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.

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Environment
8:42 am
Mon January 16, 2012

Proposed amendment would ratchet up renewable power mandate

user vaxomatic flickr

A coalition of business, labor and agriculture groups is backing a ballot campaign to boost the state’s renewable energy mandate.

Michigan utilities are already required to get 10 percent of their energy from renewable sources like solar and wind by 2015. The proposed constitutional amendment would boost that to 25 percent, by 2025.

"There’s 20 other states that include and Illinois, Minnesota and Iowa that have already adopted measures similar to the initiative, without significant increase in utility costs for consumers," said campaign spokesman Mark Fisk.

A spokesman for DTE Energy says it would be difficult to comply with the 25 percent mandate without a significant increase in rates. The proposed ballot language says utilities could not increase rates by more than one percent a year to comply with the mandate.

A state elections board is expected to decide whether to approve the ballot language this week.

Financial Crisis
5:05 pm
Thu January 12, 2012

Snyder: Financial crisis exists in Highland Park School District

State Treasurer Andy Dillon, left, and state Superintendent Mike Flanagan
Sarah Hulett Michigan Radio

Update 4:58 pm:

State Treasurer Andy Dillon says the district’s money problems are deep and troubling. He says the state will advance the school district $188,000 so it can meet payroll tomorrow. 

"I have no comfort that the district has a handle on their finances," said Dillon. "The numbers move hourly. We have three people down there today trying to get a handle on how much they actually need for payroll. And I’m very uneasy about it, because I can’t tell you in the middle of February that they’re going to make payroll."

But school board member Robert Davis says the state has contributed to the district’s financial woes by requiring that it close a career academy that enrolled 1,500 students.

"Their plan and intent is to fold the Highland park School system into the Detroit Public School system," Davis said. "That’s what this is all about."

Highland Park Schools' student population has declined 58% percent since 2006. 

State officials say their objective is to keep the district’s doors open through the end of the year. But they say that will be difficult. The district needs a cash infusion of at least $3 million to get through the school year. But the maximum the state is allowed to advance under hardship cases is $2 million.

The district's cumulative deficit is $11.3 million. That’s about $10,000 for every student enrolled.

12:56 p.m.

Governor Rick Snyder has declared a financial emergency in the Highland Park school district, Rick Pluta reports. The district will have a chance to challenge the finding at a January 17th hearing before the governor names an emergency manager.

In a statement released today, the Governor says:

“It is critical that students in the Highland Park School District get the education they need and deserve. For that to continue, the Highland Park School District must have stable finances. Through the comprehensive reviews that have been conducted, it is clear the district faces monumental financial challenges.”

On January 4th a state review  panel recommended the governor appoint an emergency manager to fix the school district’s "financial emergency." The financial review team had been looking at the Highland Park School District’s books since November. Earlier this month, Steve Carmody reported:

The panel’s report to the governor finds the school district is $11 million in the red. That works out to about $10 thousand for every student enrolled.  The school district’s deficit has grown by $3 million in just the last year. The school district’s debt has grown, as its student population has fallen. Nearly 3,200 students attended Highland Park schools in 2006. This year, fewer than a thousand students are enrolled.

Emergency managers are already running the Detroit public schools,  as well as the cities of Flint, Pontiac, Ecorse and Benton Harbor. Financial review teams are also looking at Detroit and Inkster's books.

Read more
Auto/Economy
5:24 pm
Wed January 11, 2012

Energy Secretary: innovate or be overtaken

U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu
U.S. Department of Energy

U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu says now that domestic carmakers weathered the storm, they need to innovate to stay competitive.

Secretary Chu says the government rescue of Chrysler and General Motors has paid off, but there’s hard work ahead.

"And our choice is very clear. We have to continue to innovate, or we’ll be overtaken," he told the Detroit Economic Club.

Chu says innovation is more than just discovery and invention. It’s figuring out how to make things like batteries at low cost and high volume.

Secretary Chu says U.S. automakers also need to adjust to the fact that foreign markets like China, India and Brazil are where the growth is.

Chu is one of four cabinet members in the Obama administration who toured the Detroit auto show this week. 

immigration
5:37 pm
Mon January 9, 2012

Feds halt deportation hours after rally in support of Detroit mom

Cecelia Manquera showed up to the ICE field office in Detroit with a suitcase of clothes for her sister-in-law, Leslie Hernandez. Hernandez was scheduled for deportation this week, but ICE officials halted her removal and will release her tomorrow.
Sarah Hulett Michigan Radio

Advocates for a Detroit woman held a rally today urging the federal government to scrap its plans to deport her to Mexico this week. Hours after the demonstration, immigration officials announced they would stop Leslie Hernandez’s deportation and release her.

Hernandez is – by her family’s account – exactly the kind of immigrant for whom the Obama administration says deportations should be halted.

Hernandez came to the U.S. as a child and has lived here longer than she ever lived in Mexico. She has a clean record, and three young children.

"She’s not a criminal, and it wasn’t her fault that she was brought the United States when she was a minor," said Hernandez’s sister-in-law, Cecelia Manquera.

President Obama wants immigration agents to focus enforcement efforts on removing immigrants convicted of crimes.

A spokesman for the Detroit immigration enforcement office says Hernandez will be released under federal supervision.

health
5:04 pm
Fri January 6, 2012

Blues, Beaumont reach settlement, avoid booting HMO patients

Beaumont Health System

Blue Cross-Blue Shield of Michigan has reached a five-year deal with Beaumont Health System that will increase reimbursements to the hospital. It also includes a new performance-based payment model.

The health system had threatened to stop accepting patients covered by the Blues’ HMO, Blue Care Network,  starting next Thursday. 

"It was very unfortunate but the good news is that we’ve rescinded that now, and BCN members will not have gone one day without their services being covered at Beaumont and we think that’s a very positive outcome,"  said Beaumont CFO Nick Vitale.

Officials on both sides say the deal will better coordinate care by establishing programs that avoid unnecessary tests "to make sure that the primary care physicians are speaking to the specialists who are speaking to the hospitals to make sure that if there’s a test performed that it’s only performed once," said BCBSM vice president Sue Barkell.

The five-year contract will boost reimbursements to the hospital. But the two sides would not disclose what the rate increase will be.

abdulmutallab
1:15 pm
Fri January 6, 2012

Judge denies "underwear bomber" request for new lawyer

The young Nigerian man convicted of trying to blow up a Detroit-bound flight two years ago will not be appointed new legal counsel ahead of his sentencing next month.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab says the “stand-by” attorney who’s been assisting him throughout his prosecution has misled and neglected him.

Lawyer Anthony Chambers has denied those charges. And prosecutors argued Abdulmutallab – who’s insisted on acting as his own attorney – has no legal right to standby counsel, let alone one of his choosing. The government also said granting Abdulmutallab’s request would delay justice for the passengers of Northwest Airlines Flight 253. Judge Nancy Edmunds denied the request.

Abdulmutallab pleaded guilty to all the charges against him in October. He’s scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 16.

Auto
5:47 pm
Thu January 5, 2012

Deal inked to keep auto show in Detroit through 2017

Detroit will hang on to the North American International Auto Show for at least another five years.

The deal signed today by auto show and Cobo Center officials should reverse years of suggestions that show sponsors might take their business elsewhere.

"It is our way of saying: 'Detroit, we are with you,'" said Bill Perkins, chairman of the 2012 show. 

A regional authority took control of Cobo away from the city two years ago. The move paved the way a $278 million renovation of the aging facility. Perkins says those renovations will put the facility on par with other top global venues, "helping us to maintain our position on the world auto stage as the show at which to introduce new and exciting vehicles."

The renovation is under way that will add space to Cobo and open views to the Detroit River. The facility is also getting new loading docks and other amenities. The auto dealers who put on the show had warned the city could lose the auto show if renovations were not made.

The show opens to the public January 14.

Politics
5:42 pm
Thu January 5, 2012

Detroit Mayor Bing says city won't run out of money this April

Detroit Mayor Bing says with changes, the financial crisis in the city is not as bad as previously forecasted.
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.

Education
12:12 pm
Tue January 3, 2012

UM Law opens clinic to help student entrepreneurs

U of M Law's Entrepreneurship Clinic will assist students with their business ventures.
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.

Economy
5:00 am
Thu December 29, 2011

State clears unemployment debt with feds

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.

Politics
1:00 am
Tue December 27, 2011

Legislation expected in January to change how road repairs funded

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.

Read more
Politics
1:09 pm
Mon December 26, 2011

"Right to work" advocates plan for push in January

Supporters of making Michigan a "right to work" state expect legislation will be introduced in January. Critics call such laws "right to work for less."
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.

Politics
5:58 pm
Thu December 22, 2011

Group sues state over new health insurance tax

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.

Read more
Politics
3:00 pm
Tue December 20, 2011

Jackson launches home demolition program

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.

Courts
5:37 pm
Fri December 16, 2011

Inkster judge placed on paid suspension, script to be flipped

Even though she's been on paid administrative leave since last April (and now she's on a paid suspension), Judge Sylvia James is still listed at the Judge in Michigan's 22nd District Court.
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.

Read more
Economy
5:58 pm
Thu December 15, 2011

Michigan town grapples with shrinking public sector

Inkster, Mich., resident Darrel Osborne says he's noticed the reduced police presence in the city.
Sarah Hulett for NPR

Originally published on Wed December 14, 2011 2:47 pm

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."

Read more
commuting
1:00 am
Mon December 12, 2011

SMART cuts take effect today

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.

detroit
5:44 pm
Tue December 6, 2011

Detroit councilman urges colleagues to set austerity example

Detroit City Council President Pro Tem wants to slash the council's budget by a third, and get rid of perks like free cars.

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.

crime
4:00 am
Fri December 2, 2011

Research project looks to fix problem of untested rape kits

Rebecca Campbell, professor of psychology, and Giannina Fehler-Cabral, graduate research assistant, are looking into why more than 10,000 rape kits in Detroit went untested.
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

Read more
Science
5:18 pm
Tue November 29, 2011

Could bugs with tiny backpacks be the future of search and rescue?

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.

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