Sarah Hulett

Assistant News Director

Sarah Hulett became Michigan Radio's assistant news director in August 2011. For five years she was the station's Detroit reporter, and contributed to several reporting projects that won state and national awards.

Sarah considers Detroit to be a perfect laboratory for great radio stories, because of its energy, its struggles, and its unique place in America's industrial and cultural landscape.

Before coming to Michigan Radio, Sarah spent five years as state Capitol correspondent for Michigan Public Radio. She's a graduate of Michigan State University.

Contact Sarah Hulett at sarah@michiganradio.org.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

While the city of Detroit seeks bankruptcy protection, a local billionaire businessman is on a real estate buying binge.

Since 2011, Quicken Loans and Rock Ventures chairman Dan Gilbert has bought more than 40 downtown buildings, and seems to be collecting more each week.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Attorneys are back in a Detroit bankruptcy court this week, arguing over whether the city qualifies for what would be the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history.

The thinking goes like this: Cut the Motor City loose from some of its crushing debt and legacy costs – pegged at around $18 billion.

But even if that happens, the city will still have a huge task ahead of it: making a city infrastructure built for 2 million people work for a population that’s now under 700,000.

(As Rodney Dangerfield might say:) Take the buses. Please.

Michigan Radio

Updated 5:35 p.m.

After federal judge Bernard Friedman ordered a trial on the constitutionality of Michigan's ban on gay marriage, attorney Jay Kaplan called the delay a disappointment. 

Kaplan is an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT Project.  He says going to trial could work out better in the long run.

"He’s being cautious," Kaplan says of Friedman.  "Because if he renders a good decision, you don’t want to see that decision reversed by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, and having a factual record strengthens your opinion.”

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Employees with the Veterans Administration, the Social Security Administration, and the Defense department were out in front of the federal building in Detroit today to protest the government shutdown.

Ford Motor Company

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the moving assembly line.

Henry Ford brought the method for mass-producing cars to his Highland Park Assembly Plant. 140 workers installed parts on a chassis that was dragged across the floor by a winch. The results were immediate and remarkable. 

Sarah Huelett

Think back to when you were a kid, and how much time you spent playing outside. Maybe you wandered the neighborhood until the streetlights came on. Or built tree forts. Or explored a nearby field, or creek, or woods.

Now, think about the kids on your block – or in your house – and how much time you see them exploring the neighborhood. Without their cell phones.

Some advocates of unstructured outdoor play say far too few kids are doing that these days. They have a name for it: “nature deficit disorder,” and point to a growing body of research that links too much indoor time with problems including obesity, attention deficit disorder, and depression.

State of Opportunity checked in on one Grand Rapids school where kids don't just play outside, they learn from and in the natural environment. Read the rest of the story or listen in at State of Opportunity.

This week, foreign-born people living in southeast Michigan have a new resource for things like social services or finding work.

Welcome Mat Detroit is a clearinghouse of information for the estimated 356,000 immigrants living in southeast Michigan.

Steve Tobocman is with Global Detroit. He says whether you're a refugee or a corporate executive, it can be tough to navigate life in a new country.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Today is the first day of pre-school for many four-year-olds in Michigan. And thousands of them are getting a chance they might not otherwise have had, thanks to an expansion of a state program.

Susan Broman is a deputy superintendent at the Michigan Department of Education, and she oversees the Great Start Readiness Program. Broman says pre-school has a great return on investment.

"I mean, the reality is we know that high-quality pre-school is a proven strategy to significantly improve kindergarten readiness, grade-school reading and math proficiency," she said.

She says lawmakers agreed this year to hike funding for the program by $65 million because it works.

An Iraq war veteran is suing the Michigan Secretary of State for denying his request for a vanity plate that reads "Infidel."

Retired U.S. Army Sgt. Michael Matwyuk says U.S. troops were often referred to as "infidels" by insurgents in Iraq. Matwyuk and his fellow soldiers re-claimed the word. Some of them sewed patches with the word onto their uniforms, or even tattooed it on their bodies.

user aMichiganMom / Flickr

Tuesday saw a flood of court filings from Detroit's creditors.

Midnight was the deadline for creditors to file objections to Detroit's request for Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy protection.

About 100 unions, pensioners, and individuals filed objections with the court.

Gerald Rosen, the bankruptcy judge in charge of mediation, issed the order today.
Detroit Legal News

The chief judge of the federal court in Detroit says budget cuts are slowing down the processing of some cases, and put public safety at risk.

Judge Gerald Rosen co-authored a letter signed by 87 judges that was sent to Congressional leaders and Vice President Joe Biden. It says a second year under the automatic budget cuts known as sequestration would devastate the courts.

rabbit.hole / Flickr

  The Detroit River is the mile-wide boundary that separates the United States and Canada. And the city park on the Windsor, Ontario, side of the river offers a better view of the Detroit skyline than anywhere else.

Yes, in a quirk of geography, Detroit actually sits north of its Canadian neighbor. Natives like Stephen Santarossa, who's from Windsor, love this bit of trivia, and relish the puzzled look on visitors' faces as they try to draw that mental map.

"Do you realize that you are now looking north?" he says.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Detroit’s bankruptcy has been national, even international, news for more than a week now. But inside Detroit, many residents say they feel like they’ve been living in a bankrupt city for years. They’ve been working to do what the city should be doing, but doesn’t have the money to do. And they say more of their neighbors need to realize: nobody’s going to “save” their city but themselves.

Twenty-five years ago, John George got fed up with the blight in his neighborhood. He marshaled some neighbors, and boarded up the house in back of his.

That effort evolved into a group he calls Motor City Blight Busters.

“We just got done tearing down both these properties to your right and your left and this house is going to be next,” he said.

George’s crew is demolishing the vacant homes on two city blocks, and plans a large-scale garden for the neighborhood.

Let’s be clear here: It’s the city’s job to board up and tear down dangerous abandoned buildings, but there are almost 40,000 of them. The city just doesn’t have the money to put much of a dent in the problem, let alone keep on top of it.

George says he’s demolished, boarded up, built or rehabbed 1,500 buildings since 1988. He loves this city. But he says he doesn’t count on city hall for much of anything.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

A bunch of guys and a bunch of lawn mowers.  That's the basic idea behind the volunteer Detroit Mower Gang - which cuts the grass at city parks in Detroit every other Wednesday night. This past week, the Gang mowed about 25 acres in Stoeppel Park Number Two on the city's west side.  Barbara Davis lives across from the park - where for many kids, the grass was chest-high. "It's terrible," said Davis. "They usually got to cut a path and tramp right to the swing set because the grass is so tall.

Peter Martorano / Flickr

 

A federal bankruptcy court now will be the scene for some colossal decisions about the future of Detroit – which filed for Chapter Nine protection last week. One of the key issues is whether retirees will see their benefits cut – something the city’s emergency manager says is now “a question of necessity.”
 
Peggy Dankert lives on the far west side of Detroit. She retired from the city’s EMS department about four years ago, after more than 26 years. Dankert says she’s not happy her pension could be on the chopping block in bankruptcy court, right alongside bondholders’ investments.
 

“I can’t buy insurance on my pension benefits like buy insurance on their bonds. So I don’t think they should be treated the same.”

Few Detroiters think the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history is great news.

But plenty see it as an opportunity. Many Detroit business owners hope the bankruptcy will mean more stability and certainty, in a city that has had little of either in recent years.

Sandy Baruah, head of the Detroit Regional Chamber, says the bankruptcy filing did not come as a surprise to him, nor should it surprise anybody else.

Pontiac schools are a step closer to a possible state takeover.

A state board found Pontiac schools in "probable financial stress," following a review led by the state schools Superintendent Mike Flanagan. The board's finding triggers a more comprehensive review of the district's finances. 

The school system's deficit was close to $38 million about a year ago. That's about half of its operating budget, and way over the state's benchmark for determining whether a district is in trouble.

The district's ability to pay its bills has been touch and go. Last month the state released aid it had been withholding to avoid a payless payday.

And the schools system's financial troubles are mounting. A court has ordered a tax levy on property owners in Pontiac and neighboring communities to cover almost $8 million in unpaid health insurance premiums.

If a team appointed by Governor Snyder decides there's a financial emergency in Pontiac schools, the school board would have to choose among a set of options. One of those options is appointing an emergency manager.

Ralf_H / flickr

You may have heard that Whole Foods Market opened a store in Detroit today.

The grocery chain has a reputation for pricey organic fare.

So you might think its decision to set up shop in Detroit means there’s a little pocket of the Motor City that’s thriving. And you'd be right.

But the level of affluence in the neighborhood surrounding Whole Foods is well below what you would see in other cities that have undergone urban revival.

Bistros, bike factory, bachelor chic

The U.S. Department of Education has dismissed a complaint from the Michigan Department of Civil Rights over schools’ use of American Indian mascots.

The civil rights department had argued that the images hurt Native American students’ academic performance, and create an unequal learning environment.

But federal education officials say opponents of Indian mascots and logos need to prove that they create a hostile environment for Native American students.

If you have a great idea for new retail in the city of Detroit, now is the time to make your pitch. You could win a $50,000 pot of money to help you do it.

This is the third year Hatch Detroit is holding the contest for new retail ideas. Entries are being accepted today through July 13.

Joe Posch won the contest in 2011. Last November, he opened Hugh - his "classic bachelor pad" shop on Cass Avenue.

cmh2315fl / flickr

The owners of the Ambassador Bridge are asking a federal judge to invalidate a presidential permit that would allow the construction of a competing bridge a couple miles away.

The State Department last month gave the go-ahead to the New International Trade Crossing. That prompted this amended complaint to a long-running lawsuit in federal court.

Attorneys for the Ambassador Bridge say building a competing bridge would violate its perpetual and exclusive franchise to own and operate a toll bridge linking Detroit and Windsor. The complaint points to studies that say up to three-quarters of the Ambassador Bridge's truck traffic, and more than a third of its passenger traffic would be diverted to the new bridge. 

The complaint also says the new crossing is an unconstitutional agreement. It says the state of Michigan can't legally enter into an agreement with the Canadian government.

The new bridge has strong support from Governor Snyder. The Canadian government has promised to pick up Michigan's share of the two-billion dollar tab for building the bridge.

To read the complaint, click here.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Memorial Day is the unofficial start of summer. It’s also the day when throngs of people line the sidewalks of cities and small towns across the state to watch marching bands and politicians parade down the street.

Crystal Schonfeld watched the parade in Dearborn with her mother. Her brother, Army National Guard Sergeant Michael Derome, is scheduled to return home from Afghanistan on Thursday.

Kate Davidson / Michigan Radio

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing will not seek re-election.

Bing made that announcement after months of indecision. He frustrated reporters weeks ago when he pulled petitions for re-election, only to say he hadn't committed to running.

Then he called a press conference, and handed out pamphlets highlighting his successes in office.

Then he spoke for nearly 20 minutes about his achievements before announcing "that I have decided not to seek another term as mayor Detroit."

Bing said his political career might not be over.

NAACP

Michigan's controversial law that allows the state to take over the finances of cash-strapped cities is the subject of yet another lawsuit.

The Detroit branch of the NAACP filed the lawsuit in federal court today. It claims the state's emergency manager law is unconstitutional.

“It's fundamentally about our right to vote, and our right, as constitutionally guaranteed, to select and elect our own publicly elected officials,” said Detroit branch President Rev. Wendell Anthony.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

State officials announced over the weekend that they will lend money to Pontiac schools, and avert a payless payday there this week.

But there’s still no resolution in Buena Vista Township, where the school system abruptly shut down after running out of money a month before the end of the school year. So teachers, parents and students in the tiny school district near Saginaw are trying to figure out what to do next.      

“I hope the school district can work something out there,” Gov. Rick Snyder said late last week about a plan to educate Buena Vista’s 400 students.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

The federal court that serves 32 counties in the eastern half of Michigan is changing its juror selection process in the hopes of improving jury diversity.

Judges on the bench say one of the main problems is a high rate of "undeliverable" mail in ZIP codes where minorities live. So starting this month, when mailings to potential jurors come back to the court, another mailing will go out to the same ZIP code.

morguefile.com

Royal Oak's city clerk has certified the signatures on petitions to force a referendum on a new gay rights ordinance in the Detroit suburb.

Fred Birchard submitted petitions Tuesday with 1,226 signatures seeking repeal of the law that Royal Oak's City Commission approved on a 6-1 vote March 4. The city clerk determined Wednesday that the necessary 746 signatures were valid.

The ordinance would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and other factors. It was set to take effect last month. But opponents circulated petitions to try and block it.

Federal prosecutors say two people linked to Detroit's pension systems took part in a bribery and kickback scheme involving more than $200 million in investments for the funds.

The U.S. Attorney in Detroit says Paul Stewart, a former trustee for the city's police and fire retirement system, took thousands of dollars in cash, trips and entertainment from people looking for investments from the pension fund.

Can Detroit Be Saved?

Mar 2, 2013

Detroit is broke. On Friday, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder announced the state will take over the city's finances.

"It is time to say, we need to start moving upward with the city of Detroit," he said.

But the question on many people's minds is whether state intervention will be enough — and whether the more ominous and painful scenario of municipal bankruptcy can be avoided.

Adding Up The Debt

Just how far gone is Detroit? Eric Lupher, director of local affairs for the Citizens Research Council of Michigan, sums it up like this:

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

For years, the debate about using American Indian names and imagery for sports teams has centered on the question of whether they create a “hostile environment” for Native American students. Courts have been split on that question, and so has public opinion – even among American Indians.

Pages