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Oakland County

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Oakland County Treasurer Andrew Meisner filed a lawsuit against federally backed mortgage companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac last year.

He claimed they were dodging taxes.

And he won.

The result could mean millions of dollars in revenue - provided the case wins an expected appeal from the mortgage companies.

It's an appeal that's expected since other counties and states around the country are watching this case, and would love to line up and take their share of tax revenue from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

So what taxes are they dodging?

Matthileo Capitol / Flickr

Update 3/27/2012:

"The Michigan Supreme Court - in a decision that breaks along party-lines -  has upheld a state law that will let Republicans on the Oakland County Commission redraw their district lines. The Supreme Court says the law complies with the state constitution, regardless of whether it was designed to give one party a political advantage. The Supreme Court's three Democrats dissented from the decision," Rick Pluta reports.

Original Post 3/23/2012:

This week, Rick Pluta, Lansing Bureau Chief for the Michigan Public Radio Network, and I decided to take a look at the political shenanigans playing out in Oakland County.

The Back-story

“There is a fight between Oakland County politicians – Democrats versus Republicans. It’s about the murky, dirty, filthy process of drawing new district lines for politicians to run in. In Oakland County, [the redrawing] is done by a bi-partisan panel. In this case, it’s a panel that has more Democrats than Republicans and the Democrats drew a map that the Republicans didn’t like,” Pluta explains.

So, some Republican lawmakers from Oakland County decided to have the state legislature change the redrawing rules. They devised a measure to allow the County Commission, which is controlled by Republicans, to redraw the lines. The measure was then passed by the state’s Republican-controlled House and Senate and signed into law by Governor Rick Snyder.

Democrats cried foul. They challenged the new law and, last month, Ingham County Circuit Judge William Collette overturned it. Collette ruled the law violated the Michigan Constitution and that the governor and the Legislature illegally interfered in a local political question.

The question over the legality of the law made its way to the state’s highest court this week. On Wednesday, the Michigan Supreme Court heard arguments from both sides.

Politically-motivated maps

Republicans all along contended that the reason for the new law was to save taxpayers money. Democrats, and many pundits, said it was pure politics: that the GOP changed the rules so that Republican dominance on the County Board wouldn’t be challenged. But, this kind of claim is always hard to prove. Hard to prove… unless you have emails.

Busted: GOP emails released

This week, emails between Republican Oakland County officials and GOP lawmakers were released after the Oakland County Democratic Party filed a Freedom of Information Act. The emails appear to show, “officials in the offices of Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson’s office and state Representatives – primarily Rep. Eileen Kowall – basically plotting and trying to find a rationale to kick this redistricting process back over to the County Commission where Republicans would control it,” Pluta explains.

‘It’s gonna be ugly’

In one email, Rep. Kowall wrote, “I guess it would also help to have (a) legitimate explanation as to why we waited until now, after redistricting plans have been submitted, to take these bills up.” She also wrote, “The quicker things move the better, ’cause it’s gonna be ugly.”

The Michigan Supreme Court - in a decision that breaks along party-lines -  has upheld a state law that will let Republicans on the Oakland County Commission redraw their district lines. The Supreme Court says the law complies with the state constitution, regardless of whether it was designed to give one party a political advantage. The Supreme Court's three Democrats dissented from the decision.

Last week, Zoe Clark and I took a look at the political shenanigans behind the Oakland County controversy. You can find that story here.

The Michigan Supreme Court hears arguments tomorrow over a state law allowing Republicans to draw county commission boundaries in Oakland County.  

Just released emails seem to show Oakland County Republicans tried to circumvent the rules to maintain control of the county commission.

“Clearly there has been a collusionary attempt on the part of the Republican legislators in this body from Oakland County," says Vicki Barnett, a Democratic state lawmaker from Farmington Hills. 

Barnett says it’s a “major breach of trust in the government system”. 

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Tuesday’s election did not change the balance of power in the state house. 

Two vacant state house seats were up for grabs.

Voters in Genesee County filled a vacant state house seat on Tuesday.   The seat was made vacant last fall by a union-backed campaign that succeeded in recalling Republican Paul Scott.

Last night, Republican Joe Graves defeated Democrat Steve Losey to serve out the final year of Scott’s unfinished term.     

Graves says his message of jobs lead to the victory.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Election season gets off to an early start this year for the Michigan House.

Voters head to the polls Tuesday in two districts to fill vacancies left by former lawmakers. One seat covers a portion of Genesee County, while the other covers part of Oakland County.

The winners would have to run again to get full, two-year terms later in the year.

Republicans enter the 2012 election season with a 62-46 advantage over Democrats in the House.

A judge has overturned a state law that scrapped Oakland County’s new commission map and gave Republican elected officials the power to draw a new one.

The challenge was filed by Democrats who say the law was simply a GOP power grab.

The ruling is the latest chapter in a struggle for political power in the former Republican bastion that’s now a battleground county.

Democrats in Oakland County are suing Governor Snyder over a new law that gives county commissioners the power to draw their own districts.

Historically, a group of five county officials created the map. During the most recent process, Democrats dominated the group for the first time in recent history.

A fierce partisan battle among Oakland County politicians played out in front of a state House panel at the state Capitol today.

Democrats tried and failed to block a Republican effort to let the GOP-led Oakland County Commission redraw its own district lines.

The district map was already adopted earlier this year by a bipartisan apportionment commission, and it was upheld by the Michigan Court of Appeals.

Democrats called the action to redraw the map a brazen effort by Republicans to undo a county commission map they don’t like.

Oakland County Commissioner David Woodward is a Democrat opposed to the bill.

“That this is being brought up, introduced after the rendered decisions, speaks of partisan overreach, specifically, Republican Party overreach - an attempt in this body to undo a process that has already run its course,” said Woodward.

The Oakland apportionment commission has a Democratic majority, while the Oakland County Commission is led by Republicans.

The bill would also reduce the number of county commissioners.

Republicans say the bill is designed to save taxpayers money.

L. Brooks Patterson defended James Simpson's invitation, saying Simpson was asked to speak specifically because he's provocative.
screen grab of Oakland Co. video

New health care jobs have been a big area of growth in an economy struggling to create any jobs at all.

It's no wonder communities are working to attract new health care investments.

Marketplace's Gregory Warner produced a piece on what he calls L. Brooks Patterson's mission: "to rescue Oakland County by creating a medical mecca."

Patterson thinks a new hospital complex will bring in 3,000 jobs. He's seeking approval to build the McLaren Health Care Village in Oakland County.

But as Warner makes clear in his piece, people question whether the new hospital is needed.

And some economists say building redundant hospitals increases health care costs and taxes for all of us.

It's a point that makes Patterson a little hot around the collar.

You can listen to Warner's piece here:

And here is an animation by Warner and Adam Cole that helps explain the health care boom across the country:

Oh The Jobs (Debt?) You'll Create! from Marketplace on Vimeo.

Rebecca Williams / Michigan Radio

Coyotes have been moving into a lot of American cities. Here in Michigan, you could potentially see coyotes almost anywhere. But researchers don't know a whole lot about the state’s urban coyotes.

A small research team from Wayne State University hopes to change that. They're trying to figure the animals out. They want to find out how many coyotes are living in cities. And they want to know what they’re eating, and how they survive.

A few weeks ago, one day just after dawn, I met up with the research team at the side of a road in Oakland County. We crossed the road to get to a grassy, undeveloped piece of land. The group fanned out to look for evidence of coyotes... that is: tracks, and scat.

After just a few steps, we found tracks.

Oakland County

Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson says the county’s budget is balanced for the next three years.

 Patterson laid out his recommendations for a triennial budget to Oakland County Commissioners Wednesday night.

 Patterson says that long-term planning has been key to maintaining the county’s AAA bond rating, even as property tax revenues plummet.

 Patterson says the county has also managed to avoid cutting employee salaries and mass layoffs.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard  is making plans to take over the policing duties in Pontiac.  The city of Pontiac is shutting down its police department as the city deals with severe budget problems. 

The city’s rank and file police officers voted to dissolve their union contract this week.    Other public safety unions must also do the same before the Sheriff’s department takes over.  Sheriff Bouchard says policing Pontiac will pose some public safety challenges to his office. 

Pontiac police officers will continue to patrol their city. The police officers union has reached an agreement with the city's state appointed emergency financial manager which will avoid a court injunction sought by the union.

The Oakland Press reported Oakland County sheriff's deputies were preparing to takeover police patrols in the city.   The county board of commissioners approved the plan last week.

Pontiac is struggling with a massive city budget deficit.  Bringing in the sheriff's deputies was intended to save some money.  But the police union argues their contract with the city doesn't expire for another year.

The Detroit News reports Pontiac police chief Val Gross is relieved that the situation is finally resolved.

"This is not the end of the war, just one battle."

Poniac Polic car door
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

UPDATED POST 15:37

 Oakland County commissioners today  overwhelmingly rejected a proposal for the sheriff’s office to takeover policing in Pontiac.

 The city of Pontiac’s state appointed financial manager proposed shutting down the city’s police department and replacing the officers with sheriff’s deputies as a way to save money for the cash strapped city.  The city of Pontiac has a projected budget deficit of 9 million dollars.  

It looks like Democrat Gary Peters has won another term in Congress.

With about 90% of precincts reporting, Peters holds a slim lead over his Republican challenger, Rocky Raczkowski.

Peters declared victory to a small crowd just before 2 am. He knows he's going back to a U.S. House with a new Republican majority, and says he hopes the next two years will show more cooperative spirit than the last two.

But he says it's now up to Congressional Republicans to lead the way.

WOW.

I'm covering both candidates vying for the 9th Congressional district tonight. Democrat Gary Peters is trying to hold off Republican challenger Rocky Raczkowski.

I expected a more subdued crowd at Peters' Troy headquarters. But it was still a jolt to go from the bouyant energy at Rocky headquarters, to a downright...shellshocked crowd here.

But even as Republicans are running roughshod over Democrats state and nationwide, this race is still way too close to call.

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