Saturday, March 31, 2018

Ann Arbor's Founding Mother

Ann Allen famously did not like the city that would bear her name but, to be fair, she dealt with muddy streets, roaming hogs, and the inability to vote. Maybe she would like it better now, what with air conditioning, top ranked restaurants, a university, and the ability to wear pants and speak freely. But maybe she wouldn’t, because we don’t know much about her. Much is known about city co-founder John Allen, but what do we know about Ms. Ann Isabella Barry McCue Allen?

Originally named Agnes, our future Founding Mother lost her own mother just nine days after her birth on Jan 22, 1797. Overcome by his wife’s death, Agnes’ father tried to get his Irish family to come to Staunton, Virginia to help him raise his newborn. The family declined and a local woman was hired to care for baby Agnes. At some point, Agnes’ Virginia based aunt, uncle, and grandmother stepped in to help raise her. Three years later after Agnes’ father died and her family began to call her “Ann”, after her late mother.

The family groomed Ann to become a “Southern Lady”, which was expected of a girl with the social station—and inheritance—of Ann Barry. The Southern Lady lived with McClure’s brother and wife until Ann married a gentleman farmer and doctor named William McCue when she was 16; by the age of 21, Ann was the mother of two sons and a widow. Three years later, she married 25 year old John Allen, a widower with two children of his own. History records this marriage as one of convenience—Ann needed a provider and father for her children and John needed a mother for his children. Additionally, the personalities of the young couple could not have been more different. John was what we might now call an extrovert—very self confident and friendly while Ann would be considered a introvert, a shy woman who preferred to keep her private life private.

After the wedding on June 7, 1821, the Allens moved to John’s farm in Middle River, Virginia while Ann’s two sons remained with their paternal aunt and uncle. Two years after the marriage, John headed off to find fame and fortune (and to avoid some debts). His journey took him to Baltimore, Buffalo, and finally Michigan. Meanwhile, Ann remained behind to care for John’s children and their newborn daughter, Sarah. Although Ann eventually moved back to live with her sons, her former in-laws obtained guardianship over both boys.

In August of 1824, Ann received a letter from the Michigan Territory. In it were instructions and directions on how to join him in his new settlement. The plan was for Ann, Sarah, John’s two children from his first marriage and John’s parents to travel by covered wagon. But what of Ann’s two sons from her first marriage? Heartbreakingly, Ann’s wealthy former brother-in-law asserted his guardianship over his nephews and demanded that they remain in Virginia. Ann is reported to have felt extremely guilty, even though she had no control over the situation.

Ripped away from the comforts she had grown up with, Ann now faced life as a frontier wife. Pop culture tends to view living on the frontier through rose colored glasses and surely there were joys and advantages to that life. But Ann grew up wealthy; her birth family owned slaves and property. While this idea if abhorrent, it is important to remember that Ann herself owned nothing—even her dowry was immediately handed over to John Allen to do with as he saw fit. Still, she received the benefit of wealth and slave labor and avoided daily household chores and tasks that poorer women had to endure.

Because of circumstances, genetics, or both, Ann was a small and frail woman who was extremely shy. She left her two sons and the comforts of Virginia to live in a rough, muddy town with a man she had only known for a few years. Ann’s immediate arrival in town sounds pleasant, as she lived in a home described as “pleasant”, she had servants, and John bought her “fine” clothes. After about a decade, however, the financial panic of 1937 sent the Allens spiraling into poverty. Hints of Ann’s depression can be found in a letter than she wrote to her son in Virginia around this time. Her words were thus: “When I look back, all that I had is gone to the four winds; when I look forward, all is darkness.”

At the time, there was not the understanding of clinical depression nor were there services to aid her. It is unclear how she spent the years after the financial panic. Help finally arrived when her son Thomas McCue came to Ann Arbor in 1844 to fetch his mother and half-sister, Sarah. The family returned to Virginia where Ann lived out the rest of her life.

While she was finally away from a town she hated, Ann still had to endure the Civil War and the death of both of her sons. Ann passed away at her daughter’s home in New Hope on November 27, 1875.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Editorial: Washtenaw County needs a progressive prosecuting attorney

Washtenaw County Prosecuting Attorney, Brian Mackie, at an Oct. 11, 2012 League of Women Voters candidate forum. Mackie has held the office since 1992. (Photo from The Ann Arbor Chronicle.)
Last year Philadelphia elected a progressive district attorney. Larry Krasner, a civil rights attorney, campaigned on a reformist agenda. Since taking office, Krasner has not disappointed. He has instructed all prosecutors to stop charging cannabis possession, regardless of weight. He has instructed all prosecutors to stop charging sex workers with fewer than three convictions. Sex workers with three or more convictions are to be referred to a special diversionary program. Importantly, in his first week on the job, Krasner fired 31 prosecuting attorneys who were not committed to his reformist agenda. You can read more about the great work Larry Krasner is doing in Shaun King's article for the Intercept.

Why am I writing about an elected official in Philadelphia on this local website? I am writing DA Krasner because in our criminal justice system, under the principle of prosecutorial discretion, prosecutors have wide latitude in terms of which charges they bring. Krasner is using his discretion to enact sweeping criminal justice reforms. I would like to see the Washtenaw County Prosecutor undertake similar progressive reforms.

Specifically I would like to see the following:
1. An immediate end to all prosecutions for possession of controlled substances, regardless of weight. Substance use disorders are a serious public health problem. The criminal justice system is not the right tool to address public health problems. People who have substance use disorders should not face any criminal justice sanctions that result from their disease. Furthermore, treating addicts is less costly than jailing and/or imprisoning them. Recreational drug users are harming themselves to some degree, but that does not mean that they should face sanction from the criminal justice system. We allow adults to choose to do harmful things without imprisoning them in our society. In short, it is immoral and expensive to prosecute and imprison people with substance use disorders as well as recreational drug users. Money should instead be spent on harm reduction and fully funding robust treatment services. The minute someone in Washtenaw County who has a substance use disorder decides they want to seek treatment, there should be space available for them in a local treatment facility regardless of their ability to pay. 
2. An immediate end to prosecutions of consensual sex workers. Yes, we should prosecute human traffickers and people who coerce others into sex work against their will. No, we should not prosecute adults who choose to be sex workers. In our society you can support yourself by being born wealthy, exploiting others, or selling your labor. In our system, the only way to truly end sex work would be to end work, and that is well beyond the scope of this editorial. 
3. An emphasis on diversion programs for all other crimes, especially non-violent crimes. Jail and prison are not places that help people be better. They are also very expensive. The prosecutors office should be run in with these principals in mind. 
4. An end to cash bail for most charges. People who are charged with most crimes should not be jailed before trial.
Washtenaw County's current Prosecuting Attorney is Brian Mackie. He has held the office since 1992 and his current term is up in 2020. This means Mackie has 2 years to use his power to enact serious progressive reforms. If he fails to do so, we should vote him out of office in favor of a prosecutor who will use the powers of the office to enact the reforms mentioned above.

Friday, March 23, 2018

An interview with Patrick Dunn on the occasion of the 56th Ann Arbor Film Festival

Gentle readers, you may know Patrick Dunn as the editor of Concentrate. What you might not know, is that Patrick is also an avid film buff and member of the Detroit Film Critics Society. Earlier this week he shared some of his thoughts about the Ann Arbor Film Festival with me.

Ben Connor Barrie: For you, what's the best part of the Film Festival?

Patrick Dunn: I guess the obvious answer should be the films, but for me it's really the opportunities for human connections. The festival is a nexus point for those who make offbeat film and those who love it. I never fail to run into numerous friends there, including those who haven't been in Ann Arbor for a while and return exclusively for the festival. And then there are the many opportunities to talk directly to filmmakers about their work. I'm the kind of person who often seeks out online interviews with a filmmaker after I see a film in order to get some more context on the work, so it's always a beautiful thing for me to be able to see a filmmaker in person right after his or her film and ask him or her questions myself. I remember when my friend Dustin interviewed the great Penelope Spheeris at AAFF after a screening of her film "The Decline of Western Civilization, Part III" a few years ago. A great conversation with an amazing woman. That's what I'm talking about.

BCB: What makes the Ann Arbor Film Fest special?

PD: The legacy, certainly. We really should be proud of how long this festival has been in town and keeping a radical spirit alive. I have only a basic familiarity with some of the festival's history, but the stories and the list of luminaries who've been involved in the festival are amazing. I also really admire the way the festival has worked to expand its reach into numerous businesses and institutions in the community, outside of the Michigan Theater.

BCB: If someone is not that big of a fan of avant garde film, should they still check out the Film Fest? Why?

PD: Definitely. Avant garde film covers such a wide spectrum that I feel comfortable applying the old cliche "there's something for everybody." Many of these films are totally digestible and interesting to the average moviegoer – see this year's "The Big House," which does use some unconventional filmmaking techniques but still presents a portrait of Michigan Stadium that will fascinate any Ann Arborite or Michigan fan. The festival has a lot to offer. Give the program a look and pick out something that sounds interesting to you. You'll probably enjoy it far more than you might think.

Gentle reader, the 56th Ann Arbor Film Festival runs through this Sunday. You should check it out.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

56th Ann Arbor Film Festival kicks off tonight

Gentle readers, the 56th Ann Arbor Film Festival opens tonight. What I really love about the Film Festival is that if you go, you are guaranteed to see films that you would not otherwise see. It's such a reminder of how wonderful and expressive film is as an art form. In honor of opening night, I reached out to two former directors of the Film Festival, Vicki Honeyman (1988 - 2002) and Donald Harrison (2009 - 2012), and they were kind enough to share some of their thoughts with me.

Honeyman curated a special program for the Film Fest this year. Vick's Picks is this Saturday at 9:15 pm in the Screening Room. "I’ve selected 14 films that were screened between 1977 and 2000, films that are strong stand-outs for me as great work and the epitome of what the AAFF is all about." she said. As for what makes the Film Festival special, here are Honeyman's thoughts:

"AAFF is the longest running festival of experimental and independent artist-made media work. Beginning in 1963, it ran as a strictly 16mm film festival until my departure in late 2002. The festival now accepts all types of moving visual media, i.e. digital, video, 35mm, 16mm, etc. It has always been the festival for makers to have their work included, especially world premieres. Because the festival is so highly regarded and recognized worldwide, it’s a big deal to be part of the festival week program of films in competition.

The AAFF does not screen strictly experimental/avant garde work. also included are documentaries, animation, and narrative works. The importance of film lovers attending this festival is the viewer is guaranteed to view work they won’t have an opportunity to see elsewhere, much less will they heard about the work or the maker. So, don’t judge the book by it’s cover! It’s a very unique event, showing works viewers will remember after the credits roll."

I have to agree. The films I have seen at the AAFF definitely stick with me much longer than mainstream films.

Harrison also shared his thought's on what makes the Film Festival special:

"The AAFF is one of the longest-running, most prestigious film festivals in N. America. I consider it the original independent film festival and since 1963 has provided a showcase for films outside of the studio/commercial system. The AAFF really presents film as an art form, exploring what's possible within the boundaries of a cinema setting, and sometimes beyond with events, installations and interactive programs. There's free events and parties every night and filmmakers, film-goers from around the world for a week, all centered around the Michigan Theater. There's plenty to see that will stimulate your thinking and provide lots to discuss among friends and strangers!"
Gentle reader, I strongly encourage you to check out at least one Film Festival screening. As Honeyman and Harrison point out, you will see things at AAFF that you will not see anywhere else. Tickets are just $12 or $8 for students and seniors.

Ypsilanti City Council Preview: March 20th, 2018

A map of the Bell Kramer area showing the location of the old dump.

Happy first day of spring! The City of Ypsilanti will be celebrating with a regularly scheduled City Council Meeting. You can watch the meeting in person at Ypsilanti City Hall at 7pm or follow live on Ypsi Live's facebook page. You can find the agenda here and the meeting packet here.

There's one public hearing at tonight's meeting. It is on "Approving submission of Michigan Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) grant application for Rutherford Pool Renovations." Full disclosure, I am a member of the City of Ypsilanti Parks and Recreation Commission and voted in support of sending this to City Council. Essentially, this would authorize city staff to apply for a $300,000 LWCF grant for upcoming renovations at Ypsilanti's beloved Rutherford Pool. You can read more about it on page 4 of the meeting packet. I don't expect that this will be very controversial.

There are two first ordinance readings tonight concerning the rezoning of the Bell Kramer Neighborhood. By way of background, here's a the background from page 11 of the meeting packet:

The Bell-Kramer neighborhood is located north of I-94, east of Huron, and south of Spring/Factory Street. This neighborhood was part of the village of Clarkesville, and the core has been residential since the mid-1800s. In 2012-2013, testing was done on the former City landfill (599 S Huron) which indicated the presence of contaminants that had the potential to migrate to the north. At the time the City was undergoing the master plan update, and the future land use map was updated to exclude residential use, as further testing was not viable at the time. In 2014, when the zoning map was updated, the area was zoned a combination of GC (mixed commercial-industrial) and PMD (industrial), thus precluding development of anything without first having to perform environmental analysis, by permitting only commercial developments. This also had the effect of making existing residential uses in the neighborhood nonconforming. The residents and owners of the area requested a right-to-rebuild clause in the PMD zoning while additional testing was performed; this was executed in 2017, as well as additional testing. Test results support returning the area to a residential zoning classification for the existing residential properties. Staff has recommended a zoning to CN-Mid; under this classification all parcels and uses in the area are conforming, and new construction and additions are possible.
The two ordinances concerning Bell Kramer rezoning tonight, 1302 and 1303, would rezone occupied parcels from industrial (PMD) to mid-density residential (CN-Mid) and unoccupied parcels to Parkland.

The other two first ordinance readings, 1304 and 1305, concern Ypsilanti's decision to opt into the Medical Marijuana Facilities Licensing Act (MMFLA). You can read more on page 35 of the meeting packet. I haven't read much of this section of the meeting packet, but part of this would address in which zones dispensaries and provisioning centers would be allowed.

The is a second reading concerning the PILOT for Towne Centre (401 W. Michigan Avenue) and a light consent agenda with three items. Also, there is a resolution approving an application for a Neighborhood Enterprise Zone (NEZ)Rehabilitation Certificate for Lillie Covington, 406 S. Hamilton. All in all it looks like it will be an pretty average length meeting.

If you're interested here is some more information about the Bell Kramer Neighborhood and the pollution issues there:

Ypsilanti City Council Report: Ypsilanti on track to forbid municipal solicitation of immigration status
The Danger (re)Zone… the unsellable houses of Bell Street
The unsellable houses of Bell Street, part two
The Toxic Problems of the Clarkesville Neighborhood, Ypsilanti

Monday, March 19, 2018

Ann Arbor City Council Preview: March 19th, 2018

A rendering from the 1505 White Street Renovation

It looks like tonight's #a2council meeting will be a short one. You can check out the brief agenda here. Tonight's meeting might even be able to beat March 5th's meeting, which only lasted 37 minutes. Unlike that meeting, this one doesn't even have a deep consent agenda.

Of the 5 items on the consent agenda, the most interesting is probably CA-3, a resolution to support the Low Income Housing Tax Credit application for Hickory Way Apartments. There are also two street closures: March for our Lives (March 24th) and MUSIC Matters SpringFest (April 5th).

There is one pubic hearing on tonight's agenda. PH-1/DB-1 concerns the site plans for the proposed renovation of 1505 White Street. The proposed plan is to tear down the 1800 sq ft duplex on the southeast corner of White and Stadium and replace it with a 2500 sq ft single family dwelling with 6 bedrooms. Planning commission has unanimously recommended approval of this proposal, so barring anything unforeseen, this will probably be approved tonight.

Gentle reader, what items on tonight's #a2council agenda are you most excited about? Make sure you tune in tonight at 7 to watch CTN's live stream. Make sure you check out the blow-by-blow action on #a2council hashtag on Twitter.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

News in Brief: The kids are alright

This morning several hundred people showed up to protest gun violence at Ypsilanti's Riverside Park as part of the National School Walkout. The crows was made up of mostly high school students, as well as parents, teachers and community members from across the county. I showed up a little late so my pics are not great. Still, it was inspiring to see some many people braving the cold to support a cause they believe in.

The crowd immediately after the rally ended

Participants head out of Riverside Park on Ypsilanti's iconic Tridge after the rally in Riverside Park.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Wasntenaw County neighborhood profiles

Change in property value in Ypsilanti's Historic Southside neighborhood between 2005 and 2017

Washtenaw County's Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) subcommittee has just released a report looking at how 12 Washtenaw County have changed over time. One of the biggest trends in the report is that State Equalized Values (SEV is approximately 1/2 market value) in 2017 are lower than SEVs in 2005 in all neighborhoods except for Ann Arbor's Water Hill. In two other neighborhoods, Ann Arbor's Packard & Platt neighborhood and Pittsfield Township's Carpenter & Packard, SEV is almost the same in 2017 as it was in 2005.

The report also looks at racial and employment demographics in neighborhoods over time. One of the trends that stands out in the demographics is the decrease in the percentage of African American or Black residents in the three Ann Arbor neighborhoods. In the majority of the 12 neighborhoods, there has been a shift from owner occupied homes to rental houses. There's a lot to digest in this report.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Ypsilanti City Council Preview: March 6th, 2018

A presentation about Washtenaw County's solid waste plan is one highlight on tonight's agenda.

Tonight is the first #YpsiCouncil meeting of March. You can check out the agenda here. There will be three important presentations at the meeting. Evan Pratt will be talking about the County's solid waste plan. AAATA Board Member Gillian Ream Gainsley will be presenting about the upcoming AAATA transit millage renewal. You can get a sneak peek at these presentations in this March 6th Council Packet. The solid waste plan starts on page 3 and the AAATA presentation starts on page 32.

Probably the most exciting item on the agenda is a discussion about a potential Community Benefits Ordinance, or CBO. A CBO would formalize the process for negotiating concessions that would benefit Ypsilanti with potential developers. A local group, Rising for Economic Democracy, Ypsilanti, or REDY has been working on developing CBO language. You can read more about REDY and their vision for a CBO in this recent article from Concentrate. I know a lot of people from REDY and citizens who support a strong CBO are planning on speaking at tonight's public commentary. There is some conflict between REDY's vision for a CBO and the proposed CBO that is being presented tonight. Here's an except from an email sent by a member of REDY obtained by Damn Arbor:

Tonight at City Hall the city council is going to discuss the Community Benefits Ordinance drafted by the city. As currently designed it sets up a city appointed ad hoc committee that makes recommendations to the city who then negotiates with the developer. By contrast [in REDY's] CBO framework an ad hoc committee, the majority chosen by the community, directly negotiates with a developer and reports back to a mass meeting of the community. Under the city’s draft there is no open meeting of the community.
Finally there is one last item that caught my interest on tonight's agenda. EMU is working on privatizing their parking services, and tonight, the Ypsilanti City Council is voting on a resolution to support EMU. To be honest, the whole thing seems a little convoluted and I don't know as much about it as I should. Mark Maynard has closer look at this agenda item over on his site.

You can follow the action live on the Ypsi Live facebook page.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Ann Arbor City Council Preview for March 5th, 2018

Braun Nature Area is on a township island. If C-1 passes, the parcels that make up the nature area will be annexed into the city and rezoned as Public Land.

UPDATE: This article was updated to include information about the use of masculine pronouns in the disorderly conduct ordinance.

Gentle readers, tonight is the first #a2council meeting of March. Are you excited? Tonight's meeting is hot on the heels of the February 19th City Council Meeting where Ann Arbor's courageous elected officials drew a bold line in the sand and voted to forbid front yard solar panels*. Everyone is wondering whether the council will take another brave, and not at all retrograde, stand against the forces of modernity.

Snarking aside, there are some important items on tonight's agenda. The Consent Agenda tonight is 20 items deep. It starts with 7 road closures for everything from the Monroe Street Fair (Saturday, April 7) to the Burns Park Fun Run (Sunday, May 6), and the 10th Annual Box Car Race/Soap Box Derby (Sunday, April 8). Other items on the Consent Agenda include relocation of voting precincts because of ongoing construction at the Michigan Union and a couple of easement approvals. There are also several purchase agreements in the CA items, including a quarter million dollar agreement with Yellowfin Business Intelligence for two years of data visualization and big data services.

There are two second readings of ordinance changes on tonight's agenda that have public hearings. PH-1/B-1, An Ordinance to Amend Section 9:61, 9:62 and 9:68 of Chapter 108, Disorderly Conduct, of Title IX of the Code of the City of Ann Arbor (Ordinance No. ORD-18-03), makes several updates to Ann Arbor's disorderly conduct ordinance. Among other things, the changes would strike language from the section of the ordinance that make it so that domestic violence rules do not apply between parents/guardians and their minor children. Interestingly this update to the disorderly conduct ordnance leaves in this language about the usage of masculine pronouns within the ordinance: "(4) 'Masculine pronouns”: Shall be construed to include both male and female persons.'" Seems like an interesting choice.

B-2/PH-2, An Ordinance to Amend Sections 10:69, 10:70, 10:71, 10:72, 10:73 and 10:75 of Chapter 126, Traffic, of Title X of the Code of the City of Ann Arbor (Ordinance No. ORD-18-04), makes some changes to the City's rules around parking meters. I haven't given this a close reading, but it looks like it updates the rules surrounding parking meters to reflect the use of the electronic marking meter system.

The last item on the agenda that I'll mention is C-1, An Ordinance to Amend Chapter 55 (Zoning), Zoning of 10.44 Acres from TWP (Township District) to PL (Public Land), 1200 and 1400 Chalmers Drive. This ordinance would annex the two parcels of land that make up the Braun Nature Area and zone them as Public Land. Braun Nature area is currently an Ann Arbor City Park that is located on Ann Arbor Township land.

Gentle reader, what items on tonight's #a2council agenda are you most excited about? Make sure you tune in tonight at 7 to watch CTN's live stream. Make sure you check out the blow-by-blow action on #a2council hashtag on Twitter.

* Ward 5 Councilmembers Chip Smith and Chuck Warpehoski voted against the ban on front yard solar panels. Ward 3 Councilmember Julie Grand was absent from the Feb. 19th meeting and thus did not vote for or against the front yard solar panel ban.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Local man wounded fighting Syria

The Chicago Tribune has a fascinating article about 23 year-old Pioneer grad, Caleb Stevens, who received medical care in Chicago recently after being wounded in Syria. Caleb was fighting as a volunteer with the Kurdish YPG Militia Deir ez-Zor, Syria. Stevens was shot in the calf by a sniper while trying to retrieve a rifle. He was initially treated in a hospital in Baghdad, followed by a hospital in Jordan, before he flew to Chicago O'Hare and eventually received treatment at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Stevens is currently recuperating at his home in Ann Arbor.

The Trib's article goes into great depth on Stevens' story and the phenomenon of international volunteers in the YPG. It's well worth your read.

Caleb I realize you have probably had a lot of media attention, but if this ends up finding its way to you, and you'd be interested in an interview with a local publication, drop me a line ben.connorbarrie @