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.

Ways To Connect

Sarah Cwiek / City of Detroit

Long-time Detroit Congressman John Conyers’ trouble with ballot petitions is raising some serious questions about the Detroit City Clerk’s office.

Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett announced last week that Conyers does not appear to have enough valid signatures to make the primary ballot.

That’s because two of his petition circulators registered to vote just last month. In Michigan, state law mandates that circulators be registered to vote at the time they gather signatures.

Detroit is following through on its effort to privatize garbage collection.

Starting next week, a private contractor will pick up the trash for some Detroit households on the city’s east and southwest sides. Another company will start serving the rest of the city early next month.

Gary Brown, Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr’s chief operating officer, says the new system will offer more services at roughly the same cost.

via Oakland County

Two University of Michigan economists say Oakland County should keep up its post-recession job growth through at least 2016.

U of M economists George Fulton and Don Grimes do the annual county-level economic forecast for Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson’s office every year.

Their current forecast suggests Oakland County will add nearly 43,000 jobs in the next three years. That’s in addition to the roughly 65,000 it’s added since 2009.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

The Detroit Blight Authority is turning its attention to Oakland County.

The non-profit group has started working with the city of Pontiac, which has more than 550 homes on a demolition list. Almost 400 of them can be demolished immediately.

The Blight Authority had been working with the city of Detroit, taking on several large-scale residential demolition projects.

The Detroit Public Schools is hiring new teachers for the upcoming school year.

The district is hosting a teacher recruitment fair Wednesday at Renaissance High School.

The district is looking to fill 300 to 400 positions, says DPS spokeswoman Michelle Zdrodowski.

In its ongoing effort to cut costs, the district is offering more generous buyouts to some of its more highly-paid teachers.

City of Highland Park

Gov. Rick Snyder has confirmed his decision that Highland Park faces a financial emergency.

The small city located within Detroit’s borders is no stranger to financial troubles.

The Michigan Department of Treasury first reviewed Highland Park’s finances in 1996. From 2001 through 2009, it had an emergency financial manager.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

April 28 was International Workers Memorial Day, the day that honors those killed or injured on the job in the past year.

Labor advocates in Detroit and cities worldwide held vigils to remember those workers Monday.

The annual event also marks the day that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was founded in 1970.

That federal agency enforces workplace safety rules in the U.S., and tracks employment-related injuries and fatalities.

wikihow

If you’ve had a frustrating experience with a Detroit parking meter, you’re definitely not alone--about half those meters aren’t working at any given time.

The situation has the bankrupt city looking for outside operators to fix, and possibly run, its parking system.

It’s likely such a deal would get done fast. But experts warn Detroit might want to take a close look at Chicago’s recent experience first.

Detroit’s historic bankruptcy case has picked up steam in the past couple of weeks.

The city reached tentative agreement with some of its major creditors, clearing the way for a relatively quick exit from bankruptcy court.

But there are still some key missing pieces that could derail the process, and now they’re mostly outside the city’s control.

“Now is the time to negotiate”

Embattled Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano will formally announce he’s seeking a fourth term Monday.

Ficano’s current term has been plagued by scandal.

His administration is the subject of an ongoing FBI public corruption investigation, and several former members of his inner circle have been convicted of various crimes.

Wayne State University medical school / via flickr

A former Wayne State University medical professor is suing the school over alleged “system-wide” fraud.

In a federal lawsuit, former assistant professor Christian Kreipke alleges the university scammed the US government out of $169 million through fraudulent research proposals.

Kreipke filed the lawsuit in 2012, but court documents were only unsealed recently.

They lay out Kreipke’s claims that Wayne State and its physician group made fraudulent claims to get more government grant money.

Sam Beebe

Now that Detroit’s bankruptcy is moving along, Gov. Rick Snyder is moving to secure the state’s end of a so-called “grand bargain.”

It would use $816 million to minimize city pension cuts, and protect the Detroit Institute of Arts from potential liquidation to pay off creditors.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

This has proven to be a watershed week in Detroit’s bankruptcy case, which is now moving along at lightning speed.

On Tuesday, representatives for Detroit’s two pension funds reached tentative settlements with the city.

The deals would spare Detroit’s retired police officers and firefighters any direct cuts to their pensions, while non-uniform retirees would take 4.5% cuts.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

The Detroit City Council has agreed to transfer more than 16,000 city owned properties to Detroit’s land bank authority.

The transfer allows Mayor Mike Duggan’s ambitious blight eradication efforts to move forward.

Duggan wants to use the non-profit land bank as a key tool in the fight against blight.

via buildingdetroit.org

The city of Detroit has launched an effort to fill some of its vacant homes with new residents – an online auction site for city-owned properties.  

There are 15 houses listed on the site now. The plan is for the Detroit Land Bank Authority to start auctioning off one home a day, starting May 5.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan says this is part of the city “moving aggressively” to deal with blight.

Duggan says the idea is to get the homes fixed up, and people living in them, as soon as possible.

Detroit’s bankruptcy case is throwing a wrench in the city’s usual budget process.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan didn’t give his charter-mandated city budget address as scheduled Monday.

Rather, officials told City Council members that Detroit needs to update its plan of adjustment first. That’s the city’s restructuring blueprint for getting through bankruptcy.

Detroit chief financial officer John Hill said that since the plan will shape the city budget, it doesn’t make sense start talking now.

Judge Steven Rhodes approved a key settlement in Detroit’s historic bankruptcy case Friday.

The deal will settle a costly interest-rate swaps agreement with two banks, UBS and Bank of America, for $85 million.

Emergency manager Kevyn Orr has pushed hard for such a deal. Detroit had guaranteed the swaps with casino revenue, and paid out about $200 million since 2009.

Could tobacco settlement money help the DIA?
DIA

One group who stands to lose a lot in Detroit’s bankruptcy has upped the ante in the battle over the Detroit Institute of Arts.

The Financial Guaranty Insurance Corporation, a major bond insurer, has gone out and solicited bids for the museum’s assets.

And in papers filed in federal bankruptcy court Wednesday, FGIC said it’s received four tentative bids for the museum’s assets, or portions of them.

The bidders include:

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

The city of Detroit has started posting legal notices on 79 abandoned homes in one city neighborhood, warning homeowners to clean up the property--or risk a lawsuit, and the city seizing the home.

The effort in the west side neighborhood near Marygrove College was announced Wednesday afternoon by Mayor Mike Duggan, in what he called a "bold experiment" to fight blight.

It will work like this: once a notice is posted, homeowners have 72 hours to contact the city and arrange to sign a consent agreement. It will stipulate that the homeowner clean up the property, and move someone into the house within 60 days.

If that doesn't happen, the city can sue to have the Detroit Land Bank Authority seize the house. The Land Bank will then re-sell properties it deems "salvageable" at auction.

“When you leave your house abandoned, it is a nuisance to the neighborhood," Duggan said. "And you cannot legally leave your property in a way that’s a nuisance.

"I'm going to give every single person when we sue them the choice—either sign the court order to get it fixed up and occupied, or we’re going to take title.”

Duggan said it will be "fascinating" to see how the program plays out in the Marygrove neighborhood effort plays out over the next 90 days--but that plans are already in the works to expand it to other neighborhoods.

Duggan said represents a shift away from the "mindless demolition" approach to blight eradication--though many homes that are simply unsalvageable will have to be demolished. “If we take down the houses that can’t be saved, and we sell what’s left…I think people will value that," Duggan said.

Lola Holton, a 39-year resident of the neighborhood, said she's ready to see "results."

"I'm very, very excited about having community back," Holton said. "That's what we need. We've lost that. 

"Not only the restoration and taking boards down, but putting families in these houses. To build community."

 

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Mediators in Detroit’s bankruptcy case have made a potentially huge breakthrough with some of the city’s bondholders.

Bondholders are one of the city’s biggest groups of unsecured creditors.

That means they’re also one of the most important groups for emergency manager Kevyn Orr to get on board with his plan of adjustment, and avoid a protracted legal battle that could bog the city down in bankruptcy court for months or years.

Now, negotiators for the city and three major bond insurers have announced a settlement deal.

wikipedia

The organization championing the interests of Michigan’s local governments is withholding judgment on a proposal to fix the state’s roads.

Officials with the Michigan Municipal League say they’re cautiously hopeful about the plan Republican State House leader Jase Bolger unveiled last week.

Judge Steven Rhodes will make a major ruling in Detroit’s ongoing bankruptcy case this week.

Rhodes will decide whether the city can settle an interest-rate swaps deal with two major banks for $85 million.

Detroit had hoped to hedge against interest rates rising when it entered into the swaps deal on some city pension debt in 2006.

But interest rates fell to nearly 0, and Detroit has been forced to shell out about $200 million to UBS and Bank of America since 2009.

A state review team has officially concluded that a “financial emergency” exists in the city of Lincoln Park.

The small suburb in the downriver area just south of Detroit is running a slight deficit right now, despite having a $4.5 million general fund balance in 2010.

According to the review team’s findings, city officials estimate that deficit will grow by at least $1 million by the middle of this year—more if the city can’t get concessions from its police unions.

Governor Snyder has 10 days to confirm the review team’s findings.

Michigan Attorney General's office

Michigan’s Attorney General says a Detroit man defrauded more than 100 people in southeast Michigan with a fake mortgage rescue scam.

Bill Schuette says Anthony Carta ran the scam through a phony religious organization called Freedom by Faith Ministries.

Carta promised homeowners facing foreclosure he’d settle up with their mortgage lenders, for a fee. But he would pocket that money instead.

Carta is accused of stealing more than $300,000 this way. He’s being charged with conducting a criminal enterprise and two other felonies.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Detroit pensioners are trying to turn up the heat on emergency manager Kevyn Orr Tuesday – just as he’s doing the same thing to them.

Protesters filled the street in front of Detroit’s federal courthouse on Tuesday to slam Orr’s proposed cuts to city pensions.

Orr filed a revised version of his bankruptcy restructuring plan there Monday. An earlier version, known formally as a plan of adjustment, was filed in February.

Wikipedia

With a 5-4 vote, the Detroit City Council has narrowly approved a controversial lease deal for the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena.

The lease is retroactive to 2010, and runs through 2015. It has five one-year extension options.

The deal will cover the Wings’ remaining playing days at the Joe. The city has already cleared the way for the team’s owners to build a new, $450-million arena complex elsewhere in Detroit.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

The state legislature is considering bills that would expand a state-led effort to turn around Michigan’s lowest performing schools.

Right now, the Education Achievement Authority is in charge of 15 schools, all of them in Detroit.

In this second half of a two-part series, we’ll hear from some people who’ve been inside the current EAA—and paint a less-than-rosy picture.

“Disrupting” traditional education?

Governor Snyder has long urged state lawmakers to create more policy options for turning around historically low-performing schools.

Jake Neher / MPRN

The state Legislature could soon give Gov. Snyder something he’s wanted for a long time: a bill that would clear the way for the controversial Education Achievement Authority to expand.

The Senate is now considering a bill passed by the House that would, among other things, allow the EAA to expand beyond Detroit. The state-run district for the lowest-performing schools is the governor’s signature education initiative.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Update 5:05 p.m.

In a reversal from what it signaled earlier in the day, the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has issued a temporary stay on the decision to strike down Michigan's ban on same-sex marriage. 

The court said it issued the stay to allow a "more reasoned consideration" of Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette's request for a hold on Friday's decision.

3:43 p.m.

Governor Snyder says a new survey shows his efforts to attract more international investment in Michigan is paying off.

The “insourcing” survey cites Michigan for adding more than 250,000 private sector jobs since 2010, and 32,000 from foreign investment in 2011 alone –more than twice as many as any other state.

The survey found that the heads of multinational firms are cautiously bullish about doing business in the U.S., but things could be better.

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