Kate Wells

Arts, Culture & Education Reporter/Producer

Kate Wells is an award-winning reporter covering cultural arts, education, and general news for Michigan Radio. Her work has been featured on NPR’s Morning EditionAll Things Considered, and Weekend Edition, as well as on WNYC, Harvest Public Media, KUT (Austin Public Radio) and in the Texas Tribune.

Kate got her start as an intern with New Hampshire Public Radio before heading out to the Midwest, where she covered the presidential caucuses for Iowa Public Radio and won a regional Edward R. Murrow award for investigative journalism. She joined Michigan Radio in 2012. Kate enjoys hiking, the Muppets, and cake in all forms.   

Detroit Institute of Arts
Maia C/Flickr

Things got heated today at Detroit's bankruptcy trial.

Syncora, a bond insurer that is arguably one of the city's biggest opponents in this trial, is coming out swinging.

And you're going to hear that name a ton during this trial, so let's recap real fast.

Who is Syncora? 

Syncora is a company. They insure bonds. They decided that they were willing to insure bonds that Detroit sold.

So they have hundreds of millions of dollars to lose here.

A Detroit police car
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

For the first time in years, Detroit Police say the city is on track to have fewer than 

Detroit bankruptcy judge Steven Rhodes.
John Meiu / Detroit Legal News Publishing LLC

A recent order from the court reads like a Facebook argument.

It started with Syncora, a major bond insurer that claims Detroit owes it more than a billion dollars.

The company filed an objection to the “grand bargain” that’s been coming together to save the Detroit Institute of Arts and protect the city’s pensioners.

Basically, Syncora says it and other Wall Street creditors are getting treated like the bad guys, while the DIA and the pensioners are clearly the hometown favorites.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

The same type of toxic bacteria bloom that threatened Toledo's water is now affecting a small 

Canadian Island on the western end of Lake Erie.

Health officials on Pelee Island have closed the beaches and are warning people not to drink the water.

This is crummy timing, since the Labor Day weekend is usually good business for the island's tourist economy.

Rick Masse is the mayor.

"It's not a really good advertising for our community,” he says.

Kate Wells / Michigan Radio

Muslim clerics held a vigil in Dearborn last night to show their opposition to ISIS, and to pray for the family of James Foley, an American reporter killed recently by the group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria.

The small crowd held candles and signs saying “Muslims against ISIS.”

Sara Albusaid immigrated to Dearborn from Iraq.

She says her husband and son are still in southern Iraq, where they're being inundated with people fleeing the violence in other parts of the country.

"I mean, it's not just my country. I'm very worried about all the world. It makes me cry a lot, because I see you know, innocent people [have] died. I have to raise my voice" said Albusaid.

Albusaid says she’s frustrated with U.S. forces for leaving Iraq and creating the political vacuum that has allowed ISIS to spread.

"I feel very angry because, you know, when they go inside Iraq they said we are the big help for Iraqi people, and then after that, they don't care," she said. "Or there is something they wanted from Iraq, and they take it and they leave."

More than one cleric told the crowd they have to publicly stand up against any group that commits violence in the name of Islam.

Kate Wells / Michigan Radio

Starting Tuesday, Detroit will resume shutting off people's water if they’re behind on their bills.

For the last month, the city put a moratorium on those shutoffs, which have been internationally criticized as inhumane.

That pause gave people a chance to get on payment plans with the water department.

So on Saturday, nearly a thousand Detroiters lugged their kids and strollers and grandparents out to a sign-up fair at the Cobo Center downtown.

Michigan Radio

More than a week after massive flooding ravaged parts of metro Detroit, emergency  crews and residents are still working around the clock, clearing roads and cleaning up flooded basements. 

Gov. Rick Snyder says he's asking the Federal Emergency Management Agency to do a preliminary damage assessment. That's the first step to potentially getting major federal disaster aid.   

Meanwhile, suburbs like St. Clair Shores are just now digging out from all the leftover trash and debris. Doug Haag is the city's financial director.  

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Eighteen new charter schools are opening up in Michigan this year.

And while some of them haven’t even had their first day of school, they’re already in the midst of their first controversy.

The state superintendent’s “naughty list”

In Michigan, charter schools have to be "authorized" – usually it's a public university that does that.

But last week the state superintendent put out his version of the “naughty list:” 11 authorizers that could lose their authorizing powers, because of transparency and oversight issues.

Andrew Kopietz / writeahouse.org

The Write-A-House project started out with a big, romantic plan: buy abandoned homes in Detroit. 

Fix them up. 

Then give them away to promising writers who commit to live in them for at least two years.

But one break-in and $50,000 in bills later, the reality of rehabbing a house in Detroit is becoming clear. 

Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

Update Monday, August 4th, 9:40am: Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins says the water ban is lifted in northwest Ohio and drinking water for 400,000 residents is safe. We'll have more details as they come in.

Sunday, August 3, 2014:   More than 400,000 people in Toledo and surrounding areas are without drinking water for a second day, due to a huge cyanobacteria bloom in Lake Erie, where the area gets its water supply.  The cyanobacteria, sometimes referred to as blue-green algae, create a dangerous toxin called microcystin, and exposure to the toxin can cause serious health issues. 

On Sunday afternoon, a boat hastily chartered by the National Wildlife Federation cruises over to see the massive cyanobacteria bloom floating near the city of Toledo.  It's hot, and it's a pretty day, but the water looks oddly bright green.

That's the cyanobacteria bloom. The blooms have been appearing for a couple of decades, but they're getting worse.

Toledo Councilman Larry Sykes says he and other officials have been worried about this for a long time.

About 3,300 of the unaccompanied children who crossed the U.S. Mexico border this year have been released to parents or relatives in this country. 

As of early June, nearly 100 of those kids were here in Michigan, according to the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

Meanwhile, another 20 or so children will reportedly arrive at a Bay City shelter run by Wellspring Lutheran Services later this month.

They’re supposed to stay in the Bay City facility for just a short amount of time, somewhere in the range of one to two months.   

Chris Shannon is the mayor of Bay City.

He says emotions in his town are mixed.

Kate Wells / Michigan Radio

Everyone in the packed wooden pews - as well as a dozen or so latecomers who squeezed into the back - in the little Grace Lutheran Church in Vassar, Michigan rose to sing what would serve as the evening's main hymn: 

"This land is your land, this land is my land.

Anirudh Koul / Flickr's Creative Commons

KISS bass player and noted "God of Thunder" Gene Simmons says a film about his band's visit to Cadillac, MI in 1975 is now fully funded and in pre-production. 

Talk about "Cadillac Dreams!"  

According to Cadillac High School's then assistant football coach, Jim Neff, the town's team was using KISS' music to motivate their players in what went on to become a spectacular winning season. 

The film was reportedly offered $8.2 million in incentives from the Michigan Film Office back in 2012. 

Supporters of the Michigan Green Party visit the Detroit Water & Sewerage Department.
Michigan Green Party / Facebook

"Saying you work for the (Detroit Water and Sewerage) department these days is a bit like professing you molest children," wrote reporter Peter Rugh in his recent Vice article, "Who bled Detroit dry?"

OK, that's a tad much. 

But there's certainly a besieged feeling in the city's water department building these days.

For instance, getting into last week's Board of Water Commissioner's meeting, as a reporter, involved three security officers and approval from multiple public relations staff.

Lars Plougmann / Creative Commons

Update: we've now obtained the city clerk's (now rescinded) resignation letter from July 22, and we've updated the story to include the information it provides. 

Something “fishy” is going on at the Dearborn Heights city clerk's office.

That's how the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee puts it.

They say they're getting dozens of complaints from Arab Americans who tried to get absentee ballots in Dearborn Heights – and ran into trouble at the city clerk’s office.

Maegan Tintari / Flickr

The only time Kristy Tillman could fit in an interview was on her lunch break. That's because of the insane number of reporters emailing her.   

“We never expected the press to get so big! We’re just like, oh man. So we decided we’re going to probably limit the time on that today, so we can get real work done.”

All those reporters want to talk with her about the website she and friend threw online this past Thursday.

It's called Turn on Detroit's Water

Kate Wells / Michigan Radio

The University of Michigan is complicated.

That much is already clear to Mark Schlissel, who wraps up his first week as president of the university this week. 

It has certainly been a busy one.

Kate Wells / Michigan Radio

The 17th annual International Youth Poetry Slam festival is in Philadelphia this week.

Flint is sending a team made up entirely of high school girls.

They’ve been practicing for months, writing poetry from their own lives about things like family, abuse, mental illness, and love.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/hankster123/4886606351/in/photolist-btHRpL-cGwrgA-8rP8PD-5vb8uB-6b4d52-5m5uQ7-6VysbH-4Nnhwo-5Vk5Ne-5VpqTL-4gqzE8-4j49x3-7Xgmj3-6LwMLL-6LwP8j-4Q7C
Henri Louis Hirschfeld

Let's all raise a strong drink and take off our pants in honor of the one and only Elaine Stritch.

The 89-year-old Broadway legend died today in Birmingham, Michigan, according to media reports.

A native Detroiter with unabashed talent, humor, and a love of good booze, she gained new fame in her 80's for playing Alec Baldwin's mom on "30 Rock."

You only have to hear a snippet of that wry voice to picture her: the white pouf of hair, the bowler cap, the silk shirt over black stockings - and only black stockings.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Flint Community Schools says it's got a $20 million deficit ($10 million of which was only recently discovered, according to the district.)

But if you ask Lisa Hagel, Flint Community Schools owes another $8.6 million on top of that.

Hagel is the superintendent of the Genesee Intermediate School District, which is now suing Flint schools over allegedly misspending $8.6 million of countywide tax money.  

The money was supposed to go to the Genesee Area Skill Center for vocational training. Instead, it was blended into the general fund of the Flint Community Schools.

Alyse Guenther / Michigan Radio

Some 200 people and about a dozen media outlets stuffed into an airless high school cafeteria in Vassar, Michigan last night.

The small town of some 2,600 has been thrown into the center of the immigration debate during the past few weeks.

That's because a local juvenile center, Wolverine Human Services, is in talks to temporarily house as many as 120 of the unaccompanied Central American children flooding into the U.S.

And so far, Vassar appears very, very against that idea. 

Michelle Huan / Michigan Radio

Some of the chaos at the U.S. and Mexican border has made its way to Michigan.

About 75 protesters turned out last night in in the tiny, mid-Michigan town of Vassar, population roughly 2,600. 

That's where a juvenile center is in talks to potentially house some of the unaccompanied minors flooding into this country from Central America.

Michigan Radio's Kate Wells sent us this field report. 

via Center for American Progress

UPDATE 10:49 PM 

Some 75 protestors and several police officers filled the front lawn of Vassar's city hall Monday evening.  

Even though officials say these kids would stay in the juvenile camp for housing and school while they're going through the asylum, or more likely, the deportation process, lots of people expressed concern about what it would mean for the town. 

"More crime," said Josh Barnes, of Vassar, when asked why he was worried enough to come out and protest.

Prarie Plant Systems

In Berkley, activists say they've now turned in enough signatures to put decriminalization on the local ballot this fall. 

The city clerk says they'll know whether or not the signatures are valid by Thursday.  

Berkley is just the latest city to consider the issue.

Similar proposals are already on the August primary ballots in Oak Park and Hazel Park.

And the group behind the petitions, the Safer Michigan Coalition, says it plans to turn in another petition in Saginaw next week. 

http://www.performancenetwork.org/
The Performance Network Theater

Michigan’s theater community took a hit a few weeks ago, when an iconic professional theater in Ann Arbor suddenly shut down.

Audiences showed up for the evening performance only to find a note on the door, saying everything was canceled indefinitely.

In a panic, the theater community rushed to come up with a plan, any plan, that could save it.

“When the locksmith showed up, the writing was on the wall.”

May was a busy month for Carla Milarch.

Inside the Arab American National Museum.
www.accesscommunity.org

Earlier this month there was the annual anti-Islam rally in Dearborn (although more cops than actual protestors showed up.) 

A few days before that, police investigated the burning of several Qurans outside a local Mosque. 

 And in February, an Arab-American man won more than $1 million dollars in a lawsuit over the religious and racial harassment he said he suffered at work.  

http://www.broadcenter.org/academy/network/profile/john-covington
The Broad Superintendents Academy

Let's do this MEAP style. Choose one of the following.

John Covington is:

A) an education visionary, brought in to turn around some of Detroit's worst schools using a model that lets kids learn at their own level, regardless of age or grade;

B) an overpaid, underperforming puppet of a state takeover of Detroit's schools;

C) It just depends on whom you ask. 

Right or wrong, the chancellor of the Education Achievement Authority is stepping down. 

Hired to fix Detroit's failing schools, amidst political turmoil 

The Capital Dome in Lansing, Michigan.
Joe Dearman / Flickr

Yeah, it's dead, and petition organizers partly blame what we are still talking about in Michigan: the freezing cold winter.

More from Jonathan Oosting from MLive:

Chairman Norm Kammeraad said an unusually cold winter made it difficult for the group to collect 322,609 (signatures) by July 7 in order to put a constitutional amendment on the fall ballot.

"Every time we hit the field with these things, we were overwhelmed by people who wanted to sign them," Kammeraad said Tuesday evening. "It was just phenomenal. Problem is, we couldn't get organized enough because of the weather."

Kammeraad, the chair of the Committee to Restore Michigan’s Part-time Legislature, also blamed "elite Republicans" for coming up short.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

The Flint school district is sending out some 250 pink slips this week.

They're laying off non-classroom staff, from janitors to secretaries to school safety workers. 

 Administrators say they have no choice: they're coming up against a state deadline to eliminate the district's $10 million general fund deficit. 

Now the district will look to outsource those positions through a private company.

Karon Grubb is a secretary in the administration office.

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