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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Imagine watching a place you love—and that your family has loved, for generations—fall into disrepair.

That’s what it’s been like for many Detroit baseball fans, who consider the corner of Michigan and Trumbull Avenues to be sacred ground. That’s the site of the old Tiger Stadium, which was demolished in 2009.

One group of fans decided to do something about that. The only problem: the land isn’t theirs to maintain. And while they may see themselves as being helpful, the city of Detroit sees it differently.

Former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick faces federal charges that he ran the city’s water department like an organized crime syndicate. Now, one county served by the water department wants some of that money back. From the Detroit Free Press:

Macomb County wants $25.5 million from former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, his former aide, his former contractor friend and former director of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department saying they schemed to overcharge the county for a work on a collapsed sewer line in Sterling Heights.

Staff / Michigan Municipal League

Governor Snyder and other leaders talked immigration and Michigan’s economic future at a conference in Detroit. Organizers say they want to change the conversation about immigrants and the economy. They maintain immigration is a key driver of economic growth.

Via detroitworksproject.com

The federal government is throwing its support behind Detroit Mayor Dave Bing’s Detroit Works Project. That’s a controversial effort to focus resources on Detroit’s more vibrant neighborhoods. It appeared to have stalled in recent months.

John Smaltak / modernstreetcar.org

Federal officials and Detroit civic leaders want to reassure people that a light rail project is still going forward. Those reassurances come after a week of press reports and swirling rumors that some of the project’s private backers may be pulling out. A group of private investors had pledged $100 million to finance the Woodward Avenue rail line. That money is crucial for the city to get federal matching grants.

Oakland County

Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson says the county’s budget is balanced for the next three years.

 Patterson laid out his recommendations for a triennial budget to Oakland County Commissioners Wednesday night.

 Patterson says that long-term planning has been key to maintaining the county’s AAA bond rating, even as property tax revenues plummet.

 Patterson says the county has also managed to avoid cutting employee salaries and mass layoffs.

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing says there’s no more reason to negotiate with City Council over the budget. That means he’ll implement the Council-approved budget, even though he maintains it will mean devastating cuts. Bing and the Council have been wrestling for months over how much money to cut from next fiscal year’s budget. Council wants to cut $50 million more than Bing. Bing then proposed an amendment to restore $30 million, but Council voted that down Tuesday.

Photo courtesy of Detroit Public Schools

Detroit Public Schools emergency manager Roy Roberts says he’s on a mission from the Governor to make the schools work. Roberts spoke at a public hearing Monday night to discuss next school year’s proposed district budget. Roberts spoke only briefly about his budget proposal. It calls for cutting more than 850 positions, and all wages by 10-percent. Roberts then listened silently to concerns from parents, teachers, and other school staff…some of whom took the opportunity to shout at him. Keith Johnson is President of the Detroit Federation of Teachers.

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

Governor Rick Snyder says the state will take a dramatically new to approach to its worst schools--starting in Detroit.

Years of turmoil and power struggles over the Detroit Public Schools have left a polarizing legacy in the city. That history has left many Detroiters absorbing Snyder’s plan with a cautious sense of déjà vu.

The owners of the Ambassador Bridge say a disputed construction project will get done by a court-imposed January 2012 deadline.

The Detroit International Bridge Company and the Michigan Department of Transportation have been in court for two years over the Gateway Project, a disputed construction project meant to better connect the bridge with surrounding highways

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

Michigan will try a drastic new approach to fix its failing public schools.

The state will put what it designates as “persistently low-performing schools” in a special, statewide school district.

The effort will start in Detroit. The city’s public school system has gained national notoriety for its rock-bottom test scores, and is already run by a state-appointed emergency manager.

That manager will jumpstart the effort to put some Detroit schools in what the state is calling an “Educational Achievement System” starting in the fall of 2012.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

A contentious land dispute between a Detroit small business and a community garden has been resolved in the business’s favor.

The Detroit City Council voted this week to allow Canine To Five, a dog day care facility, to buy adjacent property to expand its business.

That land is currently occupied by the Birdtown Community garden.

Liz Blondy owns Canine to five. She says she’s disappointed that the dispute was framed as a “business versus gardens” issue.

The Detroit City Council appears to be standing firm in an ongoing battle with Mayor Dave Bing over how much to cut from the city’s budget. The Council wants to cut more from the budget than Bing to chip away at the city’s roughly $155 million accumulated deficit. But Bing says that’s irresponsible.

A Wayne County Circuit Court Judge has heard arguments in a case that involves Michigan’s medical marijuana law.

The Michigan ACLU is suing the city of Livonia (and two other Detroit suburbs with similar laws) on behalf of Linda Lott, who suffers from multiple sclerosis.

Lott and her husband want to grow marijuana on property they own in Livonia. But the city passed an ordinance prohibiting any activity that violates federal law.

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing.
Kate Davidson / Michigan Radio

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing has raised the stakes in his ongoing budget battle with the Detroit City Council. Bing and the City Council have been sparring over how much to shave off the city’s budget. The Council wants to cut $50 million more than Bing. Last week, the Council overrode Bing’s veto, meaning its budget is set to go into effect July 1. But Bing says those extra cuts “won’t solve” the city’s fiscal crisis.

An environmental group is calling on Michigan lawmakers and President Obama to ban the natural gas extraction process known as “fracking.”

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, involves injecting a high-pressure mix of water, sand and chemicals into underground rock formations to release natural gas.

Food and Water Watch says fracking poses an “unacceptable risk” to water supplies and human health. Several recent investigations have shown that fracking contaminated groundwater in several states.

Lynna Kaucheck is with Food and Water Watch in Detroit. She says northern Michigan is a current hotspot for fracking exploration.

“The northern part of the lower Peninsula sits on the Collingwood-Utica shale which is very deep deposits of shale gas. And so right now a lot of out of-state-companies are purchasing mineral rights so they can begin horizontal fracking for natural gas.”

Kauchek says that could to lead to chemically-contaminated groundwater, and pose a risk to the state’s agricultural and tourism industries.

“We don’t believe that fracking can be done safely. Especially not the way that they’re doing it right now.”

State environmental regulators say the gas is so deep in the ground that fracking shouldn’t affect water supplies. They acknowledge some concerns, but say the practice is generally safe.

American Federation of Teachers

The leader of the nation’s second-largest teacher’s union made a pitch for empowering teachers in Detroit. American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten toured Palmer Park Preparatory Academy. The district says the school has been transformed for the better in the past year, since teachers took control of most school functions, including the budget and curriculum.

The AFT touts the school’s success as “a model of successful union-district collaboration and teacher accountability.”

Residents in a Southwest Detroit neighborhood found what appeared to be eviction notices on their front doors Monday. The notices were actually flyers distributed by the group Americans for Prosperity in the city’s Delray neighborhood. The flyers warned residents that the state will seize their homes, if legislators approve a plan for a new bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor.

The Detroit City Council has voted to override Mayor Dave Bing’s budget. The City Council added $50 million in additional cuts to Bing’s budget. By overriding his veto, they put those cuts into effect. Bing blasted the Council afterward, saying the cuts will lead to public safety layoffs. He also says their action could move the city toward a takeover by an Emergency Manager. City Council President Charles Pugh called that assertion “idiotic.”

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius toured facilities at Detroit’s Henry Ford Hospital Friday. Sebelius was there to promote the department’s Partnership for Patients initiative. More than 1500 hospitals have signed on so far. That program aims to save more than 60,000 lives over three years, by cutting preventable injuries and complications that result from hospital visits. Sebelius says about one in three Americans leave hospitals in worse shape than when they arrived.

The Detroit Police Chief admits the department left its former crime lab in deplorable condition. But Ralph Godbee also insists that no evidence that could compromise ongoing criminal cases was left behind there. The Detroit Police Department shuttered its crime lab in 2008, after investigations revealed numerous problems with testing and handling evidence.

The Detroit City Council has set up a meeting to override Mayor Dave Bing’s likely budget veto.

Bing said last week he’ll veto the Council’s budget proposal. He has until the end of this week to do so.

The two sides are at odds over the Council’s decision to cut an additional $50 million from Bing’s proposed budget.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

The city of Dearborn held its 87th annual Memorial Day parade Monday.

It’s the longest-running Memorial Day celebration in the state.

This year’s parade honored veterans of the Vietnam War. It’s been 50 years since the U.S. first became involved in that conflict.

The events included a funeral procession for several veterans, and a Remembrance Service.

Judy Carty watched the parade alongside her husband, a Korean War veteran.

Carty says as someone who protested the Vietnam War, she had “mixed feelings” about the proceedings.

Many people call Detroit a “post-industrial” city.

But residents in one corner of the city still live alongside a cluster of heavy industry, and they say it’s affecting their health. Now, community members in southwest Detroit want the state to do more to find out just how extensive those health impacts might be.

Southwest Detroit is home to a number of heavy industrial sites. Some effects can be seen with the naked eye: from hazy diesel truck fumes to an eerie metallic dust residents say has rained down on their neighborhood. But others are more subtle. The neighborhood is full of children with asthma. Residents also blame the pollution for cancer and other deadly illnesses, though such a link hasn’t been definitively established.

Now, southwest Detroit residents are pushing hard for the government to launch a thorough investigation into those potential health impacts.

Michigan’s system of providing lawyers for indigent defendants is so bad it amounts to a “constitutional crisis.”

The Michigan ACLU and the Michigan Campaign for Justice produced the report called “Faces of Failing Public Defense Systems.”

It profiles 13 men who spent time in prison, even though there was evidence of their innocence.

User P.E.C. / Flickr

The American Federation of Teachers says its Michigan “Lobby Day” will “educate” legislators about the effect of state education cuts.

Teachers and school employees from all over the state descended on Lansing Tuesday for the Lobby Day, including a group from Detroit.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has ended a controversial program targeting men from majority-Muslim countries.

The National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) began in the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks.

The program required men from predominantly Muslim nations and North Korea living in the U.S. to be interviewed and fingerprinted by Homeland Security.

Detroit Public Schools

The Detroit Public Schools’ new Emergency Financial manager started the job Monday.

Former GM Executive Roy Roberts toured several Detroit schools and met with staff.

Roberts says the district must undergo a “cultural change” and reject a “Rodney Dangerfield kind of mentality” for students to succeed.

Charles Pugh

The city of Detroit is ramping up efforts to cobble together a budget and a five-year deficit elimination plan. Detroit City Council members got a copy of Mayor Dave Bing’s deficit elimination plan Tuesday. The Council wants more cuts than Bing proposed. They say that’s necessary to avoid a possible state takeover of the city’s finances. Council President Charles Pugh says a Council work group believes the city should cut at least $120 million from the upcoming budget.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Michigan will get just under $200 million to boost rail service between Detroit and Chicago.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood made the official announcement alongside state and local officials in Detroit Monday.

The federal money comes with no strings attached. Officials say it will let them upgrade a stretch of track between Dearborn and Kalamazoo.

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