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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City of Detroit

Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr took the stand again Tuesday in the 22nd day of the city’s bankruptcy trial.

Orr testified mostly about Detroit’s recent settlement with bond insurer Financial Guaranty Insurance Corporation. That deal is outlined in a draft of the ninth version of Detroit’s plan of adjustment (the city’s proposal to “adjust” its debts in bankruptcy court).

Detroit skyline
Ian Freimuth / flickr.com

Members of the United Nations Human Rights Commission heard testimony in Detroit this week from citizens who are struggling to secure affordable water and housing.

Nicole Hill is a Detroiter who has had her water shut off twice this year. Hill says the water department tells her she owes more than $6,000 — a number she vigorously disputes.

“I have asked for a hearing, and I was told that I could possibly get a hearing date sometime in 2015,” she said.

For Mignon Jennings, the cost of her water bill has put her in danger of losing her Detroit home.

“$3,000 for a water bill for one year? That’s ludicrous. That’s crazy. And I believe something needs to be done.”

The UN panel has criticized Detroit’s policy of cutting water service to people with delinquent bills.

Panel members issued recommendations on the situation Monday. They also met with Mayor Mike Duggan.

Duggan's chief of staff, Alexis Wiley, defended the administration's response to the water shutoffs, pointing out that the number of customers on payment plans has almost doubled to about 33,000 since Duggan announced his 10-point plan on dealing with them in August.

Wiley said the meeting was unproductive. "Unfortunately, it became clear shortly into the meeting that the UN representatives had reached their conclusions and prepared their recommendations before the meeting had even begun," she said in a statement, that also accused the UN of singling out Detroit for criticism of a "standard practice among utilities."

Environmental groups say a proposal from within state government to weaken Michigan’s toxic air pollutant guidelines would put public health at risk.

Michigan has some of the strictest guidelines in the nation when it comes to toxic air chemicals. It’s one of just nine states to regulate all potentially toxic emissions.

Detroit City Council member Saunteel Jenkins is resigning.

Jenkins was first elected to Council in 2009. She was re-elected in 2013 as one of two at-large members on a now mostly district-based Council.

Jenkins finished her first term serving as Council President, after Charles Pugh abandoned the post. She sought the post again this term, but lost a close internal vote to current President Brenda Jones.

Wikipedia

Detroit has reached a settlement with its last major holdout creditor in bankruptcy court.

Bond insurer Financial Guaranty Insurance Corporation holds $1.1 billion in Detroit debt. It insured a bad deal on city pension debt whose legality has been questioned.

FGIC had been the city’s last big foe in bankruptcy court. By signing onto the plan of adjustment Detroit has proposed to restructure its debts, it’s removed another hurdle slowing down the city’s exit from bankruptcy.

After a week-long recess, Detroit’s bankruptcy trial resumed Tuesday.

City lawyers spent more than two weeks making their case for Detroit’s proposed plan of adjustment to restructure its debts in bankruptcy. They rested last week.

Now, objecting creditors get their chance to argue that plan doesn’t meet the requirements of the municipal bankruptcy code.

Laura Bartell, a professor of bankruptcy law at Wayne State University, said the trial has gone “swimmingly” for the city so far.

After years of delays caused by political infighting and real estate disputes, the Troy Transit Center is finally open for business.

The $6.3 million center will serve primarily as a much-improved Oakland County stop for Amtrak’s popular Wolverine Line.

That line, which connects Pontiac and Chicago, serves 500,000 riders annually. According to Amtrak, about 20,000 of them get on or off at the Troy stop.

Detroit residents met Monday night for a discussion on how to move forward after the elimination of Citizens District Councils (CDCs).

CDCs have been around since the Blighted Area Rehabilitation Act of 1945 granted Michigan cities the right to acquire blighted properties using the power of eminent domain.

First Lady Michelle Obama headlined a campaign event for Michigan Democrats in Detroit Friday.

The First Lady got a warm, energetic reception from the crowd at the Detroit Music Hall.

She encouraged them to sustain that energy right through election day.

Mrs. Obama praised the Democrats running at the top of the ticket: Mark Schauer for Governor, and Gary Peters for US Senate.  

She told the crowd that Democrats fare better when voter turnout is high—and it’s especially important in Detroit.

The Detroit City Council is considering an ordinance to ensure “community benefits” come with future large development projects—but it’s drawing some fierce pushback.

The so-called “urban development agreement” has been in the works for more than a year.

It would make sure large-scale developments offer some guaranteed benefits (like jobs for local residents and city-based contractors) and protections (like safeguards for displaced residents and the environment) to host communities.

A jury is deciding whether a Detroit police officer is guilty of a misdemeanor for causing the death of a little girl in 2010.

No one disputes that Office Joseph Weekley shot and killed Aiyana Jones when police raided her family’s home looking for a murder suspect.

He is charged with careless, reckless discharge of a firearm, causing death.

The question is whether Weekley failed to exercise “ordinary care” when he fired the shot that killed Jones.

Prosecutors argue he was negligent because he didn’t follow his extensive weapons training.

The city of Detroit wrapped up its case in bankruptcy court today, with Detroit’s two top elected officials as the final witnesses.

Mayor Mike Duggan and City Council President Brenda Jones both took the stand.

Their testimony is key, because the city needs to convince Judge Steven Rhodes that its proposed plan of adjustment is feasible—and that city leaders will work together to execute it post-bankruptcy.

Jones had publicly opposed emergency manager Kevyn Orr, and his decision to file for bankruptcy.

Detroit’s overtaxed first responders could soon have help from new eyes in the sky--in the form of unmanned aerial systems, better-known as drones.

A company called Detroit Aircraft is opening an assembly and manufacturing center in Detroit’s City Airport, which has been largely vacant in recent years.

Detroit Public Schools

Detroit’s elected school board has lost its bid to oust the district’s emergency manager immediately.

Board members voted to get rid of Jack Martin this week.

And they sued to enforce that, citing a portion of state law that allows elected officials to remove emergency managers after 18 months.

Martin hasn’t yet been in office for 18 months, but the Detroit Public Schools have been under some form of emergency manager for years.

The question is whether that 18-month limit applies to all emergency managers, or just individual appointees.

Sam Beebe

Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr will continue testifying today in Detroit’s bankruptcy trial.

Orr, a bankruptcy lawyer, took the stand for the first time Wednesday afternoon. He’s the main architect of Detroit’s bankruptcy restructuring plan, formally known as a plan of adjustment.

That plan is ultimately what’s on trial; Judge Steven Rhodes needs to approve it for the city to emerge from bankruptcy.

But while Orr is a crucial witness for the city, there was nothing particularly new or noteworthy about his initial testimony.

The judge in Detroit’s bankruptcy case has refused to put a stop to the city’s controversial water shutoffs.

Judge Steven Rhodes ruled Monday that there is no fundamental “right or law” to guaranteed water service.

Rhodes also said halting shutoffs would jeopardize water department revenues.

The ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed by Detroit residents and activists, who wanted Rhodes to put a six-month moratorium on the shutoffs.

districtdetroit.com

Detroit heavyweights broke ground today on a $450 million sports and entertainment complex. It will serve as the new home of the Detroit Red Wings.

Backers say it will also serve as an anchor for hundreds of millions of dollars of new economic development.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan says this is different from other stadium-based mega-projects around the country — it’s a “true partnership.”

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Detroit officials are celebrating news of a $26 million federal grant to help the city acquire 50 new buses.

Nearly everyone admits that Detroit’s bus service continues to be terrible.

Trips that should take a half hour or less routinely take up to two hours or more.

So this new round of federal money to replace part of the city’s aging fleet is welcome news.

Lisa Franklin is an advocate for disabled Detroit bus riders, and represents the city for a new Regional Transit Authority.

State of Michigan

As of Friday morning Detroit’s elected officials are back in charge of city operations—but Kevyn Orr is still technically the city’s emergency manager.

That’s because Detroit officials have approved a deal stripping Orr of most of his powers.

In the deal approved by the City Council and Mayor Mike Duggan Thursday, Orr will stay on as emergency manager until Detroit exits bankruptcy.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr has joined private, ongoing talks between Mayor Mike Duggan and the Detroit City Council about his future.

Under Michigan’s emergency manager law, the City Council could vote to remove Orr this week – but only if Duggan and Gov. Rick Snyder agree.

The parties have been meeting in closed session since Tuesday to discuss a transition plan. No one has been willing to speak publicly about those discussions.

Judge Steven Rhodes said he'll rule next Monday whether to put a temporary halt to Detroit's controversial water shutoffs.

Witness testimony continued in federal bankruptcy court Tuesday with hearings to determine the fate of that 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.

MDOT

A report from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group cites a plan to widen I-94 through the heart of Detroit as one of 11 “highway boondoggles” nationwide.

The planned “mega-project” will add a lane in either direction from midtown Detroit through the city’s east side. It will also connect service drives, widen shoulders and rebuild some bridges along that stretch of the highway.

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.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

The Detroit City Council has rejected a proposal to transfer thousands of city-owned properties to the Detroit land bank.

The resolution, put forward by Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr, would move up to 45,000 tax-reverted properties to the Detroit land bank.

And it would have moved all such properties the city acquires in the future directly to the land bank, bypassing the Council entirely.

Council members bristled at that last portion of the deal. They rejected the measure unanimously.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

The Detroit City Council has approved the city’s participation in the Great Lakes Water Authority.

The city of Detroit currently owns and operates most of southeast Michigan’s regional water system.

The 40-year deal lets the city retain ownership of all the water system’s assets, and Detroit keep control of day-to-day operations within city limits.

But a new Great Lakes Water Authority takes control of operations outside the city. It will lease the regional assets for $50 million a year.

The re-trial of a Detroit police officer who killed a young girl during a May 2010 raid began Thursday.

No one disputes that Officer Joseph Weekley shot seven-year-old Aiyana Jones to death as police raided her home looking for a murder suspect.

In fact, much of what happened that night was captured on film by camera crews from the A&E reality TV show “The First 48.”

via detroitmi.gov

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan pitched a proposal creating a new regional water authority to the Detroit City Council Wednesday.

Duggan has signed a memorandum of understanding moving day-to-day control over Detroit’s regional water system to a new Great Lakes Water Authority.

That Authority would be governed by a 6-member board, with representatives appointed by the city and Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb counties.

Preparing track for the M-1 rail project in Detroit.
M-1 Rail / Facebook

Dignitaries including Michigan Gov. Snyder, Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow, Representatives John Dingell and John Conyers, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, and business leaders Roger Penske and Dan Gilbert were on hand for a "track signing" ceremony this morning in Detroit.

The M-1 rail project is streetcar line planned for a 3.3. mile stretch along Woodward Ave. in Detroit. The project has received more than $35 million in federal funds, but the majority of its financing comes from private backers.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

The Detroit City Council is slated to vote this week on a plan that would speed big city property transfers to the Detroit land bank.

Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr proposed the measure last week, allowing the city to transfer some city-owned properties directly to the land bank without Council approval.

It would move up to 45,000 tax-reverted properties to the Detroit land bank’s control, and convey any such land the city acquires in the future directly to the land bank.

Currently, the City Council has some say in how the city disposes of those properties.

Detroit has hammered out a deal with its fiercest foe in bankruptcy court, possibly smoothing the way for the city to leave bankruptcy quickly.

Bond insurer Syncora Guarantee, Inc. had fought the city’s proposed plan of adjustment at every turn.

That restructuring plan would have forced the company to take hundreds of millions of dollars in losses.

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