Stories indexed with the term ‘nonprofits’

Selma Cafe Takes a Hiatus

Selma Cafe, the Ann Arbor breakfast fundraiser that has supported local farming efforts since 2009, is taking an indefinite hiatus, according to co-founder and operations manager Lisa Gottlieb. The monthly gathering had previously announced that it would close just for the summer – the last breakfast was in May.

But on Aug. 18, Gottlieb posted this message on the Selma Cafe website: ”Dear friends and supporters of Selma Cafe, As we move towards September, the board of directors of Selma Cafe, and I, are discussing what is next for Selma Cafe. The monthly breakfast parties are currently on hold. Please stay tuned for updates on activities, and thanks to all for the love!”

Selma Cafe began as a weekly breakfast salon in 2009, held … [Full Story]

Women’s Center of SE Michigan to Re-Open

The Women’s Center of Southeastern Michigan, which had closed its doors in mid-June, is planning to re-open later this week.

The Women's Center of Southeastern Michigan, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Logo for The Women’s Center of Southeastern Michigan.

According to former executive director Kimberli Cumming, the first priority will be to resume services to existing clients. The center provides affordable personal counseling, job coaching and divorce support, among other services.

On June 12, the board of the Ann Arbor-based nonprofit emailed a message to supporters announcing that the center would be closed. From the email: ”The loss of grant support for the types of services we offer has led the Board of The Women’s Center … [Full Story]

County Board Continues Weighing Road Tax

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (May 7, 2014): Two topics dominated a four-hour meeting: possible funding options for road repair, and an update on how the community is addressing homelessness.

Curtis Hedger, Dan Smith, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Washtenaw County corporation counsel Curtis Hedger and commissioner Dan Smith (R-District 2). (Photos by the writer.)

Following a lengthy discussion, commissioners voted to set a public hearing about a possible countywide road millage. The hearing will be held at their meeting on May 21 so that the public can give input on a proposal to levy up to 1 mill for roads in 2014. The tax would be levied under Act 283 of 1909.

No final decision is expected at the May 21 meeting about levying a tax – although a resolution to levy a 1-mill tax is on the May 21 agenda for initial consideration.

Commissioners all appeared to support finding a way to secure more road funding, but some voiced concern about process and timing – especially because a tax under Act 283 would be levied without voter approval.

The May 7 discussion began when Dan Smith (R-District 2) brought forward a resolution that would authorize levying a 1 mill tax – under Act 283 – in December 2014. It would generate $14.34 million “to repair 2013–14 winter damage to the roads, streets and paths in Washtenaw County.” The board ultimately voted to postpone the resolution until May 21 over dissent from Alicia Ping (R-District 3).

During the wide-ranging discussion, Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6) expressed concern that the public hadn’t yet been informed about the Act 283 proposal. At the request of board chair Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8), Roy Townsend – managing director of the county road commission – had prepared a list of road projects that could be funded by an Act 283 millage, which was distributed at the May 7 meeting. Townsend and two of the three road commissioners – Barb Fuller and Bill McFarlane – attended the May 7 meeting, and Townsend fielded questions from the board.

Corporation counsel Curtis Hedger cautioned that Act 283 lays out a specific process, which calls for a presentation of proposed road projects at a meeting in late September or October, prior to the December levy. Responding to those concerns, Dan Smith noted that options might include passing a resolution this month or in June to indicate the board’s intent to levy the tax, then possibly using money from the general fund’s fund balance to pay for road work this summer. The fund balance would be reimbursed when the tax revenues are collected in December. Hedger pointed out a risk in that approach: If someone sues the county and a court issues an injunction, then the county might be unable to levy the tax – after already spending general fund dollars.

Conan Smith (D-District 9) supported the Act 283 tax. “I’m almost of a mindset of ‘Let’s do it’ – and if someone wants to sue us over it, you know, then when they file a lawsuit we can reconsider,” he said. Smith preferred the Act 283 levy over a ballot initiative that voters would be asked to approve, saying there are other funding proposals he’d rather put on the ballot – for public safety and human services.

The board discussion on this issue will continue at the May 21 meeting.

In other road-related items on the May 7 agenda, the board voted to accept the recommendations of a subcommittee that was appointed last year to explore options enabled by state legislators. The subcommittee had recommended not to make the road commission part of county operations, and not to make the job of road commissioner an elected position.

The May 7 meeting also included an update about the community’s approach to addressing homelessness. The briefing was in response to a board directive given to staff on April 2, 2014 to develop a plan for updating the county’s Blueprint to End Homelessness. The blueprint was adopted in 2004. The process of updating that plan is to be completed by Oct. 1, 2014.

Responding to information that there’s been an increase in people from outside of Washtenaw County coming to the Delonis Center shelter in Ann Arbor, Conan Smith cautioned against making that kind of distinction, saying it “dehumanized” people who are seeking help, regardless of where they’re from.

Mary Jo Callan, director of the county’s office of community & economic development, told Smith that his point was well taken. But she noted that unless the state asks other communities to provide something close to the level of support that Washtenaw County provides, “then it’s an issue of volume. I’m sorry, but it’s not about dehumanizing.” Ellen Schulmeister, executive director of the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County, noted that 96% of the shelter’s budget comes from local public funding, and the shelter was built for people who became homeless in Washtenaw County. She said it was her job “to hold that line.”

During the May 7 meeting, commissioners also gave initial approval to allocate funding to local nonprofits as part of a coordinated funding approach for human services, in partnership with several other local funders. The county is one of the original five partners in the coordinated funding approach. Other partners are city of Ann Arbor, United Way of Washtenaw County, Washtenaw Urban County, and the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation.

This year, 105 applications were submitted by 50 local organizations totaling $8,732,389 in requested funding, according to a staff memo. A review committee recommended that 57 programs receive a total of $4,321,494 in available funding. Of that amount, the county is providing $1.015 million. Among the organizations that are being funded in this cycle are Corner Health Center, Interfaith Hospitality Network of Washtenaw County, Child Care Network, Catholic Social Services of Washtenaw, Food Gatherers and Legal Services of South Central Michigan. Several nonprofit leaders spoke during public commentary in support of this process, as did Ann Arbor city administrator Steve Powers.

In other action, the board appointed Ellen Rabinowitz as health officer for the Washtenaw public health department; passed a resolution calling for an increase in Michigan’s minimum wage to $10.10 per hour; and received a first-quarter budget update from the county’s finance staff. First-quarter projections tend to be conservative, because they’re based on only three months of the year, with limited evidence of budget trends. At this point, the 2014 general fund is projected to have a $70,230 shortfall by year’s end – with total revenues of $103,404,537 and total expenditures of $103,474,767. There is no planned use of fund balance for this year’s budget. [Full Story]

County Gives Initial OK to Coordinated Funding

Washtenaw County commissioners have given initial approval to allocate funding to local nonprofits as part of a coordinated funding approach for human services, in partnership with several other local funders. The action took place at the county board’s May 7, 2014 meeting.

The county is one of the original five partners in the coordinated funding approach. Other partners are city of Ann Arbor, United Way of Washtenaw County, Washtenaw Urban County, and the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation. It began as a pilot program in 2010.

This year, 105 applications were submitted by 50 local organizations totaling $8,732,389 in requested funding, according to a staff memo. A review committee recommended that 57 programs receive a total of $4,321,494 in available funding. Of that amount, … [Full Story]

A2: Community Foundation

The Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation has announced that its CEO and president, Cheryl Elliott, will be retiring at the end of 2014. She has served in that position since 2001, and has worked for AAACF since 1992. According to a press release, the AAACF’s chair and vice chair – Bhushan Kulkarni and Michelle Crumm – will oversee the search for a new CEO, working with a search committee and search firm. The goal is to hire a replacement by this fall. [Source]

Coordinated Funding Gets County Board OK

Washtenaw County commissioners have voted to extend the coordinated funding approach for human services, as well as to authorize some changes in that funding model. The unanimous vote occurred at the county board’s Nov. 6, 2013 meeting. Initial approval had been given on Oct. 16, 2013, over dissent from Dan Smith (R-District 2).

No dollar amounts were allocated, but the resolution authorizes the allocation of children’s well-being and human services funding for 2014 through 2016. It authorizes the continued management of those funds through the county’s office of community & economic development, using the coordinated funding approach – with some modifications.

The county is one of five partners in the coordinated funding approach. Other partners are city of Ann Arbor, United … [Full Story]

Selma Cafe Secures Nonprofit Status

Selma Cafe has received a 501(c)3 nonprofit designation from the IRS, a final step needed to secure financial autonomy for the Ann Arbor breakfast fundraiser that supports local farming efforts.

Sunward Cohousing, Selma Cafe, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Selma Cafe now holds its monthly breakfast fundraisers in the common house dining room at Sunward Cohousing in Scio Township. (Photo courtesy of Lisa Gottlieb.)

According to co-founder Lisa Gottlieb, the IRS approval of Selma’s 501(c)3 application came late last week. Artrain, an Ann Arbor nonprofit that took on fiscal sponsorship of the cafe in early June, will transfer about $43,000 in cash assets back to a Selma Cafe account … [Full Story]

Priorities Set for Washtenaw County Budget

Washtenaw County board of commissioners special meeting (July 24, 2013): As the staff works on developing a budget to present on Oct. 2, county commissioners have set four broad priorities to guide that process.

The leadership of the Washtenaw County board of commissioners, from left: Felicia Brabec (D-District 4 of Pittsfield Township), Andy LaBarre (D-District 7 of Ann Arbor), and Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8 of Ann Arbor). Rabhi is board chair. Brabec serves as chair of the board’s ways & means committee, and LaBarre chairs the board’s working sessions.

The leadership of the Washtenaw County board of commissioners, from left: Felicia Brabec (D-District 4 of Pittsfield Township), Andy LaBarre (D-District 7 of Ann Arbor), and Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8 of Ann Arbor). Rabhi is board chair. Brabec serves as chair of the board’s ways & means committee, and LaBarre chairs the board’s working sessions. (Photos by the writer.)

Those priorities, listed in order of importance, are: (1) ensure a community safety net through health and human services; (2) increase economic opportunity and workforce development; (3) ensure mobility and civic infrastructure for Washtenaw County residents; and (4) reduce environmental impact. [.pdf of budget priorities resolution] [.pdf of budget priorities memo and supporting materials]

The vote on the budget priorities resolution was 6-1, with dissent from Dan Smith (R-District 2), who indicated that his No. 1 priority is long-term fiscal stability, followed by public safety and justice. Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-District 5) had left the meeting before the vote, and Alicia Ping (R-District 3) was absent. Although it was not part of the four priorities, a resolved clause was added during the meeting, stating that “the long-term fiscal stability of the county [will] continue to be of import throughout the budget development process.”

The resolution was brought forward by Felicia Brabec (D-District 4), who’s leading the budget process for the board. It also laid out a framework for developing strategies to measure the effectiveness of county investments in these priorities.

Brabec described this approach as “both a policy and a paradigm shift” that can’t happen overnight, but one that’s critical for the county’s future. The board is forming work groups focused on each of the four priorities, as well as on the topic of human resources. These work groups will be meeting to develop as many as five “community impact” goals in each category, in work that’s expected to continue into next year and beyond.

The July 24 meeting also included an update from county administrator Verna McDaniel about the county’s current financial condition and preliminary projections for 2014. At her last presentation, on May 15, 2013, McDaniel told commissioners that the county needed to identify $6.99 million in structural reductions for the 2014 budget. The approach to addressing this $6.99 million target depended on whether the county moved ahead with a major bond proposal to cover obligations to retirees, she said at the time. That bond proposal was put on hold earlier this month.

Now, the projected general fund shortfall is $3.93 million on a roughly $101 million budget. McDaniel indicated that the shortfall will be addressed primarily with operating cost reductions ($3.83 million) as well as $100,000 in cuts to funding of outside agencies, including support for nonprofits. The lower shortfall resulted from revised actuarial data that significantly lowered the contribution that the county is required to make toward its unfunded retiree obligations. Other factors include: (1) a decision not to make a $1 million contribution to the general fund’s fund balance; and (2) $2.4 million in higher-than-previously-anticipated revenue.

McDaniel noted that if the county had chosen to bond, then operational cuts would not be needed, and the fund balance contribution could be made. She also reported that the general fund budget doesn’t factor in serious state and federal cuts to non-general fund programs. “Revenue is needed,” she said. “We need to figure that out.”

Commissioners Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) and Conan Smith (D-District 9) both voiced interest in exploring possible new taxes. “I think it’s important that we strongly consider asking the voters of Washtenaw County if they’re willing to support some of the ongoing operations that we have,” said Rabhi, the board’s chair. “We need to pose that question at least to the voters in the form of a millage of some kind.”

Smith cited human services and public safety as areas that might gain voter support for a millage. During public commentary, representatives from SafeHouse Center urged commissioners to continue funding of that nonprofit, as well as for human service organizations in general.

The upcoming budget will be prepared without the major bonding initiative that until earlier this month was anticipated to occur later this year. The bonding was intended to cover unfunded pension and retiree healthcare obligations – for the Washtenaw County Employees’ Retirement System (WCERS) and Voluntary Employees Beneficiary Association (VEBA). The original maximum amount for the bonds had been estimated at up to $345 million, but updated actuarial data resulted in a lower estimate of about $295 million. During the July 24 meeting, commissioner Conan Smith said it’s unlikely that bonding could occur this year, although he’s still supportive in general of taking that approach.

McDaniel plans to present the 2014 budget to the board at its Oct. 2 meeting. Commissioners are required to adopt a balanced budget for 2014 by the end of 2013. At its May 1, 2013 meeting, the board had approved development of a four-year budget. However, commissioners have not yet decided whether to follow through by adopting a budget with that four-year horizon. And some commissioners – notably Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6) – have expressed skepticism about this longer-term approach. For the past few years, budget plans have been developed for a two-year period, though the board must confirm the budget annually. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor OKs $1.2M Human Services Distribution

The distribution of over $1.2 million of human services funding has been authorized by the Ann Arbor city council. The action, which came at the council’s July 15, 2013 meeting, distributed funds to specific nonprofits that provide human services under contract with the city.

The budget allocation for $1,244,629 had already been made at the council’s May 20, 2013 meeting. A total of 20 programs operated by 16 different organizations are receiving funding from the city of Ann Arbor this year. It’s the same amount that was allocated last year.

Half of those organization are receiving more than $90,000: Interfaith Hospitality Network of Washtenaw County ($91,645); Catholic Social Services of Washtenaw County ($94,490); Food Gatherers ($95,171); Community Action … [Full Story]

Selma Cafe Finds New Fiscal Sponsor: Artrain

Selma Cafe, the breakfast fundraiser that suspended operations in mid-April, has found a new fiscal sponsor and is close to securing a new location, according to co-founder Lisa Gottlieb. She hopes to restart the cafe in late June, likely as a monthly Saturday brunch.

The paperwork is being completed to transfer fiscal sponsorship from the nonprofit Food System Economic Partnership (FSEP) to Artrain, an arts and cultural organization. In a phone interview with The Chronicle, Gottlieb said the new sponsorship by Artrain means that FSEP will release the Selma Cafe funds that had been frozen, including $46,500 from cash donations.

In late March, FSEP had frozen funds it held on behalf of Selma Cafe and had set a May … [Full Story]

Human Services Group Ponders Living Wage

The city of Ann Arbor’s living wage ordinance was the topic of a special session of the city’s housing and human services advisory board (HHSAB) held on Dec. 18. The current levels for Ann Arbor’s living wage are $12.17/hour for employers that offer benefits and $13.57/hour for those that don’t. It’s adjusted every year based on federal poverty guidelines.

Jim Mogensen, David Blanchard

Left to right: Jim Mogensen addressed the city’s housing and human services advisory board (HHSAB), including board chair David Blanchard, during its Dec. 18, 2012 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

HHSAB members as a group displayed little enthusiasm for a possible revision to the city’s living wage ordinance – a change that would exempt some nonprofits from compliance. The nonprofits that would not have to pay their workers a living wage are those that provide human services under contract with the city.

However, the group formed a consensus around the idea that their board was, in fact, an appropriate body to review the possible change to the ordinance. Some members felt their attitude toward the possible exemption depended in part on whether they construed the responsibility of the HHSAB narrowly, to focus exclusively on those who receive human services, or broadly, to include humans generally.

The HHSAB review of a possible change to the living wage ordinance will be informed in part by work done by a class of University of Michigan students, to be taught in the winter 2013 term by Ian Robinson, a lecturer in the department of sociology. Robinson attended the Dec. 18 meeting of the HHSAB, and sketched out the range of work he thought his students might be able to do to assist the board. The original timeline for the board to deliver a recommendation to the Ann Arbor city council was mid-February. But it appears now that will be pushed at least to March and possibly April.

The HHSAB is reviewing the living wage ordinance at the direction of the Ann Arbor city council, which had considered an ordinance revision at its Nov. 19, 2012 meeting. The council postponed the matter until mid-February, pending advice from HHSAB.

But discussion of the city’s living wage ordinance had begun at meetings of the HHSAB two months before that. At its Sept. 13 meeting, HHSAB board members were addressed by Joan Doughty, executive director of Community Action Network (CAN), on the topic of the city’s living wage ordinance. She indicated that CAN hired many part-time work/study students for its after-school programs – and her organization had to pay them $13.57 an hour under the city’s living wage ordinance. That detracted from CAN’s ability to pay its full-time staff, who depend on wages paid by CAN to earn a livelihood. HHSAB discussed the idea of forming a subcommittee to study the issue.

City councilmembers Sandi Smith and Jane Lumm, who then served as council liaisons to HHSAB, had introduced a resolution at the council’s Sept. 17, 2012 meeting on the topic. Their resolution would have waived the living wage requirement for those nonprofits that provide human services under contract with the city – which include CAN, although CAN was not mentioned in the resolution or the council’s discussion. That resolution was withdrawn, because it amounted to an ordinance change, which can’t be accomplished with a simple resolution. Councilmembers were told to expect a proposal for an ordinance change in the future.

HHSAB discussed the living wage again at its Oct. 16 meeting, determining that additional study was needed before making a recommendation. But at the city council’s Nov. 8, 2012 meeting, Lumm introduced a resolution to grant a waiver to CAN. Her resolution invoked the ordinance provision that allows the council to grant such a waiver for a specific nonprofit. The council granted the waiver, but on just a 9-2 vote. That relieved some of the immediate pressure – because it meant that CAN could receive its grant under contract with the city. The city had been withholding CAN’s allocation, because CAN could not sign an attestation that it was complying with the living wage ordinance.

So when the city council subsequently considered the proposed change to the living wage ordinance, at its Nov. 19 meeting, it did so without the sense of urgency that came with the earlier context of CAN’s financial difficulties. [.pdf of marked up proposed changes to living wage ordinance] The council’s postponement included a referral to HHSAB for its input.

The well-attended special meeting of HHSAB on Dec. 18 included some who were involved in the push to establish Ann Arbor’s living wage ordinance back in 2001. It was clear from the discussion that the situation of nonprofits that deliver human services had been consciously considered when the local law was first enacted over a decade ago. And because of that previous consideration, it seems unlikely – based on the board’s conversations on Dec. 18 – that HHSAB would make a recommendation in support of an ordinance change.  [Full Story]

Nonprofit CAN Gets Living Wage Exemption

For the next three years, the Community Action Network (CAN) will not have to pay its workers at the level required by the city of Ann Arbor’s living wage ordinance.

CAN is a nonprofit dedicated to improving communities in underprivileged Washtenaw County neighborhoods, and receives allocations from the city through the city’s coordinated funding process to support human services. For fiscal year 2013, CAN was allocated $105,809 by the city for its Y.E.S. You CAN! program. Because those annual allocations exceed $10,000, CAN is subject to the city’s living wage ordinance, which currently requires that a minimum of $12.17/hour be paid to employees by employers who provide health insurance and $13.57/hour by those employers not providing health insurance.

However, Ann Arbor’s living wage ordinance has … [Full Story]

Third Year for Coordinated Funding OK’d

A one-year extension for a pilot program using a “coordinated funding” model to support local human services was given final approval by the Washtenaw County board of commissioners at their Nov. 7, 2012 meeting. An initial vote had  been taken on Oct. 17.

The county is one of five partners in the coordinated funding approach. Other partners are the city of Ann Arbor, United Way of Washtenaw County, Washtenaw Urban County, and the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation. The Ann Arbor city council approved the one-year extension at its Oct. 15 meeting.

The process has three parts: planning/coordination, program operations, and capacity-building. The approach targets six priority areas, and identifies lead agencies for each area: (1) housing and homelessness – Washtenaw Housing Alliance; … [Full Story]

Ann Arbor OKs Extension of Coordinated Funding

A coordinated approach to funding of human services in Ann Arbor – which has been piloted in the last two years – will continue for a third year. The Ann Arbor city council gave its approval to continue the collaborative effort at its Oct. 15, 2012 meeting.

The “coordination” referenced in the approach takes place among local funders: Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation, United Way of Washtenaw County, the city of Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County, and the Washtenaw Urban County.

During a presentation at the city council’s Sept. 17, 2012 meeting, Mary Jo Callan – head of the city/county office of community and economic development – described the purpose of coordinated funding as creating a public/private partnership to focus on key … [Full Story]

Ann Arbor OKs Human Services Funding

At its June 18, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council authorized allocations totaling $1,244,629 to different nonprofits that provide human services. The amount was set as part of the FY 2013 budget, which the city council approved on May 22, 2012.

The process of making allocations followed a “coordinated funding” approach, as the city worked in concert with Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation, the United Way of Washtenaw County, Washtenaw County, and the Washtenaw Urban County to make the allocations. That approach was approved by the city council on Nov. 4, 2010.

The total amount allocated through the coordinated funding process is expected to be $4,285,089, from the following sources: Ann Arbor ($1,244,629); United Way of Washtenaw County ($1,677,000); Washtenaw County ($1,015,000); and Washtenaw Urban County ($348,460).

Proposals from … [Full Story]

Washtenaw County Board Looks to the Future

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Dec. 7, 2011):  At its last meeting of 2011, both the room and the agenda were packed.  A crowd showed up to speak during public commentary, and commissioners acted on several items before year’s end, many of them budget-related and looking toward the county’s future.

Supporters of Lourdes Salazar Bautista

Many of the people attending the Dec. 7 meeting of the Washtenaw County board of commissioners were supporters of Lourdes Salazar Bautista, an Ann Arbor resident who faces deportation. She is standing against the wall in the upper right corner of this photo. (Photos by the writer.)

Public commentary focused on two issues: (1) people lobbying against the imminent deportation of Ann Arbor resident Lourdes Salazar Bautista, and asking commissioners to intervene; (2) nonprofit leaders thanking the board for increasing the budget for coordinated funding, which supports human services agencies. The two-year budget for 2012-2013 approved by commissioners on Nov. 16 had included $128,538 in cuts each year to coordinated funding, but a vote on Dec. 7 restored that amount.

Another budget amendment approved by the board at the meeting relates to the unresolved status of mandated animal control services. County officials are still negotiating with the Humane Society of Huron Valley, which has a $500,000 annual contract for that work. The contract expires Dec. 31, and contingency plans are being made for the case that an agreement can’t be reached. Commissioners approved a budget amendment that requires board approval for any contract for animal control services extending more than 60 days.

Two presentations were made during the Dec. 7 meeting. Michael Ford, CEO of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, briefed commissioners about efforts to create a countywide transit system. The board will be asked to approve a four-party agreement between the county, AATA and the cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti that would set a framework for incorporating a countywide transit authority. Voters may eventually be asked to approve a millage for the system – if a dedicated funding sources is not secured by the end of 2014, the effort in its current form would demise.

And in a presentation aimed at priority setting for 2012 and beyond, board chair Conan Smith proposed focusing county efforts on shoring up the county’s east side, an area that’s facing a “perfect storm of despair,” he said, including high unemployment, low graduation rates and poor health. Characterizing his proposal as the start of a board discussion, Smith laid out a variety of options that the county could pursue, including a possible Headlee override or new millage to pay for services. Feedback from commissioners indicated support for developing a strategy to tackle these problems, but a reluctance to limit the focus to only the east side – primarily Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township. Several commissioners pointed out that poverty exists throughout the county.

Commissioners also took a range of other actions, including: (1) rejection of a proposal from the Washtenaw County road commission for a possible millage to fund road improvements; (2) a resolution of support for same-sex benefits; (3) an extension of a deadline related to compliance with the state’s 80/20 rule for health care costs; (4) approval of a brownfield plan for Ford Motor Co.’s Rawsonville plant; (5) creation of a board subcommittee on energy policy; and (6) appointments to a variety of boards, commissions and committees. [Full Story]

County Board Increases Nonprofit Funding

At its Dec. 7, 2011 meeting, the Washtenaw County board of commissioners – on a 10-1 vote – increased the county’s budget allocation for human services nonprofits that are supported through the coordinated funding model in 2012-2013. The two-year budget approved by commissioners on Nov. 16 had included $128,538 in cuts each year to coordinated funding. That amount is now restored. In total, the line item for coordinated funding is $1.015 million in 2012 and 2013, the same amount that was budgeted for 2011.

Voting against the increase was Dan Smith (R-District 2). He noted that the board had just approved the budget at its last meeting, and it was premature to increase funding at this point, especially since the county asked … [Full Story]

Nonprofit Supporters Lobby for County Funds

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Oct. 19, 2011): Lining Main Street in front of the county administration building, a dozen or so protesters stood in the rain – many with their dogs – holding signs in support of the Humane Society of Huron Valley (HSHV), which faces a dramatic funding cut under the proposed 2012-2013 county budget.

Supporters of the Humane Society of Huron Valley

Supporters of the Humane Society of Huron Valley in front of the Washtenaw County administration building at Main and Catherine, prior to the Oct. 19 board of commissioners meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

Inside during their meeting, county commissioners heard from a stream of supporters for various nonprofits, all urging the board to maintain funding for services – from the care of animals to basic safety net services like housing and food. The proposed budget calls for $1.2 million in cuts to outside agencies, including many nonprofits. Funding levels would drop from about $3 million this year to $1.8 million in each of the next two years. The cuts are proposed to address a projected $17.5 million deficit over the next two years.

Much of the public commentary came from HSHV supporters, who argued that the county is already getting more services than it pays for under its contract with the nonprofit, even before cutting annual funding from $500,000 to $250,000. That contract expires at the end of 2011, and leaders from the county and HSHV will be meeting later this month to try to reach an agreement for providing services – including those mandated by the state.

The budget was the focus of much of Wednesday’s three-hour meeting, which started with the appointment of Felicia Brabec to fill the vacant District 7 seat. Commissioners expressed support for the nonprofits they fund, but several argued that cuts are necessary because of the county’s declining revenues. They also pointed to discussions at the state level of eliminating the personal property tax. A recent analysis prepared by county staff estimates that repeal of the PPT would cut county revenues by $5.559 million, and would eliminate a total of $42.961 million in revenues for all local governments in Washtenaw County. [.pdf of PPT report]

Some commissioners urged the public to contact state legislators and oppose the PPT repeal, while others asked that everyone dig into their own pockets and contribute to local nonprofits that face funding cuts. Several commissioners expressed support for putting a human services millage on the ballot as a way to raise money for these safety net services. It would not be possible to add it to the Nov. 8 ballot, but could be considered for 2012. Wes Prater also argued that not enough cuts have been made in the budget – he believes county departments can find additional ways to trim their expenses.

In the only formal action related to the proposed budget, a resolution proposed by Yousef Rabhi reallocated $26,230 in annual dues (or $52,460 over two years) paid to the Michigan Association of Counties, transferring those funds to the Delonis Center, a homeless shelter in Ann Arbor. The resolution was unanimously approved. It followed action at the Ann Arbor city council’s Oct. 17 meeting, when councilmembers appropriated $25,000 from the city’s general fund reserve to keep the Delonis Center’s warming center open this winter. At the council’s meeting, mayor John Hieftje noted that the Delonis Center is a partnership between the city and county, and he hoped the county would uphold its end.

Final decisions on the budget haven’t yet been settled. The board must pass a budget by Dec. 31, and has only three more regular meetings scheduled for the year. The budget must first be voted on by the Ways & Means Committee – a committee of the whole board – then voted on a final time at a regular board meeting.

Though much of the Oct. 19 meeting focused on 2012-2013 budget issues, the board gave final approval to several other items, including: (1) creating a study committee to explore a historic district in Salem Township; (2) renewing a two-year contract with Governmental Consultant Services Inc., a Lansing-based lobbying firm; and (3) authorizing a contract with Sylvan Township related to the township’s bond repayment schedule.

And in non-budget public commentary, Douglas Smith submitted an appeal to the board for a Freedom of Information Act request that had been denied by the county, related to an incident that he says involves a high-ranking member of the sheriff’s office. The board did not respond publicly to his request, other than to clarify with the county’s corporation counsel that appeals are handled by the county administrator. [Full Story]

Literacy Coalition Faces Uncertain Future

In April 2010, Washtenaw County commissioners marked a transition – handing over leadership for a literacy coalition the county had spearheaded.

Washtenaw Literacy Coaltion meeting

At left, Amy Goodman, executive director of Washtenaw Literacy (a different entity from the Literacy Coalition of Washtenaw County), led the Sept. 26 membership meeting of the Literacy Coalition of Washtenaw County.

At the time, the Literacy Coalition of Washtenaw County had just hired its first executive director – Vanessa Mayesky – and reported progress in goals outlined in the county’s ambitious Blueprint to End Illiteracy.

But at a recent working session of the county board, commissioner Rob Turner reported that the coalition is now in crisis.

Mayesky resigned earlier this month to take a job at the University of Michigan, and funding for the coalition’s efforts is nearly depleted. Amy Goodman, chair of the coalition’s steering committee, had sent out an email on Sept. 20 stating that the coalition is at a crossroads. Based on the coalition’s financial situation, action needed to be taken, she wrote – and one of the options is to dissolve the coalition.

Goodman’s email was also a call for supporters to attend a Sept. 26 membership meeting at the NEW Center, to give input on the future of the coalition. At that meeting, which The Chronicle attended, Goodman and other steering committee members outlined the status of coalition finances. The faltering economy has tightened funding from both private and government sources, and the situation has been made even more challenging by a new coordinated funding approach being used by the county, city of Ann Arbor, Washtenaw United Way and other funders.

The coordinated funding focuses on six community priorities, ranging from homelessness to health care. But despite intense lobbying from coalition members – who noted that illiteracy is at the root of nearly every other social challenge, including unemployment and poverty – literacy is not on that list of coordinated funding priorities.

Options discussed at Monday’s meeting include: (1) trying to operate the coalition at a fully-funded level, which would entail raising funds for an annual budget of at least $71,000; (2) operating at a significantly reduced capacity, with a part-time coordinator and annual budget of $45,000; (3) creating a volunteer group to continue the effort; or (4) dissolving the coalition completely. [Full Story]

County Funds Nonprofits, Sets Deputy Price

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (June 1, 2011): Budget issues again occupied commissioners’ focus at this month’s county board meeting. The board took an initial vote to set the price for a contract sheriff’s deputy and to approve funding for local nonprofits.

Dick Fleece, Monique Reeves, Kelly Belknap, Wes Prater

From left: Washtenaw County public health officer Dick Fleece, newly appointed public health medical director Monique Reeves, interim deputy county administrator Kelly Belknap, and county commissioner Wes Prater. Commissioners approved the hiring of Reeves at their June 1 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

While the board’s previous meeting drew supporters from a range of human services groups, on Wednesday most public commenters spoke against funding of one specific nonprofit: Planned Parenthood of Mid and South Michigan. Their arguments on financial and moral grounds were ultimately unpersuasive to commissioners, who voted unanimously to approve support for Planned Parenthood and several other agencies, totaling $1.015 million through fiscal year 2013, including $53,040 from the county for Planned Parenthood.

Two commissioners raised concerns that county funding for human services in general is inadequate, especially in light of proposed changes that could bump thousands of beneficiaries statewide off the welfare rolls later this year.

In a vote that also holds budget implications, the board’s move to set the price for a contract sheriff’s deputy was remarkable mainly for its lack of debate – historically it’s been a contentious issue. Commissioners gave initial approval without comment. The price set in 2012 for a police services unit (PSU) is $150,594 – unchanged from this year. That’s followed by 1% annual increases through 2015. The difference between the actual cost of a PSU and the amount charged – roughly $25,500, based on current figures – would be covered by the county. The item will return to the board’s July 6 meeting for a final vote.

Meanwhile, a 2006 lawsuit filed against the county over the amount it charged at that time for contract deputies remains unresolved. Judge Joseph Costello of the 38th Circuit Court Chief has ordered the county and Augusta and Ypsilanti townships into non-binding facilitation, in a meeting set for June 22.

During Wednesday’s meeting, commissioners also approved a raft of other items, including: (1) the hiring of Monique Reeves as new medical director; and (2) five drain projects in Ann Arbor that require bonds backed by the county’s full faith and credit. The board also voted to add five new working sessions to its calendar: on June 16, July 21, Aug. 18, Sept. 15 and Oct. 13. All are focused on the 2012-2013 budget.

Finally, at the end of its meeting the board went into executive session for about an hour to address three issues: (1) a collective bargaining strategy; (2) possible settlement of pending litigation; and (3) review of a legal opinion. [Full Story]

Report Shows Impact of Nonprofits on Economy

The city of Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County office of community development released a 16-page report on Tuesday, May 31, that attempts to quantify the economic impact of the 37 local nonprofits that are funded by the county and city. In 2011, the combined investments from the city and county in those nonprofits totaled $2.7 million. According to the report, those funds leveraged more than $34 million in non-local revenue.[.pdf of nonprofit investment report]

The report highlights six “return on investment” categories: (1) stabilizing the workforce and community by providing services like childcare, food and affordable housing; (2) leveraging millions of dollars in additional funding; (3) providing jobs – if combined, human services nonprofits funded by the city and county … [Full Story]

Packard Square Proposal Moves Ahead

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (May 18, 2011): Two topics took up the bulk of time and attention during the most recent county board meeting: (1) proposals related to the Packard Square development in Ann Arbor; and (2) funding recommendations for nonprofits that provide human services to county residents.

Avalon Housing's symbolic paper cranes

Symbolic paper cranes were on display at the May 18, 2011 meeting of the Washtenaw County board of commissioners. The cranes represent the number of people in the county last year who used homeless support services. On screen in the photo’s background is Michael Appel of Avalon Housing, urging commissioners to support such services. (Photos by the writer.)

After much discussion, commissioners gave final approval to a brownfield plan for the Packard Square project, which will help fund environmental cleanup on the site of the former Georgetown Mall. The board also approved a $1 million grant application to the state Dept. of Environmental Quality for brownfield cleanup at the proposed $48 million development. Commissioner Wes Prater voted against the brownfield plan and the grant application.

The board postponed action until June 1 on a $1 million loan application to the MDEQ, as well as a request to authorize designation of the county’s full faith and credit as a guarantee for any loan that might be awarded, up to $1 million. They also discussed but ultimately postponed action on a broader public-private investment policy they’re developing, a policy spurred in large part by the request to back the MDEQ loan.

The policy discussion will likely be pushed back even further. At a May 24 briefing to review the June 1 agenda, commissioners learned from county staff that The Harbor Cos., developers of Packard Square, decided not to apply for the MDEQ loan. In light of that decision, the board is expected to take more time to flesh out details for its policy on public-private investment. And some commissioners – notably Leah Gunn – aren’t sure such a policy is even necessary. [Full Chronicle report on the May 24 briefing: "Loan Request Pulled for Packard Square"]

The other major item on the May 18 agenda related to funding for local human services nonprofits. The recommendations were made as part of a coordinated funding approach, combining support from the county, the city of Ann Arbor, the United Way of Washtenaw County, and the Washtenaw Urban County. More than 20 people spoke on the issue during public commentary, urging continued support for the county’s most vulnerable residents.

Commissioners were asked to give initial approval to $507,500 in human services funding for 2011. Additional funds for 2012 and 2013 were also approved, contingent on the board’s passing those budgets later this year – it’s possible that allocations will change, as the county works to eliminate a $17.5 million deficit. Commissioner Dan Smith voted against the allocations, citing an objection to one line item. He later clarified for The Chronicle that he objected to funding for Planned Parenthood.

The board acted on several other items during its May 18 meeting, including: (1) approval of a brownfield plan for LaFontaine Chevrolet in Dexter; (2) setting the 2011 rate for the county’s general operating millage; and (3) initial approval to hire Experis (formerly known as Jefferson Wells) to perform internal auditing services for the county.

The board also gave inital approval to apply for a federal Dept. of Justice grant worth nearly $500,000 to support the Washtenaw County Cyber Citizenship Coalition (WC4). Commissioner Kristin Judge, who spearheaded the WC4 initiative, reported that Gov. Rick Snyder has asked the coalition to host with him a statewide “cyber summit” later this year. [Full Story]

Urban County Gets Grim Funding Update

Washtenaw Urban County executive committee meeting (Feb. 22, 2011): Leaders of local municipalities got a grim update on Tuesday about looming federal funding cuts that will likely affect projects in many of the county’s low-income neighborhoods.

Mary Jo Callan

Mary Jo Callan, director of the Washtenaw County/city of Ann Arbor office of community development, at Tuesday's meeting of the Washtenaw Urban County. (Photo by the writer.)

“I am bringing you some troubling news,” said Mary Jo Callan, director of the Washtenaw County/city of Ann Arbor office of community development. “Do you want to start with the bad news, or the worst news?”

Callan reported that the two major programs that fund projects for low-income neighborhoods – the Community Development Block Grant and HOME Investment Partnership programs, both operated by the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) – have been targeted by Congress and President Obama for significant cuts in both the current fiscal year and in 2012. Washtenaw County communities receive about $2.4 million annually from the CDBG program alone.

Though at this point it’s unclear exactly what the final federal budget will include, Callan said it’s nearly certain that some funding cuts will occur – her staff is planning for a 10% reduction in grants from those two programs for fiscal 2012. “It’s pretty bleak,” she said. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor 2012 Budget: Parks, Plans, People

Editor’s note: The Ann Arbor city council has held two retreats to discuss the city’s FY 2012 budget – one in early December 2010 and another in early January 2011. A summary of the material covered in those retreats is provided in previous Chronicle coverage: “Ann Arbor: Engaging the FY 2012 Budget.”

Leading up to the city administrator’s proposed budget in April, the city council is also holding a series of work sessions on the budget. Their typical scheduling pattern is for the weeks between council meetings. That was the case on Jan. 31, 2011 when the council held its budget work session on the community services area, which includes human services, parks and planning. Another session was held on Feb. 7, prior to the council’s regular meeting, regarding the 15th District Court. A report on the Feb. 14, 2011 session, which focused on police and fire, will follow.

Community Services Area Ann Arbor city council budget retreat

At the podium is community services area administrator Sumedh Bahl. Partially obscured by the podium is councilmember Marcia Higgins (Ward 4). Leafing through the budget impact sheets that the council had been given just prior to the meeting is Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2). (Photo by the writer.)

The Ann Arbor city council’s budget work session on Jan. 31, 2011 covered a broad range of topics – from the city’s affordable housing stock, to planning and development, to parks and recreation (including golf courses), to human services funding. All these issues fall under the city’s community services area, which is led by Sumedh Bahl.

In a budget year where maintaining the same level of activity in every department is projected to result in a $2.4 million shortfall, city departments have been given reduction targets between 2.5% and 4%. Targets vary across departments depending on health care costs for employees in those departments.

So at their work session, councilmembers heard from heads of individual departments about the specific ways those targets might be met.

For example, Mary Jo Callan, who’s head of the city/county office of community development, told councilmembers that an unrealized $98,000 federal grant would pose an additional challenge. All other things being equal, Callan would meet the reduction target by reducing the city’s allocation to nonprofit human services agencies by $116,714 – from $1,275,744 to $1,159,030. The budget is planned in two-year cycles, even though it’s adopted just one year at a time, so Callan’s reduction strategy for next year’s FY 2013 budget would be to reduce the nonprofit allocation by an additional $48,700.

The planning department plans to meet its reduction target in part by charging the construction fund for 10% of the historic district coordinator’s time, factoring in projected revenue increases due to increased development activity, and leaving a rental housing inspector position vacant. The rental housing inspection activity would be maintained at appropriate levels by using construction inspectors for rental housing inspections as needed.

The city’s housing commission – which maintains more than 350 units of public housing throughout the city – is not proposing to meet reduction targets, but rather to hire what officials say are two crucially needed positions: a financial analyst and a facilities maintenance manager, which together are expected to cost an additional $154,000 per year.

Parks and recreation would meet their targets in part through savings derived from energy improvements that have been made to various recreational facilities over the past few years.

The council focused some of its session on the city’s golf courses, with a council consensus seeming to emerging that for the next two years, the council will be content to stick with the status quo – operating the Leslie Park and Huron Hills facilities as golf courses, and not changing them to other uses.

But the council was also asked to consider a question on which it could be harder to achieve consensus: Should the city continue to help fund park operations, as it has for the last four years, by tapping the city’s general fund reserve for $287,000 annually? The history of the issue dates back to the parks capital improvements and maintenance millage, which was approved in 2006, and which was followed by the council’s approval of its FY 2008 budget the next spring.

That history is rooted partly in a question that the city’s CFO, Tom Crawford, addressed in a straightforward fashion at the work session: What exactly does it mean for a department to have a budget reduction target of 2.5%?  [Full Story]

Urban County: Nonprofit Funding Update

Washtenaw Urban County executive committee meeting (Jan. 25, 2011): Urban County members – a group representing 11 municipalities in Washtenaw County – got an update on a new effort to coordinate the funding of local nonprofits.

Damon Thompson, Teresa Gillotti

Damon Thompson, operations manager for the Washtenaw County/city of Ann Arbor office of community development, talks with Ypsilanti city planner Teresa Gillotti after the Jan. 25 Urban County meeting.

Nonprofits are vying for funds from the city of Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County, the Urban County, and Washtenaw United Way. Nearly 60 nonprofits applied to the first phase of the process, in which they were asked to supply basic financial and governance documents. Of that group, 51 were qualified to respond to a request for proposals (RFP) that was issued Jan. 28.

It’s still unclear how much funding will be available, but it could be less than the nearly $5 million that was awarded from these groups last year. Budgets for Ann Arbor and the Urban County haven’t been finalized, and the 2011 county budget is facing about $1 million in as-yet-undetermined cuts.

At last week’s meeting, three members of the Urban County’s executive committee – Pittsfield Township deputy supervisor Barb Fuller, Ypsilanti mayor Paul Schreiber and Ann Arbor city councilmember Margie Teal – were appointed to review applications for the coordinated funding process. All governing boards of the four entities involved in this cycle’s funding will appoint members to a review committee. The fifth partner – the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation – will fund capacity-building grants to nonprofits identified as needing help with internal operations, like infrastructure and staff development.

Also at last week’s meeting, Urban County members got an update on an annual plan being developed for the U.S. Dept. of Housing & Urban Development (HUD), which provides funding for low-income housing and neighborhood projects. The plan will include a list of proposed projects located within the Urban County area that would be eligible for HUD funding. To gather more input, a needs assessment public hearing is set for the Feb. 22 meetings of both the Ann Arbor city council and the Urban County.

Two people spoke during public commentary, both criticizing Avalon Housing for its handling of two low-income housing projects: 1500 Pauline, and Near North. The nonprofit was defended by Leah Gunn, who chairs the Urban County executive committee – she called Avalon one of the “stars of community development.” [Full Story]

Washtenaw Launches OpenBook Website

Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners working session (Oct. 7, 2010): At its recent working session, the board heard presentations on two topics: 1) a new initiative called OpenBook, which is making more of the county’s financial information available online, and 2) an update on efforts to create a coordinated funding model involving the Washtenaw United Way, Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation, Washtenaw County, the city of Ann Arbor and the Urban County.

Screenshot of Washtenaw County's OpenBook website

A screenshot of Washtenaw County's OpenBook website, which launched this week. (Image links to

Mary Jo Callan, director of the Washtenaw County/city of Ann Arbor office of community development, gave the coordinated funding update and fielded several questions from commissioners. She’d given a similar presentation at last month’s meeting of the Urban County executive committee.

Andy Brush, the county’s webmaster, made a presentation on the OpenBook project, which launched to the public on Friday. Commissioner Conan Smith questioned the amount of staff time involved in the initiative, and asked that they monitor usage of the site, to determine whether it’s worth the resources they need to invest. His comments earned a sharp rebuke from commissioner Kristin Judge, who has spearheaded the project. Minimal staff time is involved, she said, and taxpayers have a right to this information, noting that the push to transparency was a directive from President Barack Obama. Both Judge and Smith are Democrats. [Full Story]

Coordinated Funding for Nonprofits Planned

A strategy for coordinating major funders of nonprofits in Washtenaw County has been in the works for more than a year, and is now being rolled out to governing boards for approval.

Mary Jo Callan

Mary Jo Callan, director of the Washtenaw County/city of Ann Arbor office of community development, described a proposed coordinated funding strategy by local governments, United Way of Washtenaw County and the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation at the Sept. 28 meeting of the Washtenaw Urban County. (Photos by the writer.)

At Tuesday’s meeting of the Washtenaw Urban County executive committee, members were briefed on the proposal, which involves the Washtenaw United Way, Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation, Washtenaw County, city of Ann Arbor and the Urban County. Together, these entities provide about $5 million annually for local human services nonprofits.

Mary Jo Callan, director of the Washtenaw County/city of Ann Arbor office of community development, told Urban County members that the public/private model would focus funding on six priorities that have been identified for the entire county: housing/homelessness, aging, school-aged youth, children from birth to six, health and food.

The two-year pilot project is grounded in previous coordination between the city of Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County and the Urban County, a consortium of 11 local governments. The office of community development (OCD), which Callan leads, already manages nonprofit funding for those three entities.

Callan also said this could be a national model for communities that are trying to do a better job of delivering human services with constrained resources.

Some members of the Urban County executive committee, while expressing general support, also raised questions and concerns. How do individual nonprofit agencies fit into the funding model, especially if they don’t provide services in the areas identified as priorities? Will small or new nonprofits be able to compete successfully for funding, or will larger, well-established nonprofits have an overwhelming advantage? How well will the different cultures of United Way, the community foundation and local governments work together, and what roles will they play?

Callan acknowledged these challenges, but noted that many of these same concerns exist under the current, more fragmented funding model. Coordinated funding is the best approach to providing needed services to people in the county, she said.

The Urban County is expected to vote on the proposal at its Oct. 26 meeting. The other groups – including Ann Arbor’s city council – are expected to vote at meetings in late October and early November. Callan will also be making a presentation about the initiative to the county board of commissioners at their Oct. 7 working session. [Full Story]

Column: What, If Anything, Is a Bicyclist?

Temperatures hit the high 70s at Sunday’s Artisan Market near Kerrytown, where volunteers for Common Cycle were helping people learn about bicycle repair.


Top to bottom: Tom Wright, Frank Schwende, Thomas Kula. (Photos by the writer.)

And as the weather gets warmer, the primary election season will also start to heat up – just as surely as journalists will appeal to hackneyed clichés to describe it. For local office candidates, as well as commentators on local races, part of the sport is to categorize the community into convenient groupings – like parents, homeowners, renters, students, landlords, environmentalists, developers, new urbanists, preservationists, park-lovers, young professionals, old hippies, the handicapped, business people, transit riders, etc.

I’m not certain that bicyclists would make the list as a voter group. But they’ll serve to make the point I want to make.

Yes, that non-exhaustive list of groupings is a sometimes useful and convenient set of labels. But just as the word “zebra” is a convenient label for those horse-shaped animals with a black and white pattern of stripes, that doesn’t mean that all of those “zebras” are necessarily biologically related.

The title of this column, in fact, is a play on the title of a fairly famous essay by Stephen Jay Gould: “What, If Anything, Is a Zebra?” That essay was written back in the early ’80s and I’m not sure if the evolutionary biologists ever settled the question. I don’t really care – zebras don’t live around these parts, and even if they did, they’re notorious non-voters.

But bicyclists do live around here. And they’ll serve as well as any grouping to illustrate the fact that among any “community” we include in a list of labels, there’ll be smaller sub-communities that have more specialized interests. So we’d do well to avoid thinking of these convenient labels as reflective of any one coherent community.

This column takes a look at three groups of people that could fairly be labeled “bicyclists,” with the idea that they’re separate groups, with maybe some overlap in people, but which are fundamentally different: Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition, Bicycles Are Traffic, and Common Cycle. I look at each group through the lens of one of their events I’ve attended over the last week and a half. [Full Story]

Local Food Isn’t Just for Eating

“How about a round of applause for beets?!” Kim Bayer asked the group gathered for dinner on Thursday night.

Slow Food Huron Valley

The table was filled at the potluck for Slow Food Huron Valley, held at Hathaway's Hideaway on South Ashley. To make it a zero-waste event, people brought their own dishware. (Photos by the writer.)

When a room of people cheers for root vegetables – and later, for pie – there’s probably a theme at hand. On Thursday, the theme was locally grown food, fêted at a potluck hosted by Slow Food Huron Valley. The 30 or so people at Hathaway’s Hideaway on South Ashley heard an update on the nonprofit’s activities over the past year, and got a preview of what’s to come in 2010.

There was also plenty to eat and drink: Derby sandwiches (with pickles, bacon and mayo), parmigiano pumpkin soup with prosciutto, spinach walnut pesto, vegan “slop,” sweet potato pie – most of these and other dishes made from locally grown or produced food.

The connection between the meal and the mission of Slow Food Huron Valley was clear, as Bayer – a member of the group’s leadership team – told the diners: “Good food needs to be a basic human right.” [Full Story]