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.

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, Senator Carl Levin and Michigan officials will host a meeting in Detroit tomorrow to talk about how tax breaks for historic preservation projects can help distressed cities.

In a statement, Secretary Salazar says the Federal Historic Preservation Tax Incentives program has been used for 70 projects in Detroit since 2000. He says he wants to talk about how that program can help revitalize the city.

The meeting will take place in the Odd Fellows Building, which was rehabbed in 2006 with the help of historic tax credits.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Researchers in Ontario will spend the coming months trying to get to the bottom of the noise and vibration known as the "Windsor Hum."

People in Windsor have complained about the low-frequency rumbling for the past two years.

Wolfgang Sauber / Wikipedia

Schools in Genesee and Lapeer counties will be closed tomorrow and Friday, amid threats circulated on social media.

From the Genesee Co. Intermediate School District Web site:

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

There are parts of Detroit that have basically reverted to nature – the homes long gone, the grass tall, the pheasants outnumbering residents on some blocks.

One entrepreneur sees potential in all that empty, blighted space. But he’s not building new houses, or opening up a factory. Instead, he’s planning to plant thousands of trees.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

A proposal to sell more than 140 acres of abandoned lots in Detroit drew hundreds of people to a public hearing tonight.

The vast majority were there to speak out against the plan.

Financial services entrepreneur John Hantz wants to buy more than 1,500 blighted city-owned lots and plant hardwood trees on them. Under the proposal, Hantz would pay $300 dollars per lot.

University of Michigan Provost Philip Hanlon will be the new president of Dartmouth College. Hanlon has served as provost since 2010.

"(Hanlon) has steered the University through some of its most fiscally challenging years, all the while advancing our academic excellence and impact," U of M President Mary Sue Coleman said in a statement.

Hanlon started with the university in the mathematics department in 1986. He's a graduate of Dartmouth.

Greengobbler / Morguefile

Philanthropic organizations want to capitalize on the spending campaigns of "Black Friday" and "Cyber Monday"  - and also flip the idea of consumerism on its head.

The idea behind "Giving Tuesday" is to take time to donate to charity, after two of the biggest shopping days of the year.

Eileen Heisman is the CEO of National Philanthropic Trust - one of the groups promoting the campaign.

"This is the first year, but I think it's going to continue," said Heisman. "I'm almost positive it is, and so I think in the following years we'll see a much bigger push and more visibility for people taking this time of year to give back in a more formal way on this day."

Charities report nearly a quarter of their annual donations come between Thanksgiving and New Years.

Center for Public Integrity

A new study links workplace exposure to plastics to a dramatically increased risk of breast cancer.

A team of researchers compared the work histories of women in the Windsor, Ontario area who had breast cancer against a group of women who did not.

They factored in things like smoking, exercise habits, and family history.

And they found that pre-menopausal women who worked in automotive plastics factories were nearly five times more likely to develop breast cancer.

Kate Davidson

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing has reached a deal with the state Treasurer that will allow the city to tap the proceeds of a $137 million dollar bond sale, and avoid payless paydays.

Under the terms of the deal, Detroit has to meet certain benchmarks. They include hiring a firm to restructure the city's finances, and another firm to implement those recommendations. Outsourcing the city's payroll system and changing the way contracts are bid out are also part of the benchmarks.

The Detroit Federation of Teachers is suing the city's public school system on behalf of more than 400 teachers the union says were laid off improperly.

Detroit Public Schools used a new evaluation system this year, following changes to Michigan's teacher tenure law that allow districts to call back laid-off teachers without using seniority as the first factor.

The union says the system the district came up with is not fair or transparent. And Detroit Federation of Teachers President Keith Johnson says on top of that, the school system didn't even follow its own rules when it came time to decide who would be called back to work.

Johnson says the lawsuit seeks any remedy available under the law.

"That would include reinstatement, it could include punitive damages, because there are some teachers who have had their lives literally turned upside down."

The school district did not comment directly on the lawsuit. But in a statement, it says the evaluation system ensured the most highly effective teachers would be placed in every classroom.

Sarah Hulett / Michgian Radio

After she signs her name on closing documents a few dozen times tomorrow, Tisha Friday will get a set of keys to her brand new house in Hamtramck.

Friday is part of the plaintiffs class in what some say is the longest-running housing discrimination lawsuit in the country. And with every closing, Hamtramck inches a little closer to closing an ugly chapter in its history.

User: ellenm1 / flickr

The Wayne State University Board of Governors is expected to vote Monday to establish a search committee for a new president. The university needs to replace Allan Gilmour, who plans to retire when his two-year contract is up in June.

Gilmour is credited with making the school's admissions standards more rigorous, after criticism that it admitted students who couldn't succeed. But his successor will still have some work to do. According to the Web site college results dot org, fewer than a third of Wayne State students graduate within six years.

Patricia Drury / flickr

The top ranks of Detroit's police department are getting reshuffled.

Mayor Dave Bing announced the plan today. He says the appointment of two new assistant chiefs, along with some high-level reassignments and promotions, will make the department more efficient and responsive.

"We're all concerned about the safety of the people here in this city and we've made these recommendation new leadership, and we think we're going to see results immediately," Bing said.

The department is struggling to keep a lid on crime as it deals with a string of internal sex scandals.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Some people hoping to avoid long lines tomorrow by voting absentee in person today found themselves waiting hours to cast ballots.

At least that was the story in Detroit, where Willie Ann Brown stood outside the Department of Elections still holding a number after nearly three hours of waiting to get a ballot.

"Actually I've been to two of the satellite locations, and they had, like four hour waits and I have to get to work, so I've been trying get to vote," said Brown. "I'm going to vote."

Michigan does not technically offer early voting, like some states do. But people can vote absentee if they provide a reason they won't be able to vote in-person on Election Day.

Calvin Trent took friends to vote at two locations in Detroit. He says the crowds looking to cast ballots early this election are much bigger than he's seen in previous elections.

"Well, the ballot is so long, and people think they're going to be in line forever tomorrow," said Trent. "So that's why people are trying to vote early."

Detroit voters face 18 proposals on the ballot, including questions from the city, the county and the state.

If you're planning to vote in tomorrow's election and you haven't done your homework, it's time to cram. The ballot questions facing voters are so complicated, some voters might wish they could consult an economist or an attorney to make sense of them. Vince Keenan is with the voter education Web site publius.org. He says many voters also may not know what groups are behind each question, "the sort of back story as to who's behind what is the sort of information that any staffer in the halls of the Legislature would have readily at their disposal, but voters don't." Voters can look at their ballots ahead of time at the publius Web site.  There they can also view video clips that analyze ballot questions, along with a few hundred candidate videos from districts scattered across the state.

A disability rights group says far too many polling locations in the city of Detroit have accessibility problems for disabled voters.

Chris Rodriguez is with Michigan Protection and Advocacy Service. He says the group visited 70 polling sites during the August primary, and found problems with almost all of them. Rodriguez says the problems at many sites were "egregious."

"When I say egregious I mean not just, you know, a sign might not be at the right height," Rodriguez said. "I'm talking about stairs... completely inaccessible locations to vote."

City officials dispute the group's claims. Rodriguez says in written correspondence, the city clerk has said it's found only seven polling sites were out of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Rodriguez says litigation could be the next step if the city fails to correct the problems.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Next week, voters will decide whether Michigan’s controversial emergency manager law is the right way for the state to make sure local governments avoid financial collapse.

A federal appeals court has upheld a suburban Detroit bus system's refusal to put anti-Muslim ads on its buses.

The ads read in part, "Fatwa on your head? Is your family or community threatening you? Leaving Islam?" And publicized a website called refugefromislam.com.

SMART rejected the ads as too political.

The American Freedom Defense Initiative sued on free speech and equal protection grounds, and a lower court ruled against SMART.

Lansing city hall.
MI SHPO / flickr

The city of Lansing faces an $11 million budget deficit in the coming fiscal year.

City officials say the shortfall is due largely to a steep decline in property tax revenues. Rising pension, health care, and salaries are also to blame. The numbers take into account the extra money the city is taking in from a new tax levy voters approved a year ago, but the city has almost reached its constitutional limit on how much money it can raise in new taxes.  In a press release, Mayor Virg Bernero says the funding model for Michigan cities is "broken." 

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

A five-day strike by workers at the water department serving southeast Michigan has ended.

Officials with AFSCME Local 207 say the strike ended in victory.

Shanta Driver is a lawyer for the union. She says the agreement brokered with Detroit Water and Sewerage Department management calls for the 34 workers who received termination notices to keep their jobs.

"All of those people are certain not to get terminated," Driver said. "Everybody's termination has been rescinded."

Hamtramck laid off half its fire department today, and there's more pain to come.

Kyle Tertzag is Hamtramck's acting city manager.

"Financially, the city is in a dire situation. There's not sugar coating it. That's what it is."

Firefighters rejected $575,000 in concessions to help the city balance its budget. Tertzag says that rejection "complicates" the city's effort to secure a $3 million loan from the state. That's because the city's deficit elimination plan filed with the state assumed those concessions.

Meanwhile, Firefighters Local 750 President, Lieutenant William Diamond, says there will be a huge need for overtime this month.

"We need 7 firefighters on duty every day and there’s going to be 15 guys to fill those 7 slots," Diamond says, adding that the department's remaining firefighters will have to alternate working 24-hour shifts.

(courtesy of KQED)

A new report suggests school districts in Michigan are not doing a good job of evaluating their teachers’ effectiveness in the classroom. A state law passed in 2011 requires districts to evaluate teachers, and rate them as highly effective, effective, minimally effective, or ineffective.

For many years — perhaps even decades — Detroit has been the poster child for economic malaise. Adjusting for inflation, per capita income in metro Detroit dropped more than 20 percent between 1999 and 2010.

Some analysts say regional cooperation might have helped keep Detroit above water when the car industry sank, but that entrenched divisions that pit the city against its suburbs, and blacks against whites, have hindered that.

A Deeply Entrenched Regional Divide

steakpinball / flickr

Michigan's public defender system is consistently rated one of the worst in the country.

But this week, the House Judiciary Committee will consider creating a commission to establish standards for indigent defense.

Marcela Westrate is with the Michigan Campaign for Justice.

She says there are a host of reasons why poor criminal defendants don't always receive good legal help in this state.

"We don't have any statewide training requirements right now," said Westrate. "There's also things like consistency, where the same attorney represents a client until the completion of a case."

The commission would set the standards for Michigan's 83 counties - which each have their own public defender systems. Westrate says she hopes the commission could have new standards in place by the end of next year.

The longest-running housing discrimination case in the U.S. is coming to an end.

A federal court in the early 1970s said Hamtramck had targeted African-American homes for demolition in the name of urban renewal. The city agreed to build 200 homes for the plaintiffs. And 40 years later, they're finally going to be finished.

"It's a huge deal for the city," said Jason Friedmann, the city's community and economic development director. "We're pretty proud of the fact that we're making right the problems that did occur in the past, and we're excited to give these plaintiffs a new opportunity in the city of Hamtramck."

Plaintiffs and their descendants get first dibs on the homes.

"Some of them are great-grandchildren of the original plaintiffs," said Friedman. "Quite a few of them still live in the Detroit area, but we have one person moving in from from California, and I believe there's another person actually moving from overseas."
 
Friedman says the city's fulfillment of its legal obligations will also lift a court-ordered ban on city-owned residential property sales. He says the ban has put a stranglehold on the city's development for 40 years.

Public voting begins today in the second-annual retail entrepreneur contest called Hatch Detroit.

This year's ten semi-finalists include a kayak rental business, a cosmetics company and a biergarten.

"We actually aren't looking for chains or anything like that, though," said the project's executive director, Vittoria Katanski. "We're looking for independent retail. So if you're an independent retailer from Rochester who wants to open a second in the city of Detroit you'd be eligible, or if you're just a person in the city who has has a really great idea you'd be eligible also."

Katanski says there's been a 25 percent increase in business plan submissions this year compared to last year.

The winner will be awarded $50,000, plus about 20-thousand dollars worth of services.

Eight Highland Park school students returned to classes this week as plaintiffs against a school system they say has failed them. Their families and the ACLU say the school district and the state have  denied them the right to learn to read.

“It’s heartbreaking every day when you get up and people look in your face and say: oh, that’s that lady, her daughter can’t read,” says Michelle Johnson. Her daughter is heading into the 12th grade. But she can only read at about a fourth-grade level.

Courtesy: Free Amir / Freeamir.org

Supporters of a Michigan man who's been held for a year in Iran will hold a benefit concert in Flint tomorrow.

The Iranian government accuses Amir Hekmati of working for the CIA. The U.S. government denies that.

Ramy Kurdi is Hekmati's brother-in-law, and helped organize the concert. He says money raised from ticket sales will help the family with their legal fees. But he says it's just as much about raising awareness.

"We'd like people to know who Amir is, and that's not a secret," said Kurdi. "He's an outstanding person, outstanding son, citizen, brother, uncle, friend."

Hekmati was sentenced to death in January. There have been reports out of Iran that its Supreme Court has ordered a retrial. But family members say they have yet to get an official notice of that.

The concert is tomorrow at 7 p.m. at the University of Michigan-Flint theater.

About half of local leaders in Michigan think the state is on the right track, and that Governor Snyder is doing a good job. That's according to a survey released today by the Center for Local, State and Urban Policy at the University of Michigan.

The governor's approval rating rose more than ten points compared to a year ago. Tom Ivacko is the program manager for the Center. He says partisan leanings do factor into opinions about the governor's performance, "but even so what we found in the last year is increasing percentages also of independents and of Democrats believing that the state's headed in the right direction, and that the governor's doing a good job."

In 2011, 37 percent of local leaders rated Snyder's performance as "good" or "excellent." But Ivacko says at that time Snyder was a newcomer to politics, and an unknown quantity.

"And now that it's a year later and he has a track record - and a fairly bold track record of policy reform in Lansing - what we see now is increasing optimism."

Approval ratings for state lawmakers remain low. Just 27 percent of local officials give the Legislature high marks. A third of them rate state lawmakers as "poor."

Nov. 8, 2007
A high school diploma should mean a graduate has mastered the basics. But that hasn't been the case in Michigan - where many college and university students are learning subjects they should have mastered in high school.

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