Stories indexed with the term ‘city of ann arbor’

FDD Lawsuit: Shelton Delays on Sanctions

At an Aug. 27, 2014 hearing, judge Donald Shelton has refused to grant two of three motions by plaintiffs in the footing drain disconnection lawsuit that was filed in February of this year.

On his last motion day before retirement, Shelton chose to deny a motion to disqualify the city attorney’s office in its representation of the city. He also declined to rule on the merits of a motion to reassign the case away from judge Timothy Connors – who will be taking over all of Shelton’s civil cases after Shelton’s retirement at the end of this week. On that motion, Shelton pointed out in denying it that he did not have the power to grant it and indicated that such … [Full Story]

Shelton to Hear Motions in FDD Case

The footing drain disconnection lawsuit filed against the city of Ann Arbor in late February has taken several procedural turns over the last six months, with virtually no issues on the merits of the case yet resolved.

Abigail Elias, Stephen Postema, Irv Mermelstein.

From left: Assistant city attorney Abigail Elias, city attorney Stephen Postema and co-counsel for the plaintiffs Irvin Mermelstein. The photo is from the July 2, 2014 hearing on a preliminary injunction in the Yu v. Ann Arbor case, which judge Donald Shelton denied.

The latest procedural issues now appear set to be decided on Aug. 27, 2014 – judge Donald Shelton’s final motion day before his retirement.

The case involves a claim of unconstitutional takings – inverse condemnation. Plaintiffs in the case, Yu v. City of Ann Arbor, are three Ann Arbor residents who had their footing drains disconnected under the city FDD program.

The procedural issues that could be decided next week include a motion to disqualify the city attorney’s office from representing the city due to conflicts; a motion to sanction city attorneys for filing documents with statements that plaintiffs allege are not well-grounded in fact; and a motion to reassign the case to a judge other than Timothy Connors. All three motions were filed with the court on Wednesday, Aug. 20.

A dispute about whether those Aug. 20 filings were properly served upon the city is one of the issues Shelton could decide at the start of the hearing.

By way of background, the case was originally filed in the Washtenaw County 22nd circuit court and assigned to Shelton in late February. The city then removed the case to federal court. However, the plaintiffs moved for remand from the federal court back to the circuit court – a motion that was granted by judge Avern Cohn in late May.

When the case returned to the circuit court, plaintiffs filed a motion for a preliminary injunction, which was heard and denied by Shelton in early July. The city had filed a motion for summary disposition on June 9, which was originally scheduled for July 30. It was subsequently rescheduled by the city for Aug. 13, and then shifted by the city again to Sept. 18 – which is after Shelton’s scheduled retirement.

According to the court administrator’s office, the case will not officially be reassigned to a different judge until Sept. 2. However, when The Chronicle inquired with the 22nd circuit court’s central scheduling office, the staff indicated that the plan was to reassign all of Shelton’s civil cases to Connors. So the city’s paperwork scheduling of the Sept. 18 hearing specifies Connors as the judge. [Full Story]

Column: Greek Drama In A Public Park

I was first introduced to Greek drama in my sophomore year of high school.

Here’s bit of friendly advice to high school teachers everywhere: If you take a group of kids in southern Indiana and assign them parts in Anouilh’s Antigone to read aloud sitting at their desks, at least one of those kids will contemplate stabbing out his own eyes as a way to avoid doing that.

This is Emily Caffery as Elektra, making her entrance onto the stage at West Park on opening night, July 9, 2014.

This is Emily Caffery as Elektra, making her entrance onto the stage at West Park on opening night, July 10, 2014.

Because I am not a hero in a Greek play, I did not act on the inclination. But based on that first exposure to Greek drama, I did not develop an appreciation for it, or any other literary tradition. In literary terms, this failure to “develop an appreciation” for Greek drama is, I believe, accurately described as “understatement.”

So I must avail myself of another highfalutin literary device (irony) to urge you, Chronicle readers, to attend one of the upcoming performances of “Elektra,” this year’s Penny Seats Theatre Company West Park production.

Opening night was July 10. It will be performed over three weekends: July 10-12, July 17-19 and July 24-26. Buy a ticket.

To be clear, it’s not Greek drama I’m trying to sell you. I’d like to sell you on the idea of Greek drama performed in West Park, one of 157 parks here in Ann Arbor.

I want to sell you on that idea, because mostly when you read about Ann Arbor’s parks in The Chronicle, it’s in some super policy-wonky context. Sometimes that context is the city council, when it’s engaged in its own park-based drama. Or it’s our coverage of the park advisory commission.

So in the Penny Seats production of “Elektra,” I spotted an opening to pitch Ann Arbor’s parks to readers – in a different way than we typically cover them.

West Park is just west of downtown, between Chapin and Seventh streets. Motorists on Huron Street will be familiar with the park’s general location, even if they don’t know the park itself: It’s north of the HAWK crosswalk pedestrian signal as you pass the Y building.

Pedestrians who cross Huron at the HAWK crosswalk, and head a half block north along Chapin, will find the park entrance on the left. From that direction, the park offers a fairly conventional playground, a basketball court and a Project Grow gardening plot. A bit farther to the west, hugging the northern portion of the park, is a baseball field. And to be perfectly clear, that’s a baseball (not softball) field – which has been described by players as the best place to play baseball in all of lower Michigan. To the south, there’s a pond or wetland type area. A boardwalk leads across it, so you can stop along the way and make friends with a frog, some duck or a muskrat.

On up the hill to the west, past the ball field and the wetland, is the bandshell, with a series of seatwalls. The Penny Seats production of “Elektra” is being performed on the apron immediately in front of the seatwalls, not on the bandshell stage.

I attended opening night of “Elektra.”

I’ll grant you that the opening to this column might have convinced you that I am not to be trusted on theatrical matters. I do have one credential, however. The summer after that high school English class – the one that made me think about stabbing out my eyes – our teacher bused us up to the Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario. We attended a half-dozen performances. So I think I have some frame of reference for what a professionally-produced stage performance is supposed to look and sound like.

And professional is what the Penny Seats production sounds like. Listen for yourself: [.mp3 Elektra Snippet 1] [.mp3 Elektra Snippet 2] [.mp3 Elektra Snippet 3] [Full Story]

Footing Drain Lawsuit: City Survives Motion

In the Yu v. City of Ann Arbor footing drain disconnection lawsuit, judge Donald Shelton has denied a motion for a preliminary injunction against the city.

Judge Donald Shelton denied the plantiffs motion for a preliminary injunction against the city of Ann Arbor's footing drain disconnection ordinance.

Judge Donald Shelton denied the plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction against the city of Ann Arbor’s footing drain disconnection ordinance.

Had it been granted, the motion would have prevented the city of Ann Arbor from enforcing its footing drain disconnection (FDD) ordinance. Shelton’s ruling came from the bench after a roughly 25-minute hearing held on July 2, 2014 at Washtenaw County’s 22nd circuit court at Huron and Main in downtown Ann Arbor.

Shelton appeared to reach his conclusion on the injunction fairly easily. But more than once during the hearing, he indicated that he had questions about the city’s legal position, reserving the possibility that the plaintiffs in the case could ultimately prevail after a full trial, which he expected would take place.

That has implications for the city’s motion for a summary disposition – a request for a decision from Shelton without a full trial. That motion was filed on June 9 and is on Shelton’s calendar for July 30. But at the conclusion of the July 2 hearing, after he’d ruled, Shelton told assistant city attorney Abigail Elias he’d begun a review of that motion for summary disposition and said, “I’ll just tell you that I think it is premature.” But he told Elias she could proceed as she liked.

Under the ordinance, property owners can be required to disconnect their footing drains from the city’s sanitary sewer system. The city has a program under which pre-approved contractors do the disconnection work and install the equipment, with the initial costs borne by the city.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit contend that the city’s FDD ordinance amounts to inverse condemnation, a taking of property through physical occupation. They rely on the Loretto v. Teleprompter Supreme Court decision, which found that the required installation of a bracket for a cable television can be analyzed as an unconstitutional taking through physical occupation.

The criteria to be weighed in granting a preliminary injunction can include the merit of the actual case – the likelihood that the plaintiff will prevail. And Shelton did touch on one aspect of the merits of the case, as he expressed skepticism about the public health, safety and welfare argument for the FDD ordinance. That skepticism was based on the fact that the city gives homeowners the option of making a $100 per month payment in lieu of a required footing drain disconnection. If it’s important to public health, safety and welfare, Shelton could not imagine that the city would say: Well, just give us some money and that will satisfy it.

But Shelton reserved most of his skepticism on July 2 for the idea that the plaintiffs would suffer irreparable harm in the absence of a preliminary injunction now. That’s because the plaintiffs in the case had their drains disconnected in 2002. If the plaintiffs had brought an action back in 2002, based on a desire not to comply, then that would have been a different situation, Shelton said. At that time, a motion for a preliminary injunction would have been to preserve the status quo – of not being yet disconnected from the sanitary sewer. “But now, more than a decade later, you come in and say: Undo the status quo while we have a trial!” He allowed the plaintiffs might well win at trial, adding that he didn’t know.

In ruling from the bench, Shelton reviewed the fact that the only question before him that day was the question of issuing a preliminary injunction. Circumstances under which the court can grant a preliminary injunction are limited, he said. “I’m going to deny the motion for a preliminary injunction.” He said he believed that the status quo would be disrupted by such an order, and he did not believe any significant irreparable harm would result from waiting until a full trial is held on the merits of the case. [Full Story]

CBRE Selected for Library Lot Brokering

Ann Arbor city administrator Steve Powers has indicated that he’s selected CBRE to assist the city with the marketing and sale of the Library Lane parcel. That announcement came in an email sent to councilmembers on July 1, 2014. The site is located north of the downtown Ann Arbor District Library, between South Fifth Avenue and Division.

The surface of the Library Lane parking structure is highlighted in yellow.

The surface of the Library Lane parking structure is highlighted in yellow.

Direction from the city council to Powers – to engage a broker for the development rights on top of the Library Lane underground parking parking garage – initially came … [Full Story]

Footing Drain Lawsuit Back to State Court

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

Theodore Levin U.S. Courthouse in downtown Detroit.

Theodore Levin U.S. Courthouse in downtown Detroit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Column: Stop Reading the City’s Website

Among the incidental, minor topics touched on at the April 16, 2014 mayoral candidate forum was the city of Ann Arbor’s website. Praise was not heaped upon it – as was described by one candidate (Sabra Briere) as “a terrible website to try to tell anybody how to navigate.”  That’s not an uncommon view.

How to search just one site with Google and reduce frustration when you can find information by navigating to it.

How to search just the city of Ann Arbor’s website with Google and reduce frustration when you are unable to find information by navigating to it.

So stop navigating it. Stop “reading” it.

Start searching it – and you’ll probably find what you’re looking for.

That’s not to defend the user interface or the look and feel of Maybe it is terrible. I don’t have a strong opinion on that. It’s worth noting that the city council approved a contract with Keystone Media ($26,900) at its Oct. 21, 2013 meeting to redesign the basic templates for the city’s website.

I’m not sure if that work has yet been implemented – as I just don’t pay that much attention to the look and feel or the navigational features of the city’s website. That’s despite the fact that part of The Job is to look stuff up – quite frequently on the city’s website. And mostly I find what I’m looking for pretty quickly.

So my point in writing is to share one simple technique I use dozens of times a day to do The Job. I use Google search – but constrain the search to just the one website where I’m looking. [Full Story]

Town Hall: Four Mayoral Candidates

Four candidates for the Democratic mayoral primary in Ann Arbor will appear on Wednesday, April 16 in a town hall format at the University of Michigan’s Ford School of Public Policy to answer questions from students enrolled in Public Policy 456/756.

From top: Petersen, Briere, Kunselman, Taylor.

From top: Petersen, Briere, Kunselman, Taylor.

The class is taught by Ann Arbor mayor John Hieftje, who announced last year that he would not be seeking re-election.

Hieftje and the students organized the town hall format event, which is scheduled from 1:10-2:30 p.m. in the Ford School’s Annenberg Auditorium at 735 S. State St.

The event is open to the public. The town hall will be moderated by students in the class. Questions from the audience will be considered as time allows.

Confirmed to appear at the event will be Sabra Briere, Stephen Kunselman, Christopher Taylor and Sally Petersen. All are Democrats and are currently serving on the Ann Arbor city council.

As of the morning of April 16, only Kunselman had submitted the required signatures from registered voters in each of the city’s five wards to qualify for the ballot. Signatures must be submitted to the city clerk by April 22. Although no one other than these four councilmembers has announced an intent to contest the mayoral primary race, it’s still technically possible to take out petitions and collect signatures in time to qualify for the ballot.

The forum is being co-sponsored by UM’s Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy (CLOSUP) and the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.

The Chronicle has made arrangements to provide CART (Communication Across Real Time) text streaming services for the event. If all technical challenges have been met, text will start streaming after the jump around 1:10 p.m. on April 16. [Full Story]

Footing Drain Lawsuit Moves to Federal Court

The city of Ann Arbor has moved into federal court a lawsuit filed over its footing drain disconnection ordinance. The case was originally filed in the 22nd circuit court in Washtenaw County.

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

The lawsuit claims the city’s FDD ordinance violates: (1) the Michigan state law setting forth the requirements for a government to take private property for public use; (2) the Michigan state constitutional prohibition against taking private … [Full Story]

AAPS: No Wind Turbine for Teaching

Educating Ann Arbor area students about wind power might still take place with funding from a U.S. Department of Energy grant. But that teaching won’t take place in the context of a demonstration wind turbine the city of Ann Arbor had hoped to construct with the federal money.

That’s because Ann Arbor Public Schools has informed the city that the district won’t be partnering with the city on the construction of a 100-150 foot tall, 60kW wind turbine on school property.

In a letter dated Jan. 30, 2014 from AAPS superintendent Jeanice Kerr Swift to city administrator Steve Powers, Swift concluded: “I believe that it is not in the best interest of the District to consent to this project.” However, Swift’s letter leaves … [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Reports South Industrial Sewer Overflow

The city of Ann Arbor has announced that a sanitary sewer overflow took place on Jan. 28, 2014. According to a press release on the city’s website, the overflow was caused by the break of a 16-inch water main on South Industrial Highway, which caused a nearby sanitary sewer line to break.

Untreated water from the broken sanitary sewer line flowed up to the street via manholes, according to the press release. The untreated water then made its way into the city’s stormwater system, to Malletts Creek and, ultimately, to the Huron River. A report has been made to Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality about the incident, according to the city.

In a conversation with The Chronicle last week, public services area … [Full Story]

Sewer Discharge into Huron River Reported

Overflow from the city’s sanitary sewer system was discharged into the Huron River – the result of a clog in the system caused by tree roots in the Nichols Arboretum, according to a city of Ann Arbor press release. [.pdf of city press release] The situation was reported on Thursday afternoon, Aug. 29, when “a sewer odor and some gray pooled water” was reported to the city, flowing overland into the river. The sewer was unclogged later that evening, and a city crew applied lime – a white powdery substance – to the ground to kill bacteria.

In addition, city of Ann Arbor canoe livery trips between Argo and Gallup were halted on Thursday through Friday. Water samples will be … [Full Story]

A2: Lawsuit

The Detroit Free Press reports that Paul Dobrowolski has filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Ann Arbor and police chief John Seto, alleging that his Constitutional rights have been violated. Dobrowolski, an anti-abortion activist, has been ticketed for violating city code that prohibits parking a vehicle on a street with the purpose of displaying advertising. Dobrowolski was ticketed for parking outside of Planned Parenthood in Ann Arbor with a sign in his car that included information about a facility that provides free ultrasounds. [Source]

A2: Property Assessments

The city of Ann Arbor has mailed out its 2013 property assessment and taxable value notification letters, and has posted a fact sheet explaining how those calculations are made. The website includes two examples, and an explanation of the appeals process. [Source]

Column: When Tech Supports Policy Decisions

When the Center for Digital Government’s Digital Cities Survey ranked Ann Arbor as first in its population category for 2012, I considered this to be terrible news.

Ann Arbor Police Department old-style manual activity reports (bottom) contrasted with newer, digital system.

Ann Arbor police department old-style, manual officer activity reports (bottom) contrasted with a newer-style, digital records system.

It deprived me of my favorite way give a poke in the ribs to Dan Rainey, who heads up the city’s IT department: “A top 10 finish, huh? So what went wrong? Why not first place?”

Of course, a top ranking on the Digital Cities Survey is not a terrible thing. And by rights, as part of the Dec. 3, 2012 city council meeting report, Chronicle readers might have reasonably expected to see some mention of that first-place award.

That was the meeting when Rainey announced the award, and invited IT staff to the podium to talk about some projects they’ve been working on. Those included a project involving traffic and signal systems that’s connected to the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute’s smart-vehicle research study. They also talked about a project that will integrate three major software systems at the city: asset management, finance and payroll.

None of that award talk made it into the Dec. 3 meeting report.

Last year, when the merely fifth place Digital Cities ranking was announced, it was also not included in The Chronicle’s council meeting report. As a partial explanation for that omission, I wrote in a subsequent column: “But one reason I don’t mind omitting that kind of award from a meeting report is that it really does not matter to me where Ann Arbor ranks on that survey. What matters to me is the fact that the city’s investments in the realm of digital technology make life in Ann Arbor as a local journalist easier than it would be otherwise.”

That column put a spotlight on some of the city’s digital tools I use on a regular basis that make my life as a journalist easier. This year, I’d like to highlight three digital projects that I think will make life easier and better for citizens and policymakers, too. None of these three projects were mentioned at the Dec. 3 meeting – which is to say that I stumbled across them in my regular travels.

Those three projects are: (1) the transition to a digital platform for submitting site plans to the planning and development department; (2) the integration of a simple button push that Ann Arbor firefighters can use to record timestamps at key points during their response to calls; and (3) conversion of pen-and-paper police department officer activity reports to a digital format.

It’s the third project I am particularly excited about – because of its potential to provide data that will directly affect policy choices made by the city council. That optimism is based in part on the fact that it was cited specifically at a recent city council planning session. The question it will help answer is this: How much time do Ann Arbor police officers have available for proactive policing?  [Full Story]

First Wave of Ann Arbor Absentee Ballots Sent

The Ann Arbor city clerk’s office has sent out the first wave of 3,697 absentee ballots for the Nov. 6, 2012 general election. Registered voters who want to apply for an absentee ballot have until Nov. 3 to do that. Detailed information on applying for an absentee ballot is available on the Ann Arbor city clerk’s website.

A spreadsheet containing names and addresses of voters to whom absentee ballots have been sent is provided free of charge by the Ann Arbor city clerk to anyone who signs up on the email list. Summing the columns in that spreadsheet yields a breakdown by ward of the initial wave of 3,697 ballots as follows: Ward 1 – 454; Ward 2 – 987; Ward … [Full Story]

Round One of Building Demolition Hearings

Ann Arbor building board of appeals meeting (Sept. 13, 2012): At its Feb. 21, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council established a $250,000 fund to pay upfront costs – if necessary – to undertake demolitions of dangerous buildings. And at its Aug. 9, 2012 meeting, the council authorized signing contracts with four different demolition companies to do the work on an as-needed basis.

Dangerous Buildings Sign

Sign posted at the old Chinese restaurant in the Maple Village Shopping Center. (Photos by the writer.)

That set the stage for the building board of appeals to hold a first set of four show-cause hearings earlier this month.

If the board finds that the property in question is a dangerous building under the city’s ordinance and Michigan’s building code, and orders the property demolished, then a property owner has 20 days to undertake the demolition or appeal the board’s ruling to the circuit court.

Because the city now has demolition companies under contract and the funds set aside to pay for upfront costs, it can back up the demolition order if a property owner fails to comply with it – by going ahead and taking the building down. Although the city would pay the initial cost, the property owner would be assessed and invoiced for the cost of the demolition, which includes an administrative fee.

So it’s more cost-effective for property owners to demolish buildings themselves, compared to having the city do the work. When the owner of one of the four condemned properties arrived late a few minutes after the Sept. 13 hearings had concluded, Ann Arbor’s chief building official Ralph Welton told him: “We’d much rather you knock it down.”

That property was a residential garage, located at 2415 Dorchester Road in the southeastern quadrant of the city. The garage has apparently become a home to chicken hawks, which roost in the open roof.

The other three properties on the board’s agenda included two houses – one at 3123 Cherry Tree Lane, off Packard near US-23, which had additional construction done on the property in a non-compliant way, resulting in conditions the city found to be dangerous. The other house on the board’s agenda was 3010 Dexter Road, on the city’s west side.

In fairly straightforward fashion, the board found all three residential properties to be dangerous buildings under the local and state code, and called for their demolition.

The one property for which a representative of the owner was on hand was 175 N. Maple, where a former Chinese restaurant is located inside the Maple Village shopping center. That hearing took the longest of the four. The back-and-forth between the owner’s representative and the board resulted in a 30-day timeframe set by the board for a plan to be submitted to rectify the conditions, and subsequent to that plan approval, a 60-day window to effect the remedy. The owner’s representative came from Brixmor Property Group, a portfolio company of the Blackstone Group real estate fund.

It was evident that the board was handling the first round of show-cause hearings for the city’s recent efforts. To craft the wording of the board’s first motion of the meeting required a group effort, including much consultation with city attorney staff and Welton. [Full Story]

A2OpenBook: Now With P-Card Use

The city of Ann Arbor’s A2OpenBook accounting now includes P-Card (purchase/procurement card) use. P-cards can be used by a limited number of city employees to make purchases for relatively small amounts of money – under $3,000.

Roughly 100 cards are in circulation. Individual cards can be tailored for daily or monthly limits or by type of merchant. For example, if an employee is issued a P-Card for some specific type of purchase related to their job, then other uses – for travel or food, or computer purchases – could be prohibited as part of the card’s configuration. [.pdf of city policy on P-Cards]

The P-Card data had previously been available online through the city’s DataCatalog in the form of very … [Full Story]

Michigan Presidential Primary: Voter Maps

Michigan’s Republican presidential primary held on Tuesday, Feb. 28 was won by Mitt Romney, with 41% of the Republican votes cast statewide – a close victory over Rick Santorum, who tallied 37.9%. Third-place finisher Ron Paul came in with 11.5%, roughly double the percentage he received in the 2008 edition of the race, which was won by Romney that year as well. The eventual Republican nominee in 2008, of course, was John McCain.

Michigan 2012-Dems -small

Map 1. Michigan 2012 presidential primary election – Democratic participation as a percentage of total turnout, by county. Details after the jump.

For Democrats, President Barack Obama was unchallenged in the Michigan primary this year, amid a political scuffle about whether the Democratic primary should even be held. With little at stake in terms of the choice of the Democratic nominee, it’s not surprising that the 2012 Democratic turnout was light, compared to 2008.

This  year only 16% of participants in the primary voted on the Democratic side compared with 40% in 2008. That year Obama’s name did not appear on the Michigan ballot, which resulted in about 41% of Democratic voters selecting the “uncommitted” option, compared to roughly 55% who voted for Hillary Clinton. Part of the diminished Democratic turnout this year could have been due to Democrats crossing party lines to vote for Rick Santorum – based on the idea that Santorum would have less of a chance to defeat Obama in the general election.

In Ann Arbor, however, absentee Democratic voters participated in far greater relative numbers than their counterparts who went to the polls in person. Even in the more strongly Republican wards – Ward 2 and Ward 4 – almost 40% of the total primary turnout for absentee voters was on the Democratic side. In the other three Ann Arbor wards, Democratic absentee turnout was closer to 50%.

For readers already familiar with the general geographic distribution of voters who mainly vote Democrat or Republican, the results of the 2012 presidential primary in Michigan likely offer little to refute prevailing wisdom.

After the jump we take a geographic look at Democratic participation, as well as the performance of Romney, Santorum and Paul. We’ve mapped out results at the state level (by county), the Washtenaw County level (by township and city) and the city of Ann Arbor (by precinct). Statewide data is from the secretary of state’s office election results, while the data for jurisdictions within Washtenaw County is based on the county clerk’s election results. Mapping is done through with shape files available through the city of Ann Arbor. [Full Story]

Column: Ann Arbor’s Monroe (Street) Doctrine

On the northeast corner at the intersection of State and Hill streets in Ann Arbor, the University of Michigan’s Weill Hall stands majestically as a landmark building, establishing the southwest corner of the UM campus.

Monroe Street University of Michigan Law School

Looking east down Monroe Street, across State Street. This section of Monroe Street is flanked by two University of Michigan law school buildings: Hutchins Hall to the north, and South Hall. (Photos by the writer. )

Following State Street north up the hill towards downtown will lead you to the intersection with Monroe Street. Turn right on Monroe, and you’ll wind up at Dominick’s, a local watering hole, majestic in its own right.

One parking option for patrons of Dominick’s is that first block of Monroe Street east of State. And what better topic to discuss over a pitcher of beer, sitting at a Dominick’s picnic table, than Ann Arbor parking rates. How much should it cost to use an on-street parking space on Monroe in that one block between State and Oakland?

Here’s a different question: How much for the whole damn block? I don’t mean just the parking spaces. I mean the whole right-of-way.

That question is part of a current conversation among public officials from the city of Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan. The university is not interested in parking cars on that block. In fact, it’s the university’s desire that the thoroughfare be blocked to vehicular traffic. Permanently.

By tackling this topic, I’d like to achieve a two-fold purpose. First, I’d like to promote the daylighting of conversations now taking place out of public view. Second, I’d like to provide a rational way to approach calculating the value of city right-of-way, specifically in the general context of city-university relations.

Otherwise put, I’d like to sketch out a kind of Monroe Doctrine for Ann Arbor, which might in some ways mirror the message in the original Monroe Doctrine, set forth by President James Monroe in his address to Congress, on Dec. 2, 1823.

I’m not going to suggest including the part that talks about when “our rights are invaded or seriously menaced …” [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Council Revisits the Mid-2000s

Ann Arbor city council meeting (Aug. 15, 2011): One connection among multiple items on the council’s agenda was the era when they originated, back in the mid-2000s.

balloon debt ceiling

Ann Arbor city council chambers on Aug. 15, 2011. Despite appearances, the city of Ann Arbor does not currently have a balloon payment due that will put the city up against its debt ceiling. (Photo by the writer).

The city council originally gave its approval to the selection of Village Green as the purchaser of the city-owned First and Washington lot back in 2006. To make up for the fact that the First and Washington deal has not yet been finalized, on Monday the council approved a $3 million inter-fund loan from its pooled investment fund. The money is needed to pay construction bills for the city’s new municipal center.

A year earlier, in 2005, the city received a recommendation from a blue-ribbon task force to change the composition of the board of trustees for its retirement system – to a mix on the board that is less heavily weighted towards members who are beneficiaries of the system. And on Monday, the council approved the Nov. 8 ballot language that will ask voters to change the city charter, which specifies the composition of the board.

A year before that, in 2004, the city council gave direction to city staff to develop an ordinance that would regulate idling vehicles. On Monday, the city council formally received – but took no action on – a resolution from its environmental commission recommending a draft anti-idling ordinance.

Likely dating back even earlier was an agenda item that addresses a point of ongoing friction between the city and the University of Michigan: reimbursement for the costs associated with traffic control during home football games. On Monday, the council approved a resolution that sets Aug. 25 as a deadline for completing a contract that reimburses the city for those costs. Otherwise, the city administrator is directed not to provide the signs and signals operations during home games.

In other business, the council gave final approval to the reapportionment of the five city wards, which will take effect after the Nov. 8 election. The council also set the application fee for medical marijuana business licenses at $600. The city’s medical marijuana licensing legislation, approved in June, takes effect later this month. Mayor John Hieftje also announced nominations for four of the five slots on the newly-established medical marijuana licensing board.

The mayor also announced nominations to the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board. Joan Lowenstein and John Mouat were nominated for reappointment, while Gary Boren, recently elected as chair of the board for the coming year, was not.

At the meeting, the DDA was also highlighted during public commentary by the owner of Jerusalem Garden, a restaurant adjacent to the construction site of the Fifth Avenue underground parking structure, which the DDA is managing. The restaurant has seen revenues drop during construction. He reiterated some of the points he’s made previously when addressing the council and the DDA board, and this time called on the council to think about how to apply lessons learned from the current situation in the future.

Economic development was also part of the council meeting in the form of a resolution the council passed that urges the Washtenaw County board of commissioners to levy a tax to fund economic development. The tax is based on Act 88 of 1913 and does not require voter approval.

The proposed Fuller Road Station maintained a presence during council proceedings in the form of public commentary, as well as a reminder from the council to the mayor that he’d previously indicated a council work session would be scheduled on the project. [Full Story]

On Ballot: Retirement Board Composition

At its Aug. 15, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council voted to place before voters on Nov. 8 a charter amendment to alter the composition of the board of trustees for the city’s retirement system.

The composition of the nine-member body as currently set forth in the charter is as follows: “(1) The City Administrator and the Controller to serve by virtue of their respective offices; (2) Three Trustees appointed by the Council and to serve at the pleasure of the Council; (3) Two Trustees elected by the general city members from their own number (general city members being members other than Policemen and Firemen members); and (4) Two Trustees elected by the Policemen and Firemen members from their own number.”

The proposed change would retain nine members but would distribute them differently: (1) the city controller; (2) five citizens; (3) one from the general city employees; and (4) one each from police and fire.

If the measure passes on Nov. 8, it will still need to be ratified by the city’s collective bargaining units in order to take effect.

In 2005, a “blue ribbon” commission – tasked to make recommendations about the city’s retirement board and the city’s pension plan – had called for a change in the board’s composition to be a majority of trustees who are not beneficiaries of the retirement plan and, in particular, to remove the city administrator’s position from the board.

In 2008, a member of the retirement system’s board of trustees, Robert N. Pollack, Jr., resigned from the board in part due to the city’s failure to enact recommendations of the blue ribbon panel. [.pdf of blue ribbon panel report] [.pdf of Pollack's resignation letter]

Under the terms of new city administrator Steve Powers’ contract, he will not be a beneficiary of the city’s retirement plan, but will instead have a 401(a) plan.

The city’s retirement program is supported in part by the levy of a retirement benefits millage [labeled CITY BENEFITS on tax bills], currently at a rate of 2.056 mills, which is the same rate as the city’s transit millage. A mill is equal to $1 for every $1,000 of taxable value of a property.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Bandshell Shows Outshine West Park Woes

In February of 2011, Craig Hupy, head of systems planning for the city of Ann Arbor, delivered some grim news to the city’s park advisory commission. Newly installed underground swirl concentrators in the park – four each near the north and south entrances of the park off Seventh Street – were in some state of failure or were suspected to be on the verge of failing.


Russ Schwartz in the role of Iago in the Penny Seats Theatre Company's current comedic production in West Park of "Goodnight, Desdemona (Good Morning, Juliet)." Not a line from the play: "Tis I who'll mop the water up, before it flows to Allen Creek." (Photos by the writer.)

The swirl concentrators, which help remove suspended solids from water entering the city’s stormwater system, were a part of major renovations to the park’s landscaping and draining systems. Federal stimulus funds helped pay for much of the work.

A recent city staff memo indicates that the city expects to recover any additional costs due to the failures – either from the manufacturer or the design firm. Replacement of the swirl concentrator units is not expected to be complete until early in the 2012 construction season, with the park restored to full public use at that time.

Meanwhile, the park enjoyed a grand re-opening earlier this summer, and is accessible for all functional purposes, including performances in the bandshell.

Two theater groups are sharing the stage this summer: Blackbird Theatre and the Penny Seats Theatre Company.

This weekend wraps up the Penny Seats production of “Goodnight, Desdemona (Good Morning, Juliet).” Performances still remain on Saturday and Sunday (Aug. 13-14). The Chronicle shares a few images from the comedy after the jump. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor City Admin Finalists Announced

The city of Ann Arbor has announced the names of three finalists for its city administrator job: Harry Black, Ellie Oppenheim and Steve Powers. Of the three, only Powers has a current position in Michigan.

Next week on Tuesday, July 12, a public reception for residents to meet the candidates will be hosted in the lobby of the new municipal center at 301 E. Huron from 5:30-7:30 p.m. The reception will feature five-minute presentations from each candidate, as well as time for informal conversations with candidates.

The following day, July 13, candidates will be interviewed in public view in city council chambers from 8 a.m. to noon. [Full Story]

Council Ward Boundary Changes Delayed

At its July 5, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council considered a proposal to redraw the boundaries of the city’s five wards and to make the new ward boundaries effective after the Aug. 2 city council primary elections, but before the Nov. 8 general elections. Most of the boundary changes involved reassigning Ward 1 areas to other wards to balance out the population among the city’s five wards.

Ultimately, the council decided to postpone the boundary changes. But before the postponement, the council amended the ordinance to make the changes that they eventually agree on effective on Dec. 1, after the Nov. 8 election.

All public commentary on the issue encouraged the city council not to enact the boundary changes between the primary and the general elections. Public commentary included remarks from John Shea – a representative of the Washtenaw branch of the lawyer’s committee for the American Civil Liberties Union – and local attorney Tom Wieder. County clerk Larry Kestenbaum attended the meeting, but did not sign up in time to be included among the first 10 reserved speaker slots. (Reserved commentary slots are reserved on a first-come-first-served basis.)

[Previous Chronicle coverage: "Column: Ann Arbor Ward Shifts Should Wait"]

By the numbers, if the 2010 census population were distributed perfectly evenly across the city’s five wards (pie-shaped, per the city’s charter), they would each have a population of 22,787 – the ideal number in redistricting terms. Without any redistricting, the imbalance among wards, due to relative population growth in Ward 1 since 2000, breaks down as follows: Ward 1 [24,616 population, +1,829 whole number deviation from ideal (+8.03%)]; Ward 2 [22,419, -368 (-1.61%)]; Ward 3 [22,206, -581 (-2.55%)]; Ward 4 [22,585, -202 (-0.89%)]; Ward 5 [22,108, -679 (-2.98%)].

In 2000, the variance from the ideal for each ward ranged between +1.5% and -1.5%.

As proposed, the city’s redistricting plan would yield the following breakdown: Ward 1 [22,795, +8 (+0.04%)]; Ward 2 [22,739, -48, (-0.21%)]; Ward 3 [22,919, +132 (+0.58%)]; Ward 4 [22,760, -27 (-0.12%)]; Ward 5 [22,721, -66, (-0.29%)]. To restore the balance in the wards, the redistricting proposal focuses on reassignment where the five wedges of the ward pie meet, in the center of the city near the downtown. [.pdf of City of Ann Arbor proposed ward boundary changes ] [.pdf of ward boundary changes proposed by councilmember Sabra Briere]

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

Ann Arbor, Washtenaw: Joint 911 Dispatch?

At a recent Saturday morning forum held for city of Ann Arbor Democratic Party city council candidates, participants were asked by the moderator to characterize the relationship between the city of Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County. None of their responses highlighted some parade examples of existing collaboration between the two governmental units: a combined city/county office of community development; and a shared data center with a shared full-time position to manage it.

Washtenaw County sheriff's office dispatcher

A Washtenaw County 911 dispatcher. Ann Arbor and county dispatch operations are currently co-located at Ann Arbor’s Fire Station #1 on Fifth Avenue. (Photo courtesy of Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.)

Also not cited as an example of possible future city/county collaboration was police dispatching. However, the topic did at least receive a passing mention by Ward 3 incumbent Stephen Kunselman, who told the audience that his grandmother was a police dispatcher in the late 1950s for the East Ann Arbor police department.

A recent city press release – sent out the Wednesday before the June 11 candidate forum – described a renewed effort to consolidate Ann Arbor’s 911 police dispatch functions with the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.

So The Chronicle sat down with Ann Arbor chief of police Barnett Jones and Washtenaw County sheriff Jerry Clayton to walk through the possible consolidation, under which the city would contract with the county for dispatch service. Based on that interview, it’s clear that it’s not just talk.

The city and county dispatchers are already working in the same building in the same room –  on the second floor of Fire Station #1, across Fifth Avenue from the new municipal center at Fifth and Huron. Clayton has developed a staffing model for implementation. And over the next few weeks, Jones will be sitting down with the police officers union – dispatchers are members – to discuss the proposal. Jones said that from the standpoint of collective bargaining, a consolidated dispatch operation could not be blocked by the union.

But Jones and Clayton will not have the final say. That decision will be made by the Ann Arbor city council and the Washtenaw County board of commissioners. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Council Previews Redistricting

At a June 13 work session, the Ann Arbor city council was briefed on a redistricting proposal that would adjust the boundaries of the city’s five wards based on the 2010 census.

If the 2010 census population were distributed perfectly evenly across the city’s five wards (pie-shaped per the city’s charter), they would each have a population of 22,787 – the ideal number in redistricting terms. Without any redistricting, the imbalance among wards, due to relative population growth in Ward 1 since 2000, breaks down as follows: Ward 1 [24,616 population, +1,829 whole number deviation from ideal (+8.03%)]; Ward 2 [22,419, -368 (-1.61%)]; Ward 3 [22,206, -581 (-2.55%)]; Ward 4 [22,585, -202 (-0.89)]; Ward 5 [22,108, -679 (-2.98%)].

In 2000 the variance … [Full Story]

Utility Rate Increases Get Initial OK

At its June 6, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council gave initial approval to changes in rates for drinking water, sanitary sewer and storm water. In terms of revenue generated to the city, the rate increases are expected to generate 3.36% more for drinking water ($664,993), 4% more for the sanitary sewer ($829,481), and 3.35% more for stormwater ($176,915).

Because the rates are part of a city ordinance, the changes must receive a second approval from the city council, after a public hearing.

According to the city, the rate increases are needed to maintain debt service coverage and to maintain funding for required capital improvements.

The city’s drinking water charges are based on a “unit” of 100 cubic feet – 748 gallons. Charges for residential customers are divided into tiers, based on usage. For example, the first seven units of water for residential customers are charged $1.23 per unit. The new residential rate for the first seven units would be $1.27.

The city’s stormwater rates are based on the amount of impervious area on a parcel and are billed quarterly. For example, the lowest tier – for impervious area less than 2,187 square feet – is currently charged $12.84 per quarter. Under the new rate structure, that would increase to $13.24. [.pdf of complete utility rate changes as proposed]

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]

County OKs IT Deal with Ann Arbor, AATA

At its May 4, 2011 meeting, the Washtenaw County board of commissioners gave initial approval of an interagency agreement with the city of Ann Arbor and the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority (AATA), allowing the three entities to collaborate on technology services. The goal is to reduce costs, enhance services and increase technology sustainability for the county, city and AATA, with structural savings expected to begin in 2012. The Ann Arbor city council approved its part of the deal at its May 2 meeting.

The board’s approval also includes the extension, through 2015, of the contract for a network manager job that’s shared between the county and city. That contract, first signed in 2008, expires in June of 2011. The two entities save about $78,000 $81,577 annually because of the shared position. Also approved was a lease extension through 2015 for shared data center space – that lease is set to expire in 2013.

In addition, the board gave initial approval to share costs with the city for a deal with the firm EMC, paying for storage area network and backup services. The county now pays $387,924 annually for these services, and would expect to save $212,000 annually by sharing costs with the city. The deal would also allow the county to increase storage capacity, giving it the ability for future potential technology collaborations with other local units of government and community partners.

This brief was filed from the boardroom in the Washtenaw County administration building, 220 N. Main St., Ann Arbor. A more detailed report will follow: [link] [Full Story]