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.
Detroit Mayor Dave Bing says it’s “ludicrous” to suggest that the city give up control of its massive water system.
Legislation at the state Capitol, and a motion filed this week in federal court, would do just that.
Mayor Bing says he plans to examine the system’s problems, and he plans to fix them.
"I’m not here to defend past practices. I’m not here to defend the management, on a historical basis. My job here today is to look forward."
Bing says people think Detroit is in a weak position, and they’re trying to take advantage of that.
Update January 27th, 8:24 a.m.:
Wayne County Executive Robert A. Ficano has issued the following statement regarding the current situation with the DWSB:
"Today, we met as regional leaders to discuss Mayor Bing's plans for DWSD. It was a very productive meeting, containing very open and pointed discussion of the serious challenges within the department. I am disappointed in the filing by the Oakland County Drain Commissioner, as this action contradicts the spirit of the discussion earlier today.
I believe in giving the Mayor an opportunity to explore the current operation, correct the mistakes and practices by the previous administration, and allow him to move forward and put in place accountable, transparent operation.
I believe now is not the time to be divisive, but to work cooperatively."
January 26th, 6:10 p.m.:
Oakland County is asking a federal judge to create a regional committee to oversee Detroit’s massive water system. It’s the latest development in a long-running dispute between the city and the suburbs over the scandal-plagued department.
John McCullough is the Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner. He says some $200 million are expected to be spent upgrading the system in the coming year.
"And since 60 percent of these corrections are going to be paid for by suburban customers, it really provides an effective way of the entire region to weigh in as to the proposed solutions and how those costs will be addressed."
The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department has been under federal oversight since the late 1970s because of Clean Water Act violations.
Late last year,the Justice Department identified 13 scams in which water department contracts worth tens of millions of dollars were allegedly steered to a friend of Detroit’s former mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick.
Plans for a light rail line in Detroit got a boost with a $25 million grant from the federal government.
The money will help with the first phase of the project, which will connect Detroit’s downtown and New Center areas. That 3.5 mile stretch could ultimately extend up Woodward Avenue to the city’s border at Eight Mile Road.
The project is backed by a powerful group of business leaders in the city – including Dan Gilbert, Peter Karmanos, and Roger Penske. They’ve helped pull together about $125 million in private funding. In an unusual arrangement, the federal government agreed to match those private dollars. Normally the city would have to put up the money, but Detroit is broke.
The project is expected to break ground this year.
Detroiters are hopeful police have found the person responsible for raping seven women on the city’s east side.
A “person of interest” is in police custody The man has not yet been charged. Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee says investigators are being careful not to rush things:
"We have 48 hours to present a warrant to the prosecutor. That is in any case. If it goes outside the scope of 48 hours, as in any case, we would have to have an exception that would allow us to do so."
In most cases, the women were waiting for a bus or walking near a bus stop when they were attacked.
It’s part of a $42 million initiative to improve security in the school district.
The facility includes a detention center, K-9 kennels, and an alarm system that will alert officers when doors to school buildings are opened when they shouldn’t be, said DPS Police Chief Roderick Grimes:
"We have a command center that will house state-of-the-art camera systems, which will allow us to look at the interior and the exterior of every school, 24 hours a day."
Money to pay for the building’s construction came from $500.5 billion bond initiative voters approved in 2009.
Legislation introduced at the state Capitol this week would transfer the majority of control over the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to the suburbs. The bill would create a regional authority that would manage rates and contracts.
Watson urged her colleagues to hire an attorney to prepare to fight the move:
"If we sit and wait and do 'Kumbaya up in Lansing while they got their hands on our water system, we’re going to be in trouble, and the citizens here are going to be blaming everybody up here for not being armed and ready. We need to be armed and ready with litigation, and go to court."
Former governor Jennifer Granholm vetoed a similar bill several years ago. But the idea has gained new traction in Lansing, with a Republican governor and Republican-controlled House and Senate.
A recent federal indictment also renewed interest in revamping how the department is governed. The indictment detailed allegations of kickbacks and corruption related to water department contracts.
Governor Snyder says the economy will be the focus of his first State of the State speech tonight.
That should come as no surprise, considering Michigan has a massive budget deficit and one of the nation’s highest unemployment rates.
Snyder says he’ll talk about economic development, and about a state partnership with the University of Michigan, as reported in this story on annarbor.com. He says he also plans to present a “report card” on some key issues:
We’re going to have probably 21 different measures in five different areas. Things about the economy, about the health of our people in the state, public safety issues, a number of different areas. Education.
Snyder says the report card, or “dashboard” as he calls it, will be revisited in each of his State of the State addresses to see whether laws and policies are improving things. A spokeswoman for the governor says it will be made available on a Web site that's slated to go live later today.
Governor Rick Snyder will deliver his first State of the State address tonight at 7 p.m.. He'll deliver the speech to a joint session of the Michigan legislature in the state's Capitol building in Lansing. Though details of the speech have not been released, we do know the speech is expected to last about 40 minutes and is likely to focus on ways to improve and reinvent the state's economy.
A new report out today paints a grim picture of Michigan’s schools.
Education Trust-Midwest says students in Michigan’s schools are not doing as well as test scores suggest, and the state’s education problems reach far beyond Detroit.
“We are far from a leader in education right now. Though glowing reports from state education leaders regularly inform us that the vast majority of our children (around 80 percent in elementary and middle schools) are meeting state standards, performance plummets when those students take the more rigorous national examinations.”
The report goes on to cite what it calls Michigan’s inflated standardized test scores (you can see some of the charts in the slide show above).
Its author, Amber Arellano, a former Detroit Free Press education reporter and Detroit News editorial board writer, says people tend to think of Detroit as the only school district in the state with major problems:
“Michigan really has a statewide education problem. This isn’t just about Detroit kids. It’s not just about African American kids. It’s about white kids, it’s about brown kids, it’s about black kids. It’s really about kids all over the state.”
Arellano says it might surprise people to know that students in other districts – including Flint, Lansing, Pontiac, Grand Rapids, and Kalamazoo – have all registered lower proficiency rates than their Detroit counterparts.
Detroit Public Schools officials are getting ready to submit their latest plan for shoveling the troubled district out from under a crippling deficit.
The plan could include a proposal to split the district in two. It’s an idea Michigan Radio first reported last April, and the concept is similar to the way General Motors restructured.
Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb says he’s reduced expenses by more than $500 million in the last several months, but there’s still a “legacy” deficit that tops $300 million:
"We’re whittling away at it, but we have to create a long-term plan so that we’re not in this situation 12 months from now or two years from now."
DPS officials say another option is a New Orleans-style overhaul that would convert many schools to charters. A third option is to use the state’s tobacco settlement money to erase the district’s debt, or the state could opt for some combination of all the above options. Lawmakers rejected a proposal last month to use the state's tobacco settlement to pay off the district's debt.
Detroit Public Schools is recruiting businesses to adopt schools for academic and beautification projects. Angela Hoston heads the program:
"The goal is to have every school have a partner, and not just one partner but multiple partners. We want to raise the academic achievement levels of the bottom one-third of every classroom, and get them to the highest achievement level possible."
Hoston says each business can work with a principal to craft a unique program based on what the school needs and what the business can offer.
The initiative was announced at Gompers Elementary, where staff from the Doubletree Fort Shelby Hotel have built a garden and mentor students.
An experimental school in Detroit is trying something new with its seventh and eighth graders.
Palmer Park Preparatory Academy is the first “teacher-led” school in Michigan. It’s instituted a program that puts students into customized reading and math classes based on their abilities instead of their grade level.
Ann Crowley is one of the school’s founders.
"We had to get the schedule set up so that the three teachers in those subject areas taught side-by-side at the same time, and also have a common planning period together," said Ann Crowley, one of the school's founders. She added:
"The logistics of it, with over 250 kids, was pretty intense."
Crowley says students are constantly monitored for improvement so they don’t get stuck in an instructional track for low-performing students.
An official with the school district says the program could be a model for other schools in Detroit.
This week’s indictment against Detroit’s former mayor and others is likely to renew interest in changing the way the region’s massive water system is run. The federal government identified 13 scams in which water department contracts worth tens of millions of dollars were steered to a friend of former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.
The young Nigerian man accused of trying to bomb a Detroit-bound airliner last Christmas was arraigned on new charges in federal court today.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab entered the courtroom in prison khakis, canvas shoes and red handcuffs.He stood mute to the new charges, which include conspiracy to commit an act of terrorism. The original indictment, filed almost a year ago, never used the word “terrorism.”
Here's some video of the release of the indictments from the Detroit News:
Update 4:28 p.m.:
Barbara McQuade, the U.S. Attorney in Detroit, had this to say of the new indictment:
“The indictment charges all of them with working together to abuse Kwame Kilpatrick’s public offices. Both his position as state representative, as well as his position of mayor of Detroit, to unjustly enrich themselves, through a pattern of extortion, bribery and fraud.”
Update 4:18 p.m.:
Here's an excerpt of the indictment (info in parens added):
"(Former Detroit Mayor) Kwame Kilpatrick, (Kilpatrick’s long-time friend) Bobby Ferguson, (Kilpatrick’s father) Bernard Kilpatrick, (former director of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department) Victor Mercado and (Chief Administrative Officer then Chief Information Officer to Kilpatrick) Derrick Miller… extorted municipal contractors by coercing them to include Ferguson in public contracts, and/or by rigging the award of contracts to ensure Ferguson got a portion of the revenue from those contracts…. Ferguson got tens of millions of dollars in work and revenues from municipal contractors."
Update 3:39 p.m.:
Federal Prosecutors in Detroit are announcing more corruption charges against former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.
The indictments also include Kilpatrick’s father, Bernard Kilpatrick; former city contractor Bobby Ferguson; former Detroit Water Department head Victor Mercado; and former city official Derrick Miller.
Representatives from the FBI, IRS, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Housing and Urban Development are also on hand for the announcement.
The new charges are a sign the years-long investigation into Detroit municipal corruption is approaching an apex.
Peter Henning is a Wayne State University law professor. He says this investigation has been typical of public corruption probes that slowly “work from the outside in.”
“The government’s committed a lot of resources. When that happens then it’s much more likely to see charges brought, simply because the government wants to see some return on its investment.”
Kwame Kilpatrick already faces federal tax evasion and other charges for allegedly using a non-profit civic fund as a personal slush fund.
Ferguson also already faces federal charges in an alleged city bid-rigging scheme.
The other shoe is finally dropping on former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. The US Attorney in Detroit is holding a news conference at 4pm to announce indictments against Kilpatrick, his father Bernard, and others allegedly involved in city hall corruption in Detroit.
The U.S. Attorney's Office is considering prosecuting the mayor under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations statute, among other federal criminal laws, according to a source. The Department of Justice's Organized Crime and Racketeering Section reviews and approves each proposed federal prosecution under the RICO statute.
So far, 14 people have pleaded guilty to felonies and one person has pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor in connection with the Detroit investigation and a spinoff probe in the city of Southfield. Those convicted include former Detroit City Councilwoman Monica Conyers.
"What we do know is that some of our stronger neighborhoods tend to be the boundaries of the city of Detroit, and some of our neighborhoods where we’ve seen an increase in population are immigrant communities," said Henderson. "So we’re taking a look at all that data. "
Henderson says her team is looking at things like household incomes and education levels, as well as “quality of life” indicators like parks and schools, to determine the most viable neighborhoods. She says federal grants will be used to rehab city-owned and foreclosed homes in those areas.
Counties all over Michigan are gearing up for another winter plowing season with higher costs and fewer resources.
Wayne County has outfitted about 20 trucks with new side plows that allow crews to make fewer passes to clear snow-covered roads.
Michael Rogers is the Roads Division director for Wayne County. During a demonstration of the equipment, he pointed out an innovation that will save on salt costs. The county has rigged up its trucks to wet the salt as it’s being spread on the roadway.
You see the salt doesn’t necessarily make it all the way over here, to us. And that’s what you want. You want the salt to get on its intended target, and that’s what it’s doing. Because before the salt would’ve been ten feet back there, and that’s a waste of our resource.
Ten years ago, Wayne County had 726 people working for the Roads Division during the winter months. This year it has a little more than 330.
A panel that’s drafting a new governing charter for Detroit will hear recommendations from the city’s mayor and city council this weekend.
The Charter Revision Commission is looking at everything that has to do with how Detroit operates: How many elected officials the city should have, and how much power they should wield. How to remove elected officials from office. How many departments the city should have, and what services should be mandated.
One issue on which the mayor and city council disagree is how big the city council ought to be.
There is agreement that the city should move away from its current system of electing members at-large, and have most council members represent districts. But Mayor Dave Bing thinks the council ought to remain at nine members, while the city council is pushing to expand it to 11.
The Charter Revision Commission is expected to have a draft document finished in March. A citywide vote on the charter is expected next November.
The Commission meets Saturday from 9 am to 5 pm, and Sunday from 1 pm to 4 pm, at Cass Tech High School in Detroit.
The White House is ramping up its efforts to get Congress to approve extended unemployment benefits for out-of-work Americans. Michigan's unemployment rate in October was the second-highest in the nation, at 12.8%.
The president's Council of Economic Advisers released a report that touts the need for extending benefits. The report says for the typical person getting unemployment, the benefits make up a third of the household income. As Presidential adviser Cecilia Rouse noted:
And in those 42% of households where the unemployed person was the sole wage earner, it's about 90 percent of the income. So it's quite an important source of income for these families.
The report says about 620,000 people in Michigan received benefits through October.
Republicans in Congress say the cost of extending the benefits is too high. They want to look at budget cuts and tax cut extensions first.
The city of Hamtramck is ratcheting up the pressure on the state to allow it to file for bankruptcy.
Hamtramck’s city attorney has sent a letter to Governor Granholm urging her to issue an executive order allowing the city to seek federal bankruptcy protection. The letter also says appointing an emergency financial manager would not give the city the tools it needs to correct its financial problems.
All week we’ve been looking at the reinvention of Pittsburgh. Now, we move west to see whether the ideas that worked there can work in other places. One such city is Detroit.
Like Pittsburgh, Detroit has always faced a challenge in convincing its talented citizens to stay. Many business owners try to buck the odds and keep their businesses in the city, only to find the hurdles too high. Others find it is simply too daunting to head out on their own.