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Economy
2:51 pm
Tue September 23, 2014

Detroit hires company to reappraise real estate

Col. Frank J. Hecker House in Detroit
Credit User: Werewombat / Wikimedia Commons

DETROIT - A Plano, Texas, company has been hired to give Detroit a clear picture of how much individual properties in the city are worth.

Tyler Technologies Inc. says its appraisal arm will compile data on real property in the city. It says Detroit has not completed a full reappraisal of real property in more than 50 years.

A spokesman for emergency manager Kevyn Orr says Tyler's CLT Appraisal Services unit will give the city a "more accurate assessment of property values." Bill Nowling says the city will use it to "create more accurate property tax bills."

Mayor Mike Duggan said earlier this year that the city would lower property tax bills by reassessing home values. He says high, unrealistic property assessments have angered city residents and forced many from their homes.

Opinion
12:11 pm
Tue September 23, 2014

Michigan is a disgrace when it comes to child care

Yesterday, the Michigan League for Public Policy held a press conference to announce that our state is a disgrace when it comes to child care.

They didn’t say it that way, but I will.

What the nonpartisan league actually said was:

“Michigan’s child care program falls far short in ensuring high-quality child care.”

We are living in an age when more parents than ever need to work, and our politicians demand they work. And we are making it harder and harder for them to do so.

Over the last 10 years, Michigan has cut 70% of the funding for subsidized child care.

Back in 2005, before the Great Recession, 65,000 low-income parents got child care help from the state so that they could keep working.

Many more are in trouble now, but we only help a third as many.

Forget human compassion; from purely a business standpoint, this makes no sense.

To quote the league:

“Access to safe, stable and high-quality child care reduces employee absenteeism and turnover and improves businesses’ bottom line.”

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Education
11:00 am
Tue September 23, 2014

Benton Harbor school board to vote on consent agreement

Monday, the state Treasury department announced that an agreement has been crafted that will “restore financial stability to Benton Harbor Area Schools as quickly and efficiently as possible.”
Credit Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The Benton Harbor Board of Education may take a step this evening toward getting its financial house in order. 

Benton Harbor Area Schools faces a $15 million deficit.

Last month, a state panel determined the school district is in a "financial emergency."

Monday, the state Treasury department announced that an agreement has been crafted that will “restore financial stability to Benton Harbor Area Schools as quickly and efficiently as possible.”

As part of the agreement, a consultant will assist district leaders in implementing the plan.

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The Environment Report
10:27 am
Tue September 23, 2014

Report says milder winters in U.P. are affecting forests

A trail to Rainbow Falls along the Black River Scenic Byway in the Western U.P. Winters in the U.P. are changing, and that means conditions are becoming better for some species and worse for others.
Credit user:yooperann / Flickr

The U.S. Forest Service has put out a report on how our warming climate is affecting forests in the U.P.

Stephen Handler is a climate change specialist with the Forest Service. He says, over the past several decades, we’ve been getting more extreme rainstorms in the region.

“So, more rain of two inches at a time, three inches at a time; and we’re seeing our winters, which is our characteristic climatic feature, shrinking, so, getting shorter and getting more variable, or getting less consistent snowpack,” he says.

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The Environment Report
8:50 am
Tue September 23, 2014

Honeybees collaborate with Kalamazoo artist on ArtPrize exhibit

A wood engraving of a honeybee, by Ladislav Hanka. Honeycomb was placed by the honeybees themselves.
Rebecca Williams Michigan Radio

The ArtPrize competition opens tomorrow in Grand Rapids. One of the exhibits will have live animals roaming all over the artwork.

Inter-species collaboration

There are a bunch of bees on West Fulton Street in Grand Rapids. People slow down to stare at the guy opening up the beehive. His name is Ladislav Hanka.

Hanka’s been an artist for several decades. He became a beekeeper four years ago when a friend put a box of bees on his kitchen table.

“The bees just awakened in me the need to be more involved. I don’t make my living from beekeeping and I don’t have to, thank goodness, because it looks like beekeeping is in such an eclipse now that there’s a question of whether there will be any pollinators left in the next few years for the crops,” he says.

He brought the bees to install in his exhibit in the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts.  The museum’s theme for ArtPrize is collaboration.  Ladislav Hanka is crossing the species barrier with that theme.

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Investigative
7:00 am
Tue September 23, 2014

Truth Squad rules "flagrant foul" on teachers' union ad, warns Snyder campaign

Kids hold cardboard signs asking for money for schools while rich CEOs puffing on cigars, drinking champagne, and laughing drive by in a limo in this online ad from the MEA.

The Truth Squad at Bridge magazine has had a busy summer looking at ads in the race for governor. The close race between Republican Rick Snyder and Democratic challenger Mark Schauer has meant many ads on TV and online. Some are just not true. Others are slightly misleading. We went over a couple of them with the Truth Squad’s editor.

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Politics & Government
2:59 am
Tue September 23, 2014

Former President Carter backs U.S. airstrikes on ISIS in Iraq, but not Syria

Former President Jimmy Carter supports U.S. air strikes in Iraq, but he doubts similar attacks on ISIS in Syria would be effective.
Credit Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Former President Jimmy Carter told a Grand Rapids audience Monday that he supports U.S. military air strikes against Islamic extremists in Iraq, though he’s less supportive of similar air strikes in Syria.

The U.S. launched air strikes against ISIS in Syria last night.   This follows a series of air strikes against military targets in northern Iraq.  

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Politics & Government
5:24 pm
Mon September 22, 2014

Michigan governor, legislators exempt from FOIA requests

Credit Thetoad / Flickr

Michigan's Freedom of Information Act regulates the disclosure of public records by all public bodies in the state.

But the governor, the lieutenant governor, state legislators and their employees are all exempt from the FOIA law.

The only other state to exempt the governor's office from FOIA requests is Massachusetts. 

Paul Egan is with the Detroit Free Press Lansing Bureau. He looked at Michigan's public records laws in Sunday's Free Press.

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Politics & Government
5:01 pm
Mon September 22, 2014

Lt. Gov. Calley says he’ll push for better employment for disabled people

Lt. Gov. Brian Calley joined advocates at the state Capitol on Monday to unveil a report that shows many Michiganders with disabilities lack decent job opportunities.
Credit Jake Neher / MPRN

Lt. Gov. Brian Calley says the state needs to do more to help people with disabilities get good jobs.

A new report released on Monday shows many Michiganders with disabilities are all but forced into menial jobs, some of which pay less than the minimum wage. That is legal if an employer gets a waiver from the federal government, and advocates say only Washington can change that practice.

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Stateside
4:56 pm
Mon September 22, 2014

Classic rock born in Michigan almost 30 years ago

Credit mconnors / morgueFile

Is there anyone who hasn't scanned the radio dial on a long road trip and endured noisy static,  angry talk shows, and music that disappoints  in a desperate search for a classic rock station?

But who knew the classic rock concept was born in Michigan almost 30 years ago?

Fred Jacobs, an Oakland County-based radio consultant, was part of that birth in 1985. He said WMMQ in Charlotte, Michigan, was the first classic rock station, and the format quickly spread across the country.

Jacobs said he was inspired by complaints from listeners who couldn't find the music they had grown up with and loved. 

Jacobs said classic rock is not the same as "golden oldies." It is about the golden age of rock – music people will still be listening to in 100 years. 

Jacobs said classic rock started with music from the 60s and 70s and musicians like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who, and Eric Clapton. 

But he said it's all about the music of your youth that you never get tired of hearing.  And as generations move on, classic rock has added 80s and even more recent music to its roster.

Transportation
2:03 pm
Mon September 22, 2014

Report calls I-94 expansion plan a "highway boondoggle"

A map of the proposed I-94 expansion project
Credit MDOT

A report from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group cites a plan to widen I-94 through the heart of Detroit as one of 11 “highway boondoggles” nationwide.

The planned “mega-project” will add a lane in either direction from midtown Detroit through the city’s east side. It will also connect service drives, widen shoulders and rebuild some bridges along that stretch of the highway.

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Environment & Science
11:44 am
Mon September 22, 2014

Enbridge completes work on final stretch of replacement oil pipeline

Part of the new line 6B pipeline in central Michigan.
Mark Brush Michigan Radio

Enbridge Energy has finished laying its new oil pipeline across Michigan as part of its $1.3 billion pipeline replacement project.

Much of the new pipeline was put in the ground near the old pipeline. That old line broke in 2010, spilling more than 800,000 gallons of heavy tar sands crude oil into Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River. The company is just finishing cleanup work four years after that spill.

The company finished laying the new section of pipeline in St. Clair County and is taking the old Line 6B pipeline offline there.

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Arts & Culture
11:25 am
Mon September 22, 2014

How this Ann Arbor band got $20,000 from Spotify by releasing silent album

Credit Vulfpeck

We’ve heard it before. The music industry is changing.

But the band Vulfpeck is challenging the music industry with silence.

Vulfpeck is a funk band that got its start at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

They are in the middle of a cross-country tour.

They aren’t charging admission, they aren’t paying out of pocket.

Their tour is completely funded from an album they put up on the online music steaming service Spotify – an album that was completely silent.

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Opinion
11:17 am
Mon September 22, 2014

Who is Mark Schauer, really?

We can say two things about the race for governor today: Mark Schauer and Rick Snyder are essentially tied in the polls. And it looks like we may not have a single televised debate.

The last time that happened was 16 years ago, when John Engler refused to debate Geoffrey Fieger. There was a certain logic to that.

Fieger was going around saying that the governor was a “corn-fed bowser,” and declared he would not accept that Engler was the father of his triplets unless they had corkscrew tails.

That was not a normal campaign. But this one is, and the voters have a lot at stake. This time, the challenger wants debates and the incumbent doesn’t.

Conventional wisdom says that’s because the governor doesn’t want to make it seem like his opponent is his equal, or because it is always harder to defend a record than attack one.

That may be. But it is also possible that Republicans are wasting a golden opportunity to put the challenger on the defensive. Here’s why.

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Law
10:17 am
Mon September 22, 2014

One propane company reaches agreement, another sued by Michigan attorney general

Propane tank near Skidway Lake, Michigan.
George Thomas Flickr

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette reached a $100,000 agreement with Ferrellgas, and is suing AmeriGas for alleged price gouging last winter.

As temperatures fell in Michigan, many propane customers saw their bills skyrocket. Gov. Snyder declared an "energy emergency" in the state.

Schuette said in a statement today that the lawsuit against AmeriGas and agreement with Ferrellgas follow hundreds of consumer complaints related to propane pricing and delivery.

Affected Ferrellgas customers will receive a credit on their bill.

You can see more details in Schuette's statement:

“I’m pleased that we reached an agreement with Ferrellgas on behalf of Michigan consumers before the upcoming heating season,” said Schuette. “Under this agreement, hundreds of Ferrellgas customers who were harmed by pricing errors and the highest propane prices will receive a share of $100,000 in billing credits by October 15th.”

The lawsuit against AmeriGas in Berrien County Circuit Court alleges violations of the Michigan Consumer Protection Act.

You can read the complaint here.

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Detroit bankruptcy
9:45 am
Mon September 22, 2014

Arguments surrounding Detroit water shutoff controversy in court today

A Detroit water shutoff notice for Haylard Management.
Ali Elisabeth Michigan Radio

Witness testimony began in federal bankruptcy court this morning, in hearings to determine the fate of Detroit’s water shutoff policy.

A coalition of Detroit residents and advocacy groups filed a lawsuit challenging the city’s controversial shutoff policy on constitutional and civil rights grounds.

The Detroit water department has shut off around 19,000 customers this year – the vast majority of them residential accounts – in an effort to collect up to $120 million in delinquent bill payments.

Water department officials say the system simply can’t continue to function when thousands of people aren’t paying their bills.

Critics say the shutoff campaign has been inhumane, and the department is trying to correct decades of mismanagement, corruption, and incompetence on the backs of the poor in just a few months as Detroit speeds through bankruptcy court.

The first witnesses were Detroiters Tracy Peasant and Maurikia Lyda, who experienced the shutoff process.

Peasant became visibly emotional on the stand, as she testified about having to buy bottled water for her family when her water was shut off for 8 months.

From Sandra Svoboda at Next Chapter Detroit, Michigan Radio’s partner in the Detroit Journalism Cooperative:

[Peasant] said a large portion of her outstanding bill was due to a faulty sprinkler system at a home she had rented prior to living at her current place. Her water was turned off a year ago and restored in June.

“Someone came out to my home driving a DWSD truck. I thought that she was coming to turn the water back on. … She said I’m here to make sure your water is still cut off,” Peasant testified.

But when the worker saw Peasant’s family members, “She said I can’t do this with these kids and when she left she said you have water now,” Peasant said.

Peasant said she was denied access to assistance funds because her bill was too high, and the city never told her she could ask for a hearing to contest the bill.

Lyda testified that she tried to talk to someone at the water department about getting on a payment plan for her overdue bill, but was never able to get through. Again from Next Chapter Detroit:

“I called them several times. I could never get through. I was calling and no one would ever pick up the phone. There were days I would call and stay on the phone two and three hours at a time,” Lyda said. “When I finally got to talk to someone about my bill they was telling me there was so much I had to put down. …  I didn’t want to put it in my name because I was a renter. … they was telling me I had to put it in my name.”

Lyda, who lives on the east side, said a DWSD representative told her it would cost $100 to transfer the water service to her name and $500 to have service restored.

But the day the lawsuit was filed, her water was restored.

Plaintiffs want Judge Steven Rhodes to issue a moratorium on the water shutoffs.

The water department stepped up shutoffs in March of accounts 60 days behind or owing more than $150. About 15,000 customers had service shut off in April through June.

The city has faced international criticism for the shutoffs, and several groups appealed to the United Nations for support.

The shutoffs were suspended about a month this summer to give water officials time to inform customers about service stoppages and payment plans.

Transportation
9:19 am
Mon September 22, 2014

Detroit hopes to hire 50 new bus drivers by the end of the year.

Dan Dirks, DDOT Director, says they're "beating bushes down" trying to find new drivers.
Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The Detroit News reports drivers are being heavily recruited by the department for the first time in years.

Officials of the city’s much-maligned bus service — plagued with an image problem for being perpetually late and crime-ridden — believe the current environment is ripe for attracting new drivers. Cameras will be installed on all buses by late fall, and transit police are boarding more routes.

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Education
7:27 pm
Sun September 21, 2014

Seeking mobility through higher graduation rates

The project follows universities' experience with the challenges of getting students who are the first in their families to get a higher education to complete their studies.
Credit Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) - There are many bumps in the road to social and economic mobility in the U.S., and 11 large research universities are taking steps to level one of them.

Michigan State University and 10 other schools have launched a program they say seeks to boost the graduation rates for students from low-income families or from groups that are historically underrepresented among college graduates.

Last week, the University Innovation Alliance announced it's raised $5.7 million from six major funders.

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Arts & Culture
5:36 pm
Sun September 21, 2014

Michael Moore out as Michigan film board member

Filmmaker Michael Moore
Credit Michigan Capitol Confidential

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Michael Moore no longer will serve on the Michigan Film Office Advisory Council after Republican Gov. Rick Snyder named a suburban-Detroit businessman to replace him.

Moore joined the council as an appointee of then-Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

Snyder announced Thursday that he was renominating a second film council member whose term was expiring along with Moore's.

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Transportation
5:24 pm
Sun September 21, 2014

Good news for I-96 drivers

The project even has its own website, www.96fix.com
Credit 96fix/Facebook

I-96 will open tomorrow (Monday, September 22), more than two weeks ahead of schedule.  The stretch was closed between Telegraph and Newburgh Roads in Livonia. The announcement was made today as Governor Rick Snyder and others gathered for a ribbon-cutting ceremony and walk on the freeway. I-96 was closed in April to allow crews to reconstruct the 7-mile stretch. Crews rebuilt 56 miles of freeway, repaired 37 bridges, and reconstructed 26 ramps. The project area runs through Redford Township and Livonia. 

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