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Offbeat
6:00 am
Thu July 7, 2011

Mystery person sends $100 in cash to Grand Rapids for vandalism

The letter and copies of the five $20 bills mailed to the City of Grand Rapids this week.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

“It is a first for me with this amount of money,” Grand Rapids Treasurer Al Mooney said (he's been treasurer for more than 20 years).

The anonymous donor sent the cash to make amends for “minor vandalism” he or she took part in years ago.

The short, typed letter reads,

“Minor group vandalism many years ago. Cannot remember specifics or even if I did any damage, but I think one of the street signs was taken.”

Inside the envelope, with no signature or return address, were five $20 bills.

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Auto/Economy
11:43 pm
Wed July 6, 2011

Oakland County Exec lays out three-year budget

Brooks Patterson
Oakland County

Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson says the county’s budget is balanced for the next three years.

 Patterson laid out his recommendations for a triennial budget to Oakland County Commissioners Wednesday night.

 Patterson says that long-term planning has been key to maintaining the county’s AAA bond rating, even as property tax revenues plummet.

 Patterson says the county has also managed to avoid cutting employee salaries and mass layoffs.

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Labor
5:35 pm
Wed July 6, 2011

Farmers Insurance employees in Grand Rapids to receive back wages after investigation

The U.S. Labor Department found "significant and systemic violations of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act's overtime and record-keeping provisions" at Farmers Insurance offices around the country - including offices in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Officials at the U.S. Labor Department say "Farmers Insurance Inc. has agreed to pay $1,520,705 in overtime back wages to 3,459 employees."

From the Department of Labor press release:

Through interviews with employees and a review of the company's timekeeping and payroll systems, investigators found that the company did not account for time employees spent performing pre-shift work activities. Employees routinely performed an average of 30 minutes of unrecorded and uncompensated work — such as turning on work stations, logging into the company phone system and initiating certain software applications necessary to begin their call center duties — per week.

Because employees' pre-shift work times were excluded from official time and payroll records, they were not paid for all hours and are owed compensation at time and one-half their regular rates for hours that exceeded 40 per week.

The agreement affects call center employees who worked between Jan. 1, 2009, and May 10, 2010, at Farmers' "HelpPoint" facility in Grand Rapids.

It also affects employees who worked between Jan. 1, 2009, and Feb. 1, 2010, at a Farmers' "ServicePoint" facility in Grand Rapids.

Economy
5:25 pm
Wed July 6, 2011

Budget negotiations and the nation's debt ceiling (audio)

Capitol Hill, Washington D.C.
whitehouse.gov

The debate over the federal budget and the debt ceiling is heated, and there are very dire predictions from both Republican and Democratic leaders about what will happen if these issues aren’t resolved soon. But for Americans who are dealing with every day, immediate issues, this debate can seem distant.

Republican Congressman Mike Rogers represents Michigan's 8th Congressional District. He spoke with Michigan Radio's Jenn White about why people should care about this debate.

Congressman Rogers says these issues "impact the ability for our economy to grow and for people to get back to work."

Arts/Culture
5:00 pm
Wed July 6, 2011

How Far East, How Far West: A conversation with Jeremiah Chamberlin

Writer, editor, teacher Jeremiah Chamberlain
Fiction Writers Review

Jeremiah Chamberlin wears many hats.

He is a published writer whose work has appeared in Glimmer Train, Flyway and Michigan Quarterly Review, and he is writing an ongoing series about independent bookstores for Poets and Writers.

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Politics
4:24 pm
Wed July 6, 2011

Detroit set to ramp up parking enforcement

alicegop flickr

Beginning tomorrow, people who spend their evenings in downtown Detroit will have to pay for the privilege of parking on city streets.

The city is stepping up its enforcement at meters and in illegal parking zones – extending the hours meter readers prowl the streets until 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Parking enforcement has been ending at 6:30.

James Canty manages Detroit’s parking department. He says the hope is that people who’ve racked up expensive fines for outstanding tickets will settle them:

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Science/Medicine
4:15 pm
Wed July 6, 2011

Report shows increase in pregnancies out of marriage

Two-thirds of all births occur outside of marriage according to a new study

Laura Weber reports: 

Two-thirds of all babies born to Michigan women in their early twenties are born out of wedlock. That’s according to a new report from the Michigan League for Human Services.

The reports shows a significant uptick over the past decade in the number of babies born out of wedlock to women in their twenties.

Jane Zehnder-Merrell is with the League. She says teen pregnancies out of wedlock used to be more prevalent.  

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Education
4:01 pm
Wed July 6, 2011

Board members chosen for new Detroit charter schools

Sarah Hulett Michigan Radio

The emergency manager for Detroit Public Schools has named 25 people to serve as board members for the district’s five new charter schools that will open this fall.

Ola Elsaid will serve on the board of directors for the EMAN Hamilton Academy.

"I really feel like the children in Detroit deserve better. I believe this transitioning to charter schools will provide better education, better guidelines. They deserve as much as students everywhere else deserve, and I really hope we can make a difference to the schools in Detroit."

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Politics
3:43 pm
Wed July 6, 2011

Communities ban texting, and e-mails during council meetings

Local governments across the country are struggling with how to handle texting and e-mailing during public meetings. Some communities in Michigan have banned the practice.
Karry Vaughan Flickr

With the number of digital devices like smart phones and tablets exploding, communicating with one another electronically is becoming a common part of our society.

And as many high school teachers know, thumbing on a keyboard can even go undetected if you're good.

Now, some communities are banning the practice of texting and e-mailing during public meetings.

The Detroit News has a piece on the restrictions some local governments have put in place. The piece looks at the restrictions in Ann Arbor, Royal Oak, and Sterling Heights.

From the Detroit News:

Supporters say the issue is about transparency and integrity, not to mention common courtesy. They argue email or even text conversations could violate the Michigan Open Meetings Act, which requires decisions and most deliberations to be public.

"It's about maintaining the integrity of this council and futurecouncils," said Maria Schmidt, a city councilwoman in Sterling Heights, which amended its council governing rules earlier this year to ban electronic communication during meetings.

But critics of the bans say technology helps these officials do their jobsmore effectively and efficiently. They call the bans "short-sighted."

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Changing Gears
1:52 pm
Wed July 6, 2011

Who Cares About Great Lakes Dredging? These Guys. (slideshow)

Engineer Tom O'Bryan says dredges like this one are basically big vacuums, chewing up sand.
Kate Davidson Changing Gears

We brought the story of the Great Lakes dredging backlog to your radio and computer screen.

But sometimes, you need more of a visual. (Even more than my 18 million ovens post.)

So click through to my slideshow to meet some of the people affected by sediment buildup in regional shipping channels.

Auto/Economy
1:07 pm
Wed July 6, 2011

Youngstown mayor will lead President's office for auto communities

Jay Williams
(courtesy of the city of Youngstown, Ohio)

The mayor of Youngstown, Ohio  is the new head of a government office that helps communities hurt by cutbacks in the auto industry.  Mayor Jay Williams starts as head the Office of Recovery for Auto Communities and Workers in August.  

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Politics
12:57 pm
Wed July 6, 2011

Ex-Detroit mayor's book covers affair, legal saga

From the website kwamekilpatrickbook.com. Kilpatrick says he's ready to "talk about everything."
kwamekilpatrickbook.com

DETROIT (AP) - Former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick takes responsibility in his upcoming book for an affair with an aide and lies told during a civil trial that sent him from leading one of America's largest cities to a prison cell. But he also blames others for his downfall.

The former politician bills "Surrendered! The Rise, Fall and Revelation of Kwame Kilpatrick" as his side of the tale. He claims in the book that when it was clear criminal charges tied to a sex scandal would not go away, his political allies and adversaries, some Detroit business leaders and an aggressive media formed an unspoken alliance. He says they worked to "get rid" of him.

The Associated Press obtained an advance copy of the book. Its release date is Aug. 1.

Auto/Economy
11:27 am
Wed July 6, 2011

Dow Chemical teams up to make battery electrolytes

Midland, Mich. (AP) - Dow Chemical Co. and Japanese chemical company Ube Industries Ltd. said Wednesday they've agreed to form a joint venture to manufacture electrolytes for lithium-ion batteries
which are increasingly being used in cars among other things.

The 50-50 joint venture, named Advanced Electrolyte Technologies LLC, is expected to be finalized later this year pending regulatory approval.

Dow said the joint venture will allow it to expand its alternative energy offerings.

"The growing demand for alternative energy production and energy storage systems places technologies such as advanced batteries for electric/hybrid vehicles and power generation at the very center of the global mega-trends," said Heinz Haller, Dow executive vice president and chief commercial officer.

The joint venture's first manufacturing facility is expected to be built at Dow's home base in Midland, Mich. for startup next year.

Commentary
11:23 am
Wed July 6, 2011

Casey Anthony Verdict: Rushing to Judgement

Last night I was filling up my car in western Wayne County, when a woman next to me, a perfect stranger, said “Isn’t it horrible?”  I thought she meant the price of gas.

But no. She meant the verdict in the Casey Anthony trial. “Can you believe it?"

I thought of sincerely telling her that I wasn’t surprised at all. Of telling her that what happens during a full-length trial in a courtroom is often far different than what you see on TV.

Additionally, our system - though not our media - still operate under something called the presumption of innocence. This means, in criminal trials, that your guilt has to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, and there seemed to be plenty of that here.

I also was tempted to suggest that she get a life, and become interested and involved in things that mattered to her family, community and state which she actually could do something about.

But of course I did none of that, mostly because I didn't want to get into a fight. So I merely mumbled that I hadn’t really followed the trial much, which also happens to be true.

I haven’t followed it, except to the extent that it was unavoidable. I usually watch CNN for a few minutes in the morning, a network which lately seems to be all Casey Anthony, all the time. If you are trying to discover proof that a large country named Russia actually still existed, you’d be out of luck here.

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Economy
10:43 am
Wed July 6, 2011

When an inch means a ton (or 267 tons, to be precise)

Chart courtesy of the Great Lakes Maritime Task Force

Who knew an inch could make such a difference?

In our piece this week on the Great Lakes dredging backlog, we introduced you to Mark Barker, president of The Interlake Steamship Company.  I called him “a man who measures revenue with a ruler.”

To see what that really means, check out the nifty chart from the Great Lakes Maritime Task Force (above).

It shows how much cargo a ship can hold for every inch of water it occupies. For the biggest vessels – the “thousand- footers” – one inch of draft corresponds to 267 tons of cargo. That’s why every bit of clearance matters to shippers trying to get the most bang from every trip.

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News Roundup
8:55 am
Wed July 6, 2011

In this morning's news...

In this morning's news, Wednesday, July 6th
Brother O'Mara Flickr

MEA to Support Recall Efforts

The state’s largest teachers union says it will help efforts to recall some Republican state lawmakers. “The Michigan Education Association’s main complaints are cuts to school funding and new tenure rules… Members of the MEA say they’re also angry at efforts to force them to pay more for their benefits... The MEA has 157,000 members and a large political action fund,” Rick Pluta reports. Doug Pratt, spokesman for the MEA, says the union has made a strategic decision not to name the lawmakers who will be targets of their recall efforts.

Ford Sued

A technology company has sued Ford Motor Company over patent infringements related to some of Ford’s hottest new products, including Sync, Tracy Samilton reports. From Samilton:

The lawsuit says Eagle Harbor Holdings met with Ford starting in 2000 to discuss using Eagle Harbor’s voice command software and other patented technology. Eagle Harbor's General Counsel, Jeff Harmes, says Ford’s hands-free phone system, Sync, uses some of that technology. But he says Ford broke off talks with Eagle Harbor in 2008… A spokeswoman says Ford hasn’t had the chance to review the lawsuit yet and it would be premature to comment.

August Release for Kilpatrick?

Former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is expected to be released from prison in early August to give authorities time to arrange transfer of his parole to Texas, the Associated Press reports. From the AP:

The Michigan parole board voted last month to release Kilpatrick from state prison and he was expected to be freed no earlier than July 24. The Michigan Department of Corrections tells The Detroit News for a Wednesday story that details needed to be worked out… He's facing federal charges. Kilpatrick quit office in 2008 when he pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice. He was sent to prison in May 2010 by a judge who said the ex-mayor failed to turn over certain assets toward his $1 million restitution.

Crime
8:50 am
Wed July 6, 2011

Ingham County judge orders medical marijuana patient jailed

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

A medical marijuana patient in Ingham County is facing three days in jail for testing positive for marijuana. Livingston Thompson uses medical marijuana as a treatment for epilepsy.  Judge Richard Garcia ordered Thompson to stop using marijuana as part of a child custody case.    

But Thompson recently tested positive for marijuana, and the judge Tuesday ordered Thompson to be jailed for contempt for three days.  Matt Newburg is Livingston Thompson’s attorney.  Newburg plans to ask the Michigan Court of Appeals to stay the judge’s contempt order.  

 “The judge said…on the record…that he felt that (medical marijuana) card was a fraud…and it did not protect him.”   

Newburg says Michigan’s marijuana law protects medical marijuana patients from criminal and civil penalties.

Culture
6:30 am
Wed July 6, 2011

What’s next for anti-discrimination laws in Holland? Lots...

Tyrone Warner Creative Commons

Last month Holland City Council voted against adding sexual orientation and gender identity to their local anti-discrimination laws. But the fight over gay rights continues in the generally conservative town.

The debate surrounds the City of Holland adopting local laws. These laws would protect people from getting fired or kicked out of their houses because they are gay or transgender. Federal and state laws protect people from discrimination – but not based on a person’s sexuality or gender identity.

The debate is not technically about the morality of homosexuality. But in a community known for having a church on almost every corner – for many people in Holland that is definitely part of the conversation.

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Auto/Economy
5:39 pm
Tue July 5, 2011

Car leasing makes comeback

The availability of car leases practically disappeared during the recession.

But LeaseTrader.com says customer credit is recovering - and so is car leasing. 

John Sternal is Vice President of Marketing Communications for LeaseTrader.com.  He says more than 20 percent of new vehicles are now leased, including many small cars.

He says car leasing is more popular than ever before, because of a shifting attitude toward car ownership.

"Gone are the days when the majority of people will buy a car and hold onto it for fifteen years," says Sternal.

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Ford sued over Sync
5:33 pm
Tue July 5, 2011

Company sues Ford Motor, alleges Sync patent infringement

A technology company has sued Ford Motor Company over patent infringements related to some of Ford’s hottest new products, including Sync.

The lawsuit says Eagle Harbor Holdings met with Ford starting in 2000 to discuss using Eagle Harbor’s voice command software and other patented technology. 

Eagle Harbor's General Counsel, Jeff Harmes, says Ford’s hands-free phone system, Sync, uses some of that technology.   But he says Ford broke off talks with Eagle Harbor in 2008.    

Read more

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