support & treatment service (CSTS) departments.

During the meeting, the board also honored the nonprofit Dawn Farm on its 40th anniversary, and recognized Bill McFarlane, the long-time Superior Township supervisor who recently announced his resignation due to health issues. Commissioners also supported renaming the county-owned Head Start building in Ypsilanti in honor of the late Charles Beatty Sr., a pioneer in early childhood education.

Topics that emerged during public commentary included a plea to urge state legislators to repeal Michigan’s version of a “stand your ground” law. Board chair Yousef Rabhi indicated his intent to bring forward such a resolution on Sept. 18 – similar to one passed by the Ann Arbor city council on Aug. 8, 2013. Rabhi also plans to introduce a resolution on Sept. 18 advocating for stronger cleanup standards of 1,4 dioxane – the contaminant in an underground plume caused by Pall-Gelman’s Scio Township operations. The Ann Arbor city council passed a resolution on Sept. 3, 2013 related to this issue.

Also on Sept. 18, a public hearing will be held to get input on a proposed increase to the Washtenaw County tax that supports services for indigent veterans and their families. The current rate is 0.0286 mills – or 1/35th of a mill. The new proposed rate of 1/30th of a mill would be levied in December 2013 to fund services in 2014. It’s expected to generate $463,160 in revenues. The public hearing was scheduled by commissioners at their Sept. 4 meeting. [Full Story]

Rounds 4, 5 FY 2014: Priorities, Reality

Over the last month, the Ann Arbor city council has been using a series of working sessions to deliberate toward a final budget decision in late May. That’s when the council will need to adopt the city administrator’s proposed fiscal year 2014 budget, or make adjustments and adopt an amended budget. The city administrator’s proposed budget is due by April 15 – the council’s second meeting in April.

City of Ann Arbor Two Year Outlook

Chart 1: City of Ann Arbor two-year outlook for the general fund. The black bar represents recurring revenue. The stacked bars represent expenses. From the bottom up, those expenses are: existing recurring expenses (light red), requests for new recurring expenses (dark red), one-time requests (light blue), and capital improvement plan needs (dark blue). There also could be additional expenses needed to meet the city council’s priority goals.

The most recent of those work sessions took place on March 11, 2013. The agenda focused on the city council’s top priorities, as identified at its planning retreat late last year: (1) city budget and fiscal discipline; (2) public safety; and (3) infrastructure. Two additional areas were drawn from a raft of other possible issues as those to which the council wanted to devote time and energy over the next two years: (4) economic development; and (5) affordable housing. The retreat had resulted in a consensus on “problem” and “success” statements in these areas – answering the questions: (1) What is the problem we are solving? and (2) What does success look like?

The priority-focused March 11 work session followed one held on Feb. 25, which mapped out the financial picture for the next two years fund-by-fund – not just the general fund, but also the various utility funds (water, sanitary sewer, stormwater, and streets) and internal service funds (fleet, and IT). But on March 11, the council’s focus was primarily on the general fund – as deliberations centered on the first two priority items: fiscal discipline and public safety.

The Feb. 25 session had provided the council with a sketch of the basic general fund picture for the next two years, which is better than it has been for the last several years. Based on current levels for all services, recurring revenues for the two years are projected to exceed recurring expenses by a total of $1.44 million in a general fund budget of about $82 million each year.

That doesn’t factor in requests from various departments that would result in additional recurring expenses, totaling $1.17 million for the two years – which would leave a surplus of just $265,000. When further requests from departments are considered that would result in one-time expenses, that two-year surplus would flip to a deficit of about $252,00. And if all as-yet-unfunded capital improvement expenses are added in for the two years, the city would be looking at a two-year general fund deficit of $4.41 million.

The general fund’s uncommitted balance could cover that deficit – but it would leave the uncommitted balance at $9.69 million at the end of FY 2015, or 11.5% of operating expenses. Under city policy, the uncommitted general fund balance should be between 8% and 12%. However, Tom Crawford, the city’s chief financial officer, has recommended that the city strive for 15-20%.

None of those numbers factor in any additional resources that could be required to achieve success measured in terms of the city council’s priority goals.

At the March 11 session, discussion by councilmembers of the first two priority items – fiscal discipline and public safety – revealed some unsurprising philosophical differences in approach. The majority of councilmembers seemed to accept city administrator Steve Powers’ inclination to take FY 2014 as a “breather” year, not asking departments to meet reduction targets this year, after several years of cuts. But Jane Lumm (Ward 2) – who previously served as a Republican on the council in the mid 1990s, and was elected as an independent in 2011 – expressed disappointed with this approach. She wants reduction targets every year.

And Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1), who was elected in November 2012, challenged the idea that it’s only new councilmembers who need to learn during the budget process. She pointed out that city staff members also have a learning curve – as they shift the organization’s priorities to the new council’s priorities.

For public safety, a consensus seemed to emerge that the council’s planning retreat success statements about policing might need further refinement – in light of the current department’s configuration. Police chief John Seto characterized that configuration as set up to be reactive, not proactive. Current staffing levels don’t allow for a proactive configuration, he indicated.

But the council did not appear to have a complete consensus about the importance of that proactive capability – unless that capability could be linked to success in making the community be safe and feel safe. Measuring perceptions of safety through the National Citizens Survey – for the first time since 2008 – was an idea that seemed to have some traction on the council. Some sentiment was expressed that the number of police officers should be increased – whether or not that increase could be tied to better safety as defined in adopted city council goals.

For the fire protection side of public safety, councilmembers effectively made a decision – without voting – to give clear direction to fire chief Chuck Hubbard that they didn’t want to see his three-station plan implemented. He had first presented the plan about a year ago. The proposal would close three stations but re-open one, for a net reduction from five to three stations.

Some dissent was offered, but mayor John Hieftje indicated that in his view the three-station plan was dead. Still, councilmembers seemed unenthusiastic about an alternative – which would entail hiring an additional 23 firefighters to staff existing stations. They seemed more inclined toward incremental improvements in fire safety. Those improvements might be gained through community education. Another possibility is deployment of some light rescue vehicles, which would require a crew of just two, instead of water-carrying trucks that need a crew of three.

This report focuses exclusively on the top council priorities of budget discipline and public safety. Also discussed at the working session, but not included in this report, were draft work plans for the other three priority areas: infrastructure, economic development and affordable housing.

The council may schedule an additional work session on March 25 to give city administrator Steve Powers more direction as he shapes the final budget that he’ll submit to the council in April. [Full Story]

Miller & Main

Pennants on the wall at Broken Egg depict University of Michigan football opponents with this year’s score. Defeat is encoded by flipping the pennant upside down. Will Minnesota be flipped by the end of the afternoon? [photo]

In the Archives: Lit by Kerosene

Editor’s note: Laura Bien’s In the Archives column for The Chronicle appears monthly. Look for it around the end of every month or sometimes towards the beginning.

On a May evening in 1866, 15-year-old Ann Arborite Maria Benham got ready for bed in her Third Ward home, which also housed her cabinetmaker father Warren, her mother Rachel, and siblings George, Menora, and Alice.

Maria was a grammar school student at the Union School at Huron and State Streets, later the site of Ann Arbor High School and eventually renamed the Frieze Building. The school year was almost over, and the annual yearbook was about to be printed.

Non-explosive lamp, kerosene

Advertisement from the Dec. 25, 1869 Ypsilanti Commercial.

When it came out, Maria’s name had an asterisk.

Maria removed the glass chimney of her kerosene lamp and flipped her apron at the flame to puff it out. Instead, the lamp exploded, enveloping her in flames. Maria ran downstairs towards the cistern. Someone spotted her and threw his overcoat over her flaming body, suffocating the fire.

Maria had severe burns over her entire body. After an agonizing night, she died at 6 a.m. She would have been sixteen that August.

Her story, originally reported by the Ann Arbor Argus, was reprinted by papers in Hillsdale, Marshall, and elsewhere in the state. Unfortunately, it was a familiar tale. Kerosene lamp explosions were tragically common in 19th-century Michigan. It seems odd, because kerosene is a relatively stable, non-explosive fuel, far less volatile than such lighter petroleum products as gasoline or naptha. A lit match thrown into a cup of room-temperature kerosene will simply go out.

Maria had been born in 1850, around the dawn of the domestic oil industry. Many unscrupulous oil refiners of that era pursued profits at the cost of lives like hers. [Full Story]

City Council Acts on Zoning, Airport, Streets

Ann Arbor city council meeting (April 16, 2012): The most significant item on the council’s agenda was the introduction of the city’s proposed fiscal year 2013 budget by city administrator Steve Powers.

Andrew Cluley interviews Steve Powers after the council meeting.

WEMU's Andrew Cluley had questions about the budget for Ann Arbor city administrator Steve Powers after the April 16 council meeting. Image links to Cluley's report. (Photos by the writer.)

But Powers led off the presentation by explaining that Monday evening would not be a time for detailed discussion and questions about the budget. For details of that presentation, see Chronicle coverage: “Ann Arbor Council Gets Draft 2013 Budget.”

The budget presentation occurred Monday night because of a city charter requirement. It was Powers’ first such presentation – as he was hired by the council last year, and started the job in September. The city council will have until May 21, its second meeting in May, to modify and adopt the budget.

In terms of the sheer number of agenda items, the topic of zoning and land use was a main focus of the meeting. The council unanimously rejected a proposed conditional rezoning of 1320 S. University to a higher density than its current D2 (downtown interface) designation. But winning unanimous approval was a site plan for a Tim Hortons on South State Street, near Ellsworth. The council also gave initial approval to AAA Michigan for a rezoning request involving a parcel on South Main, which the auto club would like to have designated as P (parking). A half dozen different rezoning requests for parcels that had recently been annexed into the city also received initial approval.

Prompting considerable discussion among councilmembers were four resolutions concerning an environmental study on a possible extension of a runway at the Ann Arbor municipal airport. The resolutions all passed, but the main grant funding went through on just a 7-4 vote. The city was being asked for an additional $1,125 in matching funds to wrap up the final stages of an environmental assessment being done by the Michigan Dept. of Transportation, which was already mostly completed two years ago.

Also related to transportation, the council authorized over $6 million in contracts related to street resurfacing projects. That included a second set of local streets (after having approved funding for the first set at its previous meeting) as well as the section of East Stadium Boulevard between Packard and Washtenaw. In connection with those infrastructure projects, the council also authorized contracts for materials testing.

In other action related to infrastructure, the council approved a $93,438 item for construction of unisex bathrooms in city hall – but not without questions about the scope of the overall municipal center renovation work.

On personnel-related items, the council gave final approval to legislation that incorporates provisions of the collectively bargained labor contracts with police command officers and firefighters into the city’s set of ordinances on retirement and health care.

As a result of other council action on Monday night, Ann Arbor police officers will be able to arrest and charge “super drunk” drivers who have more than 0.17 blood alcohol content – because the council modified the city’s ordinances to conform with recent changes in state law.

In other business, the council also authorized a contract with a new auditor, The Rehmann Group, set a hearing on a tax abatement for Sakti3, and imposed a temporary ban on digital billboards.

Highlights of public commentary included concerns about new DTE “smart meters” and localized flooding incidents in the city. The flooding was attributed by residents to the city’s layering of new asphalt onto an adjacent street, and to the city’s sanitary sewer disconnection program. [Full Story]

Initial OK: Less Art Money, Bigger Greenbelt

Ann Arbor city council meeting (Nov. 21, 2011): After the ceremonial swearing in of councilmembers who won their elections on Nov. 8, the council devoted more time to deliberations on modifying its public art ordinance than on any other item on its agenda.

Leslie Morris Jane Lumm Ann Arbor City Council

Before the Nov. 21 meeting, former councilmember Leslie Morris (left) might be reminding Jane Lumm (Ward 2) which ward Lumm represents on the Ann Arbor city council. (Photos by the writer.)

In the end, the council gave initial approval to an ordinance amendment that would temporarily reduce the required allocation to public art from city capital improvement projects – from 1% to 0.5% for a period of three years. After three years, the percentage would automatically revert to 1%. Of the various amendments to the ordinance, the percentage of the required allocation was the focus of the most controversy during council deliberations. A bid by Jane Lumm (Ward 2) to lower the percentage further to 0.25% gained little support.

Other art ordinance amendments given the council’s initial approval include a requirement that public art money be returned to its fund of origin after three years, if not encumbered by a specific art project. The amendment also included a definitional change that effectively excludes sidewalk repair from the public art ordinance. The amendments also addressed the general fund, making explicit the exclusion of general fund projects from the public art ordinance.

During deliberations, city staff confirmed that at least a portion of the public art allocation required from the new municipal building (aka the police/courts building) could be associated with the general fund – about $50,000 out of the $250,000. [This is for art in the interior of the building, and is separate from the outdoor fountain designed by German artist Herbert Dreiseitl.]

As part of her Ward 2 election campaign, Jane Lumm had argued that general fund dollars were connected to supporting public art at the new municipal building – an idea that had been, until Monday’s meeting, poo-pooed by some councilmembers, including mayor John Hieftje, who had said no general fund money had been used for the public art program.

Lumm was active in her first council meeting since serving in the 1990s. During deliberations on a revision to the ordinance on the city’s greenbelt boundaries, she prompted extended discussion on the part of the revision dealing with the boundary expansion. A less controversial part of the proposed revision involved allowing parcels adjacent to the boundary to be eligible for protection. In the end, the council gave initial approval to both parts of the greenbelt boundary change.

Also related to land use were two site plans on the agenda. The council gave initial approval to altering the University Bank site plan for its property at 2015 Washtenaw Ave., known as the Hoover Mansion. And the council signed off on the site plan, as well as the brownfield plan, for Arbor Hills Crossing, a proposed retail and office complex at Platt and Washtenaw.

Because the content of a proposed revision to the city’s littering and handbill law was not available to the public until late in the day Monday, just before the council met, the council postponed its consideration of that item. The ordinance amendment would allow residents to prevent delivery of unwanted newspapers to their homes by posting a notice on their front doors.

In other business, the council expressed its opposition to a bill pending in the Michigan legislature that would nullify an Ann Arbor ordinance on non-discrimination against people based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or student status. At the meeting, the council also authorized acceptance of several grants for the 15th District Court for programs on domestic violence and substance abuse.

In routine business for the first council meeting after newly elected councilmembers take office, the council elected Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) as mayor pro tem. Committee appointments and rule changes were postponed until Dec. 5. [Full Story]

Huron River: Alert

The Washtenaw County sheriff’s office has issued an alert regarding dangerous conditions along the Huron River. Recent significant rainfall has caused high water levels and flooding, creating hazardous, rough and swift water conditions, according to the sheriff’s office. Rescues were required in two separate incidents over the past two days after a kayak and canoe flipped in swift currents. [.pdf of full alert]

Council Absences Delay Some Business

Ann Arbor city council meeting (Feb. 22, 2011): In a meeting that wrapped up in less than two hours, the council handled several agenda items, including: an affordable housing site plan from Avalon Housing at 1500 Pauline; authorization of increased golf fees; reappointment of the golf task force; an appointment to the environmental commission; and the purchase of new police cars.

Sandi Smith Dennis Hayes Ann Arbor Medical Marijuana

Before the Feb. 22 council meeting, Sandi Smith (Ward 1) chatted with Dennis Hayes about the medical marijuana licensing ordinance. The council delayed taking action on the ordinance. (Photos by the writer.)

However the council chose to delay some of its business due to the absences of four members – Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5), Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) and Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2). By way of explanation for the four absences, mayor John Hieftje offered the fact that it’s vacation week for the Ann Arbor Public Schools.

The delayed business included a set of proposed licensing rules for medical marijuana businesses. The council heard from advocates of medical marijuana during public commentary at the start of the meeting, but when they reached the item on their agenda, the seven councilmembers who attended the meeting decided to postpone their vote on the issue without deliberating on or amending the licensing proposal. It marks the fifth time the council has decided not to take an initial vote on the licensing, dating back to Dec. 6, 2010. The council must take two votes on any new ordinance.

Also delayed were two easements – one for pedestrian access and one for public utilities – from Glacier Hills Inc., a retirement community. Under the city charter, eight votes are required for approval of such easements. Rather than have the easements fail on a 7-0 vote, the council chose instead to postpone action.

During his communications, city administrator Roger Fraser gave the council a broad-strokes overview of potential impacts that Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposed state budget could have on the city of Ann Arbor. In a roughly $80 million general fund city budget, the $2.4 million projected shortfall – on which current reduction targets are based – could increase by $0.5 million (to $2.9 million) or by $1.7 million (to $4.1 million), depending on how state revenue sharing and state fire protection grants are handled in the state budget. The state’s fiscal year begins on Oct. 1, but the city of Ann Arbor must finalize its own budget in May, for a fiscal year starting July 1.

During public commentary, the council heard a suggestion that Ann Arbor follow the example of Ypsilanti and add parking lots to its snow-clearing ordinance. And during its communications time, the council scrutinized the city’s snow removal performance in connection with a recent storm. Snow began falling the previous Sunday afternoon, accumulating to at least six inches – and more, in many areas – by early Monday morning, when the snow stopped. Highlights from city administrator Roger Fraser’s report on the snow removal effort included the fact that two of the city’s 14 large plowing vehicles were down for maintenance and the fact that forecasted amounts of snow were much lower than what actually fell.

During public commentary, the city also heard from Douglas Smith regarding a Freedom of Information Act appeal that involved redaction of police reports. Over the last several months, Smith has addressed the University of Michigan regents and the Washtenaw County board of commissioners on a range of specific cases that all relate to the general issue of civilian oversight of police power. [Full Story]

County Board Strategizes on 2012-13 Budget

Washtenaw County board of commissioners budget retreat (Feb. 9, 2011): For two hours last Wednesday evening, commissioners continued a discussion on priorities aimed at guiding budget decisions – both long-term and immediate – for county government.

Bill Reynolds

Bill Reynolds, Washtenaw County's deputy administrator, with a framed copy of the county's "guiding principles."

The discussion was another step toward developing a framework that county administrator Verna McDaniel and her staff can use in their budget planning for 2012 and 2013, when the county faces a projected $20.9 million deficit. The session followed a five-hour Jan. 29 retreat. The board also plans to continue their budget talks on Feb. 23, after their regular administrative briefing.

Conan Smith, chair of the board, told the group he hoped they could form an outline of their priorities – not in terms of programs, but at a policy level. He said that focusing on specific programs at this point would limit the administration’s flexibility for future restructuring.

During the two-hour session, commissioners talked about the importance of providing a safety net of services for residents who are most in need – perhaps through a combination of the county’s own services, and partnerships with outside agencies. Though some commissioners expressed concerns about privatizing, there seemed to be consensus about exploring ways to market the county’s infrastructure services – like payroll processing and human resources – to other local municipalities.

They discussed the need for more self-reliance on local resources, as opposed to state and federal funding – while acknowledging the dependence that many county programs have on state and federal grants. The board also talked about the importance of balancing short-term budget needs with long-term investments that could bring more significant structural savings in future years.

Also during Wednesday’s retreat, some commissioners noted the importance of keeping all budget discussions in public view. The retreats – unlike the board’s regular meetings and working sessions – are not televised, though they are open to the public. In addition to county commissioners, the retreats are attended by other elected officials and county staff. [Full Story]

UM Research Highlighted at Regents Meeting

University of Michigan board of regents meeting (Jan. 20, 2011): The university’s top research administrator, along with a faculty member who has successfully straddled the academic and entrepreneurial worlds, addressed regents at their January meeting about how university research is aiding economic development.

Stephen Forrest, David Lampe

Stephen Forrest, left, talks with David Lampe before the start of the Jan. 19, 2011 University of Michigan board of regents meeting. Forrest, UM's vice president for research, gave a presentation on the university's research efforts. Lampe is vice president for communications. (Photos by the writer.)

Stephen Forrest, UM’s vice president for research and chair of the board for economic development agency Ann Arbor SPARK, described the concept of an “innovation pipeline,” with the input of funding and ideas yielding an output of jobs, prosperity and expanded opportunities for faculty and students. The process has leaks and clogs, he noted, but the university has strategically applied patches – citing as an example the Venture Accelerator program that launched this month.

And Jim Baker, director of the Michigan Nanotechnology Institute for Medicine and Biological Sciences, was on hand to embody the efforts of faculty who successfully translate research into economic development. Baker’s talk focused on the rewards of creating new businesses – he observed that one reason why students come to UM is to enhance their economic prospects and improve their lives. Baker talked about the importance of keeping those graduates in Michigan to aid in the state’s economic recovery – and doing that requires jobs. He noted that the four companies he has helped launch in Ann Arbor have brought in $160 million in investments and created 45 new jobs so far.

Regents took action on several items during the meeting, including approval of two projects related to the athletics department: A $52 million renovation and expansion of Crisler Arena – the second phase of a major overhaul of that facility, which was built in 1968; and a $20 million project to install video scoreboards at Michigan Stadium, Crisler Arena and Yost Ice Arena. David Brandon, UM’s athletic director, made a brief appearance at the meeting but did not address the regents publicly. And this month’s biggest athletic-related news at UM – that Brady Hoke was hired as head football coach – received only a mention as part of president Mary Sue Coleman’s opening remarks. He did not attend the meeting.

Seven people spoke during public commentary on a variety of topics. Among them were: (1) a call to reassess Fuller Road Station, a proposed parking structure and possible train station near UM’s medical campus; ( 2) questions about the medical leave of Ken Magee, executive director of UM’s Department of Public Safety (DPS); (3) thanks from the leader of the Ann Arbor Summer Festival for the university’s support of that annual event; (4) criticism of the use of live animals to train survival flight nurses; and (5) a plea for financial support for The Loyal Opposition to the Status Quo (LOSQ), a nonprofit launched to address disparities between African-Americans and Caucasians. [Full Story]

Column: The 31 Days of Cooking

When I moved from Illinois to Michigan as a newlywed 30 years ago, I had no job, no friends, and no real reason to get out of bed except to finish the thank-you notes.


Jo Mathis, proving that she did, indeed, bake a successful pineapple upside down cake.

I would lie there, waiting for a reason to start the day.

And then I’d think: Dinner!

It might have been 8 in the morning, but by gosh my nice new husband would have a spectacular meal waiting for him by the time he got home from work.

Cooking was a new challenge for a girl who’d gone through college eating catsup-drenched spaghetti and buttered rice straight from the pot.

I’d happily plan the menu from my new Betty Crocker’s Cookbook (now tattered and splattered and too precious to pitch). I’d go to the grocery store a mile away and carefully select the ingredients for that night’s feast. With plenty of time to indulge my inner Suzy Homemaker, I created color-coordinated, well balanced dinners – complete with salad, bread, dessert, and garnishes (!) – which I served cheerfully in that tiny candlelit kitchen.

Oh, how I loved to cook.

Then I got a job. And then I got pregnant and had a baby –  every three years. And somewhere along the way, I lost the joy of cooking. Special events, sure. Thanksgiving dinner, lasagna for company, spaghetti and meatballs with garlic bread on a cold Sunday night? Fine. But the daily dinner became something I did because it had to be done.

Luckily, as I lost interest in cooking, my husband discovered he loves it and is far better at it. So we’ve been eating well all these years, even as I’ve harbored a tinge of envy at his passion and talent for cooking, as well as some guilt for being a slacker at the stove. [Full Story]

Washtenaw Police Services: What’s It Cost?

Washtenaw County board of commissioners working session (Nov. 4, 2010): A presentation last week to the county board by sheriff Jerry Clayton represented more than 18 months of research, and aims to put to rest an issue that’s caused tension within the county for decades: What does it cost to put a sheriff’s deputy on patrol?

Bill McFarlane, Pat Kelly, Pat Vailliencourt

Left to right: Superior Township supervisor Bill McFarlane, Dexter Township supervisor Pat Kelly, and Manchester village president Pat Vailliencourt talk before the Nov. 4 working session of the Washtenaw County board of commissioners. They are all members of the county's police services steering committee, which recently made a recommendation related to the cost of delivering police services in the county. (Photos by the writer.)

During Thursday’s working session, Clayton told commissioners it’s important to agree on the cost of delivering police services, before moving on to the question of price – or what the county will charge for that service, presumably a lower amount. He also outlined several policy issues that the board needs to address, including what metrics they’ll use to determine future adjustments in cost and price.

Currently, there are 74 county deputies paid through contracts with local municipalities, including Ypsilanti Township, Ann Arbor Township and Superior Township, among others. The current price is $144,802 per police services unit (PSU) – a term that includes direct costs like salary and fringe benefits, as well as indirect costs and overhead. Current contracts call for a 4% increase next year, bringing the price to $150,594.

The police services steering committee (PSSC), appointed by the board of commissioners, has been studying the cost of delivering this service for well over a year. Its recommendation, delivered by Clayton to the board at Thursday’s working session, is to set the cost per PSU at $176,108. Setting the price will be an issue to tackle next, and is likely to be a more contentious one. Current contracts run through 2011, and negotiations will begin next year for 2012 and beyond.

The idea of agreeing on a cost should help address the price issue, Clayton said, and should help to assure contracting municipalities that the dramatic price escalations of recent years will stabilize. County officials have said those increases were necessary because the price of the contracts has been significantly lower than the true cost of delivering police services.

Several PSSC members attended Thursday’s session, including leaders of Manchester and the townships of Ann Arbor, Dexter and Superior. They spoke to commissioners, in some cases quite poignantly, about the value that these contract deputies provide to the county as a whole – a value that’s not just limited to the municipalities that pay for the deputies, they stressed. The argument is meant to persuade the board to offset the cost of those deputies by charging a lower price. In the past, some commissioners have argued that the county is subsidizing the patrols in a way that’s unfair to residents of cities like Ann Arbor, who also pay for their own police force.

Notably absent from the meeting were representatives from Ypsilanti Township, the largest unit that contracts for deputies and a member of the PSSC. A year ago, voters defeated a millage that would have paid for police services, and township officials cut the number of deputies it uses from 38 to 31. [See Chronicle coverage: "County Board OKs Ypsi Twp. Deputy Cuts"] On Nov. 2, however, township voters approved a police services millage, with support from 58% of voters. A similar millage proposal in Augusta Township was voted down the same day. Meanwhile, Ypsilanti Township has been in talks with the city of Ypsilanti about consolidating the two municipalities’ police services – Ypsilanti has its own police force.

Then there’s the lawsuit that the townships of Ypsilanti, Salem and Augusta filed against the county in 2006 over the issue of contract deputy prices – commissioner Jeff Irwin pointed out during Thursday’s meeting that the case is “still lingering.” A judge will be hearing a motion on that case this Wednesday, as the county tries to recoup more than $2 million from two of the three townships.

The board did not take action on Thursday. Comments from commissioners indicate mixed views on the proposed cost model, with some arguing that more indirect or overhead costs should be included. However, nearly all of them praised Clayton for his leadership on this issue, thanking him for bringing civility to the discussion. It’s an indirect commentary on the board’s rocky relationship with Clayton’s predecessor, Dan Minzey, who was aligned with Ypsilanti Township and was defeated by Clayton in 2008. [Full Story]

Caucus Chess Talk: Building City Place

Ann Arbor City Council Sunday night caucus (Sept. 19, 2010): Most residents who attended the council’s informal Sunday night meeting seemed to be keen to focus the night’s discussion on one of two topics: a possible ban on porch couches; or the future of the Library Lot on Fifth Avenue in downtown Ann Arbor. An underground parking garage is currently being constructed there, but no decision has been made about what, if anything, to build on top.


Front to back: Alex de Parry, Alan Haber, Haskell Rothstein. (Photos by the writer.)

A specific suggestion for one of various amenities that could be constructed on the lot came from Haskell Rothstein: giant chess boards, with giant pieces. Already during pre-caucus chatter, Rothstein had opened the topic of giant chess boards on the Library Lot, and that conversational gambit prompted an interesting revelation from Alex de Parry: It turns out that de Parry’s father was a chess player of some distinction, once playing Bobby Fischer to a draw.

De Parry, of course, is developer of a proposed 154-bedroom residential project called Heritage Row, which would have been located on Fifth Avenue, a few squares south of the Library Lot. Heritage Row was rejected by the council at its June 21, 2010 meeting, on a 7-4 vote in favor of it, falling one vote short of the super-majority needed to approve the planned unit development (PUD) project. The super-majority was needed because of a protest petition filed by nearby property owners.

Heritage Row was brought back for reconsideration at a subsequent council meeting on July 6, 2010, but again failed, that time on a 7-3 vote. It was nearly brought back a third time – on that same evening. But Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) abandoned the effort in the middle of a parliamentary procedure that had appeared momentarily would result in another vote, this time with Hohnke providing the deciding vote in favor of Heritage Row. Hohnke had voted against the project on both previous occasions.

De Parry has an already approved “matter of right” 144-bedroom project in the same location as Heritage Row – called City Place. Approved last year, the City Place project contrasts with Heritage Row in that it would demolish seven existing houses and replace them with a streetscape consisting of two buildings separated by a parking lot. In the Heritage Row project, the seven houses would be renovated, and three additional buildings would be constructed behind them, with parking located under the site.

De Parry would like to begin construction in May 2011 – on either Heritage Row or City Place – and he indicated at the caucus meeting that the necessary lead time for permitting means that work on construction drawings needs to start now. So de Parry’s negotiations with city councilmembers to bring back Heritage Row for reconsideration have entered the end game.

During the caucus conversation, de Parry discussed with Mike Anglin (Ward 5) and Sabra Briere (Ward 1) – the only two councilmembers present at the caucus – the meetings and correspondence they’d had with each other and other councilmembers on the possibility that changes to Heritage Row might win a third consideration from the council. Previously, Anglin and Briere had both voted against the project, as did Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3). So one of those four would need to see significant enough modifications in Heritage Row to change their vote.

On Sunday evening, however, Briere told de Parry: “As near as I can tell, nobody is budging.” De Parry then indicated to Briere and Anglin: “We’re going to start on the other project [City Place].” Briere’s reply: “I mourn that.”

Additional topics discussed at the caucus included porch couches, panhandling, the future of the Library Lot, religious tolerance, and the format of the caucus meeting itself.
[Full Story]

Seniors Host Ann Arbor Mayoral Forum

In his introductory remarks, Bill Kinley joked that this was the first mayoral debate – and possibly the last ever – held at University Commons, a condominium community for people over 55 that was founded by University of Michigan faculty. They’d have to see how it turned out, he said.

Bill Kinley

Bill Kinley moderated a mayoral debate at University Commons on Monday between incumbent John Hieftje and challenger Patricia Lesko.

Kinley, a University Commons resident and local developer, moderated Monday’s event, which drew about 50 people to listen as incumbent mayor John Hieftje and challenger Patricia Lesko answered questions for an hour on a range of topics, from Argo Dam and Fuller Road Station to the city budget and possible income tax.

It’s the latest in a series of exchanges between the two candidates, as the Democrats head into next week’s Aug. 3 primary election. [See Chronicle coverage: "Ann Arbor Forums: The More, The Mayor-ier" and "Ann Arbor Dems Primary: Mayoral Race."]

After introducing the candidates, Kinley cautioned that the residents there are “a group of wordy people.” They know that “platform” and “platitude” derive from the French word “plat,” he said, “so if you can keep platitudes to a minimum, you’ll find the reception here is much more responsive.”

Each candidate was given two minutes to answer the question. The first person who answered was also given the option of an additional one minute response. Questions had been developed by Kinley and the program committee for University Commons. [Full Story]

UM Regents OK Endowment Policy Change

University of Michigan Board of Regents meeting (July 15, 2010): Pete Arbour and his 12-year-old daughter Lilly are on a mission to meet all of their elected officials – local, state and national. They carry a list of the 115 people, and mark off those they meet by putting a smiley face next to their names. (All of the city councilmembers in their Rochester Hills hometown are checked off, but president Barack Obama is not.)

UM regents and guests get their photo taken

Pete Arbour and his daughter Lilly, who live in Rochester Hills, are on a mission to meet with all of their elected officials – including University of Michigan regents. A UM photographer took a photo of them with regents after the July 15 meeting. From left: Julia Darlow, Andrea Fischer Newman, Pete Arbour, Lilly Arbor, Mary Sue Coleman, Denise Ilitch. (Photos by the writer.)

The pair added five more names to the “met” category on Thursday, when they attended the UM regents meeting. They got their photo taken with regents and president Mary Sue Coleman after the meeting. During the meeting, they had a chance to see presentations, some rare public disagreement among board members, and votes on a range of items.

The disagreement stemmed from a proposal to lower the distribution rate on the university’s endowment from 5% to 4.5%. Tim Slottow, UM’s chief financial officer, made the case that the change will help protect the core of the endowment’s value. Julia Darlow, the board’s new chair, argued that they shouldn’t spend less at a time when families are struggling, noting that much of the payout goes toward financial aid and instruction. Other regents disagreed with her and the change was approved, with Darlow and Denise Ilitch dissenting.

Regents also voted – in each case, unanimously – to approve designs for three construction projects: at Crisler Arena, a golf indoor practice facility, and the Institute for Social Research, which is building an addition. Architects for each project gave presentations of the schematic designs before the votes.

Also unanimous was a vote to approve a $1.25 million purchase of assets of the Michigan Information Technology Center Foundation (MITC), located in the South State Commons on Oakbrook Drive. As a result of the sale – a voluntary turnover foreclosure – the university will be taking over MITC’s computing resources. Regents approved two conflict-of-interest disclosures as part of the deal, with regent Katherine White recusing herself from the votes.

Leaders of the Clements Library and the UM Film Office both gave presentations to the board, featuring celebrities past (George Washington, Abraham Lincoln) and present (Pierce Brosnan, Rob Reiner). Regents also heard a report from the chair of the Committee on the Economic Status of the Faculty, who in general indicated that the overall status was good, but could be better. Specific recommendations to improve conditions were outlined.

Finally, the meeting’s only speaker during public commentary, a board member of the UM Student Sustainability Initiative, described for regents a vision of “zero waste” sporting events. They tried it at a football tailgate last fall, and will aim for a zero waste men’s basketball game against Harvard in December. The ultimate goal: An entire campus that doesn’t send any material to the landfill or incinerator. [Full Story]

Sculptor Tries to Weld City, University

A William Dennisuk sculpture in progress

A student stands next to the sculpture-in-progress by William Dennisuk, in the studio of the University of Michigan School of Art & Design. When finished, the piece made of bronze rods will be flipped – its base is at the top of the photo. (Photos by the writer.)

William Dennisuk is still waiting for the state to sign off on a public art installation that could dot a stretch of the Huron River with large vase-like sculptures. As he waits, he spends most of his days in a studio, hoping to complete the project before he returns to Finland later this year.

The Chronicle first met Dennisuk – a visiting artist and lecturer at the University of Michigan School of Art & Design – when he came to the October 2009 meeting of the Ann Arbor Park Advisory Commission. He described his project, called Vessels, as a way to bring together the city and campus communities, and to raise awareness about how we interact with the natural world.

When The Chronicle dropped by the art school’s studio recently to get an update on the project, Dennisuk said that working through the required approval process took longer than expected. Also taking longer than projected was working through his own learning curve for some new techniques he’s trying with these sculptures.

Although he had hoped to install his artwork in April, now it looks like late May will be a more realistic goal. [Full Story]

The Day a Beatle Came to Town

John Lennon

John Lennon and Yoko Ono, playing at the 1971 John Sinclair Freedom Rally at Crisler Arena. (Photo courtesy Leni Sinclair.)

The passage of nearly four decades can dim even the keenest of memories. But to Hiawatha Bailey, the events of that winter afternoon in 1971 are as clear as if they had happened yesterday. Bailey was 23 and working at the communal headquarters of the Rainbow People’s Party in the ramshackle old mansion at 1520 Hill Street in Ann Arbor.

“I was doing office duty,” he recalls, “which entailed sitting at the front desk and answering the phone. Some friends were there, and we were sitting around, tripping on acid, probably, and the phone rings. I pick it up and I hear this voice, ‘Hello, this is Yoko Ono.’”

Bailey, of course, didn’t believe it for a second. “I said something like, ‘Yeah, this is Timothy Leary,’ and hung up. We all got a good laugh out of it.” A few minutes later the phone rang again. This time the voice on the other end said, “Hello, can I speak to David Sinclair, Chief of Staff of the Rainbow People’s Party. This is John Lennon of the Beatles.”

“I wasn’t even that familiar with the Beatles then,” says Bailey, now lead singer for the Cult Heroes, an Ann Arbor-based punk rock band. “I was more into the Stooges and the MC5, more radical rock ’n’ roll. But I knew right away that it really was John Lennon.” He put the call through.

“Dave and John talked for quite some time,” Bailey recalls. “Lennon said, ‘I heard about the benefit that you blokes are putting on, and I wrote a little ditty about John Sinclair and his plight. I’d like to come there and perform it.’” [Full Story]

Column: The Legacy of “Raeder’s Raiders”

John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

Fifty years ago, Michigan football looked a lot different from what you see today. Most Saturdays, the stadium was half-empty. Freshmen were not allowed to play, and sophomores rarely did. The starting players on offense also served as the back-ups on defense, and vice versa. So, most of the better players got tuckered out pretty fast.

Michigan started the ‘59 season right where it left off the last one, by losing two games to extend their losing streak to six. The last of those was an embarrassing loss to Michigan State, 34 to 8.

Desperate, head coach Bump Elliott took a chance: he created a “third unit” of young back-up players to give the older guys an occasional rest. Elliott had no idea what he had created. [Full Story]

PAC Gets Briefed on Rentals, Preservation

A fence separates this pavilion from the Olson Dog Park.

A fence separates this pavilion from the Olson Dog Park – the dog seen to the right is inside the fenced-in dog park. One couple that uses the park has suggested moving the pavilion inside the fence, so that owners can have a place to take shelter from the elements while their dogs play. (Photo by the writer.)

Ann Arbor Park Advisory Commission (Oct. 20, 2009): Last week’s meeting of the Ann Arbor Park Advisory Commission (PAC) was in many ways a buffet of updates and tutorials, accented with a soupçon of art and a dash of dog park.

City staff talked to commissioners about special events planning and facilities rental at the parks, and gave an overview of how the city’s natural areas are prioritized for restoration. PAC also got a time line for the state-mandated rewrite of the Parks, Recreation and Open Space plan, known as PROS.

But we’ll start with the saga of a man and his dog, and what he’d like the city to do to make their time together more enjoyable. [Full Story]

Virginia Park

New sign at Virginia Park basketball court explaining restoration delay after filming of the movie “Flipped”– “Basketball court restoration update. The replacement pole has been ordered and will be installed upon arrival …” [photo]

Electricians Juice Up Ann Arbor

With about 2,000 people coming to town for a week-long electricians training institute starting Aug. 1, the logistical prep for this event is fairly intense.

NJATC logo

Logo for the National Joint Apprenticeship & Training Committee (NJATC). (Photos by the writer)

To watch just a small piece of that advance work, The Chronicle swung by the University of Michigan Indoor Track Building on Friday, where dozens of people were setting up for a massive two-day trade show that kicks off the training program.

This is the 20th year for the National Training Institute, put on by the National Joint Apprenticeship & Training Committee – you’ll see signs around town referring to both NTI and NJATC. But it’s the first time that the group has held its event in Ann Arbor, bringing an estimated economic impact of $5 million during one of the slowest times of the year for local businesses.

We encountered a bit of economic impact on the trade show floor as well. [Full Story]

Virginia Park

Filming under way for “Flipped” – lots of people from the neighborhood watching. They report that today’s scenes included kids in a school bus and climbing the (trimmed) tree. Several trailers and tents set up, plus scaffolding to hold large blue screen. Shooting through Wednesday. [Photo]

Prairie Street

The movie “Flipped” started filming today on Prairie Street. In just the past 2 months, a house has been built for the film on land that’s part of the Thurston Prairie. It’s supposed to look like a 1950s house. [Photo] On the Thurston School parking lot, there are cars from the 1950s and trailers being used for the film project staff. [Photo]

City and Residents to Make Tree Policy

Recent tree trimming activity in Ann Arbor’s Virginia Park in connection with the filming of the movie “Flipped” had drawn scrutiny from neighbors. But more significantly, tree removal and pruning in the general neighborhood had raised concerns among residents about the city’s tree management policy. Why were apparently healthy trees being removed?

On Monday evening, city staff met with 80-100 residents in the auditorium of Slauson Middle School. Kerry Gray, coordinator for urban forestry and natural resources planning, was on hand to clarify that an initiative to develop an urban forest management plan – Gray’s main goal in the coming year – had been accelerated. Instead of beginning the public process in the fall, Monday’s meeting was effectively the kickoff to a public engagement process on developing a tree management plan for the city. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Park Gets Movie Stimulus

Tree Trimming to separate canopies

The sycamore trees were trimmed enough to get blue sky separation between the canopies. The tree on the right will be digitally removed in the film. (Photo by the writer.)

On June 18, neighbors of Virginia Park, located just north of W. Liberty Street in Ann Arbor, received a letter from the city. The note from parks and recreation services manager Colin Smith alerted them to the filming of the Rob Reiner movie “Flipped,” to take place towards the end of July. Construction of the set, according to the letter, would begin as early as June 22.

Part of the set construction involved trimming some branches on two of the park’s sycamore trees – a task that was begun the same week as the letter sent from the city.

But the trimming was interrupted, and wasn’t completed until this last Friday morning – under the scrutiny of an Ann Arbor police officer, locations staff from the movie, Craig Hupy (head of systems planning for the city), Kerry Gray (coordinator for urban forestry and natural resources planning), Kay Sicheneder (city forester), plus a half-dozen interested neighbors.

Some of the neighbors were skeptical about the trim job for the sycamore tree, which is slated for movie stardom in a story involving a little girl who’s trying to save a tree. Their interest in the the city’s approach to tree management had been piqued by the recent removal of some street trees in the vicinity. But there was no “trouble” on Friday morning.

The only incident that might qualify as “trouble” had taken place a week prior. [Full Story]