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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A demolition in Flint.
Genesee County Land Bank

A new Special Inspector General’s report says a federal program that funds blight removal lacks key safeguards against waste and corruption.

Michigan has received more than $381 million in blight removal funds from the US Treasury’s Hardest Hit Fund – by far the most of any state.

The HHF was originally intended to help homeowners facing foreclosure. Starting in 2013, Treasury allowed some of the funds to be diverted to blight removal, mostly in the form of demolitions.

A tribute wall for Gordie Howe outside Joe Louis Arena.
Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Detroit Red Wings fans and former hockey greats alike lined up at Joe Louis Arena Tuesday to pay their last respects to Gordie Howe.

The legendary player known as Mr. Hockey died last week at age 88.

Howe’s family and the Red Wings organized a day-long public visitation for him from 9 am-9 pm, honoring his iconic number.

Howe’s pro hockey career spanned five decades, making him one of the most durable and greatest players of all time. He spent most of that career with the Red Wings, leading the team to four Stanley Cup championships during the 1950s.

Attorney General Bill Schuette
(Courtesy of the Michigan Attorney General's office)

The U.S. Supreme Court has stymied the Michigan Attorney General’s second bid to put some new air pollution rules on hold.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette spearheaded a case, Michigan v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, that challenged the EPA’s proposed Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.

Those rules limit mercury and other toxic emissions from power plants.

In 2015, the Supreme Court handed Schuette a victory when it narrowly ruled the EPA didn’t properly consider the cost to polluters when making the rule.

Ella Marx cries at a candelight vigil in Ann Arbor for the victims of the Orlando nightclub shootings. She says her LGBT sister lives in Florida. “It’s really close to home for me,” she says.
Rick Pluta / MPRN

Members of Metro Detroit’s LGBT community and allies are mourning the victims of the Orlando nightclub shooting.

A group held a vigil for them at Ferndale City Hall tonight.

Julia Music is the chair of Ferndale Pride.

She called the attack an act of “hate, terrorism, and ignorance.”

But Music urged the group to keep welcoming Muslims, who she says have just started to join Detroit’s LGBT community “in visible numbers.”

NOAA

The state has unveiled the first part of a strategy to protect what it calls Michigan’s “globally unique water resources.”

The 30-year water strategy is a product of the state’s Office of the Great Lakes, which is part of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

It’s a vision for water stewardship that mixes social, environmental, and economic goals.

Davontae Sanford with family and supporters after his release.
Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

A young Detroit man who spent nine years in prison for crimes he didn’t commit says he’s ready to make a new life for himself.

Davontae Sanford was just 14 when he confessed to four murders.

But a hit man confessed to the same crimes just a year later. Advocates for the wrongfully incarcerated have fought to free him ever since.

This week, following a Michigan State Police re-investigation of the case, a judge vacated Sanford’s convictions and freed him.

Kym Worthy (file photo).
waynecounty.com

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy defended her office’s handling of the Davontae Sanford case today.

Sanford confessed to four Detroit murders in 2007, when he was just 14 years old.

But a judge overturned Sanford’s convictions and freed him this week.

Worthy says that became possible only after a recent Michigan State Police investigation she requested found a Detroit police officer lied about key aspects of Sanford’s confession.

Questions about Sanford’s guilt arose as early as 2008, when a hit man named Vincent Smothers confessed to the same crimes.

DTE's St. Clair Power Plant in East China, Michigan.
user cgord / wikimedia commons

DTE Energy is the state’s largest utility. It provides electricity to more than two million people in southeast Michigan. Until very recently, DTE leaned on coal-fired power to generate about 3/4 of that electricity.

But that’s about to change dramatically.

The news came down this week that DTE will close three of its remaining coal-fired power plants between 2020 and 2023.

Two of those plants are just south of Detroit, in River Rouge and Trenton. The other is in St. Clair County.

James Tolbert
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Flint’s fired police chief may face criminal charges for his involvement in the wrongful conviction of a Detroit teen nine years ago.

James Tolbert was Detroit’s Deputy Police Chief in 2007. That’s when 14-year-old Davontae Sanford supposedly confessed to murdering four people.

Sanford was convicted in 2008. But serious questions about the case arose soon after, when a confessed hit man named Vincent Smothers said he had committed the crimes -- and had never heard of Sanford.

Davontae Sanford
Michigan Department of Corrections

After spending eight years in prison, a Detroit man convicted of murdering four people has been cleared and ordered released.

Davontae Sanford confessed to the murders in 2007, when he was just 14.

But soon after Sanford’s conviction, a hit man confessed to the same crimes, and insisted Sanford was not involved.

Now, following a Michigan State Police re-investigation of the case, Wayne County Judge Brian Sullivan has vacated Sanford’s convictions, and ordered him released immediately. Prosecutor Kym Worthy had agreed to dismiss Sanford’s case Tuesday morning.

From left to right: Patrick Harris, Reginald Franklyn, Slytazion Sanders, and Dominick Williams.
Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

There’s a lot of talk these days about how to “fix” Detroit schools.

State lawmakers are trying to save the Detroit Public Schools from fast-approaching bankruptcy.

But little of that discussion has included the voices of DPS students.

Here, four students from Detroit’s Cody High School share their thoughts about just how bad things are right now.

Voters in Michigan will still be allowed to cast straight-party ballots after a judge overturned a ban on the practice Thursday.
Lars Plougmann

A citizen’s group took Detroit city clerk Janice Winfrey to court Friday, in an effort to get a proposed city ordinance on the ballot.

The ordinance would require the Detroit clerk to publicly post real-time election results.

Tom Barrow is president of the group Citizens for Detroit’s Future, which spearheaded the drive to make the ordinance city law.

Barrow says the group gathered more than enough certified petition signatures, and did everything by the book according to the city charter and state law.

DTE Energy

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has submitted a final plan to curb sulfur dioxide pollution in Wayne County to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA deemed part of the county, including southwest Detroit and some downriver communities, in violation of new National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for sulfur dioxide in 2013.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan with students at the Detroit Promise Zone scholarship announcement.
Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan is making a final push for a larger role in the city’s education landscape.

Duggan stood alongside some charter school operators and Detroit Public Schools officials Tuesday, in support of a Detroit Education Commission.

That commission is being debated in Lansing as part of a larger, bankruptcy-style restructuring for Detroit Public Schools, which needs hundreds of millions of dollars in state aid if it’s to open doors in the fall.

Matt Picio / Flickr

A grand vision to build up metro Detroit’s historically fractured transit infrastructure makes its official debut Tuesday.

The Southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority spent over a year crafting and gathering public input on the master plan.

user braun / Flickr

Detroit’s Marathon refinery will have to cut emissions, under new permits issued this week by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

Marathon needs to meet new federal requirements for low-sulfur gasoline.

Because it needed to remove that sulfur, Marathon initially asked to increase its sulfur dioxide emissions, in a heavily-industrial area already considered the state’s most polluted ZIP code.

But after a fierce public backlash, Marathon and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality found ways for the company to actually reduce those emissions.

Parents protest outside a Detroit elementary school earlier this year.
Sarah Cwiek / Michigan

Some Detroit education activists and power players are making a last, all-out push for a specific component of any potential rescue package for Detroit Public Schools.

Lansing needs to come up with some plan to keep DPS from going bankrupt this summer.

But so far, state House leaders haven’t budged on a crucial issue for some: the proposed Detroit Education Commission.

That Commission would have the power to decide what schools open where in the city, including charter schools.

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

The board of the Great Lakes Water Authority finalized its first-ever budget Wednesday.

The GLWA emerged from Detroit’s bankruptcy. It now provides wholesale water and sewer services to millions of people in southeast Michigan.

The GLWA inherited some issues when it took over operations from the city of Detroit this year—including millions in bad debt from the city of Highland Park, mostly for unpaid sewer bills dating back many years.

The Authority petitioned Gov. Snyder’s office last month to help resolve that issue.

Hillary Clinton address the 2016 SEIU international convention at Detroit's Cobo Center.
SEIU / via Twitter

Hillary Clinton made her second stop in Detroit this month, addressing union activists at the Service Employees International Union’s  convention on Monday.

Clinton told them the American economy and workplace have changed drastically in recent years, but too many of the policies that govern them haven’t.

She emphasized her support for worker-friendly policies like paid family leave, boosting the minimum wage, and equal pay for women.

DPS interim superintendent Alycia Meriweather makes an announcement.
Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Amidst tremendous uncertainty about its future existence, the Detroit Public Schools is trying to recruit teachers.

The district is holding a “DPS Day” recruitment fair for new teachers at Martin Luther King High School on Tuesday.

Officials admit that’s a challenging task when the district’s future is so insecure.

It’s waiting on state lawmakers to pass a huge aid package before it runs out of money altogether this summer.

DPS interim superintendent Alycia Meriweather says the sooner Lansing can get that resolved, the better.

flickr user Bernt Rostad / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Detroit’s population has fallen to a level not seen since before 1920.

But there are signs that long-term trend has bottomed out.

According to the US Census Bureau’s latest estimate, Detroit’s population stood at just over 677,116 people last summer.

That means it’s no longer one of the 20 largest cities in the country.

DPS EM Steven Rhodes, center, takes notes at a meeting with Detroit's elected school board.
Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

The Detroit Public Schools’ emergency manager, Steven Rhodes, met with the district’s elected board for the first time publicly Wednesday.

That board has been virtually powerless since emergency managers started running DPS in 2009.

Rhodes largely sat quietly, taking notes, as board members peppered him with questions about how the district got to the verge of bankruptcy. They’re pushing for a forensic audit of the district’s finances, particularly contracting practices, during the past seven years of state control.

flickr user Bernt Rostad / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Detroit is joining the growing list of U.S. cities that issue municipal ID cards to residents.

The Detroit City Council approved an ordinance that sets up a city-issued ID program Tuesday.

“It is the city's intent that municipal identification cards will provide residents with an additional means of proving their residency in the citv for purposes of accessing citv programs, services, and activities, and providing identification to law enforcement,” the ordinance states.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Detroit police are about to start recording far more of what they do.

The Detroit City Council approved a $5.2 million contract for police body cameras and in-car video systems Tuesday.

The move has the support of Detroit Police Chief James Craig, and the city’s police unions.

Craig says the department just escaped more than a decade of federal oversight for unconstitutional policing practices. Now, the challenge is sustaining the progress it made.

lockers lining a school hallway
Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

The Detroit Public Schools needs a financial lifeline from Lansing to keep going beyond this school year.

But efforts to get that done in the state Legislature have largely been hijacked by big donors with different views on a separate but related issue: oversight of the city’s charter schools.

At least, that’s the conclusion of a report from the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

DPS emergency manager Steven Rhodes.
John Meiu / Detroit Legal News Publishing LLC

Contract talks between Detroit Public Schools teachers and the district’s emergency manager are on hold, and union leaders say that’s a mistake.

Contracts for DPS teachers and most other school employees expire June 30th.

Emergency Manager Steven Rhodes has said the district will delay collective bargaining until Lansing acts on legislation to prevent a DPS bankruptcy.

Researchers at Virginia Tech received samples of Flint water (both clear and discolored) from residents. Dr. Edwards and his team there were among the first to call attention to lead contamination in Flint's water.
Flint Water Study / Facebook

A federal judge in Detroit heard arguments on a lawsuit stemming from the Flint water crisis Friday.

This lawsuit demands that the state and city to move faster — and do more than they’re currently doing — to make Flint’s water safe.

That includes replacing all the city’s lead service lines.

State lawyers said there are a number of reasons they shouldn’t have to go that far, including the fact that it would be costly.

Flint resident Melissa Mays is one plaintiff in the case.

The Carr Center's current home in Detroit's Harmonie Park.
Carr Center / via Facebook

A prominent Detroit arts organization is losing its home in a downtown neighborhood it helped revitalize.

The Carr Center has called a historic building in Detroit’s Harmonie Park area home since 2009.

The non-profit arts organization is focused on promoting and celebrating African and African-American arts and culture.

It’s been a vibrant spot, but struggled financially.

A building moral in Detroit's North End.
Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Detroit is changing.

Record-setting demolitions, new development and new transit projects are transforming the landscape in some parts of the city.

There’s excitement and unease as many Detroiters see change coming their way.

Michigan Radio visited one Detroit neighborhood right on the edge, and found a community on the way up – and hoping to control its own destiny.

If real estate is about location, location, location, North End has a lot going for it.

nearly one in every five DPS students  qualifies for some special education services
Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

The man behind a bribery-and-kickback scheme in Detroit Public Schools pleaded guilty in federal court Wednesday.

Norman Shy, 74, ran AllState Sales, a school supplies company.

Starting in 2009, federal prosecutors say he conspired with school principals and one DPS administrator to inflate invoices for at least five years.

During that time, Shy got paid at least $2.7 million for school supplies he never delivered, and shared those profits with school officials.

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