The Associated Press

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

FLINT –  The federal government has launched the Strong Cities, Strong Communities initiative in Flint to improve the city.

In January, Flint was chosen to be a part of the program, also called SC2. The program uses experts to work alongside city leadership, community organizations, local business and philanthropic foundations to support the cities' visions for economic growth and development.

GRAND RAPIDS – An ex-Kent County commissioner has pleaded guilty to embezzling funds while working for a Catholic cemetery.

Authorities say Michael Wawee pleaded guilty Friday to two felony charges, including embezzlement from a charity or nonprofit.

Grand Rapids police said they determined through an investigation that Wawee had overcharged families for the engraving of grave markers while working for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Grand Rapids-owned Holy Cross Cemetery. Police have said the diocese wasn't aware of the overcharging.

Michigan State Police

DETROIT – The U.S. Small Business Administration says it's making low-interest disaster loans available to home and business owners in Detroit-area counties that suffered massive flooding last month.

The Friday announcement followed President Barack Obama issuing a federal disaster declaration the day before. That action makes available funding to those affected in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

It's a bad day to be flying from any of Michigan’s major airports through Chicago.

An incident at an air traffic control tower in Illinois is causing hundreds of flight cancelations.

Police say the fire at the suburban Chicago air traffic control facility was intentionally set by a contract employee.

Vacant lot in Detroit.
University of Michigan School of Natural Resources & Environment / Flickr

DETROIT - Plans call for allowing some Detroit residents to buy vacant lots next to their properties for $100.

The Detroit News and Detroit Free Press report City Council on Tuesday approved the transfer of about 10,000 parcels of vacant city land to the Detroit Land Bank following an agreement with state-appointed emergency manager Kevyn Orr.

Council had earlier rejected a proposed transfer of more than four times that number of parcels, saying the plans were too broad. With Tuesday's action, the Detroit Land Bank can begin selling lots to residents. The effort is known as the side lot program.

The city wants to sell vacant lots to get them back onto tax rolls. Hundreds of city residents are already taking care of vacant lots near their homes for planting and gardening.

Col. Frank J. Hecker House in Detroit
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.

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.

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.

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.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) - U.S. Sen. Carl Levin has introduced a resolution urging the Obama administration to oppose a Canadian proposal to bury radioactive waste less than a mile from Lake Huron.

A federal panel in Canada is taking testimony on the plan to store low- and intermediate-level waste from nuclear power plants in rock chambers more than 2,000 feet below the earth's surface.

Pure Michigan

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Gov. Rick Snyder has proclaimed the week beginning Saturday as Trails Week in Michigan to celebrate the state's more than 12,000 miles of trails and waterways.

The state Department of Natural Resources is teaming with local communities and organizations to host related events and volunteer opportunities.

The observance ends Sept. 27, when Recreation Passports and vehicle entry fees will be waived at state parks and recreation areas to honor National Public Lands Day, the nation's largest volunteer cleanup day.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

BAY CITY, Mich. (AP) - Utility crews mistakenly dug up 100-year-old bricks near Bay City Hall.

The Bay City Times reports Saturday the work was being done on the last street in the city where historic bricks are exposed.

Streets manager Kurt Hausbeck says a Consumers Energy subcontractor was installing a high-pressure gas line when workers decided they needed to dig up more road and sidewalk than originally anticipated, and that included removing some of the bricks.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - The Michigan Republican Party is preparing to hold a March 2016 presidential primary and not jump out of order like in 2012, when the state moved earlier to be more relevant.

The GOP's state committee will meet in Lansing Saturday to approve a March 15 primary. The date could change because the Legislature has final say.

If a Republican contender secures more than half the votes, he or she would win all 58 delegates. Otherwise, delegates mostly would be awarded based on results in congressional districts.

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Federal health officials have confirmed three Michigan cases of an unusual respiratory illness in children.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials said Friday that 160 lab-confirmed cases of enterovirus 68 were reported in Michigan and 21 other states. They are the state's first positive cases for the uncommon virus.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

There’s a new national push to address the problem of sexual assaults on college campuses.

President Barack Obama says campus sexual assault is "an affront to our basic humanity." The president  unveiled a new campaign to change the way people think about campus sexual assault.

A new public service announcement features Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and other familiar faces telling viewers they have a responsibility to stop sexual assault.

Jake Neher / MPRN

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Michigan Department of Human Services Director Maura Corrigan says she'll leave her post at the end of the year.

The Detroit Free Press reports that the former Michigan Supreme Court justice says she wants to spend more time with her grandchildren.

Corrigan was appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder in 2011 to lead the state's welfare agency. She served on the state's high court from 1999 to 2010.

Corrigan says she told Snyder she'd lead the department for four years.

The incomplete Wayne County jail.
Wayne County

DETROIT - A grand jury has indicted a former chief financial officer, county attorney and contractor in a mismanaged Wayne County jail project.

Prosecutor Kym Worthy says Monday ex-chief financial officer Carla Sledge and chief assistant corporation counsel Steven Collins are charged with misconduct and neglect of duty. They are accused of giving false or misleading information on the project's cost.

Contractor Anthony Parlovecchio is charged with neglect of duty and accused of not fully informing officials about the project.

Construction has been halted on the 2,000-bed jail which was more than $90 million over-budget.

Sledge's attorney Harold Gurewitz says she is innocent of the charges. Parlovecchio's lawyer Ben Gonek says the project was within budget when his client was running it.

The Associated Press left a message seeking comment from Collins.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Governor Rick Snyder has been fond of calling Michigan the "comeback state" for at least 2 1/2 years. So he naturally made it a part of his re-election campaign early on.

But as the Republican governor's campaign ramps up in the final two months of the race, he's tweaking his message. Now Michigan's on the "road to recovery."

Pollsters say the fine-tuning reflected in new TV ads is an attempt to align with voters who are more positive about the state's direction but also say the recovery hasn't helped them personally.

Michigan State University College of Arts and Sciences

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) - Figures that appear to be holding guns and binoculars stand sentry on a downtown Grand Rapids rooftop.

They are a statement of art, not a call to arms.

The Grand Rapids Press reports  Saturday that crews have been installing "...there's something happening here..." on the roof and terrace of the Urban Institute of Contemporary Arts. The work is Henry Brimmer's fourth entry in Michigan's annual ArtPrize competition, which opens Sept. 24.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) - Consumers in Ohio's fourth-largest city may be asked to voluntarily conserve water next year to limit demand and help reduce contamination from toxins left by Lake Erie algae.

Such toxins fouled water for 400,000 people in the Toledo area last month, leaving some without clean tap water for two days.

The Blade newspaper reports the water treatment commissioner talked about the planned conservation request during a panel discussion this week. Commissioner Tim Murphy says lowering demand would allow water to be treated for longer periods of time.

The Michigan State Capitol.
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

LANSING, Mich. - Gov. Rick Snyder has signed a bill to clarify that Michigan never intended to give out-of-state companies a lower tax liability in a 2007 business tax overhaul.

The legislation is designed to ensure the state isn't forced to pay $1.1 billion in refunds in 134 cases after a July ruling from the Michigan Supreme Court in a case involving IBM. The administration and lawmakers worried the court's 4-3 decision could affect other cases in the 2008, 2009 and 2010 tax years.

Snyder said in statement Friday that the bill is a "common-sense solution" encouraging companies to invest and create jobs in Michigan. The state estimates most of the $1.1 billion in refunds would have been paid in the fiscal year that starts in October, throwing the budget out of balance.

The flag flying at Fort McHenry today. Francis Scott Key wrote the poem "Defence of Fort McHenry" on September 14, 1814. He was inspired by a battle he witnessed there.
user Bohemian Baltimore / Wikimedia Commons

A tune that reverberates through ballparks, auditoriums and community gatherings is getting an amped-up workout during its 200th anniversary.

One of the biggest and flashiest salutes to "The Star-Spangled Banner" comes Saturday at the University of Michigan. The Ann Arbor school's marching band, a 500-voice choir and dance team combine during a football halftime show.

The university also plans a sing-along Friday, the same day it opens an exhibit on the national anthem's cultural history.

More from AP:

Major festivities also are happening in Baltimore, including a flag-raising ceremony Sunday at Fort McHenry National Monument. That's where Francis Scott Key wrote the lyrics on Sept. 14, 1814, during a pivotal War of 1812 battle.

Many events nationwide are encouraged by the Star Spangled Music Foundation. It's founded by Michigan musicology professor Mark Clague.

A demolition in Flint.
Genesee County Land Bank

FLINT – Michigan is giving $2.6 million to Genesee County's land bank to demolish and improve 225 blighted properties in Flint's Civic Park neighborhood.

The Michigan State Housing Development Authority is making the grant with money from the federal Hardest Hit Fund.

The land bank now owns about half of the properties in the Civic Park area, and 71 more properties are recent tax foreclosures. The land bank says most are in need of demolition and greening because of deterioration and theft by metal and other scrappers.

State housing authority acting executive director Wayne Workman says the award will allow strategic demolitions and help preserve the neighborhood.

The Genesee County Land Bank also received $20 million last October to demolish, green, and maintain more than 1,600 properties.

user: vitualis / flickr

LANSING – Michigan health officials say they are investigating severe respiratory illnesses in children but haven't confirmed if the cases are associated with a national outbreak.

The Michigan Department of Community Health said Tuesday it's received reports of an increase in such illnesses and is working with local health agencies. Officials are forwarding samples to the Centers for Disease Control.

Cases of the suspected germ known as enterovirus 68 have been confirmed in Missouri and Illinois. The CDC is testing to determine if the virus caused illnesses reported in 10 states, including Michigan.

The virus is an uncommon strain of a common family of viruses that typically hit from summertime through autumn. The virus can cause mild coldlike symptoms but officials say these cases are unusually severe with serious breathing problems.

WASHINGTON (AP) - An outside group backed by Karl Rove is starting to run ads in Michigan's Senate race accusing the Democratic nominee of voting in Congress to curry favor with billionaire donor Tom Steyer.

Crossroads GPS placed the $800,000, one-week buy on Friday. It is the first spending from the group in Michigan's Senate race.

In the 30-second ad, a narrator tells voters that congressman Gary Peters opposes the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would transport oil from Canadian tar sands.

McBride family

DETROIT (AP) - A judge has sentenced a suburban Detroit man to 17 years in prison for killing an unarmed woman on his porch.

Theodore Wafer was sentenced Wednesday for the second-degree murder of Renisha McBride. Before sentencing, the 55-year-old Dearborn Heights man told the young woman's parents he was sorry for what happened during the early morning hours of Nov. 2.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

DETROIT (AP) - An increase in Michigan's minimum wage is set to launch, and with it comes a test of whether the gradual rise will help workers, harm businesses or neither.

The first bump comes Monday, when the wage moves up from $7.40 an hour to $8.15. The 25 percent overall raise comes in annual increments, capping at $9.25 in 2018.

It directly affects about 4 percent of the state's roughly 2.5 million hourly workers who earn the minimum wage or lower. It could help some who make more since employers likely will adjust their pay scales.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Political TV ads are set to escalate in the final two months of the race between Republican Gov. Rick Snyder and Democrat Mark Schauer. If the ads that have already run in the contest are any indication, themes will used time and again.

Some charges are inaccurate or lack context the public might find useful. Snyder never cut education funding by $1 billion in his first year. State-based K-12 funding has gone up every year of his term. But he did slash universities' funding and deprive the K-12 school fund of revenue through a business tax cut.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Michigan State Police troopers are putting special emphasis on dangerous driving behaviors over Labor Day weekend.

In a news release, the state police say troopers are joining their counterparts from across the country in a traffic safety initiative called Operation C.A.R.E.

Operation C.A.R.E. was formed to deter three causes of highway fatalities: aggressive driving, impaired driving and failure to use restraints.

DETROIT (AP) - Former President Jimmy Carter has told a group of Muslim Americans in Detroit they should take a role in supporting peace and justice efforts.

Carter delivered the keynote at Saturday's Islamic Society of North America convention at Cobo Center.

The society is among America's leading Muslim groups. The Detroit area has one of the nation's largest Muslim populations.

The Detroit News reports that Carter said he hopes Muslim Americans "will use the principals of Allah to bring peace and justice to all."

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