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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Greening of Detroit

Detroiters who want a say in how the city manages its land gathered for an environmental summit last week.

Activists and community leaders organized the summit so citizens could provide input on environmental aspects of the Detroit Works Project, an ongoing project to deal with the city’s huge swaths of vacant land.

Jackie Victor lives and owns a small business in Detroit.

She says city planners need to look at Detroit’s land and natural resources as assets rather than liabilities.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Governor Rick Snyder has appointed former GM Executive Roy Roberts to take over as the Detroit Public Schools’ Emergency Financial Manager.

Roberts has had a distinguished career in business and is considered a pioneer for African-Americans in the auto industry.

Snyder says he chose Roberts because he’s a “successful businessman and team builder.”

The Detroit Public Schools is moving ahead with its controversial 2012 Renaissance Plan.

That’s Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb’s plan to turn up to 50 current schools into charters, rather than closing them down.

Bobb says 18 organizations have submitted bids to transform some district schools into charters.

Both the Detroit City Council and Mayor Dave Bing say this is a crucial week for getting the city’s budget in order.

Detroit will end the fiscal year in June with a budget deficit of at least $180 million.

Both Mayor Bing and the Council declare they’ll work together to avoid a state takeover of the city’s finances.

cell phone picutre via Associated Press

Two Michigan Congressmen are urging President Obama to renew—and strengthen—sanctions against the Syrian government.

Livonia Republican Thaddeus McCotter and Detroit Democrat Hansen Clarke say they both support renewing targeted sanctions that lapse next month.

Both Congressmen also support strengthening those measures to include freezing Syrian officials’ U.S. assets, and prohibiting business with American companies.

Both say the sanctions should also be extended President Bashar Al-Assad’s, and other top official’s, families.

Detroit Police held the first of what they say will be quarterly community meetings Tuesday night.

Police Chief Ralph Godbee says the meetings are a way to share up-to-date crime data with Detroit residents.

Godbee says it’s also a way for the police and citizens to exchange information, and start tackling the city’s crime problem honestly.

The Detroit City Council heard some advice about the city’s budget situation Tuesday.

Council fiscal analyst Irvin Corley told them that Mayor Dave Bing’s proposed budget is “mostly reasonable.”

But Corley also warned that Bing’s proposal contains more than $200 million in “soft” revenue that might not materialize.

Corley says the Council should cut the Mayor’s budget further, and the two sides need to find an agreement that truly addresses the city’s fiscal problems.

Some Muslim and civil rights groups say Dearborn and Wayne County officials sent a bad message by prosecuting a controversial Florida pastor.

Terry Jones wanted to protest what he sees as encroaching “Sharia law” outside Dearborn’s Mosque of America last week.  But his plans were scuttled Friday, after a Wayne County jury found that his protest would “breach the peace.”

Michigan Attorney General's office

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette says that office’s Child Support Division has passed an important marker: It has now collected more than $100 million in child support for delinquent parents.

The division launched in 2003. Since then, it’s used Michigan’s tough child support laws to enforce court-ordered payments.

Michiganis the only state that makes failure to pay child support a four-year felony.

Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow and a top Obama Administration trade Official were in Detroit Tuesday, talking about how to boost U.S. exports.

President Obama wants to double U.S. exports by 2015.  Under Secretary for International Trade Francisco Sanchez joined Stabenow to trade ideas with local business leaders.

Sanchez says the Obama administration is making progress on leveling the playing field for U.S. exports.

Detroit and Wayne County officials say they feel like Michigan State Police have “stabbed them in the back."

That’s because State Police have backed off a plan to put a full-service crime lab in a former casino the city plans to turn into its new police headquarters.

But the state later decided that wasn’t the best use of money. They say Detroit Police need more help handling and submitting evidence.

user westsideshooter / Flickr

Gun rights advocates will gather at a Detroit restaurant Monday night for an “open carry” dinner.

Organizer Rick Ector runs Rick’s Firearm Academy in Detroit and the blog Legally Armed in Detroit.

Ector says the dinner is a “family-oriented” event meant to make “law-abiding” Detroiters aware of their right to openly carry guns in many public places.

“There’s a significant percentage of people that do open carry in Detroit. But primarily when you hear about open carry, it’s done outside of the city limits. And for those individuals who are really specifically inside of Detroit proper, I wanted to be the voice out there sharing this information.”

Michigan law doesn’t explicitly permit open carry, but doesn’t forbid it either. Those carrying openly must have a registered weapon “clearly displayed,” be at least 18 years old, and stay out of designated “pistol-free zones.”

The Bluepointe restaurant on Detroit’s east side is hosting the dinner, which Ector says he initially thought would draw about 50 people.

But he says the event has gotten so much attention he now has “no idea how many people will show up.”

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

With immigration reform bogged down in Congress and perennially on the back burner, the Obama administration is pushing a more aggressive deportation agenda. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement plans to deport a record number of people this year.

If the agency has their way, one of them will be Ola Kaso, an 18-year-old girl from Sterling Heights. She’ll be forced to leave just days after she graduates high school as one of the top students in her class.

Some people got locked out of today's Detroit City Council meeting, where Detroit Mayor Dave Bing was laying out a 5-year budget plan that called for cutting employee pension and health care costs.

Council security told citizens and several reporters that they couldn't come in because the hearing room was "filled to capacity."

That escalated into a dispute between security guards and the people who demanded their right to enter under the state's Open Meetings Act.

Detroit resident and volunteer organizer Felicia Sanders wanted to hear Bing's presentation.

"If you get up and you're willing to attend a meeting to fight and speak out for your city, you should be allowed to participate in the meeting."

Sanders and others questioned why the City Council didn't hold the hearing in a much larger public auditorium just across the hall.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

The Detroit Public Schools held the first in a series of parent meetings about a radical plan to close some schools and turn others into charter schools.

Detroit schools’ Emergency Financial Manager, Robert Bobb, proposes closing six schools and making up to 45 others into charters.

18 of those schools will close this summer if no charter operator takes over. 27 others will have the opportunity to go charter, but would stay open as public schools if that doesn’t happen.

Bobb says that’s a better option than a state-mandated deficit-elimination plan, which would close 40 schools outright.

Most parents who attended the first meeting at Priest Elementary school in southwest Detroit expressed concern and even anger about Bobb’s plan. Many worry what it will mean for their neighborhood schools, student transportation, and special needs students.

Danielle Clark’s eleven-year-old daughter attends the Detroit Day School for the Deaf. Bobb’s plan calls for that school to close.

“This should not be an option, to close the only deaf school in Detroit. I drive 40 miles one way because this is my daughter’s culture and her environment and this is the place where she needs to be.”

District spokesman Steve Wasko says concerned parents will have a chance to make their case directly to Bobb in other meetings this month.

“We may learn something about a school…that it’s not a good candidate for closure or charter. In some cases we may learn that a school that we thought was a candidate for charter just simply has no interest from a charter. And if it’s on the list of 18, it would indeed close. If it’s on the larger list it would remain open.”

Bobb and the Detroit School Board will also hold two town meetings about the plan on April 12th and 13th.

Elaine Roach via Musicians of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra

Detroit Symphony Orchestra musicians say they’ll return to the stage for rehearsal on Thursday.

DSO officials have announced a tentative agreement that would end a bitter six-months-long players’ strike.

Detroit Symphony officials canceled the whole concert season in February, when it seemed like feuding Orchestra players and management just couldn’t agree on a new contract. The two sides had deadlocked for months over issues ranging from pay to musicians’ outside teaching obligations.

But under mounting political pressure and after a marathon weekend bargaining session, the two sides hammered out a tentative work agreement.

Musicians’ union President Gordon Stump wouldn’t talk specifics. An official ratification vote will wrap up on Friday.

Stump says musicians are happy the strike will end even though they’re “not crazy” about parts of the agreement.

“I’m sure the management wasn’t crazy about it either. But most of the things that we had a problem with are gone. In that sense, I think it was a resolution we could all live with.”

Stump says the strike was “a long, protracted struggle, and it’s going to take a long time to heal.”

The strike cost the Orchestra some musicians, including its whole percussion section.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Hundreds of labor union supporters rallied against attacks on collective bargaining rights in Detroit Monday.

The rally was one of dozens nationwide commemorating Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination.

King was killed during a 1968 trip to Memphis to support that city’s striking black sanitation workers. National labor leaders are highlighting this lesser-known part of King’s legacy as they fight new state laws that restrict unions’ collective bargaining rights.

Canton resident Natalie Mosher came to the downtown Detroit rally. She says Governor Snyder and state Republicans have gone too far.

"I’m here to support all working people. I was a former teacher and I think what is happening in Michigan today is just not acceptable.”

The Governor recently signed a bill granting Emergency Financial Managers broad powers, including the right to throw out union contracts.

Former Delphi worker Stacey Kemp drove from near Saginaw to attend the rally. Kemp says everyone should be concerned about the many new state laws that restrict workers’ right to collective bargaining.

“Whether they’re union or non-union, this is going to directly affect all middle and working-class people. If they’re allowed to get away with this, we might as well just kiss our grandchildren goodbye, and they’re going to live in a third-world country.”

The AFL-CIO and other organizers say the King-inspired rallies are part of a continued campaign to fight that law and similar measures in other states.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user tEdGuY49

Detroit is home to one of the world’s largest incinerators. That facility burns around 800,000 tons of trash every year.

The issue has sparked passionate conflict in Detroit for more than 20 years. And a recent public hearing—on whether to give the incinerator’s new owners tax credits—showed that conflict is just as intense as ever.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

The city of Detroit and Bank of America have announced what both call “the start of a new partnership.”

Bank of America says it will demolish 100 “vacant and low-value” homes in Detroit at their own expense.

The bank says it will also donate 10 refurbished homes to the city’s Project 14. That’s an effort to lure Detroit police officers back to the city with housing incentives.

Hanneorla / Flickr

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing says he wants a recount of Detroit’s 2010 census numbers. That data shows the city with its smallest population since 1910.

Bing says he thinks census numbers that fix Detroit’s population at just under 714,000 are wrong.

 Bing says a recount could turn up as many as 40,000 more residents. That would put the city above a key 750,000 person threshold.

Sarah Cwiek/Michigan Radio

The Detroit International Bridge Company, owners of the Ambassador Bridge, has settled a lawsuit with the owners of a bait shop.

Lafayette Bait and Tackle sits near where the Detroit International Bridge Company hopes to build a second span. The company purchased the land to remove what it saw as a final obstacle to their plans.

Both sides in the case agree fault lay primarily with the bait shop’s former landlord, a group called Commodities Export.

Detroit officials say a plan to lure police officers back to the city is being implemented and will likely expand.

The city rolled out what it calls Project 14last month, and briefed the Detroit City Council about it Monday.

The goal is to lure Detroit cops living in the suburbs back to the city with housing incentives in two neighborhoods.

www.sefmd.org

Students from 143 Detroit area schools competed in the Metro Detroit Science and Engineering Fair Wednesday.

Almost 1400 middle and high school students displayed their projects at Detroit’s Cobo Center. Students from Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb county schools showed off research projects in 13 categories, ranging from computer science to zoology.

Fair organizers say participation in the fair is trending upward, and participation from Detroit Public Schools students shot up dramatically this year.

Two top Obama administration officials want people to know that cracking down on Medicare fraud is a “Cabinet-level priority.”

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius talked about those efforts at a Wayne State University summit Tuesday. The two have been holding “Health Care Fraud Prevention Summits” across the country.

Sebelius says government agencies and law enforcement are now using new tools to root out that fraud.

The man in charge of the Detroit Public Schools’ finances has put forth a plan that would turn some of the district’s worst schools into charter schools.

Robert Bobb presented his “Renaissance Plan 2012” to the Detroit Board of Education over the weekend.

The plan calls for turning 41 of the district’s remaining 142 schools over to charter operators. District spokesman Steve Wasko says it would allow the district to move at least $75 million in expenses off its books.

“This is an alternative that would allow the Detroit Public Schools to shed all of the operating costs of the identified schools, to be borne by an outside management company or charter operator.”

Wasko says Bobb will identify those schools and open up the application process later this week.

Skeptics question whether the amount of money the plan saves would make up what the district would lose in state per-pupil funding. David Arsen, Professor of Educational Policy at Michigan State University, says it’s not quite clear how the plan would save so much money.

“If the 41 schools are converted to charters, DPS would avoid its current operations expenditures on those buildings. On the other hand, the district would also lose nearly all of the state funding it currently receives for educating the students in those schools.”

The State Department of Education would have to sign off too, because the proposal would change the deficit elimination plan the state ordered Bobb to implement.

Bobb says his proposal would still advance the deficit elimination plan, while avoiding what he calls “draconian” measures, such as shutting down half the district’s remaining schools.

Photo courtesy of Hantz Farms

John Hantz wants to turn a blighted swath of Detroit into what he calls "the world’s largest urban farm." But the project, which has been in the works for nearly two years, has been slow to get off the ground. 

City officials just approved a deal to let Hantz Farms buy 20 city lots (about five acres) adjacent to their headquarters. The company plans to clean up the land and create some small orchards.

Roadblocks to city farming

  • Hantz Farms is not allowed to sell anything they grow there.
  • Large-scale farming requires re-zoning for agriculture, which brings the Michigan Right to Farm Act into play; that law is meant to protect farmers from people who complain about the sounds and smells of regular farming. Some people worry it would give Hantz Farms’ neighbors little recourse if there are problems.

Chrysler’s now-famous “Imported from Detroit” Super Bowl ad is getting recognition from city leaders.

The Detroit City Council honored the Chrysler Group with a testimonial resolution Tuesday.

Councilman Andre Spivey, who sponsored the resolution, says the “phenomenal” ad was about much more than a car.

“I don’t think Chrysler intended it to be what it turned out to be. But I think it inspired many people in Detroit to say hey, this is our city. We have a good city. We have our challenges, yes…but I think we can come back. And I think it gave us a little spark of energy to go on and see what else we can do.”

Chrysler Group President Olivier Francois accepted the award on the company’s behalf.

Francois says Chrysler meant the ad as a tribute to Detroit, but didn’t think it would have so much resonance.

“For sure, the Super Bowl commercial has been promoting a lot beyond the car itself and beyond the company. It did I think a great job for the city."

The commercial’s “Imported from Detroit” catchphrase has become so popular Chrysler is putting it on t-shirts and other merchandise.

Francois says some proceeds from those sales will go to four still-to-be-named Detroit charities.

City of Hamtramck website

This Tuesday is Fat Tuesday, the last day before the 40 days of sacrifice that come with the Christian season of Lent.

But in Metro Detroit and other communities with large Polish populations, the day is better known as “Paczki Day.”

Sandy Bakic has spent her whole life making the fried, doughy pastries at the Martha Washington Bakery in Hamtramck. That small enclave is the historic center of Detroit’s Polish community.

Bakic says the day has become a festival for everyone in Hamtramck, regardless of race or religion.

“It’s going to be festive. It’s gonna be a happy time. There’s paczki parties all over town. There’s paczki eating contests still going on. The Paczki Cup is in our window on display right now.”

Bakic says she and other employees have been making the sweet treats since midnight Monday. The bakery will stay open all night to serve paczki-seekers from all over southeast Michigan.

Hamtramck also celebrates with a Paczki Day parade, lots of free entertainment, and a generally party-like atmosphere.

The Michigan State Police have asked the Wayne County Prosecutors office to issue an arrest warrant in the Aiyana Jones case.

A Detroit Police officer killed seven-year-old Aiyana Jones last May, as a police team raided her family’s home looking for a murder suspect.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

In Detroit, the school district is grappling with a $327 million dollar budget deficit. That’s led the district’s state-appointed Emergency Financial Manager, Robert Bobb, to put forth a deficit elimination plan that would close half the district’s schools.  

Bobb himself calls the deficit elimination plan “draconian.” In January, Bobb gave it to the state of Michigan, warning it was the only way for the Detroit Public Schools to in his words “cut its way out” of its deficit.

The State Department of Education says that’s exactly what Bobb should do.

“We’re working through some very difficult and challenging budget situations.”

That was Bobb’s cautious take on the subject last week. He backed away somewhat from one of the plan’s most staggering provisions—60 kids in some classrooms. But he says class sizes will go up as the district closes about half its schools. The plan also calls for replacing individual school principals with “regional” ones, and cutting all general bus service.

Word of the huge cuts is just trickling down to everyone. Maddie Wright found out when she attended a workshop at the Marcus Garvey Academy on Detroit’s east side. Wright, who’s raising a grandson in the seventh grade, says she doesn’t like the idea of less individual attention for kids—especially in subjects like math, where she struggles to help with homework.

“The way he’s doing it…I don’t know anything. So the only somebody who can help him is some of those younger teachers, that’s been there. Because I can’t.”

Bobb has proposed another alternative. That’s to put the Detroit Public Schools through a bankruptcy process similar to what General Motors did. It would allow the system leave much of its debt behind, and emerge with a new balance sheet.

Detroit State Representative David Nathan, a Democrat, says he’s all right with the bankruptcy option.  But he says state officials have told him that even talking about it will hurt the state’s bond rating.

“We should allow the district to do that. And we should not sacrifice the kids of the city of Detroit to save a bond rating for the state. Those are MY children in that school district.”

But the state’s Education Department nixed that option. State Republicans are also pushing legislation that gives state-appointed financial managers broad powers, including the right to throw out union contracts. Democrat Nathan says he’s working on a compromise bill that would avoid both bankruptcy and the worst cuts.

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