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Sarah Cwiek

Sarah Cwiek - Detroit Reporter/Producer

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Radio in October, 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit. Before her arrival at Michigan Radio, Sarah worked at WDET-FM as a reporter and producer.

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The city of Detroit is signing onto a federal lawsuit that claims many Detroit students are being denied a fundamental “right to read.”

Activists and pro bono legal groups filed the suit last September, with support from groups like the American Federation of Teachers.

But now the city of Detroit is also jumping on board. City lawyers filed an amicus brief this week.

Mike Duggan

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan says he wants to speed up the process of acquiring blighted homes through the Detroit Land Bank Authority, an agency under federal investigation.

The current city treasurer, David Szymanski, will step down from that role and move over to the land bank to lead a “litigation team” that will focus on seizing more blighted properties under nuisance abatement laws, Duggan said Thursday.

Western Union sign.
user Metropolico.org / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

The American Arab Civil Rights League says it’s resolved a discrimination complaint against Western Union.

The ACRL filed a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, after the money-transfer service had cut off service to Haidar Abdallah, an Arab-American man from Metro Detroit.

ACRL director Rula Aoun said Western Union refused to continue doing business with Abdallah after asking for information about his employment and financial background. And the company never explained its actions.

The Big 4 on the big screen at Cobo Center. Left to right: Mark Hackel, L. Brooks Patterson, Mike Duggan, and Warren Evans.
Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Metro Detroit’s “Big Four” had their annual public gathering at Detroit’s auto show today.

The four leaders are the Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb county executives, and Detroit’s mayor. It’s usually a mostly feel-good conversation about regional cooperation.

And indeed, they did talk about that and a range of other issues. But the leaders also couldn’t avoid the topic of the hour: Warren Mayor Jim Fouts.

Leaked audio tapes seem to show Fouts making incredibly degrading comments about African-Americans and disabled people, among others.

King at Grosse Pointe South High School, March 14, 1968.
via Grosse Pointe Historical Society

In March of 1968, Martin Luther King  Jr. came to Grosse Pointe, a nearly all-white Detroit suburb.

He gave a speech at Grosse Pointe South High School called “The Other America.” Three weeks later, he was shot and killed.

This past weekend, people gathered in that same gym to hear a recording of that speech. Nearly 50 years later, it still strikes a powerful chord.

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Water faucet
user william_warby / Flickr

In just five years, more than 35% of American households could find themselves unable to afford water bills.

That’s the startling conclusion of a new study from Michigan State University.

A ceiling hole at Noble Elementary Middle-School in early 2016
Detroit Federation of Teachers

There was movement Thursday on two federal lawsuits filed over poor learning conditions in Detroit schools.

The American Federation of Teachers announced a settlement with the Detroit Public Schools over decrepit building conditions in some schools.

The settlement lays out a process for reporting, logging and prioritizing requests for building repairs, as well as timelines for following through.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

New Detroit school board members officially took office Wednesday night.

It’s the first time the district has had a true school board since a series of emergency managers took over in 2009.

The district is in much better financial shape after a state-sponsored aid package passed in June. In fact, it currently has a budget surplus.

But it faces a number of chronic problems, including 264 vacant teaching positions. 163 are now being staffed by substitutes, interim superintendent Alycia Meriweather told board members.

Vice President Joe Biden in Detroit.
Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Joe Biden made one of his final appearances as vice president at the Detroit School for Digital Technology on Tuesday.

Biden was the public face of the Obama administration’s limited efforts to help the city through its bankruptcy and aftermath.

Biden says that after eight years of slow but steady recovery, he’s confident the country remains a place that “will never bend, never break, and always go forward.”

“And Detroit is the single shining example, if you were to pick any one place in America, to demonstrate that’s who we are,” he said.

Gov. Snyder and Lt. Gov. Brian Calley at the Detroit auto show.
Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Governor Snyder and Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley took in the auto industry’s latest, at Detroit’s annual North American International Auto Show Monday.

“We’re leading the world here” in the “mobility industry,” Snyder said, noting the number of start-ups related to autonomous vehicle technology at this year’s show.

Snyder also hailed what he called “great announcements” recently that signal the “re-consolidation of the auto industry back in Michigan.”

That includes Fiat-Chrysler’s confirmation this week that it will invest $1 billion in two Detroit area plants; and Ford’s announcement last week that it will invest $700 million in its Flat Rock Assembly Plant as part of a plan to bring 13 electrified cars to market (all come attached to state incentives packages; so far no one will comment on the details of packages, and Snyder again declined to do so Monday).

Homes on Eberlein Rd. in Fraser were still restricted access on Friday. Most families displaced by the sinkhole should be able to move back next week.
Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Governor Snyder has declared a state of emergency for Macomb County, following a sewer collapse and sinkhole in Fraser on Christmas Eve.

The declaration should open up more state funding for fixing the sinkhole, which will likely run into the tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars.

Elaina Brown, left, and Kelly Williams sit in court during their preliminary examination on felony charges.
Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

A judge has dismissed felony charges against two Child Protective Services workers, who were accused of failing to protect a three-year-old boy from his mentally ill mother.

Social workers Elaina Brown and her supervisor, Kelly Williams, were charged with involuntary manslaughter and child abuse.

The charges stem from the death of three-year-old Aaron Minor, who was found dead in May in the Detroit apartment he shared with his mother. His mother Deanna Minor, who had been missing, was found in a psychiatric hospital.

The sinkhole in Macomb County.
Bryce Huffman / Michigan Radio

A massive sinkhole in central Macomb County is “an incredibly large challenge” with a “potentially incredibly expensive fix,” Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller said Wednesday.

Construction near the site of the sinkhole on the Fraser-Clinton Township border in Macomb County. Crews are now working on a temporary bypass around the collapsed sewer interceptor.
Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Temporary fixes are starting to take shape for those affected by a giant Macomb County sinkhole.

The sinkhole opened up in Fraser on Christmas Eve. It was caused by a collapsed sewer interceptor that serves more than 300,000 people in 11 Macomb County communities.

Fraser Mayor Joe Nichols says he’s “grateful there was no loss of life.” But there are three families who will lose their homes permanently, and at least 19 others that suffered damage.

Under Mayor Mike Duggan, Detroit has used federal anti-blight funds for an aggressive demolition campaign.
Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

We now know the contents of two federal subpoenas issued to the Detroit agencies running the city’s building demolitions program, but they don’t tell us much more than we already knew about an ongoing investigation.

The Detroit Land Bank and Building Authorities received the subpoenas in May.

They demanded the agencies turn over basically everything they have related to federally funded demolition contracts since the start of 2014.

Gov. Snyder speaks at United Shore Financial Services in 2013, when the company announced it was adding 600 new jobs.
YouTube screengrab

A Metro Detroit-based mortgage lender has reached a $48 million settlement with the federal government.

Troy-based United Shore Financial Services was certified to make direct loans backed by the Federal Housing Administration’s mortgage insurance program.

But according to the U.S. Justice Department, USFS knowingly violated a number of FHA program rules, and signed off on hundreds of bad loans between 2006 and 2011—leaving taxpayers on the hook.

Michigan Immigrant Rights Center / via Facebook

A $50,000 grant will boost an effort to welcome immigrants in some Michigan communities.

The Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan awarded the money to the Welcoming Michigan initiative.

Welcoming Michigan fosters connections between new immigrants and longtime residents, helping to integrate them fully into receiving communities. The program also helps local governments and groups serve immigrant communities.

Trumbullplex Archives

The massive fire that killed 36 people at the Ghost Ship, an Oakland, California warehouse art space, has put similar venues under the microscope in cities nationwide.

That includes Detroit. The city has many informal, DIY spaces for creative people. And at least one of them, the Trumbullplex, was visited by a city fire marshal last week.

Wikimedia Commons

A broad group of civil rights advocates is cheering an Obama Administration decision this week to dismantle the National Security Entry-Exit Registration system (NSEERS).

That U.S. Homeland Security program required visiting males from 25 countries—nearly all of them Muslim-majority countries--to register with the U.S. government, providing background and other information beyond what’s normally required for a visa.

Kevin Matthews
Family photo

Wayne County prosecutor Kym Worthy announced Wednesday she will not charge two Dearborn police officers with crimes.

The officers were involved in separate shooting incidents that happened about a year ago.

Kevin Matthews was shot dead by a Dearborn police officer in Detroit, after a brief foot chase just after Christmas last year.

About a month later, another Dearborn officer shot and killed Janet Wilson in her car outside Fairlane Mall. Both were unarmed.

Lamarr Monson takes notes in court during final arguments to overturn his murder conviction.
Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Lawyers made their final arguments in court Wednesday, but it will take more than a month for a Wayne County judge to decide whether Lamarr Monson deserves a new trial.

Monson confessed to the 1996 murder of Christina Brown, a 12-year-old runaway. The two lived and sold drugs together out of an apartment on Detroit’s west side, though Monson and others say Brown told people she was 17.

But Monson later said that Detroit police tricked and coerced him into confessing. And his lawyers say it bears the hallmarks of a false confession.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

The small Detroit suburb of Eastpointe is looking for public input as it stares down a potential lawsuit.

The U.S. Justice Department warned the city last month that the way it chooses city council members violates the Voting Rights Act.

The government says voting for council members at-large denies the city’s growing black community a voice in government.

Between late 2013 and mid-2015, Michigan’s automated system for processing unemployment insurance claims flagged 53,633 cases of fraud.

But a new state review of some of those cases found that the system was wrong — 93% of the time.

That’s prompted U.S. Sander Levin, D-Royal Oak, to call for a full review of all the fraud cases auto-adjudicated during that period.

Public Lighting Authority of Detroit / via Facebook

Detroit is shining much brighter than it did just a couple years ago, and is now “a beacon” for cities nationwide.

That was the consensus at an event Thursday, as the city flipped the switch to celebrate 65,000 new streetlights.

Mayor Mike Duggan has made overhauling Detroit’s street lights a priority. An estimated 40% of them weren’t working when he took office.

Members of Sterling Heights' Chaldean community protest the proposed mosque in August, 2015.
Chaldean Nation / via Facebook

The U.S. Justice Department has filed a civil rights lawsuit against the city of Sterling Heights, accusing the city of religious discrimination when it denied a permit to build an Islamic Center and mosque in 2015.

Renard Johnson appears in court for resentencing via videoconference.
Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Wayne County has more than 150 juveniles serving mandatory life-without-parole prison sentences.

That’s by far the most in the state. And because of recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions, they all need to be re-sentenced.

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy wants 67 of those people to stay behind bars for life. But a lot of people are wondering how she decided who deserves a second chance, and who doesn’t.

“He’s been gone so long”

Renard Johnson has been behind bars since he was 17 years old.

Flickr user sj carey / Flickr

Detroit is putting landlords on notice: Heat your rental units properly, or face some major fines.

David Bell, director of the city’s Buildings, Safety and Engineering Department, says inspectors are targeting 143 homes and buildings that received violation notices in the past year.

“They’ve got three days to reach out to us and call for re-inspection. We’ll get somebody out there,” Bell said.

“We know that you have outstanding violations, and we’re not going to let them slide. You have to do what is right by city code, and by your tenants.”

Thomas told us the 6th Amendment determines that juvenile lifers should be resentenced by a jury, not a judge.
flickr user Joe Gratz / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

More details about the nature and scope of a criminal investigation into Detroit’s massive demolition program should come out in court next month.

That’s when a Wayne County judge has ruled that a federal subpoena for Detroit’s land bank will be unsealed.

Detroit has demolished more than 10,000 blighted homes under Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s administration.

The Detroit Land Bank Authority has done most of those demolitions, using almost $130 million in federal funds so far.

Senator Jeff Sessions speaking at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, DC in 2011.
Gage Skidmore / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Some Detroit leaders, clergy, and activists spoke out against Donald Trump’s pick for U.S. Attorney General on Monday, denouncing him as someone who would “take us back to the Jim Crow era.”

They said Senator Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, has a particularly bad history when it comes to African-American voting rights, and other civil rights issues.

But Rev. Paul Perez, with the Detroit conference of the United Methodist Church, says that’s not the only area of concern.

Protesters chalked anti-hate messages outside Royal Oak Middle School, after reported incidents of race-based bullying there.
Alexis Gentile / via Facebook

Some school leaders and parents are wrestling with how to respond to hateful incidents in the wake of Donald Trump’s election.

There have been a number of such incidents reported in schools across Michigan since election day.

One happened at Royal Oak Middle School the day after the election, when a  group of students chanted “build the wall” in the cafeteria — an apparent reference to Trump’s pledge to build a wall across the Mexican border.

Alicia Ramon is the mother of the seventh-grade girl who took a video of that incident, which has since gone viral.

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