Lester Graham

Investigative Reporter

Lester Graham is with Michigan Watch, the investigative unit of Michigan Radio. 

He was formerly the Senior Editor of The Environment Report/Great Lakes Radio Consortium, the environmental news service based at Michigan Radio, starting with the service in 1998. 

He has been a journalist since 1985.  Graham has served as a board member of Public Radio News Directors Inc., and also served as President of the Illinois News Broadcasters Association. He is a member of the Radio-Television Digital News Association(RTDNA), Society of Professional Journalists and other professional groups. 

Graham received more than 100 awards at the state, regional, national and international levels for journalistic excellence, including four RTDNA Edward R. Murrow awards, two of them at the network level.

Twitter: @MichiganWatch

Facebook link

email:  llgraham@umich.edu

Ways To Connect

A new art project that's made a stop in Michigan is trying to empower women and value girls by recognizing their potential. Girl Noticed has a message and is stating in ten-foot-tall terms.

Watching someone sketch is interesting. Watching someone sketch a mural on a wall is fascinating because of the scale. But, there’s a problem when you do a mural on an outdoor brick wall using charcoal and chalk. It’s going to weather away. It will eventually fade to nothing.

And the artist I'm watching says that’s part of the message.

“We go through our lives feeling invisible a lot of times, feeling unnoticed, or feeling like we’re noticed for the wrong reasons,” Lori Pratico said as she stepped down from the ladder.

She says she wants people to re-think what they notice about women before the chance fades away and they miss the best part of someone.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Wayne County Executive Warren Evans is proposing budget cuts that include asking employees to sacrifice.

"And trust me, every county employee has a right to be mad about this,” Evans said during the first in a series of community meetings where he is outlining the State of the County.

Evans says if the county is going to eliminate its annual deficit and restore underfunded pension funds, there will have to be cuts. 

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

About two-thirds of Michigan roads get no federal funding. Once you get off the interstates and highways, most of the county, city, and township roads are totally reliant on state and local taxes. A new survey indicates nearly half of those 80,000 miles of roads are in poor condition.

The numbers come from the Michigan Transportation Asset Management Council.

Vox Efx / Wikimedia Commons

When Dow Chemical Company started in Midland, Michigan in 1897, it produced two chemicals. One of them was bleach. Now, Dow is getting out of the bleach business.

A hedge fund has been pressuring Dow officials to spin off what are called 'commodity chemicals' in order to focus the companies efforts. 

A new poll indicates voters will turn down a road funding proposal on the ballot in May. Target Insyght conducted the poll commissioned by the political news service MIRS. “Fifty-five percent of voters say if today the election was held they would vote ‘no’ against it,” said Ed Sarpolus with Target Insyght.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The unemployment rate in Detroit is nearly double the statewide rate. Detroit residents need jobs. But too few people have marketable skills. What does it take to go from out-of-work to trained and employed?

For 30 years a group in Detroit has been training people to go to work as machinists, in IT, and beginning this year, in health care.

Fatima Mixon shows her Focus: HOPE certificate. She got a job because of the training program.
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

If you live in Detroit, getting a job is just the first hurdle. Sometimes you have to be incredibly resourceful just to get to work.

After finishing her training at Focus: HOPE to become a machinist, Fatima Mixon did not find a job in the city of Detroit.

But she did get a job in Warren, Michigan. She was put on the midnight to 8:00 a.m. shift. Shift work is the worst for people who need to take the bus to work. The buses don’t run overnight.

While central business districts in Detroit are seeing the beginnings of resurgence, the neighborhoods are lagging behind. People who live in the city need jobs. To get them, many need new skills. In the second of a series of reports for the Detroit Journalism Cooperative, we're following a student who is trying to get the training she needs to help her family.

In the first report, I introduced you to Fatima Mixon. She’s been studying at Focus: HOPE to become a machinist. A few weeks after I first met her at the school, I visited Mixon and her family at home.

The unemployment rate in Detroit is nearly double the statewide rate. Detroit residents need jobs. But too few people have marketable skills. What does it take to go from out-of-work to trained and employed?

For 30 years a group in Detroit has been training people to go to work as machinists, in IT, and beginning this year, in health care.

“When folks come out of here with that Focus: HOPE stamp of approval, you can be certain that you’re getting somebody who should work out pretty doggone well in your workplace,” said William Jones, CEO of Focus: HOPE.

Robbie Howell / Flickr

Some lawyers say the Michigan Catastrophic Claims Association should lower the annual fee for Personal Injury Protection in the coming year.

According to the MCCA, "all auto insurance companies operating in Michigan are required to pay the assessment to the MCCA to cover the cost of Personal Injury Protection (PIP) benefits guaranteed under Michigan’s no-fault insurance law. PIP coverage is mandatory and provides for the payment of unlimited, lifetime medical auto insurance benefits.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Detroit is seeing more private investment and new businesses in its downtown areas, but some residents in the neighborhoods don’t see how they’re benefiting from that.

On a recent weeknight, I visited ten of Detroit’s popular night spots ranging from the trendy to the tourist spot to the traditional. All but one had something in common, the vast majority of the patrons were white.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

At a meeting of business and civic leaders, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan outlined a number of concerns and looming issues facing the city.

Following a speech at the Detroit Regional Chamber Policy Conference, Duggan was interviewed by Free Press Editorial Page Editor Stephen Henderson about challenges ahead.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Last night Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan gave his first State of the City address since the municipality emerged from bankruptcy.

"Well, as we gather here tonight, I can sum up the condition of our city in a phrase we haven’t been able to use for years. Detroit is now on the road to recovery."

Duggan outlined progress made in getting families into once abandoned houses, demolishing blight, and putting up street lights.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Just three months after the November elections, a Democrat has announced she’ll run against Republican Congressman Tim Walberg.

Second-term Michigan State Representative Gretchen Driskell (D-52nd) is challenging Walberg in the Seventh Congressional District.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Detroit businesses sometimes have a hard time finding qualified workers. Even a bakery determined to hire its neighbors has had a tough time.

“At one school I was hiring from,  I had to get rid of most of the people that I hired from that school because they didn’t know the poundage or how to read recipes or anything like that,”  Tony Johnson said. He’s the Human Resources manager for Avalon International Breads.

Hart Plaza in Detroit.
Jason Mrachina / Flickr

Michigan’s rate of unemployment is down. Detroit’s is expected to continue to decline. However, Detroit’s rate is still about twice that of the state.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Update: January 15, 2015:

Gov. Snyder has vetoed the legislation.

Original post:

More than 130 scientists and the state’s environmental groups are calling on Gov. Rick Snyder to veto a bill they call anti-science. The bill would forbid the Michigan Department of Natural Resources from protecting native wildlife and plants on the pure merits of protecting nature.

  • The bill would prohibit the Department of Natural Resources from managing state lands for biodiversity.
  • It would prohibit the agency from managing forests for restoration.
  • It would end work to eliminate invasive species.
  • It would strike from the law the finding that most losses of biological diversity are the result of human activity.
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Gov. Rick Snyder is expected to sign legislation that changes pollution clean-up procedures in Michigan. Senate Bill 891 is backed by the Department of Environmental Quality and the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.

The DEQ argues too much money is being wasted by the costs of cleaning up inconsequential amounts of pollution. The agency says it should assess risks to human health and use more cost-effective methods when determining pollution clean-up requirements. Leaving some contaminants behind in an area not used by people would allow the agency to deal with more of the clean-ups that do threaten public health, the agency believes.

http://buildthedricnow.com

The $1.1 trillion  budget that President Obama signed this week did not include money for a customs plaza in Detroit.

The customs plaza is needed for the New International Trade Crossing, the bridge to be built between Windsor and Detroit.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The long-vacant Strathmore Hotel in Midtown Detroit  is reportedly being rehabbed to become an apartment complex, opening in 2016. The eight-story building at 160 West Alexandrine is being gutted and cleaned up right now.

Wikimedia Commons

It would be foolish to do, but Michigan business owners could put up a “Straights Only” sign in the window. It would be legal. In fact, it’s legal for just about any business to turn away  gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender citizens.

Under the leadership of Michigan House Speaker Jase Bolger and Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, the Legislature has rejected the advice of business leaders and others who think LGBT people ought to be treated like every other citizen.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

It’s been more than three months since parts of the Detroit area were flooded by torrential rains. People are still cleaning up the mess. Organizations from around the nation are helping, but it’s a huge job.

In Berkley, AmeriCorps volunteers are in Duane Van Geison’s basement, cutting up waterlogged wood frames and cleaning up a mess. It smells like rotting wood and mildew.

Upstairs, Van Geison is huddled by a space heater, trying to keep warm. He’s 74 years old and disabled. He's no longer able to walk downstairs.

More and better jobs?

Oct 30, 2014

Incumbent Republican Governor Rick Snyder has been vague about what he would do in the next four years in office, saying only, "We're on the road to recovery." He also says he'll pursue "more and better jobs." Political observers expect Snyder will continue on the path he's established, working to stimulate businesses while keeping a tight rein on state spending.

In an ad, Snyder says, "Our unemployment rate is the lowest in six years with nearly 300,000 new private-sector jobs." 

In the race for governor, few things are disputed more than education funding under Gov. Rick Snyder. Challenger Mark Schauer claims Snyder cut funding by a billion dollars. Snyder has called that a lie and says he’s added a billion dollars. They’re both sort of right and they’re both wrong.

“Both sides have truth. Neither is lying, per se,” said Mitch Bean.

He is a former director of the Michigan House Fiscal Agency. That’s a nonpartisan agency within the Michigan House of Representatives. Now he’s a consultant and he’s been looking at the budgets to try to find out exactly what has happened to money for schools.

The bottom of the ballot is often ignored. That’s where the non-partisan races are located and includes candidates running for Michigan Supreme Court. Bridge Magazine’s Truth Squad recently reviewed a radio ad being aired on behalf of two of the candidates running for the three open seats.

Incumbent Justices David Viviano and Brian Zahra were both put on the court by Gov. Rick Snyder.

A radio ad sponsored by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce makes this statement:

“Viviano and Zahra use common sense on Michigan’s Supreme Court. They’re rule-of-law judges.”

That statement colors the rest of the ad.

Politicians like to take credit for improving the economy, and challengers like to blame sitting officials for damaging it. In the race for governor in Michigan there have been plenty of both those kinds of accusations. Lester Graham with Michigan Watch examines how much politicians can really affect the economy.

Outside a Michigan WORKS! employment office, I asked a few unemployed people if they thought any state politician could make a difference in creating jobs.

Davina Carey has been out of work since June. “Hopefully," she said, laughing. "I mean, I don’t know.”

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.

The Truth Squad at Bridge magazine is handing out "fouls" to Democrats and Republicans. Political groups are airing ads on behalf of the candidates running for governor in Michigan.

First let’s look at an ad put together by the Democratic Governors Association. In it a school teacher, Kim Stanley, ties together three separate issues.

user memories_by_mike / Flickr

The pieces are falling into place for Detroit to eventually emerge from bankruptcy with a lot less of its budget-servicing debt. But the city of Detroit’s budget could still be a house of cards. Many of its revenue sources are not stable.

Bankruptcy does not mean Detroit escapes all of its money problems.

It’s heavily dependent on a city income tax. If another economic dip is around the corner, that source of revenue would shrink.

Casino taxes are stagnant.

The Truth Squad at Bridge Magazine reviewed a couple of TV ads put on the air by Republican Terri Lynn Land’s campaign for U.S. Senate. But, there’s a pretty substantial gap between the "truth" and the
"whole truth."

These two TV ads from the Land campaign attack the Democratic candidate, Congressman Gary Peters.

Pages