Politics & Government

Politics
11:16 am
Wed April 20, 2011

New Department of Corrections Chief named

Governor Rick Snyder has named Jackson County Sheriff Daniel Heyns as the new director of the Michigan Department of Corrections. He'll start his new duties on June 1st.

From the Governor's Press release:

Heyns earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Michigan in 1973 and a master’s in criminal justice, with a correctional administration focus, from Michigan State University in 1977.  Heyns obtained his State of Michigan Police Officer Certification in 1981, is a graduate of the National FBI Academy and has completed special weapons and tactics training...

Heyns, of Jackson, has served as Jackson County sheriff since 2003.  He is responsible for a $12.5 million budget, a 450-bed jail operation, 911 central dispatch center and multiple specialized units including marine patrol, detective bureau, K-9, narcotics, traffic, firearms, Special Response Team and school liaison.  He previously served as Jackson County undersheriff and was a captain in the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department.

The Associated Press notes that Heyns was a vocal opponent of Governor Granholm's plan to release more nonviolent prisoners eligible for parole.

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News Roundup
9:19 am
Wed April 20, 2011

In this morning's news...

user brother o'mara Flickr

Lawsuits challenging emergency manager law start

Detroit's General Retirement System and the Police and Fire Retirement System have filed a lawsuit challenging the new emergency financial manager law.

From the Associated Press:

The City of Detroit's two pension boards have filed a lawsuit seeking to block the state's new emergency financial manager law, calling it unconstitutional.

The Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press report the lawsuit was filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Detroit and names Gov. Rick Snyder and Treasurer Andy Dillon. The lawsuit claims that emergency financial managers could remove pension board members for no reason.

Snyder's office says the governor believes in the constitutionality of the law, otherwise he wouldn't have signed it.

Benton Harbor's Emergency Financial Manager, Joe Harris, was the first EFM to use broad new powers granted to him by the state.

Cleaning the lead out of Detroit homes

The federal government and private foundations will help fund a project to help get rid of environmental hazards in Detroit homes. From the Detroit Free Press:

The federal government will kick in $1 million to help make 100 homes in a targeted area of Detroit lead-free and safe from other hazards -- such as mold and radon -- and to train workers in environmental remediation techniques.

Deputy Secretary Ron Sims of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will present the funds to Mayor Dave Bing today.

The Freep reports that a study showed "60% of children in public schools in the city who scored below grade level on standardized state tests had lead poisoning."

Foundations, nonprofit partners, and state agencies are also expected to invest in the project.

Snyder to announce new leader for the Michigan Department of Corrections

Governor Rick Snyder is expected to make the announcement this morning. From the Detroit News:

Snyder selected Jackson County Sheriff Dan Heyns to run the department, which takes the largest share of general fund dollars in the state's budget, according to two people familiar with the decision.

Snyder will make the announcement publically later this morning at a news conference in the governor's press auditorium, across from the Capitol in Lansing.

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Politics
5:40 pm
Tue April 19, 2011

Michigan Attorney General's office collects over $100 million in child support

Michigan Attorney General's office

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette says that office’s Child Support Division has passed an important marker: It has now collected more than $100 million in child support for delinquent parents.

The division launched in 2003. Since then, it’s used Michigan’s tough child support laws to enforce court-ordered payments.

Michiganis the only state that makes failure to pay child support a four-year felony.

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Politics
5:03 pm
Tue April 19, 2011

Johnson delivers first-ever "State of the Secretary of State" speech

Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson.
rick4mi.com

Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson delivered what she says was the first-ever "State of the Secretary of State" speech in Lansing.

It's a speech Johnson says she plans to deliver the speech every year she is in office, "because I think there’s so much information and so many good things that are happening and I want people to know where we’re at, and where we’re going," said Johnson, "so you can judge – are we doing a good job or not?"

In the speech, Johnson said she is cutting costs in the Department of State.

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Politics
4:25 pm
Tue April 19, 2011

First legal challenges to emergency manager law

Robert Bobb, Detroit Public Schools emergency financial manager, says the new emergency manager law has already helped him in his role.
Sarah Hulett Michigan Radio

The controversial emergency financial manager law gives broad powers to state-appointed officials who are brought in to help struggling cities and school districts.

It was signed into law last month by Governor Rick Snyder, now, as MPRN's Rick Pluta reports, two Detroit pension fund boards have filed a lawsuit challenging the state's emergency financial manager law. They say the law "illegally threatens contracts and collective bargaining agreements."

Under the law, emergency managers can strip power from locally elected officials and dissolve union contracts.

Pluta spoke with the emergency manager in charge of the Detroit Public Schools, Robert Bobb. He says these legal challenges won't help: 

"Because the legislation as it is is to kind of help escalate the resolution of problems and issues in localities and in school districts and any type of prolonged litigation does not really help advance what needs to be advanced to right the ship," says Bobb.

The Detroit News reports that the lawsuit was filed by Detroit's General Retirement System and the Police and Fire Retirement System:

The law "represents an imminent threat to the constitutional rights of plaintiffs and other members of the Detroit Retirement Systems," the funds' lawyer Ronald A. King wrote in the lawsuit.

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Politics
2:59 pm
Tue April 19, 2011

President Obama's invite to a townhall meeting hosted by Facebook

President Obama inviting people to join his town hall meeting hosted by Facebook
screen grab of YouTube video

In an attempt to reach people who are hanging out online, President Obama is holding an "online town hall" meeting at the headquarters of Facebook in Palo Alto, California. There he'll discuss his ideas for bringing down the deficit, and take questions posted on the White House Facebook page.

Here's the invite from the President released this morning:

Carla Marinucci on the Politics Blog of the San Francisco Chronicle writes:

...only a few lucky invitees and reporters will actually be allowed inside the headquarters of Facebook to see the town hall...White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer told reporters last week in a conference call that Obama isn't necessarily aiming for the youth demographic with his event. "It is an attempt to reach people who may not get their news through traditional news sources like newspapers and the network news,'' he said. "And we want to go to where people...congregate online and communicate with them there. And Facebook is certainly one of the premiere places to do that."

Commentary
2:01 pm
Tue April 19, 2011

GOP Losing Streak

For many years, Michigan has had a strong two-party tradition. During the nineteen-eighties and early nineties, Michigan voters came closer than any other state to mirroring the national presidential results. But we don’t just go with the winners.

We’ve also had one of the oldest and strongest traditions of ticket-splitting in the nation. Back in 1964, Democrat Lyndon Johnson carried the state by more than a million votes, something never seen before or since. But seven hundred thousand of those voters crossed over to give Republican George Romney a landslide as well.

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Politics
1:53 pm
Tue April 19, 2011

Flint Mayor reacts to news reports on Flint crime

Flint Mayor Dayne Walling (right) and police Chief Alvern Lock.
Steve Carmody Michigan Radio

Flint Mayor Dayne Walling took issue with two reports on crime in Flint and police layoffs: an article published in the New York Times; and a WJBK Fox 2 news report.

Both were by reporter Charles LeDuff.

Here are some excerpts from Walling's letter posted on votewalling.com:

...I am deeply disturbed by yet another cheap shot at the City of Flint.

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Politics
10:58 pm
Mon April 18, 2011

Community rallies to protest immigration enforcement

United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement

A standing-room-only crowd packed a union hall in Dearborn tonight for a rally to protest what they call harassment by immigration officials. Hundreds of people poured into UAW Local 600 to hear activists and politicians discuss allegations of wrongdoing by Immigration and Customs Enforcement – or ICE – agents.

Complaints include warrantless searches, racial profiling and enforcement actions near schools and churches.

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Politics
5:58 pm
Mon April 18, 2011

Detroit, Wayne County officials protest State Police "about-face" on crime lab

Kym Worthy

Detroit and Wayne County officials say they feel like Michigan State Police have “stabbed them in the back."

That’s because State Police have backed off a plan to put a full-service crime lab in a former casino the city plans to turn into its new police headquarters.

But the state later decided that wasn’t the best use of money. They say Detroit Police need more help handling and submitting evidence.

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Politics
4:13 pm
Mon April 18, 2011

Officials receive training on new emergency financial manager law

More than 300 local officials and prospective emergency managers are in Lansing today and tomorrow to be trained in the state's new fiscal crisis law.

The law gives sweeping authority to emergency managers named to run school districts and local governments that can no longer pay their bills.

Terry Stanton of the Michigan Department of Treasury says the goal is for the state to intervene earlier to avoid the drastic step of a state takeover.

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Politics
4:05 pm
Mon April 18, 2011

Critics take step toward recalling Gov. Snyder

A group opposed to Governor Rick Snyder submitted language today for a recall petition.  It’s the beginning of what may be a long process. 

The group, Michigan Citizens United, is behind the recall campaign.    Gerald Rozner is the group’s spokesman.  He says Gov. Snyder deserves to be recalled for signing legislation that gives state appointed financial managers broad powers to void city union contracts and plans to increase taxes on pensioners. 

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Commentary
12:49 pm
Mon April 18, 2011

Rolling the Dice

We in the media have been paying a lot of attention to Governor Snyder’s attempts to push his program through the legislature. Mostly, we‘ve been preoccupied with the mechanics.

Last week, we talked about his compromise on the pension tax. Soon, we‘ll be discussing what seems likely to be the governor’s  success at cutting spending for the schools. Occasionally, we remember to mention the reason for all this painful budget slashing.

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Corrections
12:15 pm
Sun April 17, 2011

Proposed prison closing angers lawmaker

The Mound Correctional Facility as part of the state's cost-cutting efforts.
mich.gov

A Detroit lawmaker is angry over what he calls a unilateral decision to close the Mound Road Correctional Facility in the city.

Representative Fred Durhal is a member of the House Appropriations Corrections Subcommittee, but he says he was not consulted about closing the Mound prison.

Durhal says Rep. Joe Haveman told the committee only they would close a prison in the north, south, east and west parts of the state in a budget-cutting move.

"It caught me by total surprise," Durhal says. "I have not had an opportunity to look into just where those prisons would be, if those are the criteria that he is using. I think they should have had some discussion inside of the entire committee."

The Mound Road prison is one of the state's newer facilities. It houses about 1,000 prisoners and employs about 200 people.

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Politics
11:00 am
Sat April 16, 2011

Benton Harbor EMF takes action

Benton Harbor appears to be the first city to come under a sweeping new Michigan law that allows emergency managers to take almost complete control of municipalities and school districts.

Benton Harbor emergency Manager Joseph Harris issued an order this week preventing city officials from doing anything more than calling meetings to order… adjourning them and approving minutes of meetings.

In other words, their decision-making powers have been suspended.

A financial emergency was declared in Benton Harbor in February 2010 by then-Governor Granholm after the city’s budget deficit grew by double digits.

A state board named former Detroit auditor general and chief financial officer Harris to run the city… with the power to control all spending and renegotiate union contracts.

Union leaders are critical of Harris’ move to take most powers away from city leaders. The AFL-CIO represents administrative workers and others in Benton Harbor.

Politics
10:42 am
Sat April 16, 2011

Emergency Manager of Benton Harbor strips power from elected officials

Main Street in Benton Harbor
Google Maps

Joseph Harris, the state-appointed Emergency Financial Manager of Benton Harbor, has stripped control from city officials.

It's the first time an emergency financial manager has used broad new powers granted to them by state legislators and Governor Rick Snyder.

Harris issued an order "prohibiting all action by all city boards, commissions and authorities, except as authorized by the emergency manager."

Here's the language from the order:

NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED AS FOLLOWS:
1. Absent prior express written authorization and approval by the Emergency Manager, no City Board, Commission or Authority shall take any action for or on behalf of the City whatsoever other than:

i) Call a meeting to order.
ii) Approve of meeting minutes.
iii) Adjourn a meeting.

2. That all prior resolutions, or acts of any kind of the City in conflict herewith are and the same shall be, to the extent of such conflict, rescinded.

3. This order shall be effective immediately.

The Detroit News reported that Harris issued the order because the city has been ineffective at governing:

Benton Harbor has struggled with a controversial trash hauling contract, lawsuits related to the contract, new competition for water services and city officials who sometimes clashed to the point that meetings dragged on for hours, Joseph said.

"I have seen for more than 30 years the mismanagement of funds and personnel in the city," Joseph said. "Infighting has been going on for decades."

It probably comes as no surprise that the relationship between Harris and government officials has been contentious.

In 2010, according to South Bend NBC affiliate WNDU , City Commissioner Duane Seats compared Harris to a disease within the city after Harris fired nine police officers, and worked to eliminate the city's fire department:

"Right now there's no cure for him, but I decree and declare that these city commissioners that we have now and with the citizens help we will find a cure. We will find a cure for this disease that we have here in the 49022 that's called Joe must go," said Seats.

In a statement published on the Daily Kos, Michigan's AFL-CIO president Mark Gaffney called the order from Harris "sad for democracy in Michigan": 

"It comes after the announcement of Robert Bobb in Detroit ordering layoff of every single public school teacher in the Detroit Public School system. With the stripping of all power of duly elected officials in Benton harbor and the attack on Detroit school teachers, we can now see the true nature of the Emergency Manager system."

One elected official in Benton Harbor wasn't bothered by Harris' order. City Commissioner Bryan Joseph was quoted in the Detroit News saying, "It doesn't bother me, I'm in favor of it." According to the News, state-appointed emergency financial managers are working in four places in Michigan:

Politics
3:49 pm
Fri April 15, 2011

Plan would require foster children to shop for clothing in thrift stores

State Sen. Bruce Caswell suggests foster and poor children should use their state-funded clothing allowance only at thrift stores.
facebook.com

Foster children in Michigan would use their state-funded clothing allowance only in thrift stores under a plan suggested by State Senator Bruce Caswell.

Caswell says he wants to make sure that state money set aside to buy clothes for foster children and kids of the working poor  is actually used for that purpose.

He says they should get "gift cards" to be used only at Salvation Army, Goodwill or other thrift stores.

"I never had anything new," Caswell says. "I got all the hand-me-downs. And my dad, he did a lot of shopping at the Salvation Army, and his comment was -- and quite frankly it's true -- once you're out of the store and you walk down the street, nobody knows where you bought your clothes."

Gilda Jacobs is CEO of the Michigan League for Human Services. She’s not a fan of the thrift shop gift card idea.

"Honestly, I was flabbergasted," Jacobs says. "I really couldn't believe this. Because I think, gosh, is this where we've gone in  this state? I think that there’s the whole issue of dignity. You’re saying to somebody, you don’t deserve to go in and buy a new pair of gym shoes. You know, for a lot of foster kids, they already have so much stacked against them.”

Caswell says the gift card idea wouldn’t save the state any money.

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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Politics
12:26 pm
Fri April 15, 2011

Sterling Heights honor student faces deportation

Ola Kaso, left, and her sister Nevila Wing. Barring an extraordinary action on the part of Congress and President Obama, Ola and her mother will be deported in June.
Sarah Cwiek Michigan Radio

With immigration reform bogged down in Congress and perennially on the back burner, the Obama administration is pushing a more aggressive deportation agenda. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement plans to deport a record number of people this year.

If the agency has their way, one of them will be Ola Kaso, an 18-year-old girl from Sterling Heights. She’ll be forced to leave just days after she graduates high school as one of the top students in her class.

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Commentary
12:09 pm
Fri April 15, 2011

Drunken Sailors

I’ve been following the Michigan legislature’s attempts to approve various sections of the state budget, and the cliché that first came to my mind this morning was the wrong one. I was tempted to tell you that they have been behaving like drunken sailors.

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