Stories indexed with the term ‘public access’

Access, Security, and Art at Justice Center

The balance between access and security at the city’s newly constructed Justice Center was part of the agenda for a July 16, 2012 meeting of the Ann Arbor city council’s building committee.

Possible alternate security configuration for Ann Arbor Justice Center. The orientation is with east at the top. Fifth Avenue is at the bottom of the diagram.

Possible alternate security configuration for Ann Arbor Justice Center. (The orientation of the diagram is with east at the top. Fifth Avenue is at the bottom of the diagram.) Estimated cost of changing to this configuration is about $225,000.

At the meeting, held in the hour before the regular city council meeting at 7 p.m., committee members were briefed on different options for modifying security at the building to improve public access. Currently, visitors to the Justice Center go through a security checkpoint very near the entrance to the building, off the Huron Street plaza. The building houses the 15th District Court as well as the city’s police department.

Among the options committee members were presented is the possible relocation of the airport-style screening station to a position closer to the elevators, on the Fifth Avenue side of the building. Estimated cost for the different options ranges from $30,000 to $225,000.

The work of generating different options came in the wake of concern by some city councilmembers about adequate access to a piece of art they had approved for purchase and installation in the lobby. Councilmembers weren’t content that visitors who wished merely to view the art would have to undergo security screening, and were skeptical that the art would be adequately visible from outside the building through the horizontal bands of etched glass on the Justice Center windows.

That piece of art is a suspended sculpture called “Radius,” by Ed Carpenter. It’s funded through the city’s Percent for Art public art program. Part of the council’s discussion on the artwork back in early May had included a desire to look at options for relocating the security screening checkpoint – and there was an indication that the council’s building committee would convene a meeting to address that possibility. For some councilmembers, there’s a desire to see better public access to the Justice Center lobby independent of the installation of public art there.

At the council’s July 2, 2012 meeting, Jane Lumm (Ward 2) had inquired about the status of the building committee’s meeting. She’d been told by city administrator Steve Powers that the security screening was on the committee’s July 16 agenda.

The committee did not deliberate in depth on the different options – partly because the final invoices and costs for the municipal center building project aren’t final, so it’s not clear if money might remain in the project budget to handle alterations of the security screening station. [The municipal center refers to the Justice Center and adjacent city hall.] Any change to the current security configuration would first be recommended to the full city council by its building committee, with necessary expenditures approved by the city council before implementation by the city administrator.

Councilmembers who attended the July 16 committee meeting included Sandi Smith (Ward 1), Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Margie Teall (Ward 4), and mayor John Hieftje. Staff included city administrator Steve Powers, facilities service unit manager Matt Kulhanek, chief of police John Seto, and CFO Tom Crawford.

After the jump, this article includes more detail on the different security configuration options and the cost breakdown. [Full Story]

CTN: What’s The Vision for Local Television?

Editor’s note: In April 2011, The Chronicle sought to verify statements about Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority finances made by city staff at the Ann Arbor city council’s Feb. 17, 2009 meeting. We learned that the recording of the meeting was no longer available from Community Television Network (CTN), which is part of the city of Ann Arbor’s communications unit. The DVD of the meeting was missing and the online content had been deleted.

CTN Control Room

Chronicle file photo from September 2010 of the control room adjoining the CTN television studio, located on South Industrial Highway. On the screens are images from a local League of Women Voters city council candidate forum.

The Chronicle subsequently obtained an audio cassette recording of the Feb. 17 meeting made by the city clerk.

In relevant part, we report the contents of that city council cassette tape in a separate article. For this article, we take a view of CTN as an organization that’s broader than a missing DVD. But we still begin with a city council meeting.

In May 2009, former cable communications commissioner Paul Bancel addressed the city council during the time allotted for public commentary. He suggested that when councilmembers looked at the city budget, they’d see a $1.5 million allocation to community television. “It’s up to you to make it relevant,” he said.

Is it relevant? For 38 years, Community Television Network has served Ann Arbor. “There will always be cable providers or video providers,” said CTN manager Ralph Salmeron in a recent Chronicle interview.

But how does CTN fit within that media and communications landscape? [Full Story]

Monthly Milestone: A Different Beast

Editor’s note: The monthly milestone column, which appears on the second day of each month – the anniversary of The Ann Arbor Chronicle’s Sept. 2, 2008 launch – is an opportunity for either the publisher or the editor of The Chronicle to touch base with readers on topics related to this publication.

It’s also a time that we highlight, with gratitude, our local advertisers, and ask readers to consider subscribing voluntarily to The Chronicle to support our work.

The May meeting of the University of Michigan board of regents was remarkable for a rare display of discord. It’s the only time I can recall that this particular board has publicly voiced disagreement with the administration. It’s the only time I can remember some unscripted debate unfolding among regents on a substantive issue – the issue was a resolution recognizing the right of graduate student research assistants to unionize.


Bezonki, like The Chronicle, is a different kind of beast – he's sometimes surprised by what he reads in the newspaper. This is a preview panel from the upcoming June edition of The Chronicle's comic – a monthly nod to the time-honored tradition of the Sunday funnies. Bezonki is created by local artist Alvey Jones. (Image links to Bezonki archive.)

After the meeting, I happened to be leaving at the same time as UM president Mary Sue Coleman. As we walked down the hall together, I told her that despite the tension and clearly deep disagreement on this issue, I had found it refreshing to see an actual public debate at the meeting. It simply never happens.

Whatever disagreements exist among regents – or between regents and the administration – seem to be aired privately. When tuition rates are set, some regents will read statements of polite disagreement, before casting their votes of dissent. But most action items are approved unanimously, with little if any comment. I told Coleman that I realized the meeting had been at times uncomfortable, but that I appreciated the debate.

She gave me a withering look. “I’m sure you do,” she said, crisply.

Her pointed disdain took me aback – though I should have seen it coming. From her perspective, she’d been delivered a very public defeat on an issue she is passionate about, grounded in her personal experience. She seemed weary. But her comment also revealed a view of the media that’s more prevalent and more justified than I like to admit. It’s a view of reporters as hungering for headline-grabbing, website-traffic-sucking stories – and if the facts don’t quite deliver the juice, well, there are ways to spice up reality. There’s a reason why news gathering is sometimes called “feeding the beast.”

From that perspective, Coleman perhaps heard my remarks as the comments of someone who was hungry for more drama of regents mixing it up in front of the plebeians. Ouch.

So on my drive home from UM’s Dearborn campus – where the regents meeting was held – I thought about why the exchange had touched a nerve for me. For one, I’m dismayed that elected officials and other civic leaders are so often reluctant to hold difficult discussions in public. The board of regents is not the only body that does its business like a tightly choreographed kabuki dance. But as a journalist, I’m angered when irresponsible actions by those who earn a livelihood as part of the news media give public bodies a cheap excuse to be even more closed-off. [Full Story]

Budget Deliberations Focus on Small Items

Doodle showing comparison of Project Grow versus Police Discussion

Doodle by city council meeting audience member showing comparison of Project Grow versus police discussion. "Time spent on Project Grow – $7,000; On cops – $6.8 million."

Ann Arbor City Council Meeting (May 18, 2009): Ann Arbor’s city council approved the budget for fiscal year 2010 at its Monday meeting, spending little time discussing a separate resolution key to that budget, which approved an early-retirement inducement for police officers involving a one-time payment of around $6 million – depending on how many officers take advantage of the incentive.

The fact of the lengthy discussion over much smaller items was acknowledged around the council table, with councilmember Sandi Smith (Ward 1) making a note of it when she made an unsuccessful bid to eliminate or delay the introduction of parking meters into near-downtown residential neighborhoods. Smith was comparing the relatively short discussion of parking meters (involving potential additional revenues of $380,000) to the previous deliberations on Project Grow’s funding. And in the course of the more than 45-minute deliberations on Project Grow’s $7,000 grant, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) noted: “The least expensive ones are the ones we fight the hardest over.” Briere lost her fight for the community gardening nonprofit.

The approved budget did include amendments to allocate funds for the Leslie Science and Nature Center. Also related to the budget, the two resolutions to approve fee adjustments for the community services and public services areas were approved with no deliberations by council, leaving the issues raised at the previous night’s caucus by the chair of the market commission undiscussed publicly.

In other budget business, city council passed a resolution to create a taskforce to study options for the Ann Arbor Senior Center, which is slated for closure under the FY 2011 budget plan (i.e., not the budget approved by council at this meeting).

Council also approved an extension to the purchase-option agreement with Village Green for the First and Washington parcel, gave final approval to a completely new liquor ordinance, approved increased water/sewer rates, approved grant applications for multiple properties under the greenbelt program, and asked planning commission to review the C3 zoning regulations regarding the kind of temporary outdoor sales conducted in previous years at the Westgate farmers market.

The funding of the north-south connector study was again postponed, pending coordination with the Downtown Development Authority. [Full Story]