Sarah Hulett

Assistant News Director

Sarah Hulett became Michigan Radio's assistant news director in August 2011. For five years she was the station's Detroit reporter, and contributed to several reporting projects that won state and national awards.

Sarah considers Detroit to be a perfect laboratory for great radio stories, because of its energy, its struggles, and its unique place in America's industrial and cultural landscape.

Before coming to Michigan Radio, Sarah spent five years as state Capitol correspondent for Michigan Public Radio. She's a graduate of Michigan State University.

Contact Sarah Hulett at

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

A bunch of guys and a bunch of lawn mowers.  That's the basic idea behind the volunteer Detroit Mower Gang - which cuts the grass at city parks in Detroit every other Wednesday night. This past week, the Gang mowed about 25 acres in Stoeppel Park Number Two on the city's west side.  Barbara Davis lives across from the park - where for many kids, the grass was chest-high. "It's terrible," said Davis. "They usually got to cut a path and tramp right to the swing set because the grass is so tall.

Peter Martorano / Flickr


A federal bankruptcy court now will be the scene for some colossal decisions about the future of Detroit – which filed for Chapter Nine protection last week. One of the key issues is whether retirees will see their benefits cut – something the city’s emergency manager says is now “a question of necessity.”
Peggy Dankert lives on the far west side of Detroit. She retired from the city’s EMS department about four years ago, after more than 26 years. Dankert says she’s not happy her pension could be on the chopping block in bankruptcy court, right alongside bondholders’ investments.

“I can’t buy insurance on my pension benefits like buy insurance on their bonds. So I don’t think they should be treated the same.”

Few Detroiters think the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history is great news.

But plenty see it as an opportunity. Many Detroit business owners hope the bankruptcy will mean more stability and certainty, in a city that has had little of either in recent years.

Sandy Baruah, head of the Detroit Regional Chamber, says the bankruptcy filing did not come as a surprise to him, nor should it surprise anybody else.

Pontiac schools are a step closer to a possible state takeover.

A state board found Pontiac schools in "probable financial stress," following a review led by the state schools Superintendent Mike Flanagan. The board's finding triggers a more comprehensive review of the district's finances. 

The school system's deficit was close to $38 million about a year ago. That's about half of its operating budget, and way over the state's benchmark for determining whether a district is in trouble.

The district's ability to pay its bills has been touch and go. Last month the state released aid it had been withholding to avoid a payless payday.

And the schools system's financial troubles are mounting. A court has ordered a tax levy on property owners in Pontiac and neighboring communities to cover almost $8 million in unpaid health insurance premiums.

If a team appointed by Governor Snyder decides there's a financial emergency in Pontiac schools, the school board would have to choose among a set of options. One of those options is appointing an emergency manager.

Ralf_H / flickr

You may have heard that Whole Foods Market opened a store in Detroit today.

The grocery chain has a reputation for pricey organic fare.

So you might think its decision to set up shop in Detroit means there’s a little pocket of the Motor City that’s thriving. And you'd be right.

But the level of affluence in the neighborhood surrounding Whole Foods is well below what you would see in other cities that have undergone urban revival.

Bistros, bike factory, bachelor chic

The U.S. Department of Education has dismissed a complaint from the Michigan Department of Civil Rights over schools’ use of American Indian mascots.

The civil rights department had argued that the images hurt Native American students’ academic performance, and create an unequal learning environment.

But federal education officials say opponents of Indian mascots and logos need to prove that they create a hostile environment for Native American students.

If you have a great idea for new retail in the city of Detroit, now is the time to make your pitch. You could win a $50,000 pot of money to help you do it.

This is the third year Hatch Detroit is holding the contest for new retail ideas. Entries are being accepted today through July 13.

Joe Posch won the contest in 2011. Last November, he opened Hugh - his "classic bachelor pad" shop on Cass Avenue.

cmh2315fl / flickr

The owners of the Ambassador Bridge are asking a federal judge to invalidate a presidential permit that would allow the construction of a competing bridge a couple miles away.

The State Department last month gave the go-ahead to the New International Trade Crossing. That prompted this amended complaint to a long-running lawsuit in federal court.

Attorneys for the Ambassador Bridge say building a competing bridge would violate its perpetual and exclusive franchise to own and operate a toll bridge linking Detroit and Windsor. The complaint points to studies that say up to three-quarters of the Ambassador Bridge's truck traffic, and more than a third of its passenger traffic would be diverted to the new bridge. 

The complaint also says the new crossing is an unconstitutional agreement. It says the state of Michigan can't legally enter into an agreement with the Canadian government.

The new bridge has strong support from Governor Snyder. The Canadian government has promised to pick up Michigan's share of the two-billion dollar tab for building the bridge.

To read the complaint, click here.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Memorial Day is the unofficial start of summer. It’s also the day when throngs of people line the sidewalks of cities and small towns across the state to watch marching bands and politicians parade down the street.

Crystal Schonfeld watched the parade in Dearborn with her mother. Her brother, Army National Guard Sergeant Michael Derome, is scheduled to return home from Afghanistan on Thursday.

Kate Davidson / Michigan Radio

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing will not seek re-election.

Bing made that announcement after months of indecision. He frustrated reporters weeks ago when he pulled petitions for re-election, only to say he hadn't committed to running.

Then he called a press conference, and handed out pamphlets highlighting his successes in office.

Then he spoke for nearly 20 minutes about his achievements before announcing "that I have decided not to seek another term as mayor Detroit."

Bing said his political career might not be over.


Michigan's controversial law that allows the state to take over the finances of cash-strapped cities is the subject of yet another lawsuit.

The Detroit branch of the NAACP filed the lawsuit in federal court today. It claims the state's emergency manager law is unconstitutional.

“It's fundamentally about our right to vote, and our right, as constitutionally guaranteed, to select and elect our own publicly elected officials,” said Detroit branch President Rev. Wendell Anthony.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

State officials announced over the weekend that they will lend money to Pontiac schools, and avert a payless payday there this week.

But there’s still no resolution in Buena Vista Township, where the school system abruptly shut down after running out of money a month before the end of the school year. So teachers, parents and students in the tiny school district near Saginaw are trying to figure out what to do next.      

“I hope the school district can work something out there,” Gov. Rick Snyder said late last week about a plan to educate Buena Vista’s 400 students.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

The federal court that serves 32 counties in the eastern half of Michigan is changing its juror selection process in the hopes of improving jury diversity.

Judges on the bench say one of the main problems is a high rate of "undeliverable" mail in ZIP codes where minorities live. So starting this month, when mailings to potential jurors come back to the court, another mailing will go out to the same ZIP code.

Royal Oak's city clerk has certified the signatures on petitions to force a referendum on a new gay rights ordinance in the Detroit suburb.

Fred Birchard submitted petitions Tuesday with 1,226 signatures seeking repeal of the law that Royal Oak's City Commission approved on a 6-1 vote March 4. The city clerk determined Wednesday that the necessary 746 signatures were valid.

The ordinance would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and other factors. It was set to take effect last month. But opponents circulated petitions to try and block it.

Federal prosecutors say two people linked to Detroit's pension systems took part in a bribery and kickback scheme involving more than $200 million in investments for the funds.

The U.S. Attorney in Detroit says Paul Stewart, a former trustee for the city's police and fire retirement system, took thousands of dollars in cash, trips and entertainment from people looking for investments from the pension fund.

Can Detroit Be Saved?

Mar 2, 2013

Detroit is broke. On Friday, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder announced the state will take over the city's finances.

"It is time to say, we need to start moving upward with the city of Detroit," he said.

But the question on many people's minds is whether state intervention will be enough — and whether the more ominous and painful scenario of municipal bankruptcy can be avoided.

Adding Up The Debt

Just how far gone is Detroit? Eric Lupher, director of local affairs for the Citizens Research Council of Michigan, sums it up like this:

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

For years, the debate about using American Indian names and imagery for sports teams has centered on the question of whether they create a “hostile environment” for Native American students. Courts have been split on that question, and so has public opinion – even among American Indians.

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, Senator Carl Levin and Michigan officials will host a meeting in Detroit tomorrow to talk about how tax breaks for historic preservation projects can help distressed cities.

In a statement, Secretary Salazar says the Federal Historic Preservation Tax Incentives program has been used for 70 projects in Detroit since 2000. He says he wants to talk about how that program can help revitalize the city.

The meeting will take place in the Odd Fellows Building, which was rehabbed in 2006 with the help of historic tax credits.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Researchers in Ontario will spend the coming months trying to get to the bottom of the noise and vibration known as the "Windsor Hum."

People in Windsor have complained about the low-frequency rumbling for the past two years.

Wolfgang Sauber / Wikipedia

Schools in Genesee and Lapeer counties will be closed tomorrow and Friday, amid threats circulated on social media.

From the Genesee Co. Intermediate School District Web site:

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

There are parts of Detroit that have basically reverted to nature – the homes long gone, the grass tall, the pheasants outnumbering residents on some blocks.

One entrepreneur sees potential in all that empty, blighted space. But he’s not building new houses, or opening up a factory. Instead, he’s planning to plant thousands of trees.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

A proposal to sell more than 140 acres of abandoned lots in Detroit drew hundreds of people to a public hearing tonight.

The vast majority were there to speak out against the plan.

Financial services entrepreneur John Hantz wants to buy more than 1,500 blighted city-owned lots and plant hardwood trees on them. Under the proposal, Hantz would pay $300 dollars per lot.

University of Michigan Provost Philip Hanlon will be the new president of Dartmouth College. Hanlon has served as provost since 2010.

"(Hanlon) has steered the University through some of its most fiscally challenging years, all the while advancing our academic excellence and impact," U of M President Mary Sue Coleman said in a statement.

Hanlon started with the university in the mathematics department in 1986. He's a graduate of Dartmouth.

Greengobbler / Morguefile

Philanthropic organizations want to capitalize on the spending campaigns of "Black Friday" and "Cyber Monday"  - and also flip the idea of consumerism on its head.

The idea behind "Giving Tuesday" is to take time to donate to charity, after two of the biggest shopping days of the year.

Eileen Heisman is the CEO of National Philanthropic Trust - one of the groups promoting the campaign.

"This is the first year, but I think it's going to continue," said Heisman. "I'm almost positive it is, and so I think in the following years we'll see a much bigger push and more visibility for people taking this time of year to give back in a more formal way on this day."

Charities report nearly a quarter of their annual donations come between Thanksgiving and New Years.

Center for Public Integrity

A new study links workplace exposure to plastics to a dramatically increased risk of breast cancer.

A team of researchers compared the work histories of women in the Windsor, Ontario area who had breast cancer against a group of women who did not.

They factored in things like smoking, exercise habits, and family history.

And they found that pre-menopausal women who worked in automotive plastics factories were nearly five times more likely to develop breast cancer.

Kate Davidson

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing has reached a deal with the state Treasurer that will allow the city to tap the proceeds of a $137 million dollar bond sale, and avoid payless paydays.

Under the terms of the deal, Detroit has to meet certain benchmarks. They include hiring a firm to restructure the city's finances, and another firm to implement those recommendations. Outsourcing the city's payroll system and changing the way contracts are bid out are also part of the benchmarks.

The Detroit Federation of Teachers is suing the city's public school system on behalf of more than 400 teachers the union says were laid off improperly.

Detroit Public Schools used a new evaluation system this year, following changes to Michigan's teacher tenure law that allow districts to call back laid-off teachers without using seniority as the first factor.

The union says the system the district came up with is not fair or transparent. And Detroit Federation of Teachers President Keith Johnson says on top of that, the school system didn't even follow its own rules when it came time to decide who would be called back to work.

Johnson says the lawsuit seeks any remedy available under the law.

"That would include reinstatement, it could include punitive damages, because there are some teachers who have had their lives literally turned upside down."

The school district did not comment directly on the lawsuit. But in a statement, it says the evaluation system ensured the most highly effective teachers would be placed in every classroom.

Sarah Hulett / Michgian Radio

After she signs her name on closing documents a few dozen times tomorrow, Tisha Friday will get a set of keys to her brand new house in Hamtramck.

Friday is part of the plaintiffs class in what some say is the longest-running housing discrimination lawsuit in the country. And with every closing, Hamtramck inches a little closer to closing an ugly chapter in its history.

User: ellenm1 / flickr

The Wayne State University Board of Governors is expected to vote Monday to establish a search committee for a new president. The university needs to replace Allan Gilmour, who plans to retire when his two-year contract is up in June.

Gilmour is credited with making the school's admissions standards more rigorous, after criticism that it admitted students who couldn't succeed. But his successor will still have some work to do. According to the Web site college results dot org, fewer than a third of Wayne State students graduate within six years.

Patricia Drury / flickr

The top ranks of Detroit's police department are getting reshuffled.

Mayor Dave Bing announced the plan today. He says the appointment of two new assistant chiefs, along with some high-level reassignments and promotions, will make the department more efficient and responsive.

"We're all concerned about the safety of the people here in this city and we've made these recommendation new leadership, and we think we're going to see results immediately," Bing said.

The department is struggling to keep a lid on crime as it deals with a string of internal sex scandals.