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.

Michigan DEQ

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.

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

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.

Nike

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.

Mark Savage / Entergy

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."

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

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.

The Math Problem

Jul 11, 2012

Nov. 15, 2007
Arithmetic and algebra haven't changed for centuries. So why do kids - and adults - have such a hard time with math? One mathematician says he thinks he knows the answer.

Nov. 15, 2007
Bill Schmidt is well known in education circles for his research into the academic content in K-12 schools, testing, and the effects of curriculum on academic achievement. He spoke with Michigan Radio's Sarah Hulett, who asked him whether he believes a "math crisis" exists.

Regents at Eastern Michigan University are threatening to fire the school's president unless she gets her drinking under control.

Three of the university's regents wrote a letter to President Susan Martin after an April incident in Washington D.C. Apparently, Martin got into an alcohol-fueled argument with an alumnus.

The letter also references "prior incidents," although it does not elaborate.

Zachary Payne has a rap sheet that reads like it belongs to someone who’s spent more than 18 years on this earth.

“Four Minor in Possessions,” he recounts, “two retail frauds, resisting arrest, assaulting a police officer, assault and battery, like two or three domestic violences, and a couple other ones I can’t remember.”

Payne might not be able to remember them. But the Internet does.

ICHAT is the name of an online database that anyone with ten dollars can check, and they do - especially employers, looking to vet potential hires.

The state Court of Appeals has reinstated an embezzlement case against the former emergency manager for Highland Park.

Arthur Blackwell II is accused of taking $264,000 in payments that were not authorized by state officials.

The appeals court decision reverses a lower court ruling - which had dismissed the case. The lower court agreed with Blackwell - who said as the city's emergency manager, he had the authority to sign the checks to himself. The appeals court says there's enough evidence that Blackwell acted improperly to try him.

Blackwell was appointed to fix Highland Park's finances in 2005, by then-governor Jennifer Granholm. 

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy says she's pleased with the appeals court decision.

GEO / YouTube

A round of firefighter layoffs in Detroit might not be as severe as city officials announced earlier this week.

Michigan U.S. Senator Carl Levin says Detroit will be awarded a $22.5 million federal grant that would save most of the fire department jobs slated for layoff.

Word of the grant comes just a few days after the layoff announcement. The job cuts were to take effect at the end of July.

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Detroit Public Schools officials say they expect to end this fiscal year with a $12 million surplus. Meanwhile, the district's proposed budget for next year projects the loss of about 15,000 students, and about 1,900 jobs.

Detroit Public Schools is preparing to shrink next year as 15 schools become part of the Educational Achievement Authority. That's the new statewide system for failing schools.

Steve Wasko is a spokesman for Detroit Public Schools. He says the job cuts are not as alarming as they might sound.

"It's not necessarily a net loss of education jobs, public education jobs, public teacher jobs in the city of Detroit - in public schools in the city of Detroit, but a shift that we knew was coming for some time," said Wasko.

A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for next Wednesday.

Detroit mayor Dave Bing opened the first meeting of the city's newly formed financial advisory board by telling its members their task is to help return Detroit to greatness.

The problem is, the city has a massive budget deficit to wrestle with while it tries to keep the street lights on and the busses running.

Sheila Cockrel served on the city council for 16 years before retiring in 2009. She says there needs to be a major shift in the culture for the intervention to work.

"Them and us doesn't work," Cockrel said. "This is not someone taking something away. This has got to be everybody coming to the table for the common good and for the greater good. 'Cause what's good for Detroit is good for Michigan."

The nine-member board is mandated by the city's consent agreement with the state.

Supporters of an effort to kick Troy's mayor out of office say they've submitted more than enough petition signatures to get the measure onto the November ballot.

John Kulesz is one of the recall campaign's organizers. He says he expects Mayor Janice Daniels and her supporters will put up a vigorous fight to keep her in office.

"These people are take no prisoner types,” said Kulesz. “So we know that they'll throw everything in the book at us to discredit us and accuse us of this that and the other thing. But we're going to stand up for our rights, and we're going to stand up for the people of Troy."

Kulesz Daniels is harming Troy's reputation. Daniels gained notoriety over a gay slur she used on her Facebook page before she took office. She later angered many people when she voted to turn down federal money for a transit center.

But Daniels says those are not legitimate reasons for recall.

"If the new standard for recall is that a group of people doesn't like the way an elected official voted on an issue, or they don't like an elected official's opinion on issues, then we've gone to a very dangerous point in our history,” Daniels said. “I haven't committed a crime."

The Oakland County clerk's office has 35 days to certify the petitions.

Michigan is on track to get dozens of new state police troopers in October.

Michigan's Trooper Recruit School just got under way. About 90 recruits are enrolled, and another 90 are expected to start training in October.

This year's crop of recruits is larger than in recent years. But the number of new troopers still won't outpace the number expected to retire.

"It may give us a slight uptick, but it's pretty much going to keep us pretty much at the same level when we look at the number of people we have eligible for retirement, we're losing quite a lot of people over the next few years," said Michigan State Police  spokeswoman Shannon Banner.

Michigan currently has just over 900 troopers stationed at 29 posts around the state. That compares with about 1,300 a decade ago.

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