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.

The city of Jackson is looking to get more aggressive with home demolitions. Officials razed two houses to kick off its Neighborhood Stabilization Program today.

Jackson Mayor Marty Griffin says as many as 600 homes in the city appear to be vacant.

"Most of these houses need more than $100,000 in repair," Griffin said. "And for a private person to step up to the plate and put that kind of money into a house that they’re going to be able to sell for $30,000 is just not going to happen."

Demolition costs run about $11,000 for a single-family home.

screen grab from City of Inkster website

Last April, Inskster District Court Judge Sylvia James was placed on administrative leave with pay after city officials leveled charges of financial mismanagement against her.

As Michigan Radio's Sarah Alvarez reported, James "could not explain why court funds were used to pay for travel, clothing, and other expenses."

Another judge took her place, and the State Supreme Court started looking into the charges.

Tammi Warren has lived on the same winding street in the Detroit suburb of Inkster, Mich., all her life. But as she drives down the block in her Ford pickup, Warren points to several houses on her street that stand vacant, casualties of the housing market collapse.

Vacant houses mean less tax revenue for the city, and less revenue makes it harder for Inkster to provide basic city services.

"[The] city of Inkster has eliminated 38 positions," says City Treasurer Mark Stuhldreher. "It's about 25 percent, roughly, of the workforce."

Beginning today, tens of thousands of people who use metro Detroit’s suburban bus system will see their options dramatically limited. The cash-strapped SMART system is cutting 15 routes on weekdays, and it’s terminating some routes at Detroit’s city limits.

Megan Owens of the advocacy group Transportation Riders United says the downriver area will be hit the hardest – losing several major routes. "And then really, anyone who’s going to be traveling between Detroit and the suburbs anytime other than rush hours will really be hit very hard by having to transfer to a D-DOT bus to continue their trip."

D-DOT is the system that serves the city of Detroit, and has its own set of problems. Declining tax revenues due to drops in property values, fewer federal dollars, and the SMART system’s inability to win concessions from its unions are blamed for the cuts.

A Detroit City Council member is pushing his colleagues to cut the council’s budget by 30 percent. The move comes the same day the state initiated a financial review process that could end in the appointment of an emergency manager for the city.

The Detroit City Council’s budget is more than $13 million, and includes perks like city-issued cars and cell phones for council members.

Gary Brown is the Council President Pro Tem. He says like other city employees, he only pays ten percent of his health care costs. Brown’s proposal calls for upping that employee contribution to 30 percent. He says that’s a change the entire city workforce needs to accept.

"And the message, if we don’t show leadership on this issue, is that we’re asking our employees to do something we’re not willing to do," Brown said.

Brown made a similar proposal last month that went nowhere. This time he’s introduced a resolution that will get an up-or-down vote next week.

G.L. Kohuth / Michigan State University

About two years ago, police and prosecutors were conducting a walk-through of a Detroit Police storage room when they came across something as shocking as any crime scene: more than 10,000 rape kits, collecting dust.

“You don’t get 10,000-plus kits sitting in a storage facility because one person or one organization didn’t do their job. It just doesn’t work like that. You can’t get a problem that big,” says Michigan State University researcher Rebecca Campbell.

Not just a Detroit problem

You've heard of canaries in coal mines. Or search and rescue dogs. But how about sending a team of beetles into a disaster zone? Marketplace's Tech Report Blog wrote about the idea today:

Researchers at the University of Michigan have figured out how to use the vibrations of beetles to harness energy that powers “tiny backpacks” that said beetles would carry to help with disaster area search and rescue. The idea would be to release the insects, equipped with microphones and other sensors, into disaster zones. Kinda creepy, but I’ll take a beetle crawling over my face any day, if it means I can get a collapsed roof off me. 

From a U of M press release on the research:

"Through energy scavenging, we could potentially power cameras, microphones and other sensors and communications equipment that an insect could carry aboard a tiny backpack," Najafi said. 

Researchers at the university hope to patent the idea, and they're looking for business partners to bring the technology to market.

An academic paper on the work is published in the Journal of Micromechanics and Microengineering.

Detroit Regional Chamber

Business leaders in Detroit say they have a little more clarity now on Mayor Dave Bing’s proposal to boost the city’s corporate tax rate.

Bing wants to nearly double the tax – to one-point-nine percent – on C-Corporations. Those are companies that are incorporated. They tend to be larger businesses.

Sandy Baruah is the president of the Detroit Regional Chamber. He says C-Corps also tend to be the businesses that have been doing a lot of recent hiring in Detroit.

Ed Morykwas / River of Time Photography

For a lot of people, living the good life in America means having money in the bank, and a big house on a suburban cul-de-sac.

But in a little corner of Detroit, there's a group of neighbors who say you don’t need to be middle class to live a good, prosperous, dignified life.

When Riet Schumack moved to Detroit’s Brightmoor neighborhood, in 2006, she found herself surrounded by blight, drug crime, prostitution, and illegal dumping.

So she signed up for every meeting, every committee there was – to try and make the neighborhood a better place to live.

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing is addressing residents tonight about the city's financial troubles. And he answered one looming question right off the bat:

“Let me make one thing perfectly clear: I don’t want an emergency manager making decisions for my city,” Bing said.

He said his administration has eliminated 2,000 positions since he took office, but more needs to be done to keep the city out of receivership.

“I refuse to sugar-coat the situation or kick the can down the road, expecting someone else to fix our problems,” the mayor said.

Bing also said he won't allow the city's police and fire departments to be gutted. "I will not allow criminals free reign over our city," Bing said - but in the next breath added that officers and firefighters need to accept the same 10 percent pay cut other city employees have had to swallow.

Here's a link to the report the mayor's office commissioned that shows the city could run out of cash by spring.

Michigan Radio's Sarah Cwiek will have more details on Bing's speech tomorrow on Morning Edition.

screen grab from YouTube video

Several Detroit clergy members say they plan to hold their own prayer vigil in response to Friday’s massive event billed as “The Call: Detroit.”

Organizers of The Call have booked Ford Field for a 24-hour fasting and prayer rally. But critics say they’re troubled that the event’s organizers have an anti-gay and anti-Muslim agenda.

The Reverend Alexander Bullock says the group’s message is divisive, "but it’s being couched in a kind of non-combative, let’s-come-together-it’s Christian language. So we’re really asking people to pay attention to the undertone: how sin equals Muslims. How conversion of Muslims equals redemption for Detroit."

Promotional materials for Friday’s event have said Detroit exemplifies a national crisis that includes – quote – “the rising tide of the Islamic movement.”

Messages left with the rally’s organizers were not returned.

Here's a promotional video for the event:

Governor Rick Snyder says a financial emergency exists in Flint.

That determination could lead to the appointment of an emergency manager for the city.

"The State's decision shows how serious our financial challenges are in the City of Flint," Mayor Dayne Walling said in a statement. "Significant progress has been made to stabilize the City's finances during a very difficult economy, but without shared sacrifice across the board the City has not been able to implement all of the necessary cost-savings. When some don't share in the sacrifice, we are all forced to bear the burden. With the support of the people, I will continue serve the City of Flint."

The news comes just a few hours before the polls close in Flint.

Challenger Darryl Buchanan issued an appeal to his supporters to continue voting despite the decision.

A spokeswoman for Governor Snyder says the timing of the announcement had nothing to do with the election. Sara Wurfel says Snyder got the report this morning and reviewed it with the state treasurer before making the decision that an emergency exists.

The city has seven days to request a hearing to challenge the declaration, and if it does, that hearing would take place Nov. 18.

* An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that there are seven candidates in the mayor's race. There are only two - Walling and Buchanan.

DonkeyHotey / flickr

Oakland University will host a nationally televised Republican presidential debate this week.

With Michigan’s high unemployment rate, and hosts from the business cable channel CNBC moderating the event, the economy is expected to be a major focus of Wednesday night’s debate.

Former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain will take the stage after a week of fielding questions about accusations of sexual harassment that allegedly happened in the late 1990s.

Meanwhile, Michigan native and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is working to regain the lead he once had in the race, before Cain’s meteoric rise in the polls.

In addition to Cain and Romney, Texas Governor Rick Perry, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich have all confirmed they’ll attend. They’ll share the stage with Minnesota Congresswoman Michelle Bachman, Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, Texas Congressman Ron Paul, and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum.

Moderators will give each candidate one minute to respond to a question, or 30 seconds to respond to a follow-up question.

The Michigan Republican Party is a co-sponsor of the event.

The debate begins at 8 p.m. CNBC will begin coverage at 7 p.m.

A spokesman for the Genesee Intermediate School District says a caller told Michigan State Police around noon that five dirty bombs were planted at five school buildings in the county, but did not specify which. We're told some schools dismissed early, some moved children to different buildings, and some did walk-throughs with law enforcement, found the threat to be unsubstantiated, and decided to dismiss at the normal time.

Tune in to Michigan Radio for more.

 

 

Highland Park schools could be Michigan’s second school district to get an emergency manager. The state moved a step closer to that scenario today.

Governor Rick Snyder has appointed a 10-member team to comb through the troubled school district’s finances – and maybe help it avoid a state takeover.

A preliminary review of Highland Park Schools’ books wrapped up late this summer. It found “probable financial stress,” with recurring deficits, and a current deficit of more than 15 percent of the district’s general fund revenues. The state schools chief recommended the second review.

The review team has 30 days to report its findings to the governor.

Right now Benton Harbor, Ecorse and Pontiac – along with Detroit Public Schools – are under emergency managers. A secondary review of Flint’s finances just got under way.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Michigan’s only oil refinery is offering to buy out homeowners near its Detroit facility as it wraps up a major expansion project. The company is offering a minimum of $40,000, plus half a house’s appraised value. There’s also money to help people with moving expenses, and some other bonuses.

Michigan Department of Corrections

Macomb County will pay a $150,000 settlement to a man who was wrongfully convicted of beating and raping his former girlfriend.

A lawsuit filed by Jeffrey Moldowan was set to go to trial today. Moldowan spent a dozen years in prison for the crime before a jury acquitted him in a second trial.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

James Hill lives in Detroit and uses the bus every day. And he says he’s learned to dedicate hours to getting from point A to point B.

People who need to catch the bus to work or school in Detroit are in a jam. On any given day, about half the city’s buses are parked, waiting for repairs. That, in turn, means hours-long waits at bus stops.

Hill said he took the bus to visit his son in the hospital a couple of weeks ago. He left the hospital at 4 o’clock in the afternoon…

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

The majority leader of the U.S. House says wealth redistribution is not the answer to the nation’s economic disparities. Virginia Congressman Eric Cantor spoke at the University of Michigan today.

Cantor was heckled by a handful of audience members for his message that the government should give “a hand up, not a handout” to those who need it.

He spoke to a crowd that included about a dozen people who stood with their backs to Cantor and wore shirts with slogans like “tax the rich.” Cantor said that’s the wrong message.

"The goal shouldn’t be for everyone to meet in the middle of the ladder," he said. "We should be wanting all people to be moving up, and no one to be pulled down."

Dozens of people protested outside the building where Cantor delivered his speech. Several carried cardboard tombstones with the words "RIP middle class."

U of M student Jordan Harris wore a costume to the demonstration. But not, she said, because it's Halloween.

"I'm here as a zombie to represent the lack of humanity I and my fellow zombies... see in corporate America," she said.

Cantor said the national conversation about income inequality should be about how to accelerate income mobility. He said government’s role should be to help encourage family stability, and give tools to small business that will help them thrive.

Hundreds of people have appealed to the state to keep their cash assistance benefits. More than 11,000 families are set to lose those benefits next week.

Sheryl Thompson is with the state Department of Human Services. She says people who file appeals within 10 days of receiving a cut-off notice can have their benefits continue while the case is decided, although "if the department’s decision is upheld then they will need to repay those benefit amounts."

The department is required to make a decision within 65 days of when an appeal request is filed.

New state rules strictly enforce a four-year limit on cash assistance benefits.

Student-made satellites launch into space

Oct 28, 2011
Ben Cooper / Spaceflight Now

Students at the University of Michigan got to see two satellites they built blast into space today.

Engineering Professor James Cutler said it was an exciting moment for his students to be able to watch the NASA rocket that carried the satellites fire up and launch.

"They see all their theoretical knowledge come to life," said Cutler. "They get to apply everything they’ve been learning to a real-world problem. They get to see things that are real-world and unscripted."

RAX is the name of one of the satellites. It will do atmospheric experiments and measurements for the National Science Foundation.

Noah Klugman is a junior who worked on the second satellite, called M-Cubed. It's flying a technology demonstration mission for NASA. He’ll help operate the satellite from Ann Arbor, and take pictures of Earth.

"I plan on having a lot of fun with that, and getting better with that," Klugman said. "I can’t wait for my first picture to come down."

Video of the launch was provided by NASA:

 

Update, 6:30 pm:

Speaking with reporters on a late afternoon conference call, UAW President Bob King says its International Executive Board followed the union’s constitution, which gives skilled trades workers a separate right of ratification on skilled trades issues.

But King says the board investigated the reasons skilled trades workers voted the contract down. He says according to Facebook posts and leaflets, the main reasons were general economic ones affecting all workers, such as bonuses - and not issues specific to skilled trades workers.

"You want to protect the rights of the minority, but you can’t let the minority overrule the rights of the majority," King said.

King says with all three contracts with the Detroit automakers now finalized, the union will turn its attention to organizing efforts, and the 2012 elections.

Here's the breakout of the vote, according to the UAW:

The city of Inkster is the subject of a financial review by the state that could ultimately lead to the appointment of an emergency manager.

State Treasury spokesman Terry Stanton says the review was ordered after city officials informed the department about its financial difficulties. He says that’s the goal of the state’s revamped emergency manager law: to get information sooner, and work with municipalities to fix their problems:

“And therefore perhaps have an opportunity to work collaboratively with a local unit to address any issues that are there.”

The preliminary review will last up to 30 days. Michigan’s new emergency manager law has spurred much controversy, a lawsuit, and an effort to repeal it at the ballot box. Critics of the law say it violates home rule.

The controversy over a lucrative payout to one of Wayne County’s top appointees does not look like it will end anytime soon. Wayne County Commissioners plan to question officials about the $200,000 severance this week.

"I’m not going to assume this is a frequent occurrence, but I am going to say that we’re going to ask all the right questions, and find out every single one that’s ever been done," said Commissioner Gary Woronchak.

Turkia Mullin was awarded the “severance” payment when she voluntarily left her county job to head the county airport authority.

Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano announced last week that he suspended two aides and fired a contract employee for the payout. He also apologized to county residents.

Yesterday, about two dozen activists reportedly protested outside the Wayne County offices, demanding a state investigation.

State of Michigan

Michigan will get close $46.7 million for 16 transportation projects across the state. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in Dearborn today, where he announced the funding.

Governor Rick Snyder says he and Detroit Mayor Dave Bing will also head up a task force to try and break through a decades-old effort to create a regional transportation authority for southeast Michigan. Snyder says he wants to see quick action, "because we have a legacy here of planning too long and not acting enough.”

Right now, separate bus systems serve Detroit and the suburbs. Both systems face major budget troubles. DDOT, the system that serves Detroit, has cut routes, and riders have complained about hours-long waits. Meanwhile, the suburban system, SMART, just announced massive service cuts.

"I am hopeful in a short period of time we will have a solution or more than one option in terms of how we're going to deal with that problem," said Detroit Mayor Dave Bing.

Part of that solution will come in the form of help from the federal government, which has pledged $6 million for the city to purchase new busses. Bing says he's also hoping for concessions from the union that represents the city's bus drivers.

david_shankbone / flickr

Hundreds of people of all ages turned out in downtown Detroit for an event they’re billing “Occupy Detroit.” It’s part of a movement that started on Wall Street and has spread across the country.

"It’s to wake up," said Dobey Gavin of Detroit. "With the trickle-down economics, it just don’t work no more in America."

Richard Black is an Army veteran from Warren. He says he’s never come out to protest, but he’s fed up. Especially with politicians.

"I don’t believe that they work for the people any longer, I think they work for whoever pays them," he said. "And it’s got to stop. It’s got to stop."

Protestors plan to meet at 7 p.m. to talk about goals for the movement in Detroit.

Some of the protestors plan to pitch tents and take up residence in Grand Circus Park, near the stadiums and theater district.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Two Wayne County appointees have been suspended over the $200,000 payout to a former economic development chief.

County Executive Bob Ficano says proper protocols were not followed when Turkia Mullin was awarded the “severance” payment when she voluntarily left her county job.

"I’m holding those who made errors in judgment accountable for their actions," Ficano said. "Mistakes have consequences."

Deputy Executive Azzam Elder and the county’s head lawyer, Marianne Talon, have been suspended without pay for 30 days. Tim Taylor, the county's former human resources director, was also sanctioned. Taylor is retired, but had a part-time contract with the county. That contract has been terminated.

Ficano says the county should never have paid a severance to an appointee who left voluntarily. That’s despite the fact that he initially defended the payment.

County officials say Turkia Mullin will return the money.

Mysid / Wikipedia

Southeast Michigan’s regional bus system is getting ready to make massive cuts to its service.

Declining tax revenues due to drops in property values, fewer federal dollars, and the SMART system’s inability to win concessions from its unions are the reasons behind the cuts.

The system is looking at a 22 percent cut to its service, affecting 30 of its 53 routes.

"Certainly this is a tragedy," said SMART’s Beth Gibbons. "It’s not going to be easy for the thousands of people who depend on our service every day to get to work and to school."

Public hearings on the proposed cuts are scheduled for the first week of November. The changes could take effect as early as December 12.

About 40,000 people a day ride SMART busses.

Update 11:53 am

Abdulmutallab's stand-by attorney, Anthony Chambers, says he's "disappointed" with the guilty plea, but said he respects the defendant's wishes.

"Certainly no lawyer worth his weight in salt would recommend a plea to life without parole," Chambers said.

Chamber said he believes Abdulmutallab is misguided and impressionable. He said the young Nigerian will not cooperate with the government.

Asked why he believed Abdulmutallab decided to plead guilty, Chambers said he thinks the statement he read upon entering his guilty plea allowed him to say what he wanted, and avoid a trial. In the statement - which Chambers said Abdulmutallab wrote himself - the defendant said his actions were a reaction to U.S. support of Israel and because of the U.S. killings of Muslims around the world. He called the bomb he carried and tried to detonate on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 a "blessed weapon." He said he was guilty of violating U.S. law, but not the law of the Koran.

Abdulmutallab faces a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole. He will be sentenced January 12.

Update 10:39 a.m.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab has pled guilty to all eight charges against him.

From the Detroit News:

He pleaded guilty to eight charges after he returned from a 45-minute recess, ending the most high-profile terrorism case in the United States since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds asked him if he wished to waive his right to a trial and plead guilty.

"That's right," he said.

The guilty plea marksa major victory against terrorism for the Justice Department, which was criticized by some for trying Abdulmutallab in civilian court instead of a military tribunal.

David Ashenfelter of the Detroit Free Press reports that Abdulmutallab faces 30 years to life in prison.

10:19 a.m.

The Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press are reporting that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is pleading guilty on charges of trying to blow up a Detroit-bound jetliner on Christmas Day 2009.

The Detroit Free Press is live blogging the trial and reports that the judge is going over the penalties with Abdulmutallab now.

Michigan Radio's Sarah Hulett is on her way to the court and will have an update for us later.

U.S. Marshals

Attorneys for the federal government today laid out the road map they’ll use to prosecute the young Nigerian man accused of trying to blow up a Detroit-bound airplane two years ago.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Tukel told jurors Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s sole reason for being on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on Christmas Day 2009 was to blow it up. Tukel said Abdulmutallab “thought he would end up in heaven because he would be a martyr.”

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