Mercedes Mejia

Reporter/Producer

Mercedes Mejia produces interviews for All Things Considered, including the music segment Songs from Studio East. She also produces content for Stateside. Mercedes relocated to Michigan from New Mexico, where she earned her BA in Latin American Studies and Journalism. She began in public radio as a reporter at KUNM in Albuquerque. She brings extensive video production skills from her work at Univision and Edit House Production.

mattileo / flickr

Every Thursday we look at Michigan politics with Ken Sikkema, former Senate majority leader and senior policy fellow at Public Sector Consultants, and Susan Demas, political analyst for Michigan Information and Research Service.

Republicans in the Legislature got a bit of a surprise this week when Gov. Snyder vetoed three of the 14 new bills related to voting. What would those three vetoed bills have done?

Patricia Drury / flickr

It’s been a few months since the city of Detroit and the state entered into a consent agreement aimed at stabilizing the city’s finances. Since then, the financial advisory board has been formed, but there have been a few hiccups in the city’s progress, including a lawsuit brought by the city’s corporation counsel challenging the validity of the consent agreement.

Stephen Henderson is editorial page editor for the Free Press and the host of "American Black Journal.” He joined us to talk about developments around the consent agreement.

Jennifer White: Do you have a sense of whether progress in being made towards stabilizing the city?

Stephen Henderson: Well a little bit of progress has been made. We got some of the money the state promised to extend to us to keep the city from going bankrupt, and they sold about $80 million worth of bonds in the spring to do that. The second part of that funding though has been held up by this dispute about the city’s corporation counsel, and whether she can sue to stop the consent agreement from taking place. So that’s at least a little bit on hold right now. But of course we got some good news recently because the fiscal year changed over here in Detroit over the weekend. July 1 was the beginning of our fiscal year and so the city is a little bit cash rich right now, even though we still have a structural deficit. So, I think the emergency part of this might be subsiding but we still have big questions about how we’ll manage going forward.

JW:You mentioned the lawsuit brought forward by Krystal Crittendon, the city’s corporation counsel, challenging the consent agreement’s validity, and there was considerable push back from Mayor Bing and the Snyder administration. That included the threat that $28 million in revenue would be withheld from the city. When will there be resolution on that?

SH:I don’t know. That’s a big problem because she asserts that she can, on her own without the support of the mayor, challenge this agreement. Most lawyers and most judges in fact that I’ve talked to say that there’s no way she should be able to do that, but we have a city charter that does not make that terribly clear. So really to solve that problem we have to get back in to the charter and amend it. Of course it would all go away if she would just relent and say it’s not worth holding up the city’s entire existence over this question. But she’s been unable, or unwilling to do that so far.

JW:Does she have the support of city council members?

This week on That’s What They Say, we explore why so many of us use snuck instead of sneaked.

“What’s happening here is that speakers are creating an irregular verb. Sneak used to be regular, made the past tense with –ed and suddenly we’ve decided to make it irregular,” said Anne Curzan, a professor of English specializing in linguistics at the University of Michigan.

cityNnature / flickr

Written by Jack Nelson

mattileo / flickr

Every Thursday we look at Michigan politics with Susan Demas, political analyst for Michigan Information and Research Service, and Ken Sikkema, former senate majority leader and senior policy fellow at Public Sector Consultants.

In what some are calling a surprising decision today, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act. Michigan lawmakers were reacting to the decision throughout the day. Governor Snyder said he doesn’t like the law but he is going to try to follow it.

baseball-fever.com

Written by Katie Caralis

It's been more than 13 years, but I can still hear the voice of the man who spent my childhood selling peanuts outside Tiger Stadium. “Threee dollas innsiiide, ooone dolla heeere!” My dad always bought the one-dollar peanuts knowing half the shells would be empty, just like the half-empty seats, the Tigers being a losing team for most of the '90s, and the half-empty city, Detroit on the decline. Beaming, Dad would take my excited hand and lead me across the long bridge, over the broken glass and potholes, passed the burned-out buildings, up the winding blue ramp and inside the park we knew was magic, inside the city we knew was beautiful.

Katie Caralis is one of the winners of Michigan Radio's One Minute Michigan Story Writing Contest. Allison Downey read the story.

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

State agencies are helping several homeless folks find a place to live, or temporary shelter, following the closing of a tent city in Ann Arbor.

The Michigan Department of Transportation, or MDOT, released a video on Monday that explains the reason behind the camp closure.

“This is just not something the department can allow for a lot of different reasons,” said Mark Sweeney with MDOT. “Safety - because of the proximity to the freeway, sanitation - because there is no running water…so quite simply, it’s a liability for the state,” he said.

The video also highlights the problem of homeless. State agencies were called on to help relocate some residents. Camp Take Notice organizers said the camp served a purpose and helped people get back on their feet.

Here's MDOT's take on Camp Take Notice:

Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

Written by Timothy Kooy

Throw out the nostalgic native story about a mother protecting her cubs and Sleeping Bear Dunes is a fiery heat trap.  My family and I set off on a leisurely hike across the picturesque, gently rolling dunes.  The sun blared down on the sand dune inferno, and what had begun as leisure quickly morphed into hellish wandering.  We had our map and we had our destination, but the scorching sun never ceased.  Like a family of desert nomads we wandered up and down the zillion hills.  Finally, at the bottom of THIS dune we saw the perfect oasis, the cool blue gaze of Lake Michigan inviting us to quench our sweltering, sweat-dripping bodies.

Timothy Kooy was one of the winners of Michigan Radio's One Minute Michigan Story Writing Contest. Keith Taylor read the story.

Laugh out loud, or lots of love?

LOL might not actually mean what you think it does. Anne Curzan is a professor of English at the University of Michigan. She told Michigan Radio’s Rina Miller that students tell her they use LOL as a listening noise.

"A listening noise is what we do in face to face conversation when we show people we're paying attention, and we make little noises like, 'uh huh, uh huh, yeah,'" Curzan said.

Mercedes Mejia /Michigan Radio

About 70 homeless people stayed at the tent city known as Camp Take Notice. But they were told to pack up and move out.

“You know, right now, this whole situation is very surreal. It feels like we are just going through the motions...I’m really going to miss it, you know, I’m just gonna miss the people," said Mary Contrucci.

Scott Ellinger and his girlfriend lived at the camp for a few months. He said, "It was a tight-knit community here, we were like family. Everybody looked out for each other."

"We really haven’t had any major problems out here. Except for a few minor incidences. We had one fire, which was accidental," said Ellinger.

It’s accidents like the fire that broke out a few months ago that state officials want to avoid. Sally Harrison is director of Rental Assistance and Homeless Solutions for the Michigan State Housing Development Authority.

Allieosmar / Flickr

Every Thursday Michigan Radio's Jennifer White talks Michigan politics with Susan Demas, political analyst for Michigan Information and Research Service, and Ken Sikkema, former state Senate Majority Leader and Senior Policy Fellow at Public Sector Consultants.

It's been a week, now, since Democratic State Representative Lisa Brown was barred from speaking on the state House floor for using the word "vagina" during a debate on anti-abortion legislation. State Representative Barbara Byrum, a Democrat, was also banned from speaking on the floor because she spoke out of turn.

White, Demas and Sikkema explore why this story just won't seem to go away.

Remember the iPod commercial that ends with the line, “The funnest iPod ever”? Well, that little sentence drove people crazy because, according to them, it wasn’t grammatically correct. Would they have written it,  “The most fun iPod ever,” they say it would have been correct.

Anne Curzan, professor of English specializing in linguistics at the University of Michigan, has graciously agreed to join us each Sunday to talk about how our language is changing.  

Several weeks ago, The World did a story about dance clubs popping-up in Europe for one hour, during lunchtime. (Basically people can swing by an alcohol-free, make-shift dance club at noon. Organizers even provide free lunches!)

While we don’t quite have anything like this in Michigan, we do have events where people can enjoy free music and get their dance on—if they want to.

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

About 70 people took part in a rally to show support for a tent city near Ann Arbor.

It's called "Camp Take Notice," and it's been on state-owned land for more than two years. The 65 people who live there are worried their days there are numbered.

David Williams has been staying at the camp for a year. "If we lose this camp it would be difficult for me to find another safe environment to live. And I hope that people understand that. Anyone can be homeless. Homelessness is not prejudice," he said.

Organizers want a commitment from the state to allow people to continue living at the site. But one neighbor, who asked not to be named, said he'd like to see the camp gone.

"There have been reports of stolen property down there. You don't necessarily feel comfortable being outside or outside alone towards the evening. And like I said, they are not bad people, that's not the problem. It's the element that goes along with it," the neighbor said.

Jeff Cranson, a spokesperson for the Department of Transportation said the state has been working with the camp's organizers for a couple of years. He said there are no immediate eviction plans, but that the tent city is not safe and residents will need to relocate. Cranson said a fire broke out a few months ago and emergency crews had difficultly getting water to the site. 

He said another state agency is working to find alternative housing for the camp's residents.

Michigan Radio visited the camp in the fall of 2011.

Every Thursday we talk Michigan politics with Ken Sikkema, former Senate Majority Leader and Senior Policy Fellow at Public Sector Consultants, and Susan Demas, political analyst for Michigan Information and Research Service.

The Snyder Administration and the legislature are working to complete work on the state budget, and it sounds like they’ve made some progress towards a final deal.

Community PlanIt screen shot.

Community meetings about the future of Detroit neighborhoods wrap up this week.

The Detroit Works Project focuses on how to make neighborhoods more viable, and how to keep current residents while attracting new people to the city.

Dan Pitera is co-leader of Civic Engagement for Detroit Works long-term planning. He is also also a professor of architecture at the University of Detroit-Mercy.

Some main concerns from Detroit residents, Pitera said “are safety for everybody, education and health for everybody in the city.”

Detroit Works has used several methods to engage the Detroit community. One of the newest is an online video game called Detroit 24/7. “Some people love to go to meetings, other people don’t,” Pitera said.

So far more than 900 people are playing the game, which lets players describe what they encounter everyday as they move around the city of Detroit, point out the pros and cons, and then suggest strategies that can improve the city. The idea is to engage a younger population, those ages 18 to 35.

“It actually deals with many of the same issues we are dealing with in the community conversations but done online, and we are attracting those people that are not going to meetings.”

According to Pitera, the intention of the project has been to first collect data from city residents, and then create city wide strategies that are informed by what is happening in different neighborhoods.

Rep. Bledsoe's official website

Florida caught lots of attention after the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, a Florida teen. On trial for the killing is George Zimmerman who claims he acted under Florida’s “stand your ground” law.

Michigan is among several states with laws similar to Florida’s. Michigan’s “stand your ground” law was revised in 2006 by bipartisan majorities in the legislature. It was signed into law by Jennifer Granholm, who was the Democratic governor at the time.

Now, more than a dozen Democratic Michigan House members have introduced legislation to repeal the law.

Democratic Representative Tim Bledsoe sponsored House Bill 5644. “I think the Trayvon Martin case really showed us the problem with having a law like “stand your ground," he said.

According to Bledsoe, Michigan has another self-defense law called the Castle Doctrine, which states that a person has the right to defend themselves, their family and their property in their home.

“Our effort to repeal the "stand your ground" law does not in any way affect the Castle Doctrine. But what we are seeing is that, if you are in a public place, and you are in a confrontation, and there is this opportunity for you to retreat, you must take advantage of that opportunity to retreat,” said Bledsoe.

The Democratic representative said although he has not identified any case in Michigan where the "stand your ground" law has been used in self defense, he said "We see this more in terms of acting in a preemptive way to try to avoid situations like the Trayvon Martin case here in Michigan."

Rep. Bledsoe said he and others will continue to seek out public support to pressure legislators to repeal the law.

Every Thursday we take a look at Michigan politics with Susan Demas, political analyst for Michigan Information and Research Service, and Ken Sikkema, Senior Policy Fellow at Public Sector Consultants.

The big political story in Michigan this week was the decision from Representative Roy Schmidt to switch his party affiliation from Democratic to Republican, about 10 minutes before the filing deadline for this fall’s election.

This November, Schmidt will try to hold onto his House seat in Michigan’s 76th district, which includes Grand Rapids.

Small business owners and hopeful entrepreneurs are in Detroit today to get advice on  starting or improving a business.

The Urban Economic Forum, held by The White House Administration, hopes to help entrepreneurs in Detroit connect to resources and network with other business leaders.

The White House Administration said it is committed to supporting the Detroit area’s small businesses.

CBS Detroit reports:

Among the topics of discussion were the resources available to minority and urban entrepreneurs who are trying to access capital for their businesses. Mentors were also available to provide advice to business owners.

In a press, release the White House Administration wrote that other Urban Economic Forums will be held in Chicago, Illinois, and Columbus, Ohio.

Every quarter, Michigan State University releases its State of the State survey. The survey questioned 963 Michigan adults about issues such as the economy, taxes, and Michigan’s financial future.

Charles Ballard is Michigan State University Professor of Economics. He said Michigan residents are more optimistic about the economy.

Those responding to the survey, 54% said their current financial situation was excellent or good. And, 61% of  said they believe they will better off a year from now.

When people are feeling better about the future, Ballard said “they are more likely to make an investment, they’re more likely to spend money and that can have a positive effect on the economy.”

But according to Ballard, trust in government is not so good.

“State government – 16% said that they think they can trust the state government all of most of the time. Twelve percent said they could trust the federal government all or most of the time. It’s a little better for local governments, it’s up in the 30’s, but still those numbers for all levels of government have trended downward, which I think is a reflection of some dissatisfaction at grid lock in Lansing and in Washington.”

Learn more about the approval rating for Governor Snyder and President Obama here.

The findings are based on the latest quarterly phone survey conducted from Feb. 14 to April 15. A total of 963 Michigan adults were questioned in the survey which has an error rating of +3.16 percent.

user FatMandy / flickr

Teen offenders in Michigan are worse off than teens in other states.

That's according to a new report from Michigan-based Second Chances 4 Youth and the state chapter of the ACLU

Sylvar / flickr

Michigan ranks tenth in the country, when it comes to the number of people who are overweight or obese. It's an issue that affects many of us personally, and it affects society as a whole.

A new HBO, documentary series called  The Weight of the Nation takes an in-depth look at this epidemic. It's in partnership with the Center for Disease Control & Prevention and the National Institutes of Health.

John Hoffman is an HBO producer who worked on the documentary. The documentary recently screened in Detroit. He says, "We’ve got to engage the entire nation in addressing obesity. Almost 70% of adults and a third of children are overweight or obese, and the costs are just going to bankrupt our health care system. Our national security is threatened when one quarter of recruits can’t qualify for our military service because they are overweight or obese…so, we are trying to sound the loudest possibly alarm in every community that this has got to become a priority."

Obesity seems to hit minorities and poor people especially hard. Hoffman says it's a matter of economics and not race. 

A Mother's Day story

May 11, 2012

During the past year, Michigan-based writer Wade Rouse has been sharing personal stories about the holidays.

Mother’s Day is Sunday May 13, and today Wade shares a story about an especially memorable Mother’s Day for him.

Wade Rouse is a Michigan-based writer and the author of It’s All Relative: Two Families, Three Dogs, 34 Holidays, and 50 Boxes of Wine (A Memoir).

Maia C / Flickr

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra will accompany Kid Rock in a benefit concert. The orchestra is carrying a 54-million dollar debt. The goal of the event is to raise 1-million dollars for the orchestra. That money will be used for community outreach and education efforts. The concert will be at the Fox Theater Saturday night. Paul Hogle is the Executive Vice President of the DSO. He says while the DSO has faced struggles, he's optimistic of the orchestra's future.

There's a lot of excitement around electric vehicles. But so far sales have not been great.

Michigan Radio’s auto beat reporter Tracy Samilton decided to get some firsthand experience driving two electric vehicles - the Nissan Leaf and the Chevy Volt.

JW: So while we are calling them electric cars there are some fundamental differences in how they work.

TS: The Leaf is a pure electric vehicle it only runs on the battery and when it runs dry you have to recharge the battery to get more out of the car. And the Volt has a battery, and you run on that as an electric car for about 35 miles, and then after that it has a generator that runs on gasoline that provides more electricity so the car can keep running. So Chevy calls it an electric car with extended range.

JW: And after spending that week with the Leaf and the Volt, what did you think?

TS: Well, they’re two totally different cars and I had two totally different experiences as you can imagine. When I got the Volt, that week that they gave it to me I actually have a vacation arranged in Pennsylvania. Well because it has the extended range I could actually take the volt to the camp sight, some 400 and some miles away. And I plugged it into my cabin, which had electricity. You know most of this was done on the gasoline but I was able to get it recharged in my cabin.

When it comes to the Leaf, it’s a different kind of vehicle, I could not have done that.

Legislation is being introduced in the state house aimed at supporting small businesses and startup companies in the alternative energy sectors.

The legislation is co-sponsored by Democratic State Representative Marcia Hovey-Wright. She spoke with Jennifer White.

Hovey-Wright says, "Basically it’s a revolving loan fund for alternative energy, green manufacturing which includes, wind, solar, advanced battery and biomass. The intention is to create good paying jobs with good benefits."

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

It's graduation season across the country, and students are deciding what they want to do with their lives.

Seventy-one-year-old Ernie Caviani is a piano tuner and technician. He says following your passion is key.

Michigan Radio producer Mercedes Mejia has this audio postcard.

Ernie Caviani: This A is vibrating at 220 beats per second. This A is supposed to vibrate, if it matches it at 440, it’s just twice as much.

In my lifetime I’ve tuned a little over 30,000 pianos.

IBM / The News Market

Every Thursday we take a look at Michigan politics with Susan Demas, political analyst for Michigan Information and Research Service, and Ken Sikkema, former Senate Majority Leader and Senior Policy Fellow at Public Sector Consultants.

There’s an eight-bill package working its way through the legislature right now aimed at eliminating the personal property tax. This sounds like something that would affect individuals but this is actually a business tax.

Sikkema says, “This is basically a tax on business equipment, computer, office furniture and manufacturing equipment. It’s generally acknowledged to be a bad tax because it taxes new business purchases and business growth and investment.”

Demas indicates that some cities receive up to 40% of their tax base from the personal property tax. However, not all cities would be affected in the same way. Some cities wouldn’t be affected at all.

“The municipalities have been looking for ways that they can get some of that revenue replaced, but so far they haven’t had a lot of takers because their solution is a constitutional amendment that would guarantee the same money, and nobody really wants to tie the legislature’s hands with that," she says.

Sikkema believes eliminating the tax is a good move for Michigan. He says, “Other states, particularly in the Midwest have already eliminated it, principality Ohio. Michigan and Indiana are the only ones in the Great Lakes region that I’m aware of who currently collect the personal property tax.”

But he adds, “It’s not without its down side…for some it is a major source of revenue and republicans are trying to address that with this promise to replace it in the future.”

Demas adds, “I do think we do need to pay attention to however many communities there are that really rely on this and could be pushed over the edge, because certainly it’s not health for our state to have our cities keep getting financial managers.”

There’s an ongoing debate about how to sustainably fund the Michigan Public School Employee Retirement System.

According the Bridge Magazine, an online publication of the Center for Michigan, the retirement system is underfunded by $45 billion.

Bridge Magazine staff writer, Nancy Derringer, has taken an in-depth look at this issue.

Derringer notes that Senate bill 1040 would change the way the retirement system is funded. "If you are a new employee your contribution to the retire system would increase to 8%. And they currently pay 3 and 6.2 % of their salary. And then if you are a retiree you currently have your health care premiums 90% paid by the state and you pay 10%, that would switch to 80/20."

SpecialKRB / flickr

The State House recently passed legislation that would allow an increase in the number of Michigan cyber schools.

Cyber schools provide instruction via the internet. There are two currently operating in Michigan.

Michigan Radio's Jennifer White spoke with Republican State Representative Dale Zorn. He voted in favor of the legislation after promising to vote against it.

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