November 5, 2020

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This week

Thanks to the tireless efforts of poll workers and election officials, ballots were counted more quickly than many expected. Washtenaw County remains the bluest in the state. Despite the recession and uncertainties of the times, Ann Arborites were in a taxing mood and all three millages passed by wide margins.

The stay-in-place order for U-M undergrads was lifted after cases among students fell. But with more infections in the wider community, the number of Covid cases continues to soar.

New limits on indoor gatherings have some restaurants wondering if dine-in services are worth it. Beautiful weather this weekend and post election relief may inspire many to eat out. Main Street remains closed to traffic on the weekends so restaurants can accommodate more outside seating. Check out the new tunnels under the Amtrak line allowing access to the Border-to-Border trail along the river. 

Trilby MacDonald, editor 

In the News

Ninety-nine percent of the votes have been counted, and although he has the lead in only nine of Michigan's eighty three counties, Joe Biden won the presidential election in Michigan. Voter turnout in the county jumped 14 percent compared to 2016, with 217,813 ballots cast. Twenty-six percent of straight ticket voters were Republicans, and sixty-eight percent were Democrats. A few of the new voters picked Trump-Pence, but far more went with Biden-Harris: with 72 percent of the vote, Washtenaw County was the most Democratic in the state.  

The county smashed its record for the highest number of absentee ballots, with 163,491 returned by 8 p.m. on election day.  By comparison, roughly 45,000 absentee ballots were returned in the 2016 presidential election. In 2018 voters approved state constitutional amendments making it much easier to vote absentee. "We've been preparing for a long time, and the planning paid off," says county elections director Ed Golembiewski. Despite the record number of ballots, the count was complete by 3:20 a.m. on Nov. 4. Golembiewski credits increased numbers of poll workers and ballot tabulators, as well as new counting equipment: "It was a smooth election and a very good day."   

The city's sidewalk millages and affordable housing millage, and county's Natural Areas Preservation millage, all passed decisively. Affordable housing supporters feared the pandemic and recession would doom the effort, but took heart after a survey last spring revealed seventy-seven percent of likely voters were in favor--within a few points of its margin this week. But Dexter voters narrowly approved a proposal that will require public votes on the sale of city property--including the site of a planned Avalon Housing project. 

Washtenaw County continues to set records for Covid-19 infections, with ninety six new infections confirmed on Nov 4. There were 962 new cases between 10/16 and 10/28, 124 more than the previous two weeks. Almost twice as many tests are coming back positive, at 3.9 percent.  

U-M students now account for thirty three percent of new cases, down from sixty six percent when the county issued a stay-in-place order for undergrads in October. The order was lifted November 3.

Worries about the fate of downtown businesses intensified as the state set new limits on indoor gatherings. Beginning Monday, restaurants are required to take names and phone numbers of dine-in patrons for contact tracing purposes, although they are not required to deny entry if patrons refuse. The change has prompting some restaurants to again close their dining rooms and switch to carryout and delivery only. According to MDHHS, Covid-19 spreads twenty times more rapidly in indoor settings. Michigan AdvanceObserver

Former U-M music prof indicted on sex charges involving a minor. Stephen Shipps was a violin professor at U-M from 1989 to 2019, and was director of U-M’s Strings Preparatory Academy for middle and high school students, until going on leave in December 2018 following forty years of allegations of sexual misconduct uncovered by the Michigan Daily. On October 29, Shipps was indicted on federal charges for allegedly transporting a minor over state lines in 2002 to engage in sexual activity. Michigan Radio

Fraternity sued for admitting female and nonbinary students. U-M’s Sigma Phi chapter is allegedly causing “irreparable harm to [the national organization’s] valuable Trademarks” by admitting female and non-binary members. Founded in 1858, the U-M chapter voted to admit non-male students in 2016, after an initiated male member came out as transgender. Michigan Daily, Mlive. 

White supremacists charged with intimidation over 2019 Dexter incident: According to an affidavit in support of a criminal complaint announced by Michigan attorney general Dana Nessel, two men shone lights into the home at 11:30 p.m. and one posed on the front porch wearing a black skull mask and body armor with rifle magazines in an attempt to intimidate Dan Harper who hosts a podcast critical of the neo-Nazi movement and of the rise in white supremacy in the U.S. Harper has no Dexter connection—but a former resident of the home shared his name. Michigan Radio.

A trio of tunnels under the Amtrak railroad line are mitigating flooding while allowing pedestrians and cyclists to safely access the Border-to-Border Trail along the Huron River. City transportation manager Eli Cooper compares the joint $9.4 million project to a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup: "By putting two good things together, we created something that was even better." Observer

Local nonprofits receive state grants to decrease racial disparities. The Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities has awarded Rapid Response Initiative Grants to Food Gatherers, the United Way’s Community Recovery Fund, Connect 313’s Tech-Enabled Healthcare for Seniors program, community outreach by the Washtenaw County Health Department, Meals on Wheels in Ypsilanti, and a statewide U-M project to Promote Youth Physical Activity and Education in MI During Covid-19.

Ann Arbor is inviting members of the public to apply to be on the “Council of the Commons,” which will help plan a park on the Library Lot. The fate of the city-owned lot was the subject of a tense public debate that ended in 2018 when residents voted to build a park, instead of a seventeen-story, mixed-use high-rise and plaza. MLive.


Software giant Coupa buys supply-chain planner Llamasoft for $1.5 Billion. San Mateo, CA-based Coupa Software Inc works with businesses such as BMW and Procter & Gamble to optimize their spending processes. Llamasoft Inc uses AI to map supply chain scenarios and mitigate disruptions, functions that are increasingly valuable as companies navigate uncertainties caused by the pandemic. Wall Street Journal. 


By Ella Bourland

Thursday: Listen to a free online reading (5 p.m.) by poet Patricia Smith, a four-time National Poetry Slam champion. Publisher's Weekly praises Smith's "razor-sharp linguistic sensibilities that give her scenes a cinematic flair." Followed by a Q&A. Smith also gives a free online talk Friday, 5 p.m. on “Writing The Terrifying During Terrifying Times.” Online at U-M English Department Zell Visiting Writers Series

Friday: See an in-person stand-up showcase (9–10:30 p.m.) featuring sets by Andrew Yang and other area comics, with jokes about everything from dating to mortality. Seating at socially distanced tables on the outdoor patio. Masks required. $35 deposit per table; deposit can be applied to the price of drinks. Reservations required by calling 548-9279. Bløm Meadworks.

Saturday: Watch U-M football broadcast vs. Indiana (noon). Heavily favored to beat the MSU Spartans last week, the Wolverines got trounced, 27-24. The last time the Hoosiers beat the Wolverines was in 1987. MLive. 

Virtually attend Huron Valley’s 15th annual Compassionate Feast fundraiser with a multiple-course vegetarian (or vegan) dinner from Katherine’s Catering for curbside pickup. Online program beginning at 7 p.m., includes "Something Wild" gin & whiskey cocktail demo led by Ann Arbor Distilling Company staff, a talk by Jeff Corwin, host of the Disney Channel's hit show Going Wild, and more. Emcee is Ann Arbor 107.1 radio host Matthew Altruda. Tickets $75 and up; preregistration required at HSHV

Sunday: Visit the in-home show and sale of works by nationally-known local fiber artist Carol Furtado, that includes woven, felted, and dyed hats and scarves and silk wearables. Free admission, masks required. 11 a.m.–4 p.m., 505 Lakeview Ave. 

See the Observer’s online calendar for more local events.

Up Hill Both Ways 

Helping kids with their homework while holding down jobs and getting dinner on the table was already challenging. Now, parents have to manage academic support, tech support, and cafeteria services for their students while working from home. Students from K-12 face struggles, but it isn't all bad. Eight weeks into the most bizarre of academic years, the Observer’s Trilby MacDonald reports on the highs and lows of virtual school for AAPS students, parents and teachers

Ask a2view 

Test the sleuthing skills of Observer staff by sending us out on fact finding missions about quirky, insider, local anything. No issue is too esoteric, and there are no stupid questions. Fire away!

Q. Why were the fifteen or so parking places along the east wall of the downtown post office reassigned to government workers? Do they realize what a hassle this will be for the tax-paying public come Christmas? The Observer's Tim Aphan has the answer. 

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