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Some refurbished commuter rail cars will start test runs in southeast Michigan today.

The stainless steel, bi-level cars will run on tracks between Pontiac and Jackson.

State officials hope the cars will eventually be used for separate commuter rail lines connecting Detroit and Ann Arbor, and Ann Arbor and Livingston County.

Janet Foran is with the Michigan Department of Transportation.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

The city of Jackson is accelerating its home demolition program.

The city has torn down 31 homes during the past seven months.

Jackson mayor Martin Griffin says he's got the resources to do more, at a faster pace.

“Some of them that are bank-owned the banks are stepping up to the plate and giving us the money to take them down. We’re using are federal block grant money to take them down. This year…it’s over $500 thousand,” says Griffin.  “We’re hoping to bid them as packages…packages of 8…we’ll save even more money and get more bang for our buck.”

DETROIT (AP) - Gov. Rick Snyder's point man on the administration's vibrant cities initiative knows there's not a lot of spare money to invest in recreation and green space in Michigan cities.

But Rodney Stokes, the former leader of the state's Department of Natural Resources, sees a growing desire to expand urban trails, reclaim riverfronts for recreational use and offer outdoor activities. He's helped do that in Detroit, and sees potential elsewhere.

This month, he's planning meetings in Grand Rapids, and then will reach out in Lansing, Saginaw and other cities later.

Hot Air Jubilee

Jackson’s Hot Air Jubilee will go on as planned this month.

The city council approved the hot air balloon festival’s permits today. 

Tripadvisor.com

Twenty thousand people are expected to attend the city of Jackson’s annual Fourth of July fireworks show at the Cascades Falls tonight. 

The man-made Cascades Falls fountains have been a tourist attraction for 80 years.  But a recent report says the fountains are in serious need of repair.

The city of Jackson is getting its first teaching hospital.

Allegiance Hospital will soon start accepting medical students and residents to train them for their future practices.

Dr.  John Lake is Allegiance's Program Director for Family Medicine.

He says the hospital's start up costs could run into the millions of dollars - but it will be worth it, because being a teaching hospital keeps instructing physicians "on their game," and having residents improves patient care.

"There will be time to spend with patients to explain a lot of things to them," says Lake, "And I think (in) more of a depth than we would normally have time for because (the residents) will be there 24/7."

Lake thinks having a teaching hospital will also be good for Jackson, providing a spark to the local economy.

He says about 20% of doctors end up practicing where they do their residency.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

The city of Jackson’s economy is getting a big boost.

An India-based IT company announced today it will expand its operation in the mid-Michigan city.

HCL Technologies LLC is a global IT services company with 90 thousand employees.    The training and development hub its opening in Jackson will create several hundred jobs during the next few years.

Rajeev Sawhney is a vice president with HCL.   He says the training center should employ 300 people within the next two years.

"And possibly 500 people given that most of our Midwest clients have shown a lot of interest in wanting to avail of the facilities that will come out of this center in Jackson," says Sawhney.

HCL is partnering with Jackson-based Consumer Energy, which will allow the utility’s employees to receive advanced technology training. 

The hundreds of new jobs will be welcome in Jackson, which like many Michigan cities has seen a long decline in job opportunities.

 

user whatimeantosay / morgueFile

The city of Jackson is capitalizing on its long history as the site of a state prison.

In addition to guided prison tours, visitors can now buy prison-related items at the city’s new prison gift shop.

When the Jackson State Prison closed in 2007, it was turned into a live-work space for artists known as the Armory Arts Village. One of the women who lives there, Judy Gail Krasnow, gives guided tours of the historic prison.

She says lots of tourists asked about a gift shop, which didn’t exist. So she created one in the Art 634 building across from the old prison, and built it to look like an old prison cell. Krasnow says the Old Prison Gift Shop was "modeled after the cells at the first prison, which had brick walls, and the doors were those thick, iron bars."

Krasnow plans to sell art made by current and former prisoners through the University of Michigan's Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP).

user Thewmatt / Flickr

There’s new information showing Michigan’s drop in unemployment is spread out across most of the state.

Last week, the Michigan Department of Technology, Management & Budget reported that the state’s unemployment rate had fallen to 8.8 percent. The last time the state’s jobless rate was below 9 percent was September of 2008.

New data from the state shows the decline was spread widely through Michigan. 

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

A battle over gay and lesbian legal protections is heating up.

Sixty-five local elected officials have signed a letter supporting a bill that would add sexual orientation to the state civil rights act.

Derek Dobies is a city councilman in Jackson. He says this is an economic issue for Michigan.

“Given Michigan’s brain drain," says Dobies, "we need to do everything that we can…both at the local level and at the state level that’s within our power…to put a welcome sign on Michigan.” 

Jon Hoadley is the director of the Unity Michigan Coalition. He says its important to have the support of local leaders in this statewide fight.

“We have elected officials in Grand Rapids…Kalamazoo and Jackson," says Hoadley, "cities big and small across the state saying ‘we think that non-discrimination protections are good for us and they’re good for Michigan’.” 

Eighteen cities in Michigan have local ordinances against discrimination against gays and lesbians.

There is a bill in the state House to nullify those local ordinances.

The Michigan Supreme Court has removed a Jackson judge from the bench for misconduct, which included dismissing his own traffic tickets.     

District Judge James Justin has been on suspension with pay since July of 2010. The judge had been under investigation for ‘fixing’ numerous traffic tickets issued to himself, his wife and members of his staff.  

Judge Justin was also accused of dismissing cases without conducting court hearings.  The Judicial Tenure Commission recommended last fall to remove Justin.  

In its order removing Justin from the bench, the Michigan Supreme Court found the judge routinely “failed to follow the law, apparently believing that it simply did not apply to him.”    

The judge’s attorney admits his client did wrong, but added that he deserved only an unpaid suspension.  Justin has been on the bench since 1976.

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.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Postal workers plan to fight a proposal to close mail processing centers in Michigan.    

Postal Service officials confirmed this week they plan to move forward with closing more than 200 processing centers nationwide next year. That includes facilities in a half dozen Michigan cities, including Lansing, Jackson and Kalamazoo.   

Michigan Municipal League

A former mayor in Jackson, Michigan will become mayor once again.

Martin Griffin defeated incumbent Mayor Karen Dunigan.

The Jackson Citizen Patriot reports that Griffin won the seat again after a five-year absence:

Griffin, who was mayor from 1995 to 2006, had 2,199 votes or 62 percent to Dunigan's 1,340 or 38 percent, according to unofficial results from the Jackson County Clerk's office.

"I just feel great," said Griffin, who was celebrating his victory at the Night Light. "I think the people want city government to move forward. I think they're tired of the bickering"...

Dunigan said it was an honor to be mayor and she was proud of what she did even though she was not re-elected.

"I know if nothing else, I elevated the position of the mayor in the city and I did bring back the respect that position holds," Dunigan said.

Dunigan said she's not sure whether she'll run for the seat again, but she plans to stay involved in the community.

Steve Carmody / Michiganradio

There are several controversial elections taking place in cities and towns around Michigan today.  

A Republican state lawmaker faces a recall vote, spearheaded by the Michigan Education Association. State representative Paul Scott was targeted by the MEA for his support of cuts in state education funding and efforts to weaken the union. Scott tried and failed to get the courts to toss out or delay the recall election.

Voters in Kalamazoo will decide if they want to make possession of an ounce or less of marijuana a ‘low’ local police priority. Supporters say police should focus on violent crime. The city's Public Safety director says the result of the vote will probably not effect how Kalamazoo police do their job.

In Lansing, voters are deciding if they want to increase their property taxes. Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero says the millage hike is needed to reduce the chances of future police and fire layoffs.   

“I’m cautiously optimistic.  I’m hopeful.  I’m prayerful….Let’s face it….it’s do or die for us," says Bernero.   

Critics say city leaders are pushing for a millage increase before they truly know if the city will be $12 to $15 million dollars in the hole as predicted. 

Voters in Flint and Jackson are electing mayors today. 

And in Detroit, voters are being asked to approve many changes to their city charter. Supporters say the charter changes would address the city's corruption problems that have lead to numerous investigations, including one which resulted in criminal charges against former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Jackson, like other Michigan cities, will hold an election next week. And like in other cities, those elected will face the reality of how they will choose to spend a declining amount of tax dollars.  

Both candidates for mayor of Jackson are realtors. And both bring a ‘realtor’s optimism’ when they talk about their city’s future. 

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Jackson will be the place to be this weekend for Amtrak aficionados. 

The national passenger rail service is marking its 40th anniversary this year.  This weekend, Amtrak is bringing a rolling museum of its four decade history to Jackson’s rail road station. 

Christina Leeds is an Amtrak spokeswoman.  She says passionate lovers of all things Amtrak have been flocking to the rolling exhibit’s previous stops around the country. 

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

 Mail delivery could become even slower in Michigan under a plan announced  today.    The U.S. Postal Service wants to close most of its processing centers, including a half a dozen in Michigan.   

Postal Service officials are considering closing mail processing centers in Detroit, Lansing, Kalamazoo,  Jackson, Saginaw and  Iron Mountain.    All the state’s mail would be routed through three other locations.   

A Postal Service spokesman says he does not expect any mail processing centers will close before next Spring.

Consumers Energy customers may see their monthly electric bills increase by the end of the year.  The Jackson-based utility wants to increase the average customer’s bill by more than seven dollars a month.  Jeff Holyfield  is a Consumers Energy spokesman. 

“The increase we have requested in this rate case primarily reflects the major investments…nearly a billion dollars that  Consumers Energy is making to maintain and improve service to its 1.8 million electric customers and to improve the environment.”   

Michigan Radio

At 6:30 AM Tuesday, former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick will once again be a free man.  A judge sentenced  Kilpatrick to prison for a probation violation in May, 2010.  

Kwame Kilpatrick was ordered to pay one million dollars in restitution as part of his guilty plea to obstruction of justice charges while he was Detroit mayor.   The same judge later determined that Kilpatrick was hiding his assets to avoid paying the restitution.    He still owes more than 800 thousand dollars in restitution.  

Warner Bros.

An amazing story from Jackson, where a man lifted a minivan off of another man who had been trapped underneath it when his jack collapsed.

From the Detroit Free Press/Associated Press:

"Authorities say a quick-acting man lifted a minivan off a 50-year-old who was trapped underneath when a jack collapsed in Jackson."

The state is looking at requests to investigate the finances of two Michigan cities.

Jackson’s Mayor has asked for a state review of the city's books.  That's the first step towards the state appointing an Emergency Manager. 

Karen Dunigan says the city needs the state’s help, even though it has a balanced budget.    She says the budget covers payroll and not much else, and meanwhile, the city has $80-million in debt, with no plan to pay anything on the debt except the interest expenses. 

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Jackson voters decided not merge their city police and fire departments.  The proposal to create a single public safety department lost by a wide margin.

Jackson Mayor Karen Dunigan is disappointed with the result. She says the city can’t afford to operate two separate staffs.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

It’s election day in Michigan. But few people expect long lines at polling stations across Michigan.

There are dozens of school millage votes and school board elections taking place today in Michigan.  But school races rarely draw large crowds of voters.

There are a few communities voting on controversial, or at least well publicized, issues.

Flint voters are casting ballots on two millages.  One would generate $2 million a year to reopen the city jail. The other would continue to fund a dozen police officers.

Lansing voters are deciding if they want to increase their property taxes to trim their city’s projected 20-plus million dollar budget deficit nearly in half.

And in Jackson, voters will decide if they want to merge their city police and fire departments into one public safety department.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Jackson voters will be asked next Tuesday if they want to merge their city police and fire departments.  It’s a decision that is dividing the southern Michigan city. Jackson, like many Michigan cities, is struggling to balance its budget. Tuesday’s vote to create a public safety department is a result of that. 

Interim City Manager Warren Renando says Tuesday’s vote is about better allocating what little money the city has left to spend.  

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Lansing voters face a difficult choice in next week’s election.   Increase their city taxes or possibly see deep cuts in public safety.  

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For this week’s installment of “What’s Working,” Morning Edition Host Christina Shockley speaks with Judy Krasnow, resident and tour guide of the Armory Arts Village in Jackson. Located in what once served as Michigan’s first penitentiary, the Armory Arts Village is a residential community originally set up to provide living, working, and presentation space for artists.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Consumers Energy has been busy this week reconnecting tens of thousands of customers who lost power during last Sunday's ice & snow storm.  So it could be argued the utility was due some good news.  Today CMS Energy announced the Jackson-based utility profits increased last year.   

One one expert calls it "the biggest auto verdict in the state this year."

Danielle Salisbury of the Jackson Citizen Patriot reports a jury awarded James Fairly and his wife Kimberley Fairley $3.5 million in pain and suffering as a result of traffic accident Mr. Fairly was in.

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