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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Politics
11:07 pm
Thu February 23, 2012

Commission hopes to offer alternatives to emergency managers

Opponents of Michigan’s emergency manager law say they’re ready to tackle the problems underlying the financial distress of many Michigan communities.

Members of the  Financial and Academic Reinvestment Commission (FARC) met in Highland Park Thursday night.

State Senator Bert Johnson, who helped launch FARC last month, says they have a plan to help communities fix fiscal problems without emergency managers.

Johnson says the point is to draw attention to what he calls the “real, human issues” underlying communities in financial crisis.

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Education
9:04 pm
Wed February 22, 2012

Financial emergency declared in Highland Park schools--again

A state review team has again declared a state of financial emergency in the Highland Park school district.

But the district may not be able to keep its doors open long enough to see its former emergency manager reinstated.

Governor Snyder had already appointed an emergency manager, Jack Martin, for Highland Park schools.

But a court found that the financial review process violated the state’s Open Meetings Act, forcing the emergency manager to step down.

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Politics
8:43 pm
Wed February 22, 2012

Detroit introduces new transportation director as cuts loom

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing says a new CEO and new fleet of buses will help turn around the city’s struggling transportation department.

The Detroit Department of Transportation has been struggling for months to put enough buses on the streets.

In what the city calls a bid to both improve service and cut costs, they’ve brought in a private contractor to manage the bus system.

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Politics
12:00 pm
Wed February 22, 2012

Detroit Council seeks more details on union agreements

Members of the Detroit City Council want more answers about how the city will avoid running out of cash.

Mayor Dave Bing hammered out tentative agreements with most city employee unions, including police and firefighters. They worked as a state review team continues to pore over Detroit's finances, as part of the process that could lead to the state appointing an emergency manager for the city.

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Politics
11:59 pm
Tue February 21, 2012

Forum highlights opposition to emergency manager law

A protest against PA 4 at Governor Snyder's residence in January
Laura Weber Michigan Public Radio Network

Opponents of Michigan’s emergency manager law called it illegal, unconstitutional, and anti-democratic at a public forum Tuesday night.

Detroit Congressman John Conyers hosted the often-passionate forum on the legality of Public Act 4 in Highland Park.

Conyers is the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary committee. That committee’s staff issued a report finding that Public Act 4 violates the contracts clause of the US Constitution, because it allows emergency managers to breach collective bargaining contracts.

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Religion
9:54 pm
Mon February 20, 2012

Detroit Archdiocese releases downsizing plan

Allen Vigneron
Archdiocese of Detroit

The Detroit Archdiocese has officially released streamlining plans reduce the number of parishes, in order to accommodate what its leaders call “demographic changes.”

This second phase of the “Together in Faith” plan is years in the making.

Over the next four years, Archdiocese will close, merge, or cluster dozens of its 267 current parishes over the next four years.

 

·        2 parishes will close.

·        8 parishes will merge into 4 by the end of 2012.

·        30 parishes will merge into 14 by 2016.

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Politics
7:44 pm
Fri February 17, 2012

Michigan National Guard leader warns against cuts

US Air National Guard

The general who runs Michigan’s Army and Air National Guard is warning about what he calls ill-advised cuts.

The Air Force wants to retire 286 aircraft over the next five years to accommodate a new national defense strategy and shrinking budget.

Major General Gregory Vadnais told reservists at the Battle Creek and Selfridge Air National Guard bases Friday that those bases would lose 673 positions because of proposed Air Force budget cuts.

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Politics
8:39 pm
Thu February 16, 2012

Detroit Council districts: And the winner is ...Option 3

The Detroit City Council has approved a map that will be used to guide future Council elections.

The map divides the city into seven districts. Starting next year, Detroit will elect their Council members by district. Currently, all nine members are elected at large.

The Council chose “Option 3,” one of the four options the city’s Planning Commission created for them to choose from.

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Politics
8:14 pm
Thu February 16, 2012

Wayne County Commissioner: Ficano should resign

screen grab from WJBK Fox 2

Wayne County Commissioner Laura Cox has publicly said that embattled County Executive Robert Ficano should resign.

Cox, the only Republican on the Wayne County Commission, has been one of Ficano’s most outspoken critics.

Ficano has been under fire for months after numerous revelations about huge severance payments to top aides, and other corruption accusations.

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Politics
8:40 pm
Tue February 14, 2012

More cuts, changes in store for Detroit's troubled bus system

Big changes are in store once again for Detroit’s beleaguered bus riders.

1000 city workers will be laid off next week—including 78 bus drivers and 25 mechanics, according to Naomi Patton, a spokeswoman for Detroit Mayor Dave Bing.

The city recently turned over management of its transportation department to a private contractor, Parsons Brinckerhoff, who sub-contracted with another company, Envisurage.

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Politics
6:37 pm
Tue February 14, 2012

"Occupy" group tries to prevent another eviction

Members of UAW Local 600 say they'll protect Fred Shrum's house from eviction.
Sarah Cwiek Michigan Radio

The “Occupy our Homes” movement has taken up the cause of Fred Shrum, another homeowner facing foreclosure in Metro Detroit.

The group is a coalition of anti-foreclosure groups, organized labor, and other activists with the Detroit “Occupy” movement.

So far, their protests on behalf of people facing foreclosure have helped keep four Metro Detroit families in their homes—including one case where protesters blocked a dumpster that came to clear out the house.

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Education
9:58 pm
Wed February 8, 2012

Detroit closes, consolidates more schools in ongoing transformation effort

Southwestern High School is one of the Detroit schools that will close for good.

The Detroit Public School system will shrink again next fall, as the district scrambles to revamp itself amidst declining enrollment.

This is just the latest in several waves of restructuring, as the district must constantly re-adjust to a student population that shrinks every year—and has fallen about 60% overall since 2000, from more than 167,000 students to about 69,000.

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Politics
4:45 pm
Wed February 8, 2012

Ambassador Bridge owners say they'll comply with court order

Ambassador Bridge
Norris Wong Flickr

UPDATED: Thursday, Feb. 9 1:00 PM

Detroit International Bridge Company (DIBC) President Dan Stamper and Matty Moroun's son, Matthew, appeared before Judge Prentis Edwards in Wayne County Circuit Court today.

Both pledged that DIBC will comply with Edwards' order, and complete the Gateway Project according to specifications.

And both swore to cede power over the Gateway Project to a "special committee" as outlined in Michigan law--one that will include Stamper, but will otherwise be made up of outsiders.

DIBC lawyer Godfrey Dillard says his clients are doing what they can to "purge themselves of the contempt" charges that landed Stamper and Matty Moroun in jail briefly last month. But they still think the underlying court order is wrong--and will appeal that separately.

Dillard says the company has already started "de-construction" on their portion of the Gateway Project in order to comply.

But Tony Kratofil, Metro Region engineer for M-DOT, says it's "too soon to tell" whether all of this adds up to DIBC acting in good faith.

"It all sounds very good on the surface, but  we’ll see what actions play out in the next month,” Kratofil said.

Another hearing to monitor progress is scheduled for March 8th before Judge Edwards.

------------------

The company that owns the Ambassador Bridge says it will comply with a court order—and give up a years-long legal battle over a disputed construction project.

The announcement comes ahead of a scheduled hearing in Wayne County Circuit Court Thursday.

But the Detroit International Bridge Company won’t use it to keep fighting the February, 2010 court decision ordering them to finish the long-delayed Gateway Project.

That's a joint construction project with the Michigan Department of Transportation, meant to better connect the bridge with surrounding highways.

Instead, Bridge Company officials say they'll use the hearing to detail how they plan to comply.

The ongoing battle between the DIBC and MDOT landed DIBC President Dan Stamper and bridge owner Manuel "Matty" Moroun in jail overnight for civil contempt of court last month. Last week, the Michigan Court of Appeals upheld the lower court judge's right to incarcerate the two men, though not indefinitely.

Stamper admits the idea of returning there motivated them to cooperate. “It entered into all of our thoughts,” said Stamper.

Moroun's son, Matthew, added: "I don’t think any human being likes jail.”

Matthew Moroun says he and his father will also cede decision-making powers for the Gateway Project to a "special committee." They say that committee will include Stamper, but otherwise be made up of people from outside the DIBC.

Although they've now agreed to comply with, the DIBC continues to insist the court order is wrong. They've blamed MDOT all along for the construction delays, despite the court's decision and the findings of an independent monitor.

 

Politics
11:17 pm
Tue February 7, 2012

New law guarantees bonds for troubled school districts

Mercedes Mejia Michigan Radio

Governor Snyder has signed legislation he says will let financially-strapped school districts guarantee their bond payments—using state school aid funds.

The legislation applies to all school districts with deficit elimination plans or emergency managers. But it was written with the Detroit Public Schools in mind.

Detroit State Representative Fred Durhal, who sponsored the bill, says the new law should help set bondholders’ minds at ease.

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Religion
6:56 pm
Tue February 7, 2012

Sikh temple vandalized--but were Muslims the intended target?

Images of the vandalism at the Sterling Heights Sikh temple
Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund saldef.org

Vandals targeted a Sikh house of worship in suburban Detroit this week. But there are signs they intended to target Muslims.

According to the Sikh Society of Michigan, the Sikh temple (known as a Gurdwara) in Sterling Heights has been under construction for several years, without any incidents or controversy.

That changed when someone vandalized the building sometime on Sunday night.

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Politics
7:42 pm
Mon February 6, 2012

Court ruling is a victory for Highland Park activist, other Public Act 4 opponents

State Treasurer Andy Dillon leads the team reviewing Detroit's finances under Public Act 4.
Associated Press

An Ingham County Court Judge has ruled that the state review team looking at Detroit’s finances must meet in public.

The ruling is a victory for opponents of Public Act 4, the state law that strengthens the powers of emergency managers in fiscally-distressed cities.

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Politics
4:08 pm
Mon February 6, 2012

Appeals court says Moroun's jailing o.k. in dispute over Ambassador Bridge

Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel "Matty" Moroun could face more jail time after a hearing with Judge Edwards this week.
Jim Wallace Flickr

A three judge panel from the Michigan Court of Appeals has ruled that Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Prentis Edwards used his power appropriately when he jailed billionaire Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel "Matty" Moroun and his top company official, Detroit International Bridge Company President Dan Stamper, on January 12, 2012.

However, the court did say Judge Edwards didn't make the conditions of their release clear enough.

Lawyers representing Moroun and Stamper argued that their imprisonment was an improper use of the civil contempt of court power and "was invalid as a matter of law."

From the opinion of the Michigan Court of Appeals:

We disagree with appellants to the extent that they argue that incarceration was an improper use of the trial court’s civil contempt power; however, we agree with appellants that the trial court erred in requiring their continued incarceration until DIBC “fully complied with” the February 1, 2010, order...

Confinement or imprisonment may be imposed whether the contempt is civil or criminal in nature. Borden v Borden, 67 Mich App 45, 48; 239 NW2d 757 (1976). In the civil context, the confinement must be conditional.

The other two judges on the panel agreed with most of the decision, but not all. You can read Judge Fort Hood's opinion and Judge Wilder's opinion.

Moroun and Stamper were freed on appeal by the Michigan Court of Appeals on January 13 after spending the night in a county jail.

Now, after this Appeals Court ruling, the two top Ambassador Bridge officials will return to Wayne County Circuit Court this week.

And they’ll do so facing the possibility they could go back to jail if Judge Edwards crafts a new civil contempt of court order.

The whole issue stems from a dispute over the Gateway Project, a joint construction project between the DIBC and the Michigan Department of Transportation. The project was meant to build ramps that would better connect the Ambassador Bridge to surrounding highways, and keep truck traffic off residential streets.

The Appeals Court ruled that Edwards was within his rights when he ordered the two to jail. But they maintain Prentis's order that the two remain incarcerated until the Gateway Project is "complete"--something that will likely take months--was too vague.

The Appeals Court judges said Edwards would have to provide specifics on how Moroun and Stamper can remove the civil contempt of court ruling.

A Michigan Department of Transportation spokesman says the agency is pleased with the ruling, and is “eager” to see the more specific conditions the Judge lays out.

The Detroit International Bridge Company released a statement that was silent on most of the ruling, but noted the DIBC is "pleased with the recognition by the MI Court of Appeals today that the Ambassador Bridge Gateway Project must be finished." It went on to say:

"Given the events since the Court of Appeals accepted the appeal from Judge Edward’s order, MDOT announced its intent to begin completion of MDOT’s unfinished ramp. It is very clear that MDOT has held up construction, not DIBC...No one wants the Gateway completed more than us."

But a report from a court-appointed monitor who studied the Gateway dispute agrees largely with MDOT's position that the DIBC has held up the project.

A hearing before Judge Edwards is set for Thursday.

Politics
10:56 pm
Sun February 5, 2012

Alternate plan proposed for Detroit Council districts

The non-profit group Data Driven Detroit has released its own map suggesting how to divide the city into districts.

Detroit voters have chosen to elect seven of nine City Council members by district, rather than the present "at-large" system.

The City Planning Commission gave the Council four possible maps to consider.

But the non-profit group Data Driven Detroit has reviewed the data, and produced its own plan—one they’re calling “Option 5.”

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Politics
5:52 pm
Fri February 3, 2012

State rep jumps into Detroit mayor's race

Lisa Howze

Detroit State Representative Lisa Howze says she wants to be the city’s next Mayor—even if she has to do it alongside a state-appointed emergency manager.

Kicking off her campaign at a senior home in northeast Detroit, Howze, a first-term Democrat, said current Mayor Dave Bing’s biggest problem is a lack of vision.

She thinks that’s what Lansing is really looking for, as Governor Snyder mulls whether to appoint an emergency manager in Detroit.

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Education
7:20 pm
Wed February 1, 2012

Wayne State toughens admissions standards

Wayne State University is changing its admissions standards and retention policies in an effort to boost graduation rates.

Wayne State used to admit students automatically based on a minimum gradepoint average or test scores.

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