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

Kate Davidson / Michigan Radio

Update 5:39 pm:

The mayor’s plan includes $360 million in savings over the next year and a half. But some city council members  say they’re skeptical.

"There’s not much here that we haven’t already heard before," Councilman Ken Cockrel said. He and others say the savings appear overly optimistic. 

Mayor Bing disagrees.

"Add up the numbers," he said. "The numbers don’t lie."

The mayor plans to present his proposal to a state review team next week. That review team could recommend an emergency manager take over the city finances. Meanwhile, his administration continues to negotiate with city unions. Bing says the unions have until the end of the month to agree to concessions, or steeper cuts and layoffs are inevitable.

1:01 pm:

The Associated Press reports that Detroit Mayor Dave Bing has declared the city's financial crisis is easing, and the city is "no longer at risk of running out of cash by April as previously expected."

Michigan Radio's Sarah Hulett is following this story and will have more for us later.

More from the Associated Press:

Mayor Dave Bing on Thursday released a financial and operational restructuring plan update. It highlights cost savings from 1,000 imminent layoffs, overdue payments from the Detroit Public Schools district and a corporate tax increase that Bing says will mitigate a cash shortfall.

Bing planned to present the update Thursday afternoon to the Detroit City Council, which has scheduled discussion time for the plan.

A review team is looking into Detroit's finances - a step in a process that could lead to Michigan taking over the city's government. Its recommendations will be forwarded to Gov. Rick Snyder.

Last November, Mayor Bing cited a financial audit that showed the city might run out of money this April.

screen grab

Beginning this month, law students at the University of Michgian will be able to sign up for a new Entrepreneurship Clinic. The clinic will focus on helping students do things like set up businesses, and protect intellectual property.

Law School Professor Dana Thompson will run the Entrepreneurship Clinic.

She said it makes sense to help the growing number of entrepreneurs at the university with their legal issues, such as employment law issues, developing contracts for their businesses, leases, and financing.

Thompson said the clinic will give law students a great opportunity to connect with business, engineering or other students, "and begin to make those connections with future clients or colleagues, and to do it while you're in school and everybody's kind of in that learning stage is a great opportunity for them."

Ten students will be part of the clinic's inaugural class, but the plan is to more than double the capacity.

The program attracted more than five times the number of applicants as there were spots available. Thompson says the interest reflects the fact that the employment landscape is changing, with a shift toward entrepreneurship.

Bytemarks / flickr

The state has issued bonds to wipe clean a $3.2 billion debt to the federal government.  That’s money Michigan had to borrow to cover its unemployment benefits costs.

Michigan racked up the debt because the tax employers pay into the Unemployment Trust Fund wasn’t keeping pace with payments that needed to be made to laid-off workers.

Employers will be the ones on the hook for paying off the bonds. The state’s Unemployment Insurance Agency will send out invoices this spring.

The bond sale was made possible by legislation passed just before lawmakers adjourned for the year. That’s important, since repaying the federal government by the end of the year will ultimately allow employers to save as much as $200 million in interest costs.

Michigan had to pay $38 million in interest on its unemployment insurance loans this year.

Guitarfool5931 / flickr

Legislation is expected to be introduced next month to change the way Michigan pays for road maintenance.

Governor Snyder has a two-part plan for road funding. The first part would switch to a gas tax based on the price of fuel, instead of the number of gallons sold. That’s important because gas tax revenues are slipping as people drive more fuel-efficient cars.

dannybirchall / flickr

Backers of so-called “right to work” legislation plan to make a push for the policy change in Michigan early next year.

The law would prohibit agreements that make union membership or the payment of union dues conditions of employment.

About two dozen states have such laws, but Michigan’s status as a union stronghold has long made prospects difficult here. Those with the campaign, though, say that's changing.

"We’ve seen a slow, long steady decline of manufacturing jobs and good-paying union jobs here in Michigan," said Jack Hoogendyk of Michigan Freedom to Work. "A lot of those jobs have gone to right-to-work states."

But it’s still expected to be an uphill climb. Governor Snyder and Senate Republican Leader Randy Richardville have both said the legislation is not a priority for them.

Critics of the legislation call it “right to work for less.” They say wages are significantly lower in right-to-work states.

A new state tax could be in jeopardy. Starting January 1, every time an insured patient sees a doctor and the claim is submitted to an insurance company for payment, one percent will be added to the bill. The money will help fund Michigan’s Medicaid program.

The Self-Insurance Institute of America is challenging the tax in federal court.

"This will essentially put in new administrative requirements for how health insurers administer health claims," said SIIA COO Michael Ferguson, who says that’s not allowed under federal law.

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.