News

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

A suburban Detroit couple is facing federal charges for “harboring undocumented immigrants for commercial gain.”

The charges come after five young men, aged 16-23, died in a fire at Roger Tam and Ada Lei’s home last month.

Officials say the men were all Mexican nationals in the U.S. illegally.

They apparently lived in the Novi home’s basement, and worked at the couple’s nearby Chinese restaurant, Kim's Garden.

They were unable to escape when a mattress caught fire there Jan. 31.

Guy Williams and Lester Graham
Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

The Flint water crisis has brought attention to a larger issue: why do we see more contamination and pollution issues in areas where poor people and, often, people of color live?

Flint’s water is just the tip of the iceberg. Flint has been an industrial city for generations, and still suffers from the lingering pollution left behind by over a century’s worth of factories. Much of the city’s housing was built using lead-based products like paint.

Fermenta is a nonprofit group that helps women learn about and break into the brewing industry
Pauline Knighton

It’s a bit of an understatement to say that the brewing and distilling industries have seen some growth in Michigan. You really don’t have to go far to find a microbrewer or distiller that’s producing some really fine ales or spirits.

Brewing has for some time been a craft mostly dominated by males, but a new group in Michigan is starting to change that.

Paulette Parker / Michigan Radio

After a closed search regarded by some Eastern Michigan University faculty as "too secretive," the EMU Board of Regents elected the school's 23rd president at a special meeting Friday.

James M. Smith was selected out of 81 applicants after a national search process that began in April 2015.

The pool was narrowed down by a 10-person Search Advisory Committee, made up of regents, faculty representatives and administrators.

The Michigan Ice Fest is expecting 700 attendees this year, 40% more than the festival saw last year
Aaron Peterson/Clear & Cold Cinema

Last week it was 50 degrees in many parts of the state. This week it’s freezing. But in the Upper Peninsula, freezing is a good thing for certain adventurous souls.

The sandstone cliffs in Munising, Michigan rise 200 feet above Lake Superior, and during the winter the area attracts ice climbers.

Michigan.gov

Governor Snyder just released 21,403 pages of emails about the Flint water crisis. 

The emails include documents the  The Detroit News already published Friday, in which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency discussed the Genesee County Legionnaires’ disease outbreak in late March 2015.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The heads of Flint's police and fire departments are out of those jobs.

Mayor Karen Weaver said Friday in a press release she's restructuring city operations and has accepted the resignations of Police Chief James Tolbert and Fire Chief David Cox Jr.

But Tolbert tells MLive.com that he and Cox were told Friday would be their last day.

Flickr user Michigan Municipal League/Flickr

Governor Snyder says he now wants to testify before congress to “explain mistakes made by water quality experts that led to the current crisis, and detail the emergency response in place to help residents recover,” according to a statement released Friday.

Snyder’s office says he called the chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, to ask for the opportunity to testify.

Snyder Press Secretary Dave Murray says the governor will use the opportunity to call for a national conversation on infrastructure.

Greg Oberle

A few established Michigan musicians and public radio nerds have joined forces to start a new band called Public Access.

They’re releasing an album today and every track is named after a public broadcaster.

There’s Jack Speer, Dave Mattingly, Ira Glass and Michigan Radio’s own, Jennifer Guerra!

The instrumental songs kind of represent the broadcaster’s persona or the sound of their name.

Here's my review (listen below). 


We are in the middle of what is officially black history month. These days, so far as I can tell, that mostly means elementary school kids have to do a report on Martin Luther King Jr., and read a few paragraphs from the famous speech.

The rest of us mainly ignore it. Which is too bad, because black history is filled with fascinating and untold stories, and I want to tell you about a riveting new book about one.


The country's two most vacant cities are in Michigan

Feb 11, 2016
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A new report from Realty Trac says Flint is the most vacant city in the nation, and Detroit isn't far behind.

According to the report, 7.5 percent of homes in Flint are vacant. Detroit comes in second at 5.3 percent.

State Senator offers to resign seat as part of plea bargain

Feb 11, 2016
State Senator Virgil Smith, D-Detroit.
senatedems.com

Detroit Democrat Virgil Smith has offered to step down from his state Senate seat as part of a plea deal that also dismisses some charges connected to a shooting incident involving his ex-wife.

Wayne County Circuit Judge Lawrence Talon has yet to accept the plea and scheduled a March 14 hearing to decide if the agreement is was tough enough.

As part of the plea, Smith would serve 10 months in the county jail and five years probation for malicious destruction of property. Felonious assault, using a firearm during a felony, and domestic violence charges would be dismissed.

Public Domain / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

What defines affordable housing?

According to the federal government, affordable housing means not spending more than 30% of your income on housing. In a more colloquial context, however, affordable housing means more than just a percentage of your income. For many Michigan citizens, affordable housing means stability. For so many, affordable housing can change one’s life.

flickr user woodleywonderworks / http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The Next Idea

All over Michigan, there are cities and towns that suffer from a lack of affordable housing. The demand keeps growing, but the supply just isn't there. 

Wayne State professor George Galster has a few ideas that could help Michigan tackle the issue:

Jake Neher / Michigan Public Radio

A group of state House Democrats hopes the crisis in Flint will help bring attention to other issues they say threaten clean water in Michigan.

They announced bills on Thursday that would increase regulations on fracking.

Democrats say there’s an opportunity to have a serious conversation about fracking and other water quality issues.

“Now that there’s a little more attention, this gives us an opportunity to go to our colleagues and say, hey look, here’s another threat, here’s another problem,” said state Rep. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor).

USDA.gov

The meat from Ann Arbor's deer cull is on its way to an area food bank.

Local charity Food Gatherers will receive the venison from the cull. Area meat processors are grinding the meat for consumption after the Department of Natural Resources conducts tests on the animals. 

The city's cull permit requires the meat be donated.  Eileen Spring, president of Food Gatherers, said her organization has no position on the cull itself, and did not solicit the donation in any way. 

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

The Food Bank of Eastern Michigan has had to swing into high gear in the wake of the Flint water crisis.

“We traditionally did about 1.6 million pounds out of the food bank, in January of 2015,” said president Bill Kerr. “This year we did over 3 million pounds.”

Kerr says water accounted for the increase, with about 1.4 million pounds of water distributed at 140 sites last month.

Now, Kerr says the food bank is tweaking its operations again.

Apple with books
Creative Commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

A new report out today from Education Trust-Midwest says some charter school authorizers in Michigan aren't doing their jobs very well.

The report says some of the entities that open and oversee charter schools have made marginal improvements overall, but performance remains low when compared to leading education states.

Pixabay / News Service

Officials with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) dropped into Flint yesterday to offer support for residents reeling from the water crisis.

Deputy Undersecretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services Katie Wilson announced residents in Flint who participate in the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program can have lead testing done, paid for by the program. She explains the department wants to help families get through the crisis.

www.defense.gov

When Michigan firefighters get work-related cancer, they’re supposed to be covered by the state. But that’s not happening. 

Because more than a year after lawmakers created a cancer-coverage fund for firefighters, they still haven't put any money in it. 

I doubt that anyone who is listens to or reads my commentaries would think of turning to me for dating or relationship advice, but I am going to give you some anyway.

If you are single, and want to meet someone, you probably don’t want to go to the bar with a copy of the governor’s budget request and say, “Hey, there’s some really interesting stuff in here.”

That probably wouldn’t even work in Lansing.

Photo courtesy of National Scenic Byways

The debate over fish farming in Michigan has arrived in Lansing.

Hearings are taking place at the state Capitol as environmental groups argue against a permit issued by the Department of Environmental Quality. That permit allows the operation of a fish hatchery operated by the Harrietta Hills Trout Farm in Grayling to raise rainbow trout on a branch of the Au Sable River, which is located in the northern lower peninsula, about 50 miles east of Traverse City.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

The US Environmental Protection Agency says it will conduct an inspection of Detroit’s wastewater treatment plant.

In a statement issued Wednesday, the EPA confirmed plans to do a “performance inspection audit” next month.

“Staff from the Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality will also be involved in this audit, to assess current lab procedures and compliance with federal requirements under the Clean Water Act’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program,” the statement reads.

Gov. Rick Snyder
gophouse.com

Governor Rick Snyder had to push past a throng of protesters as he prepared to present his budget plan for the coming fiscal year. Much of the plan focuses on crises that emerged last year, including the Flint water crisis.

"Drink the water, Rick! Drink the water, Rick! Drink, the water, Rick!” was the chant of protesters just outside the doors. They could be heard inside the room throughout Governor Snyder’s budget rollout to state lawmakers.

Michigan’s second-largest county has come “roaring back” from the Great Recession.

That was longtime Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson’s message at his annual state of the county speech Wednesday night.

“The state of Oakland County is strong! Amazingly strong. Vibrant,” Patterson said.

He touted the county’s unemployment rate, which soared to nearly 15% in the depths of the recession. Now, it’s dipped below 5%.

user: mariordo / Wikimedia Commons

Federal safety regulators have told Google the computer in their self-driving car can be considered the driver - in lieu of a human.

One analyst says that decision is a "launching pad" for the technology.

Rebecca Lindland of Kelley Blue Book says many regulations were written long before the self-driving car was a twinkle in Google founder Larry Page's eye. So recognizing the computer as the driver helps to make the technology feasible.

Paulette Parker / Michigan Radio

Wayne County Executive Warren Evans is urging the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to reject permit requests that would allow Marathon Oil and US Ecology to increase emissions and  hazardous waste.

The Marathon Petroleum Refinery in Detroit has been embroiled in controversy over its request to increase sulfur dioxide emissions.

"Our request there is: Before you even contemplate an increase in the permitting, that you show us that you're making some concrete steps in controlling the pollution that's already there," Evans said.

Flint officials testify at Congressional hearing

Feb 10, 2016
sign in Flint, Michigan
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Democrats in Congress held hearings today about the Flint water crisis.

Public health experts and Flint officials appeared in front of the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee.

Flint officials testified they need federal money to help address the short and long-term consequences of lead in Flint's water supply. They said state funds are not enough. 

Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha directs the Pediatric Residency Program at Hurley Medical Center in Flint. She said educational, nutritional, physical and mental health services must begin immediately.

The Flint River
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A 2010 federal audit of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality showed concerns with the state agency’s ability to monitor for clean water.

The audit, conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, depicted struggles in the MDEQ due to budget cuts, staffing issues, and shortfalls in meeting federal standards for safe drinking water.

The lawyer in charge of state Attorney General Bill Schuette’s investigation, Todd Flood.
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

In the wake of the Flint water crisis, there are some who are calling for criminal charges to be filed against Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and other state and local officials.

The U.S. Attorney and State Attorney General Bill Schuette's office, as well the F.B.I., are all investigating to try to find out who is to blame.

But how likely is it that anyone will actually be accused of a crime?

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