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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State of Michigan / Michigan.gov

Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr has given the city’s leaders a pay raise.

Orr signed an order hiking city appointees and elected officials’ pay by 5% on June 30th. It went into effect July 1.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan seemed genuinely surprised to hear that news on Tuesday.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan is expanding his program to seize houses that violate the city’s nuisance abatement laws—and this time, he’s going after drug houses.

On Tuesday, Duggan announced an initiative to seize and auction off homes that have been raided twice for drug activity.

Duggan says more than 300 homeowners have already been put on notice—and that starting next week, their neighbors will start getting notices in the form of postcards, too.

University of Michigan Health System

A new University of Michigan study suggests muscle and bone injuries are the most prevalent common factor among soldiers deemed “unfit” for further military service—but other factors play nearly as a big a role.

The researchers followed an Army brigade of more than 4100 soldiers who deployed to Iraq in 2006 through their 15-month deployment, and for another four years after they returned.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Thousands of Detroit residents are without water service right now due to unpaid bills—but social service agencies and community groups are trying to make sure no one goes thirsty.

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department cut off service to more than 7500 delinquent account-holders in April and May—and ramped up shutoffs in June.

Department officials say it’s a necessary step to collect millions of dollars in back payments.

But critics say it’s caused real suffering, and could lead to a public health crisis.

via Center for American Progress

Michigan will probably receive some refugee children from Central America—but not an “overwhelming number” of them, according to one immigrant rights advocate.

About 50,000 unaccompanied minors, mostly from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, have overwhelmed the southern border in recent months. Most say they’re fleeing mounting gang violence, chronic poverty, and social breakdown in those countries.

Andrew Jameson

Governor Snyder has named Brad Coulter as emergency manager for the city of Lincoln Park.

Coulter will take a leave of absence from his job as a consultant with O’Keefe & Associates, a firm specializing in turnaround restructuring and corporate finance services, to try and balance the downriver Detroit suburb’s books.

Lincoln Park’s mayor and city council asked the Michigan Department of Treasury to review its finances last year.

wikimedia commons

Aramark Correctional Services, the private company that provides food to Michigan prisons, is in trouble again.

Inmates at the Charles Egeler Reception & Guidance Center in Jackson found maggots while peeling potatoes Tuesday morning.

Michigan Department of Corrections spokesman Russ Marlan says the warden was notified, and quickly moved to dispose of all the potatoes.

The kitchen was then thoroughly bleached. No resulting health problems have been reported.

Center for Zoo Animal Welfare

Top officials from the Detroit Zoological Society are headed to Beijing, where they’ll lead a workshop for senior staff from China’s three largest zoos.

CEO Ron Kagan is touring the zoos in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou to scope out current animal care practices there.

Chief Life Sciences Officer Scott Carter says Kagan will brief the team on his findings in Beijing, so they have a good sense of where the Chinese zoos stand going into the four-day workshop.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

This week, the Detroit Journalism Cooperative is looking at how the city is functioning under bankruptcy.

Mayor Mike Duggan says his top priority is reversing the city’s long population decline.

But there are a couple key quality of life issues Duggan has no control over. One of them is the city’s schools.

Here’s the story of one Detroit family’s effort to find good schools.

Meet the Hills

Sam Beebe

The judge in charge of Detroit’s bankruptcy case tentatively agreed Thursday to tour parts of the city—despite concerns about his safety.

City lawyers have been pushing Judge Steven Rhodes to take a city bus tour for some time now.

They say the judge needs to see the conditions in Detroit neighborhoods firsthand, to help him make informed decisions in the case.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

A Michigan environmental group says gardeners should be careful when buying plants – they may be inadvertently harming bees.

The Ann Arbor-based Ecology Center was part of a study looking at the pesticide content in plants bought from major home and garden stores in 18 cities across North America.

Of four plants purchased at a metro Detroit Home Depot, two tested positive for neonicotinoids, a class of pesticides known to be toxic to bees.

dwsd.org

The people who run Detroit’s water system faced fierce criticism Wednesday, after the United Nations issued a statement calling the city’s mass water shutoffs a possible human rights violation.

Critics lined up to blast officials at a Board of Water Commissioners meeting for ongoing efforts to cut off customers with unpaid bills.

Many cited the UN’s assertion that “when there is genuine inability to pay, human rights simply forbids disconnections.”

via city of Detroit

A group of Detroit residents says a developer is trying to throw them out of homes he doesn’t even own.

Developer Peter Barclae built the Gratiot McDougall Homes in 2006 with the help of federal grant money.

The homes were built specifically for Detroit participants in the federal HOME Investment Partnerships program, run by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Hundreds of people gathered at a Warren park this past weekend for a picnic celebrating World Refugee Day--and the area’s growing refugee community.

According to state data, of the 4658 refugees re-settled in Michigan last year, nearly three-quarters are from Iraq.

And many of them have settled in Macomb County suburbs, particularly Sterling Heights and Warren.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette is jumping in the fight to prevent one of Detroit’s major creditors from accessing the personal financial records of city retirees.

Bond insurer Syncora Guarantee Inc. is on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars if Detroit’s plan for exiting bankruptcy moves forward.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Wayne County treasurer Raymond Wojtowicz’s office has filed a lawsuit to collect about $80 million in delinquent property taxes.

The irony is that these are taxes owed on properties the county once owned, but sold at auction after they were foreclosed on...for delinquent property taxes.

via Education Achievement Authority

The Education Achievement Authority’s new leader says that system has already “shattered the status quo” in some of Michigan’s most troubled schools.

But Veronica Conforme says EAA leaders also need to “take a hard look” at how the district is performing.

Conforme outlined her vision for the state-run school reform district Wednesday, one day after the EAA board named her interim chancellor.

Former Chancellor John Covington, who had led the district since it launched in 2012, stepped down Monday.

via Education Achievement Authority

It’s only Wednesday, but it’s already been a very turbulent week for the Education Achievement Authority.

The EAA board met Tuesday, the day after former Chancellor John Covington announced he was resigning for personal reasons. Covington was not in attendance as board members accepted his resignation.

The EAA is a state-led “reform district” for Michigan’s lowest-performing schools.

It’s Gov. Rick Snyder’s chief education initiative, and Covington has been at the helm since it launched in 2012 with 15 former Detroit Public Schools.

The budget approved last week by state lawmakers includes money to help prosecute some sexual assault cases. The $3 million allocation will go toward prosecutions that stem from testing old rape kits.

More than 11,000 unprocessed rape kits were found in an abandoned Detroit Police crime lab in 2009. Since then, Michigan State Police and county prosecutors have struggled to process the backlog. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette’s office will get to divvy up those funds.

“The appropriation calls for us to develop a plan for how the money will be spent, and that’s what we’re working on right now,” said office spokeswoman Joy Yearout. Yearout said there was no formal deadline for submitting that plan, but the office is “fast-tracking” the process.

The current fiscal year’s budget included $4 million to help speed the process of testing those rape kits. “The next step will be investigation and prosecution that will result from that testing,” said Yearout.

A New York-based developer has agreed to buy the site of a disastrous movie studio project that pushed Allen Park to the brink of bankruptcy.

The downriver Detroit suburb bought the 104-acre complex specifically for the project known as Unity Studios.

But the developer walked away after a year –after Allen Park had issued $25.5 million in bonds to support Unity Studios.

That debt eventually led to the state taking control of the city’s finances.

Detroit is now home to a designated “innovation district.”

Mayor Mike Duggan and other officials announced Thursday that Detroit was joining the Brookings Institution national initiative to recharge metropolitan economies.

Backers say those districts are a way to “supercharge the innovation economy.”

A DWSD interceptor sewer line during construction in 2001. This line is north of Detroit in the Clinton River watershed
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Detroit Water and Sewerage Department officials say they’re working to put the system on sound financial footing – including raising rates and shutting off service to thousands of households.

Water department officials briefed the Detroit City Council on planned rate hikes Tuesday.

They propose hiking the typical Detroit residential customer’s water bill by 8.7% to 10.4%.

The Detroit Institute of Arts.
Detroit Institute of Arts

The Detroit Institute of Arts is getting more help raising money for its share of the deal meant to shield its collection from possible liquidation.

The New York-based Mellon Foundation and Los Angeles-based J. Paul Getty Trust have committed a combined $13 million toward the “grand bargain.”

That proposal would direct more than $800 million to Detroit’s pension funds--sparing pensioners from severe cuts, while legally safeguarding the DIA’s assets from being sold to pay off city creditors.

The DIA needs to come up with a $100 million contribution to the grand bargain, this new commitment puts them more than 80% of the way there.

Getty Trust President and CEO James Cuno says the two foundations made a decision to contribute on their own.

“We jointly made the commitment,” Cuno says. “There was no conversation with the DIA about it, no request from the DIA.”

Cuno says the donation reflects the North American art world’s support for maintaining the DIA’s collection as a civic institution and public resource “in perpetuity.”

If put up for sale, the collection “would be lost to private individuals around the world,” Cuno says. “And the public of Detroit, and surrounding suburbs, would be deprived of a public resource they once had.”

Cuno says it’s “too soon to tell” whether the money will be disbursed to the museum as a lump sum upfront, or spread out over a period of years. Donors and museum officials are waiting for the larger grand bargain to be finalized.

Earlier this week, Detroit’s 3 automakers pledged a combined $26 million toward the DIA’s contribution.

Judge Steven Rhodes has set an Aug. 14 trial on Detroit's plan to get out of bankruptcy.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

GM shareholders meet today at the automaker’s Detroit headquarters—with protesters circling outside the Renaissance Center.

The protesters include family members of people who died in GM cars that have since been recalled.

GM has acknowledged 13 deaths as a result of faulty ignition switches. But victim’s advocates say that number is much higher, possibly more than 100.

Laura Christian’s daughter, Amber Marie Rose, died when the airbag in her 2005 Chevy Cobalt failed to deploy.

American Federation of Teachers Michigan

Teachers and staff at Detroit’s first unionized charter school have reached a tentative collective bargaining agreement.

Teachers at Detroit’s Cesar Chavez Academy formally joined the American Federation of Teachers in February 2013.

via Detroit Institute of Arts

The city of Detroit moved to finalize its end of the “grand bargain” Thursday, as the Detroit City Council voted to transfer the Detroit Institute of Arts’ assets to a public trust.

This week, Lansing lawmakers approved $195 million toward the $816 million grand bargain – a linchpin of Detroit’s bankruptcy restructuring plan.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

The conflict in Syria has faded from the headlines—but the country’s brutal war continues.

Protesters in Detroit and cities across the globe tried to get that message out Tuesday, by reading aloud the names of 100,000 people killed in the conflict.

Members of Michigan’s Syrian community and their supporters chose the Underground Railroad monument on the Detroit Riverwalk for their remembrance.

Jihad al-Harash is from Damascus, but has been living in Michigan since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in 2011.

As “grand bargain” legislation sails through Lansing, the fate of Detroit’s water department could become the biggest issue holding up a speedy exit from bankruptcy.

Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr maintains the city needs to find some way to generate revenue from the system, which serves more than 4 million people in southeast Michigan.

Orr is still pursuing two different possibilities: spinning the department off to a regional water authority, or leasing it to a private operator.

There’s an effort underway to make sure kids who usually get breakfast at school don’t go hungry in the summer months.

This is the fifth year that nurses at the Detroit Medical Center’s Children’s Hospital have taken up a cereal drive for those at-risk kids.

The drive was the brainchild of Pam Taurence and her colleagues on the Professional Nurse Council.

Taurence says it started in 2010, when the group was trying to come up with an idea for a community service project.

The court ruling that put Detroit Congressman John Conyers back on the primary ballot is also a victory for voting rights advocates.

A federal judge recently declared a Michigan law that required petition circulators to be registered voters unconstitutional.

Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson’s office has now opted not to appeal.

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