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Sarah Cwiek

Sarah Cwiek - Detroit Reporter/Producer

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Radio in October, 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit. Before her arrival at Michigan Radio, Sarah worked at WDET-FM as a reporter and producer.

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Wayne County Commissioner Laura Cox has publicly said that embattled County Executive Robert Ficano should resign.

Cox, the only Republican on the Wayne County Commission, has been one of Ficano’s most outspoken critics.

Ficano has been under fire for months after numerous revelations about huge severance payments to top aides, and other corruption accusations.

Big changes are in store once again for Detroit’s beleaguered bus riders.

1000 city workers will be laid off next week—including 78 bus drivers and 25 mechanics, according to Naomi Patton, a spokeswoman for Detroit Mayor Dave Bing.

The city recently turned over management of its transportation department to a private contractor, Parsons Brinckerhoff, who sub-contracted with another company, Envisurage.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

The “Occupy our Homes” movement has taken up the cause of Fred Shrum, another homeowner facing foreclosure in Metro Detroit.

The group is a coalition of anti-foreclosure groups, organized labor, and other activists with the Detroit “Occupy” movement.

So far, their protests on behalf of people facing foreclosure have helped keep four Metro Detroit families in their homes—including one case where protesters blocked a dumpster that came to clear out the house.

The Detroit Public School system will shrink again next fall, as the district scrambles to revamp itself amidst declining enrollment.

This is just the latest in several waves of restructuring, as the district must constantly re-adjust to a student population that shrinks every year—and has fallen about 60% overall since 2000, from more than 167,000 students to about 69,000.

Norris Wong / Flickr

UPDATED: Thursday, Feb. 9 1:00 PM

Detroit International Bridge Company (DIBC) President Dan Stamper and Matty Moroun's son, Matthew, appeared before Judge Prentis Edwards in Wayne County Circuit Court today.

Both pledged that DIBC will comply with Edwards' order, and complete the Gateway Project according to specifications.

And both swore to cede power over the Gateway Project to a "special committee" as outlined in Michigan law--one that will include Stamper, but will otherwise be made up of outsiders.

DIBC lawyer Godfrey Dillard says his clients are doing what they can to "purge themselves of the contempt" charges that landed Stamper and Matty Moroun in jail briefly last month. But they still think the underlying court order is wrong--and will appeal that separately.

Dillard says the company has already started "de-construction" on their portion of the Gateway Project in order to comply.

But Tony Kratofil, Metro Region engineer for M-DOT, says it's "too soon to tell" whether all of this adds up to DIBC acting in good faith.

"It all sounds very good on the surface, but  we’ll see what actions play out in the next month,” Kratofil said.

Another hearing to monitor progress is scheduled for March 8th before Judge Edwards.

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The company that owns the Ambassador Bridge says it will comply with a court order—and give up a years-long legal battle over a disputed construction project.

The announcement comes ahead of a scheduled hearing in Wayne County Circuit Court Thursday.

But the Detroit International Bridge Company won’t use it to keep fighting the February, 2010 court decision ordering them to finish the long-delayed Gateway Project.

That's a joint construction project with the Michigan Department of Transportation, meant to better connect the bridge with surrounding highways.

Instead, Bridge Company officials say they'll use the hearing to detail how they plan to comply.

The ongoing battle between the DIBC and MDOT landed DIBC President Dan Stamper and bridge owner Manuel "Matty" Moroun in jail overnight for civil contempt of court last month. Last week, the Michigan Court of Appeals upheld the lower court judge's right to incarcerate the two men, though not indefinitely.

Stamper admits the idea of returning there motivated them to cooperate. “It entered into all of our thoughts,” said Stamper.

Moroun's son, Matthew, added: "I don’t think any human being likes jail.”

Matthew Moroun says he and his father will also cede decision-making powers for the Gateway Project to a "special committee." They say that committee will include Stamper, but otherwise be made up of people from outside the DIBC.

Although they've now agreed to comply with, the DIBC continues to insist the court order is wrong. They've blamed MDOT all along for the construction delays, despite the court's decision and the findings of an independent monitor.

 

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

Governor Snyder has signed legislation he says will let financially-strapped school districts guarantee their bond payments—using state school aid funds.

The legislation applies to all school districts with deficit elimination plans or emergency managers. But it was written with the Detroit Public Schools in mind.

Detroit State Representative Fred Durhal, who sponsored the bill, says the new law should help set bondholders’ minds at ease.

Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund / saldef.org

Vandals targeted a Sikh house of worship in suburban Detroit this week. But there are signs they intended to target Muslims.

According to the Sikh Society of Michigan, the Sikh temple (known as a Gurdwara) in Sterling Heights has been under construction for several years, without any incidents or controversy.

That changed when someone vandalized the building sometime on Sunday night.

Associated Press

An Ingham County Court Judge has ruled that the state review team looking at Detroit’s finances must meet in public. The ruling is a victory for opponents of Public Act 4, the state law that strengthens the powers of emergency managers in fiscally-distressed cities. The review team, led by State Treasurer Andy Dillon, is going through the review process that could lead to Governor Snyder appoint an emergency manager in Detroit.

Jim Wallace / Flickr

A three judge panel from the Michigan Court of Appeals has ruled that Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Prentis Edwards used his power appropriately when he jailed billionaire Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel "Matty" Moroun and his top company official, Detroit International Bridge Company President Dan Stamper, on January 12, 2012.

However, the court did say Judge Edwards didn't make the conditions of their release clear enough.

Lawyers representing Moroun and Stamper argued that their imprisonment was an improper use of the civil contempt of court power and "was invalid as a matter of law."

From the opinion of the Michigan Court of Appeals:

We disagree with appellants to the extent that they argue that incarceration was an improper use of the trial court’s civil contempt power; however, we agree with appellants that the trial court erred in requiring their continued incarceration until DIBC “fully complied with” the February 1, 2010, order...

Confinement or imprisonment may be imposed whether the contempt is civil or criminal in nature. Borden v Borden, 67 Mich App 45, 48; 239 NW2d 757 (1976). In the civil context, the confinement must be conditional.

The other two judges on the panel agreed with most of the decision, but not all. You can read Judge Fort Hood's opinion and Judge Wilder's opinion.

Moroun and Stamper were freed on appeal by the Michigan Court of Appeals on January 13 after spending the night in a county jail.

Now, after this Appeals Court ruling, the two top Ambassador Bridge officials will return to Wayne County Circuit Court this week.

And they’ll do so facing the possibility they could go back to jail if Judge Edwards crafts a new civil contempt of court order.

The whole issue stems from a dispute over the Gateway Project, a joint construction project between the DIBC and the Michigan Department of Transportation. The project was meant to build ramps that would better connect the Ambassador Bridge to surrounding highways, and keep truck traffic off residential streets.

The Appeals Court ruled that Edwards was within his rights when he ordered the two to jail. But they maintain Prentis's order that the two remain incarcerated until the Gateway Project is "complete"--something that will likely take months--was too vague.

The Appeals Court judges said Edwards would have to provide specifics on how Moroun and Stamper can remove the civil contempt of court ruling.

A Michigan Department of Transportation spokesman says the agency is pleased with the ruling, and is “eager” to see the more specific conditions the Judge lays out.

The Detroit International Bridge Company released a statement that was silent on most of the ruling, but noted the DIBC is "pleased with the recognition by the MI Court of Appeals today that the Ambassador Bridge Gateway Project must be finished." It went on to say:

"Given the events since the Court of Appeals accepted the appeal from Judge Edward’s order, MDOT announced its intent to begin completion of MDOT’s unfinished ramp. It is very clear that MDOT has held up construction, not DIBC...No one wants the Gateway completed more than us."

But a report from a court-appointed monitor who studied the Gateway dispute agrees largely with MDOT's position that the DIBC has held up the project.

A hearing before Judge Edwards is set for Thursday.

The non-profit group Data Driven Detroit has released its own map suggesting how to divide the city into districts.

Detroit voters have chosen to elect seven of nine City Council members by district, rather than the present "at-large" system.

The City Planning Commission gave the Council four possible maps to consider.

But the non-profit group Data Driven Detroit has reviewed the data, and produced its own plan—one they’re calling “Option 5.”

Detroit State Representative Lisa Howze says she wants to be the city’s next Mayor—even if she has to do it alongside a state-appointed emergency manager.

Kicking off her campaign at a senior home in northeast Detroit, Howze, a first-term Democrat, said current Mayor Dave Bing’s biggest problem is a lack of vision.

She thinks that’s what Lansing is really looking for, as Governor Snyder mulls whether to appoint an emergency manager in Detroit.

Wayne State University is changing its admissions standards and retention policies in an effort to boost graduation rates.

Wayne State used to admit students automatically based on a minimum gradepoint average or test scores.

User RickM2007 / flickriver.com

The Detroit Fire Department is aiming to save lives—and money—by preventing heating-related home fires.

Fire officials say there’s a “noticeable peak” in fire-related deaths in the winter months--largely due to people improperly using space heaters and other heat sources, like propane tanks.  19 people died in the winter months last year.

Detroit fire captain Christopher Dixon says that’s a tough but unfortunate calculation many Detroiters make each month.

Detroit’s elected officials had hoped to resolve some big questions about the city’s financial future Tuesday.

But that didn’t happen.

Both Governor Snyder and Detroit Mayor Dave Bing say the only way for the city to avoid an emergency manager is to get big union concessions.

Bing had hoped to get those concessions by the end of January. But the self-imposed deadline came and went without a deal.

In the meantime, the Detroit City Council met to discuss drastic actions the city might have to take if no agreement materializes soon.

Panelists offered a variety of perspectives on marijuana laws at the annual Wayne State University law review symposium Friday.

The largely civil conversation ranged widely, from the potential benefits of legalizing and taxing marijuana, to the perils of legalizing a drug that many think would be hard to regulate.

One symposium panelist was Kevin Sabet, a former advisor to the National Office of Drug Control Policy.

The federal government says it’s confident the Detroit Housing Commission is on the right path—and ready to revert back to local control.

The quasi-governmental authority manages the city’s public housing. It’s been under federal oversight since 2005 because of misspending and management problems.

But U-S Housing and Urban Development assistant secretary Sandra Henriquez says there’s been a vast improvement.

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

Highland Park school officials are battling to keep their school district from a state takeover.

But many parents there say they just want to know whether the district will last through the next month.

An audit shows the Highland Park school district is running an $11.2 million deficit—mostly because it’s lost more than two-thirds of its students.

In 2008, the district had 3419 students. Today, they have fewer than 1000.

A group of influential Michigan business leaders says Governor Snyder and the state legislature have advanced their plan to revive the state’s economy.a

Business Leaders for Michigan released its updated Michigan Turnaround Plan Tuesday.  Their goal is to make Michigan a top-ten state for job, economic and personal income growth.

Detroit officials are fast-tracking a process to change the way Council members represent the city.

Detroit voters approved a plan in November to elect seven of nine City Council members by district, when they approved a new city charter. Currently, all nine members represent the city at-large.

Detroit’s elected leaders are still struggling to come up with a unified plan to avoid a state takeover—even as a state review team continues work in the city.

The Detroit City Council has been critical of Mayor Dave Bing’s proposal to save more than $100 million this fiscal year to prevent the city from running out of cash.

Members suggest it contains too many optimistic revenue projections and unrealistic assumptions.

The Council has its own list of suggestions. But in the end, they can do little more than offer them to the Mayor.

wikimedia commons

A new report says three Michigan companies spent more on lobbying than they did in corporate income taxes between 2008 and 2010.

Those companies include Michigan’s two biggest utilities, DTE and Consumers Energy. It also includes Ann Arbor-based freight hauler Con-way.

The Detroit Economic Club hosts a public forum with Metro Detroit’s so-called “Big Four” at the Detroit Auto Show each year.

And Tuesday’s session with the Detroit Mayor and Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb County executives proved a bit livelier than usual.

Ian Britton / freefoto.com

Union leaders, environmental groups and some auto industry representatives are applauding new fuel efficiency standards proposed by President Obama.

The Environmental Protection Agency held a public hearing on the new rules in Detroit Tuesday.

The Obama administration’s proposed rule actually measures greenhouse gas emissions. But when translated into the usual lingo, that’s about 54 miles per gallon—roughly double the current standard.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Hundreds of people descended on Detroit’s Martin Luther King, Junior high school Monday morning for a march honoring the civil rights leader.

It was just one of many events honoring Dr. King that took place around Metro Detroit.

Hundreds of people came out for the third annual Detroit Public Schools-sponsored march, many of them students. But some adults, like Alicia Gassiamo, came to honor a figure whose sacrifices they say made a real difference in their lives.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Detroit Police say car break-ins are up in the city’s entertainment district. So they’re trying a new approach to prevent crime: banning street parking in the area.

A lot of people—Detroit Police won’t yet say how many—got their cars towed last weekend as a result of the parking ban.

Police officially issued the ban late on Friday:

Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee says the number of serious crimes in Detroit fell last year—but the number of killings climbed.

Preliminary statistics show Detroit recorded 344 homicides in 2011. That’s up about 12 percent from 2010, but roughly in line with the longer-term average.

“We promised that we would reduce violent crime. Are we satisfied with homicide numbers? Absolutely not," Godbee says. "But promises made, promises kept. We’ve delivered on reducing violent crime.”

Godbee credited his officers’ “Herculean efforts” to combat crime as department resources continue to shrink. He says the department is re-organizing to deal with that—including eliminating some desk jobs to put more officers on the streets.

Godbee also notes that Detroit Police have improved outreach and coordination with community, and the DPD is now about 80 percent compliant with a federal consent decree.

The department has been under federal oversight since 2003, for issues related to excessive force and prisoner treatment.

The Michigan Court of Appeals has freed Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun and his top aide, Dan Stamper from the Wayne County jail.

Thursday morning, Wayne County Judge Prentis Edwards sent Moroun and Stamper to jail for civil contempt of court.

That night, the Court of Appeals denied Moroun and Stamper’s emergency motions to get out of jail.

But their lawyers tweaked their argument today, and again asked that the two be freed while their clients’ appeal is pending. The court has now agreed to that.

Pontiac’s emergency manager says the federal government has agreed to a proposal that lets the city keep some grant money it was expected to lose.

Pontiac has a history mismanaging federal grant money.  So when federal officials from the Department of Housing and Urban Development asked the city to hand administration of Community Development Block Grants over to Oakland County, its emergency manager, Lou Schimmel, agreed.

hatci.com

Governor Snyder announced that Hyundai will expand its Hyundai-Kia America Technical Center in Superior Township, just south of Ann Arbor.

Speaking just after touring the Detroit Auto Show Tuesday, the Governor said the project is a “good model” for the state’s revamped economic development strategy.

The Korean automaker plans to put more than $15 million into expanding its technical center. The new “environmental chamber” will test vehicle emissions at extreme temperatures, helping it meet new fuel efficiency standards.

But do that, the company needed a bigger power supply than DTE Energy could reliably provide. So, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation is chipping in $2.5 million to build a new power substation.

Snyder says that’s a departure from the tax incentive-based strategy the state has used in the past. “Our goal here is to be an enabler, in terms of letting companies in the private sector be successful, because that’s how you lead to true long term viable job creation,” Snyder said.

The idea is that Hyundai will eventually repay the state through tax revenues it pays to Superior Township. The state can then use that money to finance other economic development projects.

GM unveiled the Buick Encore, the latest all-new Buick, at the Detroit Auto Show Tuesday.

The Encore rounds out Buick’s revamped line-up, which also includes the Verano, LaCrosse, and Enclave.

GM is trying hard to ditch Buick’s “older” image and market the brand to younger customers.

GM Vice President for design Ed Wellburn said the Encore will increase Buick’s appeal to younger buyers—and women—because it’s part of a trend toward what he calls “premium small SUVs.”

“This is really on the leading edge of that trend,” Wellburn said. “We firmly believe there are great opportunities there, and it expands the Buick portfolio.”

The Encore will go on sale in early 2013. The car will be manufactured in South Korea—a nod to the fact that GM plans to market the car heavily in China—where Buick is a popular brand--as well as North America.

“We’re a global company with a global footprint,” said Roger McCormack, Buick’s product marketing director. “When you look at the picture in total, this was the right [manufacturing] decision for us.”

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