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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Environment
5:12 pm
Thu December 15, 2011

Detroit Green Garage looks for the meaning of "green"

The view inside the Detroit Green Garage
Detroit Green Garage via Facebook

People everywhere are trying to get a grasp on what “sustainability” and “green jobs” really look like.

That’s an especially urgent quest in a struggling industrial city like Detroit.

Some folks there have developed a building—and a community—that’s trying to find out. It’s called the Detroit Green Garage.                                                      

The Detroit Green Garage was a sort of garage at one point. It started off in 1920 as a Model T showroom just north of downtown Detroit.

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Transportation
4:36 pm
Wed December 14, 2011

Bing: High-speed buses step toward "regional cooperation"

An artists' rendering of the now-canceled Woodward Light Rail project

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing says plans for light rail in the city are being scrapped in favor of a regional rapid transit bus system.

Bus rapid transit is usually more efficient and faster than regular city bus services.

Years of planning and millions of dollars went into the proposal to run a light rail line up Woodward Avenue, from downtown Detroit to the city limits.

But Bing says he’s been talking with Obama administration officials, Governor Snyder, and other southeast Michigan leaders over the past several months.

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Politics
4:47 pm
Tue December 13, 2011

Detroit City Council rejects member's proposal to slash budget

The Detroit City Council has rejected one member’s efforts to slash its own budget.

Council President Pro Tem Gary Brown wanted to cut the council’s roughly $13 million budget by a third.

Brown says that’s the same level of concessions city unions are being asked for to avert a fiscal catastrophe in Detroit —and the council should lead by example.

“That’s $5 million the unions don’t have to look for, that we don’t have to ask the unions and the lower-wage city employees to come up with," Brown said. "I think that’s leadership.”

But most of Brown’s colleagues rejected the measure. They said 30 percent was an “excessive” cut that would damage the council’s ability to function.

Council member Ken Cockrel Jr. says the council has already cut its budget about that much over the past three years, and additional cuts could damage the council’s ability to do its job.

“What it really comes down to is, you can do cuts that are responsible for the sake of sharing the pain, or you can do cuts that are really all about trying to score political points,” Cockrel said.

Cockrel says if it wasn’t for Council’s diligence, the depth of the city’s fiscal crisis might never have come to light.

Members ultimately voted the measure down 6-2.

Politics
9:35 pm
Mon December 12, 2011

Looking to Lansing for action as Detroit transit systems shrivel

Lawmakers in Lansing are working out details of legislation that would create a regional transportation authority in southeast Michigan.

Governor Snyder has called for such an authority to coordinate Metro Detroit’s bus systems, and provide funding for them and future mass transit projects.

Detroit has a city-run bus system, and a regional bus system that serves both city and suburbs. But despite mounting troubles for both, past efforts to merge them have always failed.

Megan Owens, President of the transit advocacy group Transportation Riders United, said it’s unrealistic to expect those systems to merge or go away.

“And actually it’s not necessary," Owens said. "A lot of cities have multiple transit providers. But what they have that we don’t is one agency that can actively coordinate and oversee them from a regional level.”

Owens said prior efforts to create a regional authority have always stumbled over issues of "power and money"--whether any party would have veto power, for example, and how money would be divided between municipalities. Those issues are being hammered out behind the scenes in Lansing.

A spokesman for State Senator Tom Casperson, chairman of the Senate Transportation committee, said he expects legislation will be introduced as early as this week or immediately after the winter recess.

Courts
7:50 pm
Mon December 12, 2011

Judge agrees with lower court, tosses charges against Detroit mother in standoff case

Maryanne Godboldo

A Wayne County judge says a lower court was right to dismiss criminal charges against Maryanne Godboldo.

Godboldo is a Detroit mother who allegedly shot at police when they came to remove her child last March. Social workers thought Godboldo’s daughter needed psychiatric medication, but Godboldo refused to administer it, saying it made the child’s condition worse.

That dispute led to Godboldo’s standoff with police when they tried to remove the child. But two courts have now found there’s not enough evidence that Godboldo shot at police, and the order to remove her daughter was invalid.

Godboldo’s attorney Allison Folmar said no judge ever read or approved that order.

“This was a due process constitutional flaw and violation, to come into someone’s home by force and remove their child without any authority from the court,” Folmar said.

“Before you take a person’s house or car, you have a right to come to court and be heard. How much more of a right do you have when they come to take your child?”

Folmar said Godboldo is “relieved” the charges haven’t been reinstated, and to have custody of her daughter again—but both have lasting psychological trauma from the ordeal.

Wayne County prosecutors said they plan to appeal the decision again.

Politics
12:08 am
Mon December 12, 2011

Rep. Levin on unemployment extension: "It must be done"

Sander Levin

Michigan Congressman Sander Levin says Congress should cancel its winter recess if members can’t reach a deal to extend unemployment benefits.

Right now, the federal government supplements state unemployment programs to offer assistance for the long-term unemployed--up to 53 weeks of emergency benefits since the country slid into recession in 2008.

But those benefits will lapse January 1 if Congress doesn’t act this month.

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Auto/Economy
11:56 pm
Sun December 11, 2011

Emergency food providers stretched thin in suburban Detroit

Gleaners Food Bank

People on the front lines of food insecurity in suburban Detroit say things are grim: demand is growing as federal and state food programs are cut.

In Macomb County, anti-hunger advocates are overwhelmed with need. The number of people needing emergency food assistance has almost doubled between 2008 and 2010.

John Kastler is with Gleaners Community Food Bank. He said those funds, particularly from the federal government, “really did make it a lot easier to stock the pantries and put food on the table.”

“And when you talk about these programs being cut and the funding disappearing…it really does put people in crisis,” Kastler said.

Sue Figurski, coordinator of the Macomb Food Program, said the state’s recent decision to implement an asset test for food stamp applicants has put even more strain on food pantries--and proved a degrading process for many seeking help.

“Do you think anybody really and truly wants to be on food stamps? Not be able to take care of their family? Not the people we talk to,” Figurski said.

Last month, Macomb County officials started a Food Policy Council to deal with the problem of growing hunger and declining resources.

Education
2:56 pm
Wed December 7, 2011

Detroit students show small gains on national standardized test

Detroit students scored better on the National Assessment of Educational Progress test.
Mercedes Mejia Michigan Radio

Students in Detroit Public Schools showed slight improvements in the latest round of a benchmark standardized test.

But Detroit students still posted the worst scores of any district in the country on the National Assessment of Educational Progress test.

The NAEP exam tests fourth and eighth-graders in reading and math. When Detroit students took the test for the first time in 2009, they produced the worst scores in the test’s history.

In 2011:

·        Math, 4th grade: proficiency up from 31% to 34%

·        Math, 8th grade: proficiency up from 22% to 29%

·        Reading, 4th grade: proficiency up from 27% to 31%

·        Reading, 8th grade: proficiency up from 41% to 43%

Some experts question whether the posted gains are even statistically significant. But Detroit schools’ emergency manager Roy Roberts says the important thing is a positive trend.

“Detroit had the highest gains of any city in any subject in mathematics,” Roberts says. “Detroit also exceeded the state in gains in reading.”

“Like the budget deficit, it will not be eliminated overnight. But we have demonstrated real progress.”

Roberts says the biggest thing hindering Detroit students’ academic performance has been “instability” in the district.

He says the district will announce in January how many more schools to close, charter, or move to the Education Achievement System, a new statewide district for the lowest-performing schools.

Auto/Economy
7:22 pm
Tue December 6, 2011

Southgate couple plans to defy eviction, "occupy" their home

Robert and Debbie Henry
via Occupy Detroit

A Metro Detroit family says they’ll stay in their home, despite threats of eviction. Their action is part of a new initiative coordinated by the national “Occupy” movement.

Rob and Debbie Henry live in the Detroit suburb of Southgate. They got a mortgage loan modification after Debbie had a stroke and lost her job.

The Henrys thought they were following the terms of that process. But a confusing series of events ensued that included their loan being sold to Fannie Mae without their knowledge.

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Politics
12:37 pm
Tue December 6, 2011

Troy Mayor faces critics over anti-gay slur

Protesters outside Troy City Hall Monday
Facebook photo

Troy Mayor Janice Daniels faced a packed and angry house at a City Council meeting Monday night.

Residents and non-residents alike lined up to blast Daniels, who’s come under fire for an anti-gay slur she made on Facebook. A Troy blog unearthed the remark from earlier this year.

It read: “I think I am going to throw away my I love New York carrying bag now that queers can get married there.”

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Politics
5:50 pm
Mon December 5, 2011

Detroit's cash crunch: Report highlights role of debt and legacy costs

user Urban Adventures Flickr

A recent report from the Citizens Research Council of Michigan highlights a sometimes overlooked part of Detroit’s current fiscal crisis: the city’s debt and legacy costs.

According to the report, Detroit has about $14 billion in liabilities (though about $5.2 billion of that is for the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, and thus shared with its suburban customers).

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Religion
11:40 am
Mon December 5, 2011

Detroit Catholics: Archdiocese plans could "abandon" city

Last week, the Detroit Archdiocese said it will likely close nine churches and consolidate dozens more starting next year.

The six-county Detroit Archdiocese, like many across the country, is dealing with a priest shortage and declining membership in many churches.

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Politics
6:14 pm
Fri December 2, 2011

Organizers step up petition effort to repeal emergency manager law

PA 4 opponents rally in Detroit Friday
Sarah Cwiek Michigan Radio

Organizers behind a petition drive to repeal Michigan’s emergency manager law say they’re launching an all-out blitz for signatures.

Their campaign ramps ups just as the state starts the process that could lead to an emergency manager in Detroit.

Opponents of Public Act Four say it violates the Michigan and U.S. Constitutions by removing local elected officials from power. They also say it’s being used disproportionately to disenfranchise African American voters.

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Politics
8:21 pm
Thu December 1, 2011

Detroit leaders show united front, vow to work out city's fiscal problems on their own

user steveburt1947 Flickr

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing and other city leaders stood side-by-side at city hall Thursday night, saying they’re all ready to work together.

The show of unity comes as the city scrambles to stave off a state-appointed emergency manager. Governor Snyder has threatened to send in a financial review team that would initiate that process if the city doesn’t get its act together.

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Religion
4:39 pm
Wed November 30, 2011

Detroit Archdiocese takes next step in streamlining plans

A group advising the Detroit Archdiocese about reorganizing parishes will submit its recommendations to the Archbishop Wednesday evening.

The Archdiocesan Pastoral Council is made up mostly of laypeople. The group was tasked with creating a plan to close or merge parishes throughout southeast Michigan.

In a letter to Catholic parishoners across the Archdiocese, the Council’s chairman explains their recommendations are based on suggestions from parish groups

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Politics
10:46 am
Wed November 30, 2011

Is there a future for the New International Trade Crossing?

The Ambassador Bridge spans the Detroit River and connects Michigan to Canada.
Norris Wong Flickr

One legal expert says only Congress—not the state—can authorize a new bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor.

Constitutional law professor Robert Sedler was one speaker at a Wayne State University law school panel discussion about the bridge’s future Tuesday.

Sedler says Congress, exercising its authority over international commerce, granted the company that owns the Ambassador Bridge a franchise—and would have to do so again in the case of a new crossing.

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Environment
7:20 pm
Tue November 29, 2011

MSU Study: Minorities pay more for water in Michigan

Mark Brush Michigan Radio

A new study indicates racial minorities pay more for water and sewer service than whites in Michigan.

Michigan State University researchers looked at what people across the state paid for water and sewer service in 2000. Basic economic theory predicts that rural residents would pay the most for such services.

But the researchers found precisely the opposite to be true. Their results show that people in urban centers—with large minority populations—paid the most.

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Arts/Culture
4:21 pm
Thu November 24, 2011

In Detroit, a Thanksgiving tradition continues

It’s Thanksgiving Day, and that means it’s time for a parade in downtown Detroit.

As the annual  parade proceeded into the heart of downtown this Thanksgiving, newspaper headlines reminded people that the city stands of the verge of bankruptcy.

But, there are also bright spots. The city's downtown is showing signs of revitalization. And the parade itself is a reminder of many grand traditions in Detroit's history.

The parade is a family tradition for man, including cousins McKenzie Holly and Mariah Bursey.

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Auto/Economy
6:10 pm
Wed November 23, 2011

Federal cuts devastate Focus: HOPE

About two-dozen people learned Wednesday would be the last day of their Information Technology certification course at Focus: HOPE. Some were nearly in tears, and most were reluctant to leave.

In all, about 225 people face an abrupt end to job training courses like this one. That’s because of Congress’s inaction on the Workforce Investment Act.

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Politics
6:34 pm
Tue November 22, 2011

Detroit Mayor, City Council issue proposals to keep city solvent

Both Detroit Mayor Dave Bing and the Detroit City Council have put forth proposals aimed at avoiding a state financial takeover.

A recent cash flow report suggests the city is likely to run out of cash by spring, and be $45 million in the red by the end of June 2012.

Bing, who announced 1000 city layoffs last week, issued more details of his proposal Tuesday. They include, in addition to the layoffs:

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