Stories indexed with the term ‘working session’

Rules Change Delayed, But Public Comment OK’d

The Ann Arbor city council has postponed a vote on changes to its internal rules until its Sept. 16 meeting. The council’s action came at its Sept. 3, 2013 meeting. However, as part of its decision to postpone the vote, the council indicated that it will in some sense enact one of the proposed rules changes in advance of a vote on all of them – by providing an opportunity for public comment at its Sept. 9 work session.

This revision to the set of council rules was first presented to the council on June 17, 2013. However, a vote was postponed at that meeting.

The revisions were prompted by a desire to allow for public commentary at council work sessions … [Full Story]

County Preps for More Restructuring

Washtenaw County board of commissioners working session (Feb. 2, 2012): Commissioners got a preview from county administrator Verna McDaniel about plans for more restructuring of Washtenaw County operations, in the wake of 117 retirements at the end of 2011 and an ongoing need to cut costs.

Verna McDaniel

Washtenaw County administrator Verna McDaniel. (Photos by the writer)

McDaniel is asking departments to explore a “continuum of opportunities,” from cooperation on one end of the spectrum, to consolidation on the other end. As an example, she noted that the recent 911 dispatch consolidation between the city of Ann Arbor and the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office – an agreement at the county board approved at its Jan. 18, 2012 meeting – began as cooperation, when county dispatchers co-located with Ann Arbor’s operations.

As an initial step, at the board’s Feb. 15 meeting McDaniel will be asking for approval to restructure support services in administration, finance, information technology and facilities management. The changes entail creating a new “cross-lateral” team of four current senior managers, and putting two positions – including the job of deputy county administrator – on “hold vacant” status. Another nine positions will be eliminated, while eight jobs will be created. The restructuring will result in a net reduction of three full-time jobs, and estimated annual savings of $326,422.

Commissioners were generally supportive of her proposal, though some cautioned against creating the expectation that the county can provide the same or a better level of services with reduced resources. The county is facing projected deficits of $11.6 million in 2014 and $14.7 million in 2015.

Also at the Feb. 2 working session, board chair Conan Smith gave an update on negotiations with the Humane Society of Huron Valley, saying he hopes to bring an agreement for board approval at their Feb. 15 meeting. The contract would cover animal control services for the remainder of 2012, with the intent of working toward a longer-term agreement for the coming years. The county plans to ask local municipalities that have animal control ordinances – including Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti Township – to help pay for services provided under contract with HSHV.

The board also got a brief update on the $1.3 million in renovations at the downtown county courthouse. The project, which started early last year when Ann Arbor’s 15th District Court vacated the courthouse to move to the city’s new Justice Center, will be wrapping up in mid-March.

The working session included an agenda briefing for the Feb. 15 meeting, but some commissioners expressed discontent at the new format, which had been implemented earlier this year. Wes Prater suggested that if the briefings do not include time for commissioners to ask questions, then the information might as well be emailed to them instead. “I believe all of us can read,” he said.

[Full Story]

Work Session: Snow Plows, Buses, LDFA, Peds

The relatively heavy agenda of the Ann Arbor city council’s Dec. 12 work session includes: (1) a demonstration of the city’s new automatic vehicle location (AVL) snow plow tracking system; (2) the annual report of the local development finance authority (LDFA); (3) a presentation on countywide transit from the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority; and (4) a review of pedestrian safety issues at crosswalks.

The AVL snow plow tracking system is supposed to provide residents with real-time information on the status of plowing activity, through GPS devices mounted on the trucks. The devices monitor not only a vehicle’s location, but also whether the plow is deployed, along with other vehicle performance information. The city’s snow plow status page currently requires … [Full Story]

County Board Work Session Cancelled

A working session of the Washtenaw County board of commissioners – scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 18 – has been cancelled. It had been one of five working sessions added to the board calendar earlier this year, designed to focus on the 2012-2013 budget. The previous board working session, set for Aug. 4, had also been cancelled.

Thursday’s working session was to focus on the planned consolidation of dispatch operations between the county and the city of Ann Arbor. [See Chronicle coverage: "Ann Arbor, Washtenaw: Joint 911 Dispatch?"] According to commissioner Yousef Rabhi, chair of the working session, the sheriff’s office needed more time to prepare the presentation, and none of the presentations scheduled for upcoming working sessions … [Full Story]

Plans for Skatepark, Recycling, Mental Health

Washtenaw County board of commissioners working session (July 7, 2011): Three seemingly disparate projects drew questions and in some cases concerns over the county’s role in them, as commissioners heard presentations this month on the Ann Arbor skatepark, plans for an expanded recycling facility in western Washtenaw, and proposed changes at the Washtenaw Community Health Organization (WCHO).

Recycle bin

A recycling bin used in the city of Ann Arbor. Some county commissioners would prefer that the Western Washtenaw Recycling Authority partner with Ann Arbor, rather than build its own single-stream recycling facility.

The longest discussion focused on a proposal by the Western Washtenaw Recycling Authority, which is hoping to build a $3.2 million facility to handle single-stream recycling for communities on the county’s west side. The 20-year-old entity would like the county to issue $2.7 million in bonds, backed by the county’s full faith and credit, to be repaid through special assessments on households in participating communities, including the city of Chelsea.

Commissioners wanted more details on the project’s business plan and projected budget before they consider a formal proposal, likely in early September. Several commissioners also questioned why the WWRA wasn’t planning to partner with the Ann Arbor recycling facility. Commissioner Rob Turner, whose district covers much of western Washtenaw and who supports this effort, voiced some frustration that recent bonding for drain projects in Ann Arbor hadn’t received the same level of scrutiny from his fellow commissioners.

The skatepark presentation was relatively brief, and commissioners generally expressed support for the project. Commissioner Rolland Sizemore Jr. felt the organizers were too Ann Arbor-centric, however. He reminded them that the county parks & recreation commission had committed $400,000 in matching funds for the project, and that organizers should consider fundraising and selling skatepark merchandise in other parts of the county, not just Ann Arbor.

The board also learned some details on a proposed transfer of about a half-dozen employees from the county payroll to the WCHO, as part of a restructuring aimed at limiting the county’s financial liabilities. The WCHO is an entity that receives state and federal funding to provide services for people with serious mental illness, developmental disabilities and substance abuse disorders. At this point, WCHO “leases” its employees from the county, and contracts for services through the county’s community support and treatment services (CSTS) department, which employs about 300 people. A CSTS employee spoke during public commentary, complaining that the staff hasn’t been adequately informed about these proposed changes.

And though commissioner Ronnie Peterson, at a June 28 agenda briefing, had advocated strongly for reordering the working session’s agenda in order to give more time to the WCHO discussion, he did not attend the meeting. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Council Work Session: Fuller Road

At its June 20, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council revised its calendar for the year to include a work session scheduled for July 11. While the staff memo accompanying the resolution indicates only that the additional session is due to “numerous activities developing in the city,” a likely topic to be addressed at the July 11 session is the city’s proposed Fuller Road Station.

Fuller Road Station would be located on what is now a city-owned surface parking lot south of Fuller Road, east of East Medical Center Drive. The parcel is included as parkland in the city’s park planning documents, which has generated opposition among some residents. The initial phase of the project is being planned by the city and the University of Michigan as a large parking structure with bus bays and a bike station, with plans eventually to build a train station on the same site.

At the council’s June 6 meeting, the Fuller Road Station had received extensive public commentary, despite the lack of any item on the agenda related directly to the project.

Partly in response to that commentary and to remarks from Mike Anglin (Ward 5), at that meeting Sabra Briere (Ward 1) pushed for a city council working session on the project. From The Chronicle’s report of that meeting: “Sabra Briere (Ward 1) anticipated mayor John Hieftje’s reaction to Anglin’s comments [Hieftje has pushed hard for the project] by telling the mayor that she knew he had a lot of thoughts about Fuller Road Station. But she thought the council should have a working session, so that councilmembers can become more knowledgable about the issue. Hieftje indicated that he would look into adding something to the calendar.”

The city’s park advisory commission received an update on Fuller Road Station at its May 17, 2011 meeting.

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 Planning with the PROS

Ann Arbor’s master plan for parks gets updated every five years, a massive undertaking that takes about a year to complete. City parks planner Amy Kuras outlined the process at an October 2009 meeting of the park advisory commission, noting that she’d be seeking input from a variety of groups and the general public on the Park and Recreation Open Space (PROS) plan.

Forest Hill Cemetery

Forest Hill Cemetery in Ann Arbor. Planning commissioners pointed to cemeteries and the University of Michigan campus as adding to the downtown greenspace, in addition to city-owned parks. The discussion prompted one commissioner to quip: "Bring a basket to the casket!"

One of those focus groups took place at a working session for planning commissioners earlier this month, where Kuras asked for feedback on a range of topics, including the possibility of changing zoning to better protect parkland – an issue raised during debate about the proposed Fuller Road Station.

Also discussed were the role of parks and open space in the downtown area, and whether the city should acquire land for an Allen Creek greenway. And commissioners weighed in on the city’s practice of asking developers to contribute land or cash in lieu of land for parks – developers of Zaragon Place 2 will likely be paying the city $48,000 for that purpose, for example.

The nearly two-hour discussion touched on a whole host of other topics as well: How far should the city go in crafting public/private partnerships, like putting cell phone towers in parks? Beyond a traditional playground, how can the city become more kid-friendly – with amenities like fountains, or objects to climb on? Are pedestrian malls really an awful idea?

The city is soliciting more general public input on the PROS plan in several ways: via an online survey, email that can be sent to, and a series of public meetings. The next meeting is set for Tuesday, June 29 at 7 p.m. at Cobblestone Farm Barn, 2781 Packard Road. The current 232-page PROS plan (a 10MB .pdf file) can be downloaded from the city’s website. [Full Story]

Infrastructure Outlook: “Train Wreck”

With revenues declining on several fronts and investments cut as a result, the infrastructure of southeast Michigan – its transit, water and sewer systems – is facing a “train wreck,” Washtenaw County commissioners were told at a recent working session.

A report from the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, drafted by a task force on infrastructure led by county board chair Rolland Sizemore Jr., laid out steps that SEMCOG hopes to take to address the situation – including, most immediately, lobbying Lansing lawmakers to raise the state’s gas tax, which funds road construction and upkeep. The briefing prompted commissioner Jeff Irwin to express frustration at SEMCOG’s approach, which he indicated wasn’t bold enough to tackle the underlying problems that have fostered sprawl.

At their May 20 session, commissioners also got an update on what’s known as the Chevron project – a multi-year, multimillion-dollar effort to cut energy usage in county facilities. And staff of the county’s energy and economic development office asked for feedback from commissioners about what type of pilot project the county should pursue, as part of a recent federal energy grant. Some commissioners are leaning toward a solar photovoltaic installation.

The meeting also included a presentation by county administrator Verna McDaniel on a request for more funds to complete the county jail expansion and new 14A-1 District Court facility. The Chronicle covered that topic in a previous report. [Full Story]

More Funds Requested for County Jail, Court

An additional $1.35 million is needed to finish up the Washtenaw County jail expansion and new 14A-1 District Court facility – beyond its original budget of $34.6 million and $1.75 million contingency. The news was delivered by county administrator Verna McDaniel at a May 20 working session of the Washtenaw County board of commissioners.

Sign at the entrance to the corrections complex off of Washtenaw Avenue

A temporary sign at the entrance to the corrections complex off of Washtenaw Avenue east of Carpenter, site of the jail expansion and new district court facility.

Unexpected costs, construction delays and lower-than-expected interest earnings contributed to the shortfall, she said. An official request for additional funding will be made at the board’s June 2 meeting.

McDaniel divided the request into two categories: 1) $495,958 for additional costs related to the original project proposal, and 2) $861,000 in costs that are considered to be outside the scope of the originally approved project.

These expenses are in addition to the staffing request made earlier this year by sheriff Jerry Clayton, and approved by the board. The expanded jail eventually will require 39 more full-time workers, bringing the total corrections division staff to 103 employees. The additional staff will increase the corrections budget by $1.478 million this year and $3.248 million in 2011, and create a projected budget shortfall in 2012 and 2013.

Commissioners were informed that additional items not covered in these requests will be addressed during the planning process for the 2012 and 2013 budget cycle. No dollar amounts were provided for those anticipated expenses. [Full Story]

Washtenaw Natural Areas Tweaked for Ballot

Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners working session (April 22, 2010): At their Thursday meeting, commissioners were briefed on proposed changes to the county’s Natural Areas Preservation Program, which would help the county protect more land that’s being used for farming.

Bob Tetens, Susan Lackey

Susan Lackey, executive director of the Legacy Land Conservancy, confers with Bob Tetens, director of Washtenaw County Parks & Recreation, before the start of Thursday's working session of the county board of commissioners. (Photo by the writer.)

The proposal comes as the board prepares to place a renewal of the 10-year NAPP millage on the November ballot. The current millage, which raises about $3 million annually to preserve natural areas in the county, expires at the end of 2010.

Also at Thursday’s meeting, commissioners heard a report on internal controls used within the county government, both in finance and other areas. This has been topic that commissioner Wes Prater has pushed the board to address for several months.

Highlights from a draft report were presented by staff of the county’s new energy and economic development department. The report includes data on job losses, education, housing, transit and other factors, and presents four strategies for improving the county’s economy. Tony VanDerworp, who leads the department, explained that the report is required by the U.S. Dept. of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration so that the county can apply for grants from the EDA.

Finally, Verna McDaniel, incoming county administrator, said she plans to hold a meet-and-greet for candidates of the deputy administrator job on May 5 before that evening’s board meeting, to get commissioners’ feedback on a potential hire. [Full Story]

Board Renews Library Building Discussion

The Ann Arbor District Library board is reconsidering plans to rebuild its downtown building – a move they had tabled in late 2008 because of economic conditions.

At a Feb. 18 working session to discuss AADL’s strategic plan, board member Ed Surovell pushed the board to act. “We are not in charge of our budget or our reserves or our fate because the building is falling apart,” he said. “On any given day of the week, it could be closed for an extended period of time because something deadly goes wrong with it.”

If they move ahead, the project would likely include asking voters to approve a millage that would fund construction.

Concerns over the library’s main building, located at Fifth and William, were part of a wide-ranging discussion as the board and key staff members worked through the draft of a strategic plan for July 1, 2010 through June 30, 2015. Other topics included phasing out the Dewey Decimal System as the primary way to classify materials, marketing to those who don’t use the library, and adapting products and services to reflect changing technology. [Full Story]

Parking Fines to Increase in Ann Arbor?

Ann Arbor city council work session (Nov. 9, 2009): At its work session on Monday, the council heard two presentations: (i) the financial impact of raising parking violation fines, and (ii) the use of social media by city staff in parks and recreation.

The parking presentation was given by Matthew Horning, the city’s treasurer. It included comparative data from other cities, and an analysis of the impact on total revenues that would result from raising fines. His presentation also looked at the impact of providing incentives for early payment across the 34 different categories of violations. For the expired meter fine, which accounts for 65% of all tickets issues, Horning’s analysis assumed a recommended increase from $15 to $20. The schedule of fines presented by Horning is projected to increase annual revenues by $875,287.

The social media presentation was given by Kim Mortson, who works in public relations for community services at the city. She described how she’d used social media like Twitter and Facebook to complement more traditional approaches to promote parks and recreation programs.

In our report, we focus exclusively on the parking violation fines. [Full Story]