Michigan Watch

Michigan Watch is Michigan Radio’s investigative/accountability reporting unit. Headed by veteran reporter Lester Graham, Michigan Watch provides in-depth reports on topics of importance that may require a longer and more involved examination. These include the workings of state government, education, the environment, and jobs and the economy. Among the specific topics covered by Michigan Watch have been the influence of money and politics in Michigan elections, changes to the state’s mandatory no-fault insurance system, following Michigan families that have been removed from welfare, and separating truth from fiction in election advertising.

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Investigative
8:55 pm
Tue March 25, 2014

Detroit's emergency manager on bankruptcy developments

Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr spoke at the University of Michigan and took questions on the one-year anniversary of his appointment to guide the city through bankruptcy.
Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

On the one-year anniversary of his appointment, Detroit’s emergency manager spoke about the latest developments in the city's bankruptcy in a speech at the University of Michigan.

One thing in the works is getting a $120 million loan from Barclays of London. A state board approved the loan today. The Detroit City Council also approved the deal, despite concerns that the money might be used to pay big-money bankruptcy consultants. But, emergency manager Kevyn Orr says, ‘not so.’

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Investigative
7:00 am
Mon March 10, 2014

Being broke makes Detroit get creative

Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Detroit's municipal bankruptcy has made the world aware of what Michigan already knew. Detroit is broke. No matter how it turns out, bankruptcy is not going to change things very quickly. Detroit will still be broke. That’s going to force the city to get creative.

Let’s get one thing out of the way: the state of Michigan is not going to bail out Detroit.

And the state of Michigan is not going fully restore revenue sharing from the sales tax with cities such as Detroit.

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Arts & Culture
11:59 am
Mon March 3, 2014

SLIDESHOW: A day at Detroit's Eastern Market

Although the crowds are smaller, even in the middle of winter families from all over the Detroit region visit the Eastern Market.
Lester Graham Michigan Radio

For many families, Saturdays are about visiting Eastern Market in Detroit.

A public-private partnership took over the operation of the market from the City of Detroit in 2006.  Since then, buildings have been renovated and Eastern Market's popularity has grown.

I visited the market this past weekend and took a few photos. You can click through them above.

Investigative
7:32 pm
Sat March 1, 2014

2,500 apply for city of Detroit jobs

On Friday 1400 people applied for the 350 jobs the City of Detroit is offering. On Saturday another 1100 submitted applications.
Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

About 2,500 people showed up to apply for new city of Detroit jobs during a two-day job fair at Cobo Hall on Friday and Saturday.

On average, more than seven people applied for each job available.

Michael Hall is Detroit’s Director of Human Resources and Labor Relations.

“You know, we had 350 jobs that we listed. Anything from a GED to a CPA we’re looking for. So, we’ve had great candidates come through and some of those people will be called back for future interviews,” Hall said.

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Politics & Government
11:37 am
Fri February 28, 2014

A message from the Detroit Policy Conference: Entire state has a stake in Detroit's future

Detroit Free Press reporter John Gallagher was one of the speakers at the Detroit Regional Chamber's policy conference.
Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

On Thursday, the Detroit Regional Chamber held a one-day policy conference focused on Detroit after bankruptcy. The theme seemed to be optimism tempered by realism.

With Detroit’s bankruptcy on an apparent fast-track, a new mayor and city council, and progress in several key areas, there was an air of optimism.

But the Detroit Chamber’s policy conference looked also looked at obstacles.

Thomas Sugrue is a Detroit native and professor of History and Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. He was a keynote speaker.

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Investigative
3:05 pm
Wed February 26, 2014

If Arizona's bill to discriminate surprises you, you won't believe what's legal in Michigan

Michigan's laws make discrimination against LGBT legal.
Credit Wikimedia Commons

If the pollsters are right, here’s something you probably don’t know:

It’s perfectly legal to discriminate against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.

A Gallup poll reported nearly nine out of ten people think LGBT people are already protected.

They are not.

Actually, Arizona and Michigan are not that different right now.

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Investigative
7:00 am
Mon February 24, 2014

Detroit's infrastructure crumbling while city has trouble collecting cash

Compuware World Headquarters at Campus Martius is a gleaming example of the Detroit's downtown revival. It depends on the deteriorating infrastructure of the city.
Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The radio version of this story.

The plan to guide Detroit out of bankruptcy includes up to $150 million a year for ten years to repair neglected infrastructure.  The city could go a long way in paying for that if it can find a way to collect money already owed to it.

The Compuware World Headquarters building at Campus Martius is a gleaming example of a downtown revival.

But last week, just down the block, the façade of revival was peeled back for a moment. An old water pipe broke.

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Investigative
6:00 am
Mon February 17, 2014

Detroit Emergency Manager to file plan with bankruptcy court this week

Detroit skyline.
Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

This week the City of Detroit’s Emergency Manager is to file a disclosure statement with the federal court overseeing the city’s bankruptcy ahead of the March 1 deadline.

The plan of adjustment restructuring Detroit’s debt includes a ten year blueprint for the city as part of the 2012 consent agreement with the State of Michigan. The restructuring consultant Conway MacKenzie has been working on that ten year plan.

Bill Nowling is the spokesperson for Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr. He says that blueprint will be part of the filing this week.

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Business
2:02 pm
Mon February 3, 2014

How Detroit Manufacturing Systems hired hundreds of workers in the city

Detroit Manufacturing Systems has hired 729 workers in the last year-and-a-half. Two-thirds of the employees live in the city of Detroit. A federally-funded non-profit helped DMS find qualified candidates.
Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Listen to how Detroit Manufacturing Systems has hired hundreds of workers in the city.

Detroit's unemployment is high, really high. It's nearly 18%. That’s almost double the Michigan rate of unemployment and Michigan is among the worst in the nation.

So, when a manufacturer hires hundreds of Detroit residents, it gets attention.

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Detroit Journalism Cooperative
6:00 am
Thu January 30, 2014

Detroiters need jobs and Detroit needs taxpayers

A technician at Shinola assembles a watch. Shinola operates in Detroit and three-fourths of its employees live in the city. In the aftermath of the city's bankruptcy, Detroit will need more of its people in the workforce to provide the tax base to keep the city financially viable.
Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

To successfully emerge from bankruptcy, Detroit has to find ways to cut spending and increase revenue. But that’s not going to be easy when so many Detroit residents are struggling just to get by.

No matter how well bankruptcy goes for Detroit, the city is going nowhere if most of its residents are broke and without jobs.

No jobs mean no income taxes for the city.

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Environment & Science
11:27 am
Thu January 9, 2014

Will plans to stop Asian carp invasion take too long?

A silver carp. Great Lakes advocates are disappointed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did not recommend a plan of action when it released a study outlining eight scenarios to stop Asian carp from invading the Great Lakes.
Dan O'Keefe Michigan Sea Grant

This week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a study about what might be done to keep those invasive Asian carp out of the Great Lakes.

It took seven years and that was a rush job after some members of Congress accused the Corps of dragging its feet.

The study outlines eight scenarios.

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The Environment Report
9:32 am
Thu January 9, 2014

Food industry asks to label genetically engineered ingredients as 'natural'

March Against Monsanto, Vancouver, Canada
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The food industry wants the government to give the okay for calling products using genetically engineered ingredients “natural” foods.

I went to my local grocery store looking for the term “natural” or “naturally” and I didn’t have to go very far.

In the cereal aisle I found products labeled “naturally flavored,” “100% natural,” and an “all natural pancake mix.” A couple aisles over, looking at the chips there were “all natural” pretzels, “naturally sweet” popcorn, and then there was a drink with a label that read “naturally flavored beverage with other natural flavors blended with vitamins.”

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Environment & Science
9:00 am
Tue January 7, 2014

You could choose your own power company under new legislation

The Frankenmuth Bavarian Inn, right, and its competitor, Zehnder's of Frankenmuth, compete for the same customers. One of the businesses is allowed to buy power from the market while the other must buy from a Michigan power company. There's a 10% cap on buying power from out-of-state providers.
Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Michigan could deregulate the electricity market, allowing people to choose where they buy electricity.

In downtown Frankenmuth there are two very popular restaurants: the Frankenmuth Bavarian Inn and right across the street, Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth. Both are famous for their chicken dinners. And the owners are cousins -- both of them are Zehnders.

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Investigative
8:46 am
Fri December 13, 2013

Part-time Michigan Legislature could mean more power for bureaucrats and lobbyists

A proposal would cut legislators to part-time and cut their pay.
Aaron Olson

You might be asked to sign a petition next year to cut Michigan legislators’ pay and make their job part-time. The state constitution will have to be amended to accomplish that.

There could be some unintended consequences in doing that.

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Investigative
1:30 pm
Mon September 9, 2013

Snyder administration to cut program that has saved hundreds of millions in prison costs

The Michigan Prisoner Reentry Initiative (MPRI) helps parolees get a new start. Harry Hampton (pictured) now runs his own business. The state is planning significant cuts to the program despite the fact it's saved the state hundreds of millions of dollars.
Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The State of Michigan spends a huge part of its budget on prisons. In recent years a new program has helped reduce the prison population and helped prisoners stay out of prison. Despite its success, the state plans to cut much of the program’s funding.

Some people who’ve been in and out of prison are getting out and staying out thanks to a program called Michigan Prisoner Reentry Initiative or MPRI.

“After 33 years of doing time, they finally got it right. And today I’ve got a life. I own my own business. I’m living the American dream and it started at MPRI,” Harry Hampton said.

Hampton has been in prison four times. When he’s been released before, he got no help.

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Investigative
2:38 pm
Thu June 13, 2013

Canadian diplomat says New International Trade Crossing 'is going ahead'

Credit http://buildthedricnow.com/

A Canadian official says construction of a new bridge between Windsor and Detroit can start soon, maybe 2015.  It’s just a matter of waiting for some money from the U.S. government.

While Canada is putting up the money for the bridge, the U.S. has to build a new customs plaza which is expected to cost about 250-million dollars.

Until then, the Canadian government will continue to negotiate land purchases in and around the Delray neighborhood of Detroit where the New International Trade Crossing will land in the U.S.

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Investigative
7:00 am
Wed June 12, 2013

How adoption agencies discriminate against hopeful LGBT parents

stevendamrun Flickr

Listen to the story.

If you’re gay or lesbian and you want to adopt a child, not every adoption agency in Michigan will be willing to help. If you do find an agency that will help, you might run into more discrimination.

Even if you have a home, pass the background checks, and otherwise meet the state requirements for adoption, you can be turned down by an adoption agency if you don’t meet its standards.

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Investigative
7:00 am
Tue June 11, 2013

How judges were stopped from granting two-parent adoptions to gay and lesbian parents

Former Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court Maura Corrigan put a stop to second-parent adoptions in the Washtenaw Count Court, according to reports.
user Samahiaka18 wikimedia commons

Listen to the story.

About a decade ago, judges stopped approving adoptions for lesbian and gay couples. It stopped after a controversial move by a Supreme Court Judge.

Nancy Wheeler is a judge in Washtenaw County who used to preside over the juvenile court where adoptions are recognized. She granted dozens of what are called ‘second-parent adoptions’ to same-sex couples.

“I thought that it was an outrage that we encouraged and, in fact, had a lot of gay and lesbian foster parents, but didn’t allow both parties to adopt the children. So, these children had been in foster care with these same parents sometimes for a number of years and then they were adopted by one,” Judge Wheeler explained.

She reasoned if one person could be an adoptive parent, then two could.

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Investigative
7:00 am
Mon June 10, 2013

For gay and lesbian families in Michigan, one parent is left out

Kent and Diego Love-Ramirez and their son, Lucas.
Credit Love-Ramirez family

Hear the story.

In Michigan, if you’re gay or lesbian, you can’t get married.

And for LGBT partners who adopt children it’s nearly impossible for both to have parental rights. That causes legal difficulties in providing a secure future for the kids they’re raising.

Two-year-old Lucas has two dads, Kent and Diego Love-Ramirez.

Diego is an airline pilot, and Kent works at Michigan State University.

“We’ve been together just over ten years. And we married in a religious ceremony five years ago and just legally married in Washington, D.C.," said Kent.

Kent and Diego are the only parents Lucas has ever known. But, the State of Michigan does not recognize one of them as a parent.

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Economy
7:00 am
Mon May 20, 2013

Craft cocktail movement helping Michigan distilleries

Giancarlo Aversa at The Last Word craft cocktail bar in Ann Arbor.
Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio


My Michigan Martini (recipe by Lester Graham)

5 parts Knickerbocker gin

1 part Vya Extra Dry vermouth

1 dash Fee Brothers orange bitters

Add several ice cubes to bartender's mixing glass. Add dash of bitters followed by vermouth and gin. Stir 20 - 30 times (do NOT shake). Strain into martini glass. Add twist of orange (or try a twist of lemon).

If you think about states known for distilled spirits such as bourbon and whiskey, you might think about Kentucky or Tennessee. But Michigan is becoming home to its own distilleries. That's being driven in part by a growing interest in craft cocktails.

The first thing you’re likely to notice in these craft cocktail bars is all the fruit and jars of fresh herbs such as mint and rosemary. You’re not going to find premixed bottles of corn-syrup-laden sweet and sour here. It’s all about real aromas and flavors.

Right now, there are several craft cocktail bars mostly in southeast Michigan (see some favorites at the end of this story).  One of them is The Last Word where we talked with manager Robben Schulz. He says they’re always looking for new spirits to give their drinks some depth, some interest. Some of them are being made here in Michigan.

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