Detroit

Politics
1:32 pm
Fri April 15, 2011

Making sense of redistricting

Michigan State Capitol
user cncphotos / flickr

The 2010 Census figures, released last month, announced that Michigan was the only state in the nation to lose population in the last decade. Now it is up to the states to redraw their congressional districts based on the findings of the Census.

Redistricting can play a big role in the political makeup of both state and federal representation. In Michigan, citizens are waiting to see how the Republican-dominated Legislature will handle the task of reshaping the state’s congressional districts.

The main objective of redistricting is to create congressional districts with roughly equal populations in each district, says John Chamberlin, Professor of Political Science at the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.

“It takes account of the fact that people move around the state or people move out of the state. In 2010, if you looked at the populations in state House districts, for instance, there are disparities. So redistricting resets the clock back to roughly equal populations.”

Each state handles the task of redistricting differently. In Michigan, redistricting is treated as legislation, with the Legislature creating a bill for passage by the governor. Because the Republican Party controls the Michigan state Senate, House, and governorship, the task of redistricting will fall solely to the Republicans.

Due to the fact that Michigan lost population since the last redistricting took place, the state will lose one member in the U.S. House of Representatives. Through redistricting, the Michigan Legislature must determine where to combine districts in order to eliminate the district of one U.S. Representative, explains Chamberlin.

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News Roundup
7:53 am
Fri April 15, 2011

In this morning's news...

user brother o'mara Flickr

New emergency financial manager powers to be used in Detroit?

The controversial new law that gives state-appointed emergency financial managers more power could first be used in the Detroit Public School system.

Detroit Public School Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb said he intends to use the law.

From the Detroit Free Press:

"I fully intend to use the authority that was granted," Bobb said, referring to a new law that gives emergency managers the authority to modify -- or terminate -- collective bargaining agreements. It was the first time Bobb had publicly indicated he intends to use the expanded authority.

This statement came after all teachers in the Detroit Public School system were sent a layoff notices yesterday. As Michigan Radio's Sarah Hulett reported, sending layoff notices to all the teachers is unprecedented, but final decisions on whose job will actually be cut have yet to be made.

Teachers, in the meantime, say they're prepared to fight Bobb's proposals - from the Freep:

"If he tries to modify the contract and back-door us on the issue of seniority, we are aptly prepared," said DFT President Keith Johnson, who also will receive a layoff notice. "We have already prepared our legal counter."

House fails to reject partner benefits

There weren't enough votes in the State House to reverse the Civil Service Commission's decision to allow health benefits for the live-in partners of state employees.

The benefits are scheduled to take effect this October.

Michigan Public Radio Network's Rick Pluta reported that Republicans say the decision "undermines 'traditional families' and violates the intent of a voter-approved amendment that bans same-sex marriage and civil unions in Michigan."

Attorney General Schuette is looking into that last claim, and House Speaker Jase Bolger says he'll continue to look for other ways to block the benefits.

Flags at half staff today for Navy medic from Niles

Benjamin D. Rast was killed in Afghanistan. Flags around the state will be at half staff today.

From the Associated Press:

Gov. Rick Snyder has ordered U.S. flags to be lowered to half-staff in honor of a 23-year-old Navy medic from southwest Michigan who was killed while on patrol in Afghanistan's Helmand province.

The order is in effect for today.

The military says 23-year-old Benjamin D. Rast of Niles died April 6. He was assigned as a hospitalman to the 1st Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division.

There will be a visitation today at Brandywine High School in Niles and a memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday at the school.

Detroit
2:48 pm
Tue April 12, 2011

Locked out of Mayor Bing's budget presentation

Some people got locked out of today's Detroit City Council meeting, where Detroit Mayor Dave Bing was laying out a 5-year budget plan that called for cutting employee pension and health care costs.

Council security told citizens and several reporters that they couldn't come in because the hearing room was "filled to capacity."

That escalated into a dispute between security guards and the people who demanded their right to enter under the state's Open Meetings Act.

Detroit resident and volunteer organizer Felicia Sanders wanted to hear Bing's presentation.

"If you get up and you're willing to attend a meeting to fight and speak out for your city, you should be allowed to participate in the meeting."

Sanders and others questioned why the City Council didn't hold the hearing in a much larger public auditorium just across the hall.

Detroit
11:12 am
Tue April 12, 2011

Detroit mayor warns a state takeover is "inevitable" without union concessions

Detroit mayor Dave Bing dleivers his budget proposal to the city council
(courtesy City of Detroit)

Detroit’s mayor says the city’s unions will have to give big contract concessions or the city of Detroit may end up in the hands of a state appointed Emergency Financial Manager. Mayor Dave Bing outlined his budget plan to the city council this morning.

Bing says pension and health care costs threaten to force the city into insolvency.  

“If we are unable or unwilling to make these changes, an Emergency Financial Manager will be appointed by the state to make them for us.  It’s that simple.”  

The city is facing a $155 million budget deficit. The mayor says that could grow to over a billion dollars in five years, unless deep cuts are made now. 

Michigan’s new Emergency Financial Manager law gives the state appointed administrator broad powers to throw out union contracts and make budget decisions.

Commentary
10:59 am
Tue April 12, 2011

Truth in Advertising

Were you aware that there’s a legal difference between print media and broadcast media in this country?

Print media, and the internet, are essentially completely free to print and say whatever they want to, although of course they can be sued if they commit libel or violate privacy laws. Broadcast media are different, however. The government, through the Federal Communications Commission, has the right to regulate them.

Stations can have their licenses revoked or not renewed if they violate FCC policy. Thirty years ago, stations could be in big trouble if they failed to provide news, or public service programming.

Those restrictions have now been largely relaxed. But stations can still risk their licenses if they broadcast hate speech, or programming that is either clearly racist or obscene.

The reason, by the way, that the government can regulate the broadcast media is that the airwaves are public property, like the national parks. And while you could theoretically have an infinite number of print publications or web sites, there’s only so much space on the spectrum for radio and TV transmissions.

Being granted a place on the dial is a privilege that carries certain responsibilities. However, the question is what those responsibilities should be.  Increasingly, I wonder whether stations should be allowed to broadcast advertising that is plainly false.

You might say that deception this is the very nature of most advertising, and to a point you’d be right. Nobody really believes that if you start drinking a certain brand of soda that beautiful young things will suddenly frolic on the beach with you.

We expect ads to stretch the truth. But every so often, they do more than that. As witness a last-ditch, highly expensive propaganda campaign being waged by Matty Moroun, the billionaire who owns the Ambassador Bridge over the Detroit River. He is desperate to prevent the building of a competing bridge, something Governor Snyder wants. Most commercial interests in both the United States and Canada also say the bridge is badly needed. But, Moroun fears his profits might be affected, and is currently waging a hugely expensive ad campaign to try and sway legislators.

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Detroit
10:09 am
Tue April 12, 2011

Watch Mayor Bing's budget address to city council

Detroit Mayor David Bing presenting his budget to city council.
Detroit

Detroit Mayor David Bing is delivering his budget address to city council right now.

Bing says the budget he is presenting is a five year plan to eliminate the city's budget deficit.

He says the most important conversation the city has to have is with union employees about pensions and health care benefits.

By 2020, Bing says fringe benefits and pensions would consume half the city's general fund.

You can watch the speech here.

Detroit
6:32 am
Tue April 12, 2011

Mayor Bing to present budget to city council

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing at Governor Rick Snyder's January 1st inauguration
Corvair Owner Flickr

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing will present his budget for the city later this morning. The Associated Press reports the budget will propose a five-year plan to wipe out the city's $150 million budget deficit. From the AP:

Tuesday morning's presentation is the first step in the city's budget approval process heading into the new fiscal year that starts July 1.

It follows Gov. Rick Snyder's signature last month on a state law that gives more power to state-appointed financial managers, letting them toss out union contracts to help balance the books of distressed communities and struggling school districts.

Bing has fought often with city unions over concessions designed to cut into the deficit.

A union protest of Bing's proposed 2011-12 budget is planned Tuesday's afternoon outside the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center.

Politics
5:04 pm
Mon April 11, 2011

Conservative group putting pressure on GOP state lawmakers on new Detroit bridge

View of downtown Detroit from Windsor, Ontario
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

A conservative group against a proposed second bridge span between Detroit and  Windsor, Ontario is running negative ads about the project in districts of Republicans who have not taken a stance against the bridge. They want voters to call and pressure the lawmakers to oppose Governor Rick Snyder’s bridge proposal.     

Scott Hagerstrom is with Americans for Prosperity-Michigan. He says the cost of a second bridge would fall to taxpayers, unless it is paid for completely by private money.

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Transportation
4:07 pm
Mon April 11, 2011

Bonds for Detroit light rail project approved by city council

An artist's depiction of the M1 light rail system.
M1 Rail

Detroit City Council has approved $125 million in bonds to help pay for a light rail system that will stretch from downtown Detroit to the New Center.

The total cost of the project is expected to be $528 million, according to Bill Shea at Detroit Crain's Business.

Council also approved a $25 million TIGER grant from the federal government (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery).

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Politics
3:07 pm
Mon April 11, 2011

Former Detroit City Council President wants to serve the rest of her federal prison sentence at home

The Spirit of Detroit stands outside the Coleman Young Municpal Building in Detroit
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

The Detroit Free Press reports former Detroit City Council president Monica Conyers is asking a federal judge to let her serve the remaining time on her prison term at home. 

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Detroit
11:06 am
Mon April 11, 2011

Former bodyguard releases Kwame Kilpatrick "tell-all" book

Walter Harris' book about his time within the Kwame Kilpatrick administration in Detroit.
amazon.com

Walter Harris, Jr. worked as a bodyguard for former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick for nine years.

Harris' whistle-blower lawsuit helped lead to the unraveling of  the Kilpatrick administration.

His book about his experiences, Badge of Honor: Blowing the Whistle, was released Saturday.

Harris was quoted in the Detroit News

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Culture
3:10 pm
Fri April 8, 2011

The restoration of an old jazz club in Detroit (video)

Jerry Balenger talks to a group from Grand Rapids about the restoration of Cliff Bell's jazz club in Detroit.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

Cliff Bell’s is one of the oldest Jazz clubs in the city - a little history from Cliff Bell's website:

Through the 30's 40's and 50's Cliff Bell's and the Town Pump Tavern anchored two ends of what was Detroit's busiest night crawl with clubs, pubs and Burlesques dotting Park Avenue. During the 70's and 80's the Club operated under a series of other names. Many remember The Winery, La Cave, or AJ's on the Park.

In 1985 the famous club closed and remained empty until in late 2005.

Like a lot of places in Detroit, it was left empty for a long time. The plaster cracked, the ceiling leaked, but that all changed in 2005 when Paul Howard and Scott Lowell began the renovation of the shuttered club.

In this video, the owner of the building that houses Cliff Bell's talks about the restoration of the club.

This video was shot by Lindsey Smith, and produced by Juan Freitez.

Environment
1:29 pm
Fri April 8, 2011

Bus tour gives Detroit urban farm some love (audio slideshow)

In one of the greenhouses at Earthworks Urban Farm in Detroit.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

Earlier this week, I joined a bus tour organized to bring community leaders from Grand Rapids to visit Detroit. One of the many cool places we visited that hasn’t made it into my writing so far is Earthworks Urban Farm. I didn’t want to overlook it – so here’s the second installation of what Detroit can teach other cities in Michigan about urban farming.

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Culture
1:13 pm
Fri April 8, 2011

Bringing Grand Rapids and Detroit together (video)

On the bus. Community leaders from Grand Rapids take a trip to Detroit.
From the Rapid Growth Media video

Michigan Radio's Lindsey Smith hopped on a bus with community leaders from the Grand Rapids area this past Wednesday.

Their destination was Detroit. And their goal for the trip was "to build stronger bonds between Michigan’s two major population centers."

They left in the wee hours of the morning and arrived back in Grand Rapids around 2:30 a.m.

The trip organizers put this video together:

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Commentary
10:08 am
Fri April 8, 2011

A Conversation with Mayor Bing

I went to see Detroit Mayor Dave Bing yesterday afternoon to discuss the state of his city. It’s been a bruising few weeks for Detroit. The census showed a population loss considerably greater than expected - which means a further loss of both federal and state dollars. The governor’s budget has yet to be approved, but it seems clear that it means more cuts in revenue sharing.

Nevertheless, I found the mayor upbeat, candid and energetic. He’s convinced the census missed people, and is going to do all he can to get the count adjusted. But for now, he has to plan as if the number is going to stay at seven hundred and thirteen thousand.

There’s no doubt in his mind what Detroit needs most. “Jobs are the key,” he said. There are some hopeful signs. General Motors, Blue Cross, Quicken Loans and some other firms have announced plans to add jobs recently.  But the city has a long way to go.

When the recession was at its peak, Mayor Bing made headlines when he said that he thought the city’s true unemployment rate was as high as forty-five percent, when you counted workers who are so discouraged they aren't even taking part in the labor force.  What does he think it is now? “Still about the same,” he said.

“There are some signs the country is coming out of the recession, but that hasn’t really translated into jobs in Detroit.”

I asked the mayor, himself a former successful businessman,  about Governor Rick Snyder’s theory that lowering taxes will help bring a new flood of jobs. He smiled. “Well, it should help,” he said.

But he added that maximizing profits doesnn’t always mean adding jobs. The mayor, who took office after a special election following the resignation of Kwame Kilpatrick, has been in office  almost two years now. What does he think is his greatest accomplishment?

He said, “reducing the deficit from more than $330 million dollars to $155 million. Given the economy, that was really a Herculean task.”

Unfortunately, he fears the deficit may now rise somewhat, “if everything in the governor’s budget becomes stark reality.”

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Arts/Culture
8:14 pm
Thu April 7, 2011

What’s to learn from Detroit? Spirit, determination, and action

More than 50 community leaders from Grand Rapids got on a bus this week to find out what they can learn from Detroit. The trip’s organizers hope to build stronger bonds between Michigan’s two major population centers.

Check out Terry Johnston's awesome photos of the trip here.

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business
3:21 pm
Thu April 7, 2011

Quicken Loans closes deal on downtown Detroit building

Courtesy Quicken Loans

Quicken Loans has completed the purchase of the 14-story Chase Tower in downtown Detroit. The deal will allow the company to move the remainder of its workforce from the suburbs to downtown Detroit.

When the move is complete, about 4,000 employees of Quicken and its related companies will work downtown.

The Chase Tower sits just south of the Compuware Building on the other side of Campus Martius Park, where Quicken moved about 1,700 of its employees last year.

The move downtown is part of Quicken founder Dan Gilbert’s plan to help turn lower Woodward Avenue into a mecca for high-tech, Internet-based businesses.

Quicken is the nation’s largest online mortgage lender.

Plans for the Chase Tower include retail space on the first floor, and room for tenants who fit into Gilbert’s plan for a downtown Detroit technology hub.

Economy
9:01 am
Thu April 7, 2011

Detroit home prices still slumping

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Detroit home prices continue to slump. New data from Clear Capital show the average sale price in the first three months of the year for a home in Detroit was roughly 60,000 dollars. 

Alex Villacorta is an analyst with Clear Capital. He says foreclosed homes continue to clog Detroit’s housing market, depressing sale prices. 

“Once those saturation rates come down I do think you’ll see prices start to stabilize a little bit.   Even if the overall health improves we’ll see may a more sustained price growth looking forward.”

Home sale prices held steady in most of the nation in the first quarter of 2011, except in the western U.S. where home sale prices fell to levels not seen since 2001.

Arts/Culture
6:53 am
Thu April 7, 2011

Detroit Symphony Orchestra rehersals to begin today

The DSO will begin rehersals again this morning after a six month strike
Mumu Entertainment Flickr

Rehearsals are scheduled this morning for musicians at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. The DSO musicians ended their six-month strike earlier this week after they reached a tentative agreement on a new contract with DSO management.

The Symphony's first post-strike concert is scheduled for Saturday night. From the Associated Press:

The dispute was over how deep a pay cut the musicians would have to take to help the struggling symphony balance its budget. The musicians were offering to accept a 22 percent cut, while management sought and then imposed a 33 percent cut.

In an announcement on the DSO's website, DSO Music Director Leonard Slatkin said:

“As we return to our home, I’m confident that the artistic product will continue at the highest possible level. There is much to be done but the DSO will emerge a healthier and stronger institution."

Arts/Culture
5:46 pm
Wed April 6, 2011

"Art X Detroit" puts spotlight on the city's literary, visual and performing arts scene

Art X Detroit runs Apr. 6 - 10, 2011
Photo courtesy of Art X Detroit

The Detroit arts world will be in the spotlight this week.

The first ever Art X Detroit event runs Wednesday, April 6 - Sunday, April 10 and will feature everything from hip hop performances to classical and jazz music to poetry readings.

The event features the 40 artists who have won visual, literary, or performing arts fellowships through the Kresge Foundation over the past two years.

Lewis Aguilar is a 2010 Kresge Literary Arts fellow. For Art X Detroit, he’s written a story about Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera and their time in Detroit. A dramatic reading of the work will take place at Rivera Court in the Detroit Institute of Arts:

"I will have people reading that story in the form of a 3-act play, while more than 100 images are being shown on a very large screen behind them."

Chido Johnson was a 2009 Kresge “Visual Artist” fellow, and he’s excited to display his new work during Art X Detroit. He says "Detroit has been identified over and over again as a decayed city, and this is a way to really emphasize how rich and cultural it is.

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