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Investigative

Jurveston / Flickr

You’ve probably seen news outlets asking for your opinion, or asking you to share your story with them. More and more, media outlets are asking YOU for your personal stories to help them tell the news. Michigan Radio’s Changing Gears project has recently started trying it out with the Public Insight Network. It’s all about using social media to reach out to you. The goal is to tell a more compelling news story because it includes examples and real-life experiences.

To find out more about this trend in information-gathering and whether or not it's a good thing for a news-consumer, we caught up with Cliff Lampe, an assistant professor at the School of Information at the University of Michigan.

Death penalty overturned in 1997 murder case

Aug 3, 2011
ccadp.org

A federal appeals court has overturned a death sentence for a Michigan man  convicted of drowning a young woman. He killed her to prevent her from pursuing a rape case against him.

Marvin Gabrion was convicted in 2002 of killing 19-year-old Rachel Timmerman.

Her body was found in a lake in Manistee National Forest in 1997.

Gabrion was sentenced to death because the body was found on federal property. Michigan does not have a death penalty.

David Moran is clinical professor of law at the University of Michigan.

Rick Snyder said the Michigan Business Tax was bad for business. 

 “I propose replacing it with a flat six-percent corporate income tax.  Let’s take a job-killer environment; let’s start creating jobs.”

He said it on the campaign trail.  He made the point to business leaders.

User: sarrazak6881 / Flickr

Flint officials have offered seven nonviolent criminal suspects the chance to enter a program that could change their lives for the better. Five suspects accepted the offer to join CeaseFire, an initiative to end violence in U.S. cities. One of the suspects is already seeking help in another program.

Jackie Poplar is president of the Flint City Council.  She says the suspects will be working with prosecutors and social workers.

The sponsor of a boat race from Chicago to Mackinac Island says it will investigate the capsizing of a sailing vessel that caused the deaths of two crew members during a storm in northern Lake Michigan.

Race chairman Greg Freeman said Tuesday that the Chicago Yacht Club commodore will establish a review board. Speaking online with reporters, he said the club wants to understand what happened and look for ways to improve safety guidelines.

The 35-foot boat WingNuts from Saginaw overturned during fierce gusts around midnight Sunday about 13 miles off Charlevoix.

Fifty-one-year-old skipper Mark Morley and 40-year-old crew member Suzanne Bickel died. A rival boat rescued the other six crew members.

Freeman says the storm arose after the race was well under way, so postponing it wasn't an option.

User:benwatts / Flickr

Police in Flint have arrested five people for a string of arsons that has plagued the city. Flint residents and law enforcement have been working together to catch them.  David Leyton is the Genesee County Prosecutor who charged the five offenders.       

"The people are fed up, the people don’t want to live in fear, they don’t want their homes burnt down, they don’t want to have a problem where they live, and so they’re stepping up now and that’s going to make all the difference in the world."

I can only imagine, thinking you might have been exposed to HIV might be one of the scariest things of a person’s life.  Am I infected?  Will I get AIDS? 

Even more traumatic, is contracting it because you were sexually assaulted.

David—not his real name— says he was at a bar one night late in 2009.  He was hoping for a ride home.  He ended up at another man’s house and they had sex.  David says it was unwanted, that it was sexual assault.

“He doesn’t think he assaulted me.  So, uhm.  But, he was going to against my will.”

Flint civil rights activist Robinson fatally shot

Jun 18, 2011

Police say longtime Flint civil rights activist and attorney C. Frederick Robinson has been fatally shot. The Flint Journal reports Robinson was killed late last night in Flint at his home. There are no suspects in the case.

Robinson was dedicated to equal rights. In addition to organizing rallies and generating support for the civil rights movement, Robinson was instrumental in the 1968 passage of the fair housing ordinance. Its approval made Flint among the first cities to pass an open-housing referendum by popular vote.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Everybody’s got a theory why gasoline prices shot up.

“I think gas prices are up because we’re getting our gas from the wrong place.  We need to get gas from Alaska.”

“I think gas prices are up because it’s summertime and everybody wants to travel and it’s a conspiracy.”

 “Government regulators are not willing to rein in Wall Street.  If you can speculate on a commodity and you have a hedge fund that’s big enough, you can affect prices and earn profits.”

Saving Animals

Jun 13, 2011

There’s been a big controversy lately involving the Michigan Humane Society -- and by extension, every animal shelter in the state. It has to do with how many animals they have to kill.

This started a week ago, when two members of the society’s board of directors resigned because they thought the non-profit agency was euthanizing far too many animals.

“Our donors are giving us money to save lives,” one of them said, adding that she thought what was happening was an outrage.

Evidence abandoned in closed Detroit crime lab

May 27, 2011
dreamstime.com

A Detroit newspaper says a Detroit police lab closed two years ago was left unsecured,with evidence and live ammunition still inside.

The Detroit Free Press reports the lab recently had been left open for at least a week.

The report says evidence kits, personal information of rape and assault victims and live ammunition were scattered around.

The newspaper reported that the lab, housed in a former elementary school, also contained bulletproof vests, gunpowder and bottles of toxic chemicals.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

UPDATE 11:13 a.m.:

At the request of Michigan Watch, the Michigan Department of Human Services retrieved data regarding the number of unclaimed bodies during the calendar year 2010.  The DHS reports State Emergency Relief (SER) payments were made to help 7,099 indigent burials.  Of that number, 125 were unclaimed bodies.    Since the new budget will limit (SER) funds to unclaimed bodies only, this will mean the amount of funds used for indigent burials will drop from about $4-million to an estimated $4-thousand.

May 23, 2011, 9:33 a.m.:

Governor Rick Snyder says he wants to create a more focused approach to getting young children ready for school.  The Governor says Michigan’s publicly and privately funded early childhood programs are fragmented, segmented; there’s not a coherent effort. 

Michigan Geographic Framework

States must redraw congressional and legislative maps to adjust for the shifts in population when the census numbers are released every ten years.  This time Michigan lost population while other states gained.  That means Michigan will lose a representative in Congress.  But there were also shifts of population within the state which means the state house and senate districts will have to be redrawn.

michigan.gov

More than three thousand people are listed as missing in Michigan. They’ll be honored Saturday in Detroit at an event that’s also designed to help find them. 

Michigan’s Missing Person’s Day at Ford Field is a day for families who’ve lost a loved one.

They’re asked to bring photographs and dental records of the missing person. Technicians will  collect DNA samples.

All the information will be scanned into the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) database that the public can also access.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

The Michigan legislature and Governor Rick Snyder are considering a new tax structure for the state.  It would cut the state budget and shift some of the tax burden from businesses to individuals.  The Governor has said up to two-thirds of Michigan’s businesses might not have to file a state tax return at all.  Reporters Lester Graham and Bridget Bodnar with Michigan Watch learned that means some legislators who own businesses could be voting to cut their own taxes.

Rep. Lee Chatfield said the FOIA expansion legislation won't be perfect and he doesn't want "perfect to get in the way of good policy."
Vincent Duffy / Michigan Radio

The Michigan Freedom of Information Act is 34-years-old this month.  According to a ranking by the Better Government Association, it’s one of the stronger Freedom of Information laws in the United States. 

Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

Governor Rick Snyder’s budget proposal would change how we fund public schools. That change would start with a cut to schools at a time when the School Aid Fund is growing.

The School Aid Fund is one of the main sources of money for K-12 public schools. Since it was established by the 1908 Michigan Constitution and even though in the 1963 Constitution “higher education” was added, the money in the School Aid Fund only has been used to pay for educating public school children. That is, until this year. 

The last legislature ‘borrowed’ a couple of hundred-million dollars from the School Aid Fund to give to community colleges. I say ‘borrowed,’ but there’s no indication that it’s going to be paid back.

Federal stimulus money helped make up the difference. But for this coming fiscal year, there is no more federal stimulus money.

Bill Rice / Flickr

It was only a few months ago that Republican Rick Snyder and the majority Republican legislature were voted into office. Snyder said on the campaign trail that he wanted to change the way state government works.

He promised to “re-invent” Michigan.  People liked the sound of that.

As he’s revealed the path to his vision of Michigan, not everyone is pleased. 

(sound of protestors in capitol)

Union members, Democrats, public employees, retirees and the poor have been holding rallies at the capitol about as often as the legislature meets in Lansing.

Bill Rice / Flickr

When the budget was introduced, it was left to Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley to explain some of the details.  Among them was the Governor’s proposal to eliminate the Earned Income Tax Credit, a move that would take away a tax break for the state’s working poor.

Tax forms
flickr http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

When he presented his budget to the legislature, Governor Snyder explained part of the shared sacrifice would be taxing public and private pensions.  There is no state income tax on pensions right now.  The Governor noted, retirees still use government services.  He also said there are some retirees who are still working, paying the current 4.35% in state income taxes.  He said taxing pensions is a matter of fairness to people of retirement age who are still working.

Alan Cleaver / Flickr

Update 12:21 p.m.

The State of Michigan will have to honor some tax credits for years to come because of contractual obligations.  In a speech today, Governor Snyder indicated over the next four years, the state was on the hook for $2-billion dollars in credits.  About $500-million of that is in next year's budget. 

March 2nd, 8:23a.m.

Governor Snyder says his approach to taxes in Michigan is “simple, fair, and efficient.”  One way the Governor wants to make the tax structure more fair is by eliminating all tax credits for business.  It’s a controversial move which surprised many people in Lansing.

user dig downtown detroit / Flickr

For eight years, year after year, the state of Michigan has been cutting the money it distributes among the 15 public universities.

“We haven’t been chiseling around the edges.  We haven’t been making minor adjustments.  We’ve been really making huge cuts.”

You can talk about tax structure and decisions by governors and legislatures in the past, but above all, the state's financial difficulties have to do with the economy.  

Because Michigan has been heavily reliant on manufacturing, specifically the automakers and their many suppliers, Michigan has been hit especially hard.

Mitch Bean is the Director of the House Fiscal Agency.  Basically, he’s one of the economists who keeps the legislature informed about the economy and the state’s budget.

User thinkpanama / Flickr

Nationwide and in Michigan the rate of foreclosures has slowed a bit in recent months.  But Realty Trac experts say that’s less a sign of a robust housing recovery and more a sign that lenders have become bogged down.  They’re reviewing procedures, resubmitting paperwork and formulating legal arguments related to accusations of improper foreclosure processing, the so-called robo-signing scandal.

Photo courtesy of Inforummichigan.org and Peplin Photographic (larrypeplin.com)

When the Governor gave his State of the State speech, I was standing on the crowded floor of the House of Representatives.  Governor Rick Snyder outlined his plans to get Michigan back to work.  We all listened as he said the Michigan Economic Development Corporation would lead the way.

“The MEDC will recalibrate its efforts and become a better partner with these regional groups to enhance economic gardening, talent enhancement, and support service to companies.”

Citizen's Guide to Michigan's Financial Health / Michigan Governor's office

Governor Snyder says he wants you to understand the state's budget crisis. He's rolled out a guide to help you do that.
It's called the "Citizen's Guide to Michigan's Financial Health."
Michigan Radio's Morning Edition Host, Christina Shockley, spoke with Lester Graham this morning.

Graham heads up Michigan Watch, Michigan Radio's investigative unit.
Graham took a look at the Guide and gave us his first impressions. You can listen to the audio here:

About two dozen Michigan anti-tax legislators could find themselves in a bind.  The Michigan legislature is likely to vote on eliminating the Michigan Earned Income Tax Credit.  Killing the credit would mean the  lowest paid workers in the state would have to pay more in taxes.  Kelly Cobb is with the group Americans for Tax Reform.  He says if eliminating the credit meant the state got more money, it’s a violation of the “no tax hike” pledge.

“That’s where the question lies is whether or not this would bring in revenue to the state.  And as a stand-alone proposal, it would certainly do that and therefore be a pledge violation.”

There is an escape clause for legislators who signed the pledge.  If they vote to increase taxes on the working poor, and also cut taxes for business by a like amount or more, it would meet the requirements with the tax reform group.

Governor Rick Snyder has not yet said whether he’ll support efforts to increase state taxes on the lowest-earning workers in Michigan.  He has indicated he’ll have something to say about whether to eliminate the Michigan Earned Income Tax Credit when he gives his budget address.

“Well, we’ll save that for mid-February.  But the Earned Income Credit is largely a federal program.  That’s the main driver that brings results, is the fact that it’s on your federal return.  It’s a question of how much difference does the Michigan piece of that make in terms of changing behavior.”

Library of Congress

The idea of an Earned Income Tax Credit, giving people who have low-income jobs a bit of a tax break, has been around for a while.  In 1975, a Michigan Republican, Gerald Ford, signed the first federal credit into law while he was president.

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