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Education
11:10 am
Wed June 27, 2012

Muskegon Heights charter takeover a 'state bailout,' new report says

Muskegon Heights High School
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

Muskegon Heights Public Schools voted late last year to request a state emergency manager in an effort to sort out chronically troubled finances. Part of the plan emergency manager Don Weatherspoon eventually came up with involved turning schools in the district over to a charter operator.

But as the Detroit Free Press reports today, a study from a non-profit research group says the turnover amounts to little more than a state bailout.

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Economy
5:26 pm
Tue June 26, 2012

Reuters: Natural gas giants may have colluded in Michigan drilling lease grab

The Utica Shale, seen here, has recently become the target of gas and oil exploration by corporations like Encana and Chesapeake Energy.
Michael C. Rygel Wikipedia Creative Commons

Two of North America’s biggest natural gas corporations, Encana and Chesapeake Energy, are under scrutiny today after the Reuters news agency intercepted at least a dozen emails from 2010 between the competing companies that might show evidence of price-fixing in Michigan’s oil and gas lease market. 

Reuters alleges that the emails suggest top company officials discussed a plan to divide up counties in Michigan auctioning "prime oil- and gas-acreage" in order to avoid a costly bidding competition.

Both companies deny the allegation, though they admit to discussing the possibility of entering into a joint venture in Michigan.

Yesterday, Reuters reported:

Shares of Chesapeake Energy Corp and Encana Corp tumbled Monday after a Reuters investigation showed that top executives of the two rivals plotted in 2010 to avoid bidding against each other in a state auction and in at least nine prospective deals with private land owners.

Following the report, the state of Michigan pledged to determine whether the two energy giants acted two years ago to suppress land prices there.

In Michigan, private land owners can sell the drilling rights on their properties, and the state’s Department of Natural Resources holds auctions to sell state-owned rights called "oil and gas leases" biannually.

Around 2008, this market gained national attention when the Utica and Collingwood Shale oil and natural gas fields drew interest as potential natural gas mother lodes in northeast Michigan. Companies looking to access the reserves thousands of feet underground through a new process called horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, started purchasing these rights. Bids for the drilling rights per acre soared to record highs in the May 2010 auction. 

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Economy
12:15 pm
Tue June 26, 2012

Detroit housing prices down in April, but up from last year

A graph showing annual changes in U.S. home prices.
S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices

Detroit housing prices fell 3.6 percent from March to April, but were still higher than they were in April 2011.

A report released today by S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices shows that, nationwide, home prices rose for the first time in seven months. But Detroit was the only city, of the 20 "metropolitan statistical areas" (MSA's) they look at, to show a monthly decline.

The news wasn't all bad for Detroit.

Looking annually, Detroit is one of 10 cities that saw prices rise compared with the same period a year ago. On a national level, annual figures ticked downward.

-John Klein Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Detroit
11:11 am
Tue June 26, 2012

Mayor Bing hopes to raze 1,500 more abandoned buildings in Detroit this summer

An abandoned home in Detroit
Kate Davidson Michigan Radio

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing has plans to demolish 1,500 abandoned structures in the city over the next three months.

In a press release, Bing's office said the "Summer 2012 Demolition Plan" is part of a larger effort to raze 10,000 dangerous and abandoned buildings by the end of the mayor's first term. Over 4,500 homes and other empty buildings have been demolished so far.

Removing abandoned structures in Detroit, the press release says, is a key part of Mayor Bing's "blight elimination and neighborhood stabilization plans, the U.S. Department of Justice Youth Violence Prevention Initiative and the Safe Routes to School campaign."

Some 350 of the buildings slated for removal this summer were suggested by students, parents and patrol volunteers at area high schools.

Mayor Bing is set to make an official announcement later this afternoon at the site of one home set for demolition today on Detroit's east side.

-John Klein Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

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Environment & Science
10:52 am
Tue June 26, 2012

Bee Palooza showcases backyard bee habitats

A native bee hotel on display at Bee Palooza. The bee experts from Michigan State University say a bee hotel is easy to build.
Logan Chadde Michigan Radio

Honeybees are responsible for pollinating about one of every three bites of food we eat.

Rufus Isaacs is an entomology professor at Michigan State University. He studies pollination of berry crops.

"Honeybees are, if we’re talking about commercial agriculture, they’re the most important pollinator. We have tens of thousands of those bees that come into Michigan every spring, and they do the lion’s share of the work to get our cherry crop, our blueberry crop, our apple crop, our pickling cucumber crop pollinated."

But since 2006, beekeepers have been reporting major honeybee losses. That’s because of something called Colony Collapse Disorder.

Honeybees are not native to Michigan, but there are 400 native bee species in the state. Isaacs says these native bees also pollinate crops and wild flowers.  But he says the overall health of native bee populations is unclear.

"To be honest, we don't really know anything about long-term trends in their populations because there hasn't been any careful monitoring of them over the years," he said.

A few days ago, Isaacs and others in MSU’s entomology department put on an event called Bee Palooza.

The bee experts say human development is threatening the habitats that native bees use. So they wanted to show people how to build homes for native bees in their backyards.

Emily May is a graduate student at MSU. She’s standing next to a structure that’s shaped like a house. It’s made out of logs, bamboo and pieces of wood with a lot of holes in them. May calls it a bee hotel.

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Environment & Science
10:33 pm
Mon June 25, 2012

Debate heats up over proposal to increase Michigan's renewable energy standard

Michigan already has a renewable energy  standard on the books. 10 % of the energy utility companies provide has to come from renewable sources by 2015. But the Michigan Energy, Michigan Jobs Coalition wants to bump that number up to 25% by the year 2025. The group is gathering signatures for a ballot proposal to create an amendment to the state constitution.

Stephen Transeth is with the Clean Affordable Renewable Energy for Michigan Coalition. It's a group that is trying to defeat the so called 25-by-25 ballot proposal. He says he supports the current standard but does not think the new proposal is appropriate to put in the state constitution.

"When you put a proposal like this into the constitution, you are effectively limiting your options in the future, the way we generate and use electricity in the next five, 10, 20 years from now, is going
to look so much different than today."

But the organizers behind 25-by-25 say utilities are already ahead of schedule to meet the current standard and it’s been cheaper than expected.

Mark Pischea is with the Michigan Energy, Michigan Jobs Coalition. He says Michigan companies are already sending wind turbine parts to places like Spain and China.

"Michigan has the opportunity to again be the hub to export products made in Michigan to the world, just like what we did 100 years ago with the automobile."

330,000 signatures are needed to put the proposal on the ballot in November.

-Emily Fox, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Politics & Government
2:38 pm
Mon June 25, 2012

Detroit mayor announces 164 firefighter layoffs

Detroit Firefighters
City of Detroit Fire Department Facebook.com

This afternoon, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing announced that the city plans to lay off 164 firefighters by the end of July due to budget cuts.  This represents 14 percent of the department's Fire Fighting Division of 1,141 personnel.

In a statement, the mayor said he has “every expectation” to receive a federal grant that will restore jobs to 108 of those laid off, though the grant has yet to be awarded. "Many, if not most, of the remaining 56 firefighters are expected to be recalled to the fire department through attrition," the statement said.

The mayor’s office released a list of ways the Detroit Fire Department will attempt to do more with less:

·     Better deploying engines from adjacent sectors and using newly installed GPS systems in the engines and rigs to best dispatch fire department personnel;

·     Conducting thorough risks/gain analysis of interior versus exterior fire suppression;

·     Increase the use of CERT & Fire Corps to support our firefighters;

·     And continuing our community fire prevention education.

Last night, Detroit firefighters worked to extinguish 16 blazes, mostly in vacant buildings, on the east side of the city.

Back in March, Michigan Radio's  Sarah Cwiek reported that the fire department was already stretched thin without sufficient staff to handle fires, like last night's, in vacant buildings.  According to Detroit Fire Commissioner, Donald Austin,  30-60 percent of all department runs, depending on the shift, are in response to such fires.

-Elaine Ezekiel, Michigan Radio Newsroom

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Law
10:29 am
Mon June 25, 2012

Supreme Court rules life without parole for juveniles unconstitutional

U.S. Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that life sentences without the possibility of parole for juvenile offenders violates the Constitution's Eighth Amendment (the ban on cruel and unusual punishment).

The ruling has big ramifications on Michigan. The state has one of the highest populations of juvenile offenders serving life sentences---358 out of about 2,500 nationwide.

The ACLU sued the state of Michigan back in 2010. Their press release at the time said the United States is the only country in the world that sentences young people to life without the possibility of parole:

....and Michigan incarcerates the second highest number of people serving life sentences without parole for crimes committed when they were 17 years old or younger. Currently, there are 350 individuals serving such mandatory life sentences in Michigan.

In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court drew from two previous cases---one banning the death penalty for youth offenders and the other outlawing life without parole for juveniles in non-homicide cases.

Justice Elena Kagan, writing for the majority, said that those previous cases establish that "chil­dren are constitutionally different from adults for sentencing purposes. Their 'lack of maturity' and 'underdeveloped sense of responsibility'  lead to recklessness, impulsivity, and heedless risk-taking."

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Transportation
4:25 pm
Fri June 22, 2012

Forbes: "The Billionaire Vs. The Nerd: Who Gets To Control International Trade With Canada?"

A concept drawing of the new bridge to be built across the Detroit River. The bridge has yet to be designed.
http://buildthedricnow.com/

Check out Forbes staff writer Joann Muller's in-depth look at the politics behind this month's bridge deal:

-Via Elaine Ezekiel, Michigan Radio Newsroom

 

It's Just Politics
1:33 pm
Fri June 22, 2012

Romney shifts campaign message as state economies improve

Mitt Romney in DeWitt, Mich. on last week's bus tour
Rick Pluta Michigan Radio

Today on It's Just Politics, co-hosts Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta discussed Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's Michigan campaign tour this week.  Romney also made campaign stops in Michigan last month, during which, Pluta says Romney's grim assessment of the Michigan economy created some friction with Republican Gov. Rick Snyder's more positive message of economic recovery in the "comeback state."

"We've talked about this before," said Pluta, "this tension between the messaging of a Republican governor, like Rick Snyder, who's saying, 'Look, we're making changes; things are improving; what we're doing is working,' and Mitt Romney coming into the state and saying, 'You're not doing that well.' It's basically a message of pessimism, and making the case for change."

On his tour this week, Pluta says, Romney has changed tones. The presidential hopeful lauded Snyder, saying he would do for the country what Snyder has done for the state.

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Politics & Government
12:15 pm
Fri June 22, 2012

Bill protecting Michigan worship services from disruption nears approval

State Rep. Deb Shaughnessy is sponsoring a bill outlawing disruption of worship services.
gophouse.com

Those who disrupt religious services in Michigan could soon face much harsher penalties.

A bill sponsored by state Rep. Deb Shaughnessy, R-Charlotte, intended to prevent disruptions during worship events, cleared the state Senate last week.

From the Associated Press:

The fine for disorderly conduct at a religious service could go as high as $1,000, which is more than the maximum fine for many misdemeanors. A second offense could cost as much as $5,000. A judge could also order at least 100 days of community service.

According to a press release from Shaughnessy's office, the legislation was inspired by a 2008 protest at the Mount Hope Church in Delta Township. As part of the protest, members of a gay-rights anarchist group interrupted a service at the megachurch by throwing flyers, pulling fire alarms and shouting slogans.

The press release quotes Rep. Shaughnessy:

"The right of Michigan residents to gather and worship is not only guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, it is a right that must be respected by those with other beliefs...Nobody should fear disruption of their worship services by political opponents, and this legislation should shield them from such chaos."

The bill is now on Gov. Rick Snyder's desk awaiting approval.

-John Klein Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Arts & Culture
3:23 pm
Thu June 21, 2012

Detroit skaters going 'Wild in the Streets'

Participants in today's "Wild in the Streets" skateboarding event.
ACLU of Michigan

In Detroit and four other cities around the world today, thousands have dropped everything, grabbed their skateboards, and taken to the streets.

This year, Detroit was selected as a site for the ninth annual skateboarding event called Wild in the Streets. The event is similar to Critical Mass, but on skateboards instead of bicycles, and it is being held today—international Go Skateboarding Day.

According to the event's website,

"The goal of Wild in the Streets is to build community and raise awareness of skateboarding and the needs of skateboarders, and to unite skateboarders through a central cause."

Participants were told by the organizing skateboard company, Emerica, to meet up today at noon in Hart Plaza to begin a 5-mile mass trip around the city. In a media release, the company wrote that participants could find the secret itinerary and directions for the ride once there.

The event will culminate tonight in a benefit concert at Royal Oak’s Modern Skate Park to raise money for Power House Production's Ride It Sculpture Park. The sculpture park, being constructed at East Davison St. and Klinger, near the east end of Davison Highway in Detroit, will serve as a skate park in which the artworks form obstacles for riders.

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Homelessness
11:37 am
Thu June 21, 2012

State hopes to keep Ann Arbor tent city shut for good

John Wagner (left) is a volunteer and supporter of Camp Take Notice. Alonzo Young is a camper. He's been attending classes at Washtenaw Community College.
Mercedes Mejia Michigan Radio

State officials are preparing to cordon off a stretch of highway median near Ann Arbor to keep the homeless out.

As AnnArbor.com's Ryan Stanton reports, the site is home to Camp Take Notice, a homeless community encampment that is scheduled to be shut down tomorrow. To make sure it remains unoccupied, the Michigan Department of Transportation, which owns the land, is erecting an 8-foot fence around the 9-acre site.

MDOT and the state housing authority, Stanton says, are working to provide camp residents with rent assistance and, in some cases, help moving into subsidized housing, but authorities have made it clear that residing at the campsite is no longer an option.

From AnnArbor.com:

"We've been hearing from the community and from Camp Take Notice that the homeless have been using this area for a long time as a makeshift home," [an MDOT regional manager, Mark] Sweeney said, adding there have been complaints from nearby residents that the homeless have left the area a mess.

"We really wanted to resolve the issue once and for all," he said. "So after the camp is closed, we'll be closing off the area."

Sweeney added, "It's not against Camp Take Notice specifically, but more to prevent a homeless encampment of any kind in this location."

Earlier this year, Michigan Radio's Mercedes Mejia visited Camp Take Notice and spoke with residents about life there. You can see a video of those conversations below:

-John Klein Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

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Environment & Science
4:56 pm
Wed June 20, 2012

Yesterday's temperatures in Ann Arbor reached 1995 record of 95 degrees

Nickolas Muray flickr Creative Commons

AnnArbor.com reports that the city's 95 degree high yesterday tied with the record-breaking temperature from 17 years ago:

Tuesday’s sweltering heat in Ann Arbor tied the June 19, 1995 high temperature record for 95 degrees, and today has already been declared an ozone action day, said University of Michigan Weather Observer Dennis Kahlbaum.

"Any time we get into the 90s, there’s warnings out for people that may be more susceptible to high temperatures,” Kahlbaum said. “That always goes hand in hand.”

Pollutants are expected to be in the unhealthy range for sensitive groups.

The action day is in effect for the following Michigan counties: Lenawee, Livingston, Macomb, Monroe, Oakland, St Clair, Washtenaw and Wayne.

This is the fifth air quality alert for Washtenaw County so far this year, with other recent ones occurring on Friday and Saturday.

Tuesday’s heat felt a bit hotter than the actual temperature because of the 98 degree heat index.

As the hot weather continues today, here are some tips from the CDC about how to stay safe in extreme heat.

-Elaine Ezekiel, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Education
3:10 pm
Wed June 20, 2012

More funding, celebrity attention bolster Grand Rapids Public Schools’ music program

Barry Manilow, seen with students whose schools received instruments from The Barry Manilow Music Project, which launched in Grand Rapids last Thursday.
The Barry Manilow Music Project Facebook

On June 18, the Grand Rapids Public Schools Board of Education approved next year’s budget for their district.  MLive reports that although the 2012-2013 budget includes $9 million in cuts due to decreased enrollment, board members voted to allocate $990,000 to hire 11 more teachers to support increased arts education.

These additional teachers will facilitate full-year—as opposed to semester-long—art and music instruction for the district’s elementary school students.

In addition to the financial boost, students in Grand Rapids schools have also received attention from celebrities this month.

On June 14, students from City and Creston high schools in Grand Rapids accompanied the British-American rock band Foreigner on stage at the Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park Amphitheater singing their hit, “I Wanna Know What Love Is.” 

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Offbeat
2:41 pm
Wed June 20, 2012

Ten signs it's summertime in Michigan

A summertime view from Marquette Park on Mackinac Island
user Notorious4Life Wikimedia Commons

Detroit Free Press columnist Ron Dzwonkowski offers 10 ways we can tell another Michigan summer is upon us.

Here's the list:

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Education
12:59 pm
Wed June 20, 2012

Detroit school for teen moms celebrates graduates 1 year after facing closure (Video)

A year after students rallied and, in some cases, got arrested to save their school from closure, the Catherine Ferguson Academy for pregnant and parenting teens recently celebrated the graduation of its senior class, capped off with some national media attention.

Rachel Maddow featured the graduates in her "Best New Thing in the World Today" segment (see below).

As Michigan Radio's Sarah Hulett reported last June, the Catherine Ferguson Academy was one of several Detroit public schools slated to close due to budgetary concerns, but it was saved at the eleventh hour when education officials agreed to turn it over to a charter organization.

-John Klein Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Politics & Government
12:25 pm
Wed June 20, 2012

State wants to see Wayne Co. books before okaying deficit plan

State Treasurer Andy Dillon
Associated Press

Before giving Wayne County the go-ahead on an unorthodox deficit reduction plan, the state wants peruse the county's books.

According to John Wisely at the Detroit Free Press, Michigan Treasurer Andy Dillon is taking bids from accounting firms to perform the audit. Auditors would look at discrepancies in spending and budgeting along with the timing of certain transactions.

Officials in Lansing are on the lookout for anything fishy because the plan would involve state money.

More from the Freep:

Last month, the county proposed eliminating its deficit by sending unused state grant money, for things like roads and mental health programs, back to the state. It wants the state to return a similar amount to the county unrestricted, meaning it could be used to eliminate the deficit instead of funding the programs spelled out in the legislation.

Wayne County has a cumulative deficit of $155 million and faces declining revenues in its latest budget cycle.

-John Klein Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Health
11:05 am
Wed June 20, 2012

U.S. Health Secretary, speaking in Detroit, plans health center expansions

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius
Pete Souza whitehouse.gov

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was in Detroit this morning to announce an expansion of community health centers in over 40 states, along with Washington DC and Puerto Rico.

From the Associated Press:

Sebelius announced $128.6 million in awards Wednesday at Covenant Community Care in Detroit.

The grants are from the Affordable Care Act and will go to 219 health centers, increasing access to more than 1.25 million additional patients.

About 5,640 doctor, nurse, dental provider and support staff jobs are expected to be created.

Last month, the department announced $21 million in grants for expansion projects at five community health centers in Kansas and nearly $3.5 million for two centers in Utah.

Sebelius says the health care law is making "community health centers stronger and ensuring more Americans get the care they need."

-John Klein Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Environment & Science
3:26 pm
Tue June 19, 2012

Possible signs of Asian carp found near Lake Michigan

Juvenile silver carp, seen here, can grow up to weigh 100 pounds.
user MirkoB Wikimedia Commons

A survey recently conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers showed positive evidence for genetic material from silver carp in southwest Chicago. 

The May 22 test showed 17 positive identifications for the DNA of silver carp in 112 sites sampled in Lake Calumet and Little Calumet River through a process called "eDNA," or environmental DNA testing. The test involves filtering water samples for fragments of DNA shed by target species.

Genetic material left from carp tissue, mucus, feces or urine is not a certain indication of the presence of a live Asian carp; the DNA found in testing could have come from dead fish or water from another source.

Researchers also tested for bighead carp in the area, another species of Asian carp, though all results were negative. 

The AP reports:

Jared Teutsch, water policy advocate for the Alliance for the Great Lakes, said in a statement Monday the findings mean "another year of worry" about Asian carp.

Bighead and silver carp were imported from Asia. They have migrated up the Mississippi River and its tributaries. An electric barrier is meant to block them.

Dozens of water samples taken beyond the barrier in recent years have contained Asian carp DNA, although just one actual carp has been found there.

-Elaine Ezekiel, Michigan Radio Newsroom

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