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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Transportation
6:06 pm
Mon April 30, 2012

New program, more promised improvements for Detroit buses

Sarah Hulett Michigan Radio

Detroit leaders are promising better service for the city’s more than 100,000 regular bus riders.

Officials phased in what they’re calling the "415 plan" this past weekend.

It promises service every fifteen minutes along the city’s four busiest bus routes during peak riding hours (6 am-6 pm).

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing turned bus management over to a private firm, Parsons Brinckerhoff, earlier this year. He credits them with improving service.

“I think the outside management team has worked very, very well with our employees," said Bing, speaking Monday during his first day back from more than a month-long battle with health problems. "They’re listening to each other, they’re good ideas being brought to the table, and the implementation plan is moving forward.”

But the four-fifteen initiative comes on the heels of cutbacks to other city bus routes, and the elimination of overnight service.

And while timely service has improved, city officials admit it’s still a long way from where it needs to be.

“It should be 90-95% [on-time]," said Detroit Department of Transportation CEO Ron Freeland. "Especially when you consider that most of our customers are going to use more than one bus line.”

In a report released just last week, the transit advocacy group Transportation Riders United gave Detroit’s bus system a “D-minus” grade—with only 63% of buses arriving on-time.

Business
1:31 pm
Mon April 30, 2012

Chrysler adds to business presence in downtown Detroit

The Dime Building/"Chrysler House"
wikimedia commons

Chrysler will start renting office space in a downtown Detroit skyscraper later this year.

Chrysler’s CEO and other business leaders have already re-christened the building “Chrysler House.”

Chrysler will move only about 70 employees into the former Dime building in the heart of downtown Detroit. But CEO Sergio Marchionne says it reflects Chrysler’s commitment to “put down roots” in the city and the region.

Marchionne says the resurgent Chrysler sees its own fortunes tied to Detroit’s.

“The people of Detroit and this region have contributed to making our country great again with their talent, their commitment, and their sweat," Marchionne said. "Detroit is the place that we feel at home. That’s why we’re proud to say that from now on, this building is going to be known as Chrysler House.”

Marchionne also noted Chrysler’s plans to “substantially expand” its industrial presence in the city. The automaker plans to re-open one Detroit assembly plant, and up production at two others by next year.

The move is also another win for the city’s central business district, which has announced some major new tenants in the past few months.

Quicken Loans CEO Dan Gilbert has been one of the key figures pushing to revitalize downtown with his Detroit 2.0 initiative.

“Together we are creating an urban core in downtown Detroit, that will be a spark of the entire region, that will have jobs, growth, and excitement,” Gilbert said.

Marchionne says Chrysler employees will move in once the space is refurbished, likely sometime this summer.

The Detroit Free Press also reports that Chrysler has now committed $3.3 million to help build a light rail project in downtown Detroit. The M-1 rail project will jumpstart with funds from private backers. It's still awaiting approval from city, state, and federal officials.

Education
7:00 pm
Fri April 27, 2012

Detroit students suspended over walkout start "Freedom School"

Western and Southwestern High School students staged a walkout Wednesday
via ourvoicessouthwestdetroit.tumblr.com

More than 100 students were suspended from Detroit’s Western International High School this week.

Those students were part of a group that walked out of school to protest district policies, and what they say is a poor-quality education.

Now, some of the students are setting up what they’re calling a “freedom school” to attend while they’re suspended.

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Religion
6:43 pm
Fri April 27, 2012

Dearborn conferences to address honor killings, Islamophobia

Jessica Mokdad in a family photo
via fox2detroit.com

Dearborn will host two very different conferences about modern Islam on Sunday.

The group “Stop the Islamization of America” is sponsoring the “Jessica Mokdad Human Rights Conference.”

Mokdad is a young woman who was murdered by her stepfather in Warren last year.

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Politics
7:47 pm
Thu April 26, 2012

Language approved to put bridge question on the November ballot

Jim Wallace flickr.com

A state board has approved ballot language proposed by the owners of the Ambassador Bridge.

They hope voters in November say “yes” to the measure that reads, in part: “The People should decide whether state government may construct or finance new international bridges or tunnels for motor vehicles.”

Matthew Moroun is Vice Chair of the Detroit International Bridge Company. He says the public can decide the ongoing dispute over whether to build a new bridge once and for all.

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Business
6:32 pm
Wed April 25, 2012

GE shareholders meeting met by protests

General Electric shareholders convened for their annual meeting at Detroit’s Renaissance Center Wednesday.

They were met by protesters who say GE and other big companies are not shouldering their fair share of the tax burden.

Thousands of people, calling themselves part of the “99% coalition,” shouted for GE to pay its “fair share.”

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Politics
6:05 pm
Tue April 24, 2012

Federal task force examining violence and children wraps up in Detroit

A federal task force looking into the effects of violence on children held its final meeting in Detroit Tuesday.

It was the last of four task force meetings held as part of US Attorney General Eric Holder’s Defending Childhood Initiative.

The task force heard from experts who said exposure to violence during childhood has lifelong consequences. And many of those children end up in the criminal justice system themselves.

Robert Listenbee, Chief of the Juvenile Unit of the Defender Association of Philadelphia. He says there are proven ways to help kids who end up in the system.

“We know that, in the juvenile justice system, diversion programs that take low-level offenders that are at low risk of re-offending out of the system early rather than mixing them with high-risk offenders…we know that those things work," Listenbee said. "But we’re not using them very well.”

Listenbee says violence is a “virus” that should be treated like a public health problem.

But many experts and members of the public testified about how pervasive violence has become the social norm in many communities—both rural and urban. And it’s leaving a generation of traumatized children in its wake.

That was the case for Lawnya Sherrod. She used to be a gang member in Detroit. Now she helps kids who want to transition out of that life.

“This is what I see every day, all day," said Sherrod. "I step out, I hear gunshots. It’s common. Hearing gunshots is like hearing the school bell ring.”

The task force will outline their findings and suggestions to combat the problem in a report later this year.

Politics
5:55 pm
Tue April 24, 2012

Ambassador Bridge referendum effort is a challenge to Governor Snyder

Jim Wallace flickr.com

It’s no secret the Ambassador Bridge’s owners don’t want the state to build a new bridge between Detroit and Canada.

Now, the Detroit International Bridge Company is trying another tactic to make sure that doesn’t happen: a ballot referendum.

The Bridge Company has proposed language that would require state lawmakers to put any proposed international crossing up for a popular vote first.

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Business
11:45 am
Mon April 23, 2012

There's a new player in Michigan's electricity market

Brown michiganradio

A new energy company has moved into the residential power market in Michigan.

Glacial Energy has been operating in Michigan since 2008. But now they’re offering their services directly to households, too.

Glacial Energy regulatory affairs manager Derek Smiertka says the company only operates at the retail level—and that means they can generally offer cheaper rates than the big utilities.

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Politics
6:50 pm
Fri April 20, 2012

Ambassador Bridge owners: Put new bridge proposal on the ballot

There’s been a long-running conflict about whether to build a second bridge connecting Detroit and Canada.

Now, the company that owns the Ambassador Bridge says voters should decide the issue.

The Detroit International Bridge Company says the Ambassador Bridge is enough. The DIBC has butted heads with Governor Snyder and state officials, who favor building a new crossing.

Now, the Bridge Company says it wants to put the issue before voters. They want the State Board of Canvassers to authorize language for a petition drive.

It states:

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Transportation
6:39 pm
Thu April 19, 2012

Extension a good sign for Detroit light rail plans

Transit advocates in Detroit are happy that a proposal for light rail along Woodward Avenue is still alive.

Federal, state, and city officials had nixed the plan late last year in favor of a Bus Rapid Transit system.

But after pushback from the line’s private backers, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood gave them a deadline to put forth a “feasible” plan.

This week, LaHood extended that deadline about a month. He also told The Detroit News that he's "still optimistic" about the project.

Megan Owens, director of the transit advocacy group Transportation Riders United, says the current proposal is for a shortened line serving Detroit’s downtown—but that’s ok.

“Light rail, or streetcars, can not only provide a great transit option for getting around the downtown-Midtown-New Center areas--but can also be a great way to boost re-development in those communities,” Owens said.

The extension also gives state lawmakers time to move bills to form a regional transit authority in southeast Michigan.

Such an authority is a key condition for federal transit aid to Metro Detroit.

Politics
1:46 pm
Thu April 19, 2012

First three appointments made to Detroit's "Financial Advisory Board"

Laughlin Elkind Flickr

The consent agreement the city of Detroit signed with the state earlier this month calls for the creation of a nine-member financial advisory board.

The board will have oversight over the city's finances.

Governor Snyder's office released the names of the three members appointed to the board today:

Former state Treasurer Robert Bowman, currently president and CEO of Major League Baseball Advanced Media LP, is the joint appointee of Snyder and Bing. Darrell Burks, currently a senior partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, will be one of three individuals appointed by Gov. Snyder, and Ken Whipple, chairman of the board of Korn/Ferry International, is Treasurer Dillon’s appointee to the FAB.

Forbes has a profile of Robert Bowman.

Three are appointed - six more appointments are left.

Under the agreement, Gov. Snyder will select two more members of the board, Mayor Bing will select two, and Detroit City Council will select two.

Those serving on the board will receive compensation of $25,000 per year.

Detroit Deputy Mayor Kirk Lewis—who’s still serving in place of the ailing Mayor Bing—says the city is moving to comply with the consent agreement.

 “So we’re making progress," Lewis told reporters Thursday. "I’d expect over the next couple of weeks we’ll have that [advisory board] taken care of.”

Lewis says after that, city and state officials will move on to filling two more powerful positions outlined in the agreement: a Chief Financial Officer, and a Program Director.

He also says Bing is slated to return to work part-time in “a couple of weeks.”

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Politics
11:55 pm
Wed April 18, 2012

President Obama at Dearborn campaign stop: "Part of what makes us great is making stuff"

President Obama made a broad, impassioned case for his re-election in Metro Detroit Wednesday.

The President resurrected the “change” theme of his 2008 campaign.

He said change is a slow process. But he touted some milestones of his first term, including health care reform and the resurgence of the US auto industry.

“If we work on behalf of our higher ideals…we will finish what we started in 2008,” the President told a crowd of enthusiastic supporters.

The President also paid homage to his surroundings—the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn. He said it shows that “part of what makes us great is making stuff.”

“That’s what this museum reminds us of," Mr. Obama said. "Of what it means to build. It’s time we start taking the money we’re spending on war, use half of it to pay down our debt, and use half of it to build our nation here at home.”

The President contrasted that with what he called Republicans’ “you’re on your own economics.”

“Their philosophy is that we’re better off if a few are doing well at the top, and everybody else is fending for themselves," Mr. Obama said. "And they’re wrong.”

The Henry Ford  hosted the first of two Metro Detroit fundraisers for the President. He then moved on to a private fundraiser at the Bingham Farms home of businesswoman Denise Ilitch.

The top price for a ticket there: $40,000.

Politics
10:55 pm
Tue April 17, 2012

Troy protest targets controversial Wisconsin Governor

Protesters in Troy
Sarah Cwiek Michigan Radio

Protesters lined a busy thoroughfare in Troy Tuesday evening.

Attendees pulling into the parking lot at the San Marino Club for the Ronald Reagan Memorial Dinner were booed by the protesters, who were there to protest Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s appearance at the Oakland County Republican fundraiser.

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Education
8:00 pm
Tue April 17, 2012

Detroit students will learn math and science--at the racetrack

Students pose with a racecar at Emerson Elementary
via detroitgp.com

About 600 Detroit Public Schools students will visit the Detroit Grand Prix in June.

Before their visit, they’ll spend a few weeks learning about racing-related science and math concepts. They’ll then get a chance to apply those skills at the real racetrack, during events at the Grand Prix.

Grand Prix’s event chairman Bud Denker says this won’t just be a “field trip” for the students.

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Politics
5:35 pm
Tue April 17, 2012

Republican state lawmakers plan phase-out of Michigan tax on industrial property

automotiveauto.info

The first hearing will be held tomorrow on a Republican plan to phase out taxes on most industrial equipment in Michigan.

Local governments collect about $400 million in revenue a year from the industrial property tax.

Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley helped design the plan to get rid of the tax over the next several years. He says Michigan is unique in how it taxes industrial property -- and he says it’s driving investments to other states and countries.

“So at the end of the day, it’s about jobs and removing the penalty for investing in Michigan,” Calley said.

But local leaders say the way the phase-out is drafted now, it would force disinvestment in schools, and city services. That’s because it does not replace all the revenue lost to local governments.

Some state lawmakers like Senate Democratic leader Gretchen Whitmer agree.

“At best, they only intend to replace 81 percent of the dollars,”Whitmer said. “So does that mean that they are going to cut our fire services 19 percent? They’re also going to cut our police service 19 percent? They’re going to cut our schools an additional 19 percent? How is that made up?”

The communities that would be most affected are industrial cities with the most factories. That includes Michigan's third-largest city, Warren.

Warren mayor Jim Fouts says the city stands to lose $12 million a year in revenue if the tax is repealed.

“It would be absolute disaster," said Fouts, who said he'd be forced to cut public safety and other vital services. 

"It’s a good example of short-term thinking without looking at the long-term consequences, which are draconian consequences.”

Fouts says Lansing has recently shifted more costs and mandates to local governments, while also cutting off their sources of revenue. He sent a letter expressing his concerns to Governor Snyder.

Education
5:29 pm
Mon April 16, 2012

Last day for open enrollment in Detroit schools

Monday was the last day for parents of Detroit Public Schools students to pick schools for their children.

The district has a citywide open enrollment policy this year.

Parents who want to send their kids to schools outside their neighborhood can rank their preferred schools. The district takes that into consideration when placing kids.

Sonya Smith, a DPS parent who also works at the Parent Resource Center at Osborn High School, says the district has made the whole process easier for parents this year.

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Arts/Culture
11:17 am
Mon April 16, 2012

Future uncertain for historic state fairgrounds properties

A sign designating the Michigan state fairgrounds as a historic site.
Sarah Cwiek Michigan Radio

Governor Snyder has officially opened the former state fairgrounds in Detroit for re-development, but it’s not clear what will happen to the historic structures on the site.

There are a handful of historically-designated properties on the Michigan state fairgrounds. The most prominent is the Grant House. That’s where former Civil War General and U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant once lived (the structure itself is located on the fairgrounds, where it was moved from its original location elsewhere in Detroit).

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Politics
3:49 pm
Fri April 13, 2012

Lawsuit alleges "invasive religious questioning" of Muslims at border

A Muslim civil rights group says federal agents are wrongly detaining and questioning Muslim-Americans coming into the U-S.

The Michigan Council on American-Islamic Relations lays out those accusations in a federal lawsuit filed this week.

They’re suing on behalf of four Muslim U-S citizens. All say they were subject to “invasive religious questioning” when they tried to re-enter the country from Canada.

Shareef Akeel is a lawyer for the plaintiffs. He says Muslims are clearly being singled out for this type of "persecution," and that’s illegal.

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Politics
8:17 pm
Tue April 10, 2012

Groups behind Public Act 4 referendum effort say petitions will withstand legal challenge

Supporters of a ballot initiative to overturn Michigan’s emergency manager law say their petitions will withstand any challenges.

They gathered more than 226,000 signatures in an effort to put the law up for voter referendum.

Those petitions now await certification from the state board of canvassers.

Detroit NAACP lawyer Butch Hollowell says the petitions should easily stand up to the latest legal challenge: a claim, filed by the group Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility, that petition headers were typed in the wrong font size.

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