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Tracy Samilton

Auto Reporter/Producer

Tracy Samilton covers the auto industry, business, and the business response to climate change for Michigan Radio.   She began her career at Michigan Radio as an intern, where she was promptly "bitten by the radio bug," and never recovered.  She took over the auto beat in January, 2009, just a few months before Chrysler and General Motors filed for bankruptcy.  Tracy's reports on the auto industry can frequently be heard on Morning Edition and All Things Considered, as well as on Michigan Radio.   Her coverage of Michigan's Detroit Three automakers has taken her as far as Germany, and China. 

Tracy graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in English Literature. 

Eastern Michigan University

Eastern Michigan University flipped the switch on its new co-generation plant Friday, making the university the first in Michigan to meet close to 100% of its campus energy needs.

Cogeneration is an efficient way to use natural gas. The plant burns natural gas to spin a turbine, which creates electricity. The hot exhaust is then funneled to a generator that creates steam heat. 

John Donegan is vice president in charge of facilities. He says the plant will be able to produce 98% of the heat used on campus, and 93% of the electricity.  

"This is the most economical, most environmentally friendly way to mass produce large amounts of electricity and steam," he says.

Airbnb

Detroit may have quietly banned many Airbnb rentals with a new zoning law that went into effect this week. The zoning change as written bans Airbnb room rentals in owner-occupied single-family and duplex homes.

The company says that's about 50% of Detroit's total Airbnb business.

Some Airbnb owners claim city is now notifying people like Melissa Jasper to stop opening up their homes to paid guests. 

Jasper says her Airbnb business was paying the mortgage. And she says the change is short-sighted, because a good Airbnb host is a booster for their city's image.

University of Michigan

Nearly ten years after the Great Recession, an economist says the 2018 forecast is bright for Michigan -- as long as we don't compare it to places that are doing even better.

Tom Jackson is an economist with IHS Markit. He says Michigan will see job growth in computer programming and other high tech fields related to vehicle automation.

The state's economy also benefits from its strong public universities.

Just grade the state on a curve, he urges. Job growth will be more robust in southern states like Florida and Texas and Western states like Arizona and Nevada.

MDEQ

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has approved a permit for a new marina near Saugatuck.

It's slated to be part of a housing development on the shore of Lake Michigan.

David Swan is president of the Saugatuck Dunes Coastal Alliance. He says the marina will spoil an otherwise mostly pristine area.

"It is a 1600 foot long, 200 foot wide, 18 foot deep trench through Michigan's critical dunes," says Swan.  "(This area) is completely unique. The river mouth and the beaches are essentially undeveloped."

Rodney Campbell / Flickr - http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Protestors were able to reduce the number of deer killed in the city of Ann Arbor's annual cull this year.

The city is trying to reduce an overabundance of the animals because they affect traffic safety and biodiversity.  Many homeowners have also complained to the city that the deer are eating all their shrubs and gardens, and defecating on their properties.

The city approved a plan for sharpshooters to kill up to 250 deer, but they killed only 115.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Some popular gay bars in Detroit, Ferndale and Pontiac will have on-site hepatitis A vaccination clinics this month.

It's the state's latest effort to slow the hep A outbreak in Southeast Michigan.

About 14% of the 727 cases identified so far are men who have sex with men -- hence the clinics.

Many hep A cases are also occurring among drug users, jail inmates, restaurant workers, people with no permanent home, and people who live with an infected person.  590 people have been hospitalized, and 24 people have died from infections from the virus.

Abdul El-Sayed
Bridge Magazine

It looks like Dr. Abdul El-Sayed will comply - grudgingly - with the Michigan Democratic Party's request that he get a court ruling saying he's eligible to run for governor of the state of Michigan.

El-Sayed's initial response to a recent Bridge Magazine article questioning if he was eligible to run for governor was to attack it as politically motivated.  He said political insiders were trying to eliminate the best candidate.

Auto Manufacturers
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles

Three union workers at Fiat Chrysler are suing the automaker and the United Auto Workers over a bribery scheme.

They're seeking class-action status to represent all FCA hourly workers.

Federal prosecutors say Fiat Chrysler negotiators bribed UAW negotiators in order to get contract concessions and other benefits. So far, one former FCA official, Alphons Iacobelli, and one former UAW official, Virdell King, have pled guilty in the conspiracy. More indictments are expected.

Michigan Department of Corrections

Attorneys for Fredrick Freeman hope he will soon be a free man, after serving 31 years for a murder they say he did not commit.

David Sanders of Proving Innocence says Freeman was convicted because of the incompetence of his defense attorney, and because of prosecutorial misconduct.

Sanders says there was no physical evidence tying Freeman to the 1986 murder, and he had multiple alibi witnesses, including one who testified she was with him at the exact time of the murder.

Last spring, Luqman Peaks noticed some fellow Muslim students praying in the library on the downtown Detroit campus of Wayne County Community College District.

They became friends, and they agreed with Peaks that it would be a great idea to start a Muslim student organization. Peaks submitted an application to start the group in May.

At around the same time, he asked the district to provide a prayer room for religious students.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The Michigan Court of Appeals says a lawsuit filed by Flint residents against the state of Michigan can proceed in the Court of Claims.

The Court of Claims has a six month statute of limitations. The state of Michigan said residents failed to file their claim within six months of Flint's water being switched to Flint River water.

But the Court of Appeals says it would be unreasonable to expect residents to know they were drinking lead contaminated water, especially since the state deliberately concealed the truth for months. 

Christoper Sessums / Flickr http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

The corporate tax rate went from 35% to 21% on January 1.  That means a windfall for the state's utilities. 

But because they are regulated by the government, DTE Energy, Consumers Energy and other regulated utilities will be required to pass the savings on to ratepayers. 

DTE says the tax cut will save it about $190 million a year, and Consumers Energy says it will save a similar amount, about $200 million. 

Former Macomb County Clerk Karen Spranger
Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Macomb County Clerk and Register of Deeds Karen Spranger says the statute of limitations bars the county's effort to remove her from office.

The county has counter-sued Spranger, saying she lied about where the was living at the time she filed her application to run for office, and that makes her ineligible to hold office.

Spranger claims the county could have found out about the alleged perjury as soon as she was elected, but failed to do so, and because she has been claiming the alleged false address for the past six years, the lawsuit must be dismissed.

screenshot from Enbridge report to the state

U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop, R-Michigan, has introduced a bill that could force Enbridge Energy to replace its aging pipeline under the straits of Mackinac.   The so-called Great Lakes Oil Spill Prevention Act would require strict maintenance of any oil pipeline in the Great Lakes -- which means Enbridge's controversial Line 5.  The act would require pipeline operators to submit status reports regularly, and immediately report problems, to PHMSA, the federal pipeline safety agency, and requires that agency to keep the state informed as well.  The act also has a provision to require the replacement of pipeline materials over 50 years old.  Line 5 was built in 1953, so it is 64 years old now. 

wind turbine
Courtesy Consumers Energy

DTE Energy plans to move out of the state's reliably windy Thumb region for its next wind farm.

The utility has signed up 120 landowners so far in Branch County, which is in the middle of the state near the Indiana border.

Matt Wagner is manager of renewable energy development for DTE.

He says wind in Branch County can produce electricity about 37 percent of the time, as opposed to roughly 43 percent of the time in the Thumb.

But today's bigger engines and bigger blades can make up the difference.

Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

The 2018 North American International Auto Show begins tomorrow, after Friday night's famous must-see and must-be-seen charity gala.

But the most exclusive event associated with the auto show was actually last week. It's a special show featuring ultra-luxury automobiles including the latest Aston Martins, Ferraris, Lamborghinis, and Rolls Royces.

kayaker on river
City of Ann Arbor

The Michigan Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal from a company that polluted Ann Arbor's groundwater.

Gelman Sciences hoped its appeal would result in the removal of the city of Ann Arbor and a local environmental group as parties to an ongoing lawsuit over cleaning up the contamination.

Laura Rubin is head of that local environmental group -- the Huron River Watershed Council. She says having the city and HRWC remain in the lawsuit will get a better result. The parties are currently in settlement negotiations to see if a trial can be avoided.

U.S. Air Force

A new website lets people check on their hospital's track record, and compare it with the track record of other hospitals.

VerifyMICare.org includes rates of hospital-acquired infections, deaths, readmission rates, C-sections, post-op pulmonary embolisms, and other indicators of care quality.

Ruthann Sudderth is with the Michigan Health and Hospital Association. She says a pregnant patient might use the website to raise concerns with her doctor, for example.

Lake Superior
Helena Jacoba / Flickr - http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

More than three centuries of thriving marine commerce and those notorious storms in the Great Lakes have given Michigan a wealth of historic shipwrecks. There are nearly a thousand on the bottomlands of the state's 13 designated underwater preserves alone. But Michigan's mostly volunteer system of protecting the shipwrecks is showing signs of trouble. 

Tracy Samilton

The theme of this year's North American International Auto Show is trucks - with a new RAM from Fiat Chrysler, a new Silverado from GM, and a new Ranger from Ford.  

But Honda is showing off a prototype of something a lot more fuel efficient.

Tracy Samilton

A Chinese automaker finally appears poised to break into the lucrative American market.

That's after years of Chinese car companies showing not-ready-for-prime-time cars at the North American International Auto Show.

the flint river
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

In Flint, Michigan, hundreds of people have filed lawsuits over that city's lead water crisis. They're seeking damages that range from property value losses to brain damage in kids. 

Most of the lawsuits have been consolidated into one massive case. Thursday, a federal district judge in Ann Arbor ordered all the parties into mediation.

That could conceivably get money to victims much faster. 

One of the plaintiffs is 72-year-old Elnora Carthan.

Tracy Samilton

There was little disagreement about supporting President Donald Trump's agenda at last night's first primary debate among Republicans running for Michigan's 11th Congressional District seat. 

Kaye LaFond / Michigan Radio

A group called Kalkaska for Peace will begin collecting signatures on Saturday to try to force a recall election of its notorious village president, Jeff Sieting.

Sieting's Facebook posts, which contain violent rhetoric against Muslims and other marginalized groups, have attracted national attention.  

Former Macomb County Clerk Karen Spranger
Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Macomb County's embattled Clerk and Register of Deeds, Karen Spranger, has filed a federal lawsuit alleging a civil conspiracy against her, involving county officials, union officials, and members of the media.

Since taking office in January, Spranger has refused to hire new employees, and tried to fire a number of union supervisors and union employees. When she was told she could not fire employees under the protection of a labor union contract, she harassed and threatened employees, and refused to allow them to do the jobs for which they had been trained.

The State of the Takata Airbags

The largest automotive recall in history continues, and millions of cars with potentially deadly airbags are still on the road.

A federally appointed independent monitor overseeing the recall in the U.S. just issued a new report, entitled "The State of the Takata Air Bag Recalls."  You can find a link to that report here.

But first, a warning about that report if you're at all squeamish. 

The monitor, John Buretta, didn't hold back when describing the gruesome injuries of the 13 (now 14) known victims killed in the U.S. when the Takata airbags in their cars exploded, sending shards of metal at high speeds towards them.

Oakland CMH

The head of Oakland County's mental health authority could become the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority's next CEO after all.

Michigan Radio has learned that Willie Brooks, who withdrew from contract talks with DWMHA in October, is again one of the candidates being considered to lead the agency.

Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

The Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority is under fire for wasting millions of its $730 million Medicaid budget on overpayments to subcontractors, which its board frequently chooses not to recoup.  

That means fewer dollars are getting to people in need.

But there's no question the authority still helps a lot of people with essential services that improve the quality of their lives. Eighty-thousand of them, in fact.

Wikimedia Commons

The state Office of the Inspector General is recommending new language be included in the next contract between the state and its 46 mental health authorities and community mental health agencies.

That's after a botched CEO search brought attention to the Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority board's pattern of not recouping millions of dollars in over billing and waste from its subcontractors.

Tracy Samilton

The Detroit Wayne Mental Health Authority can't seem to seal the deal with a new CEO.

The state's largest such authority is responsible for a more than $700 million Medicaid budget to care for 80,000 people with mental illness, developmental disorders, and substance abuse disorders.  

The decision by two consecutive CEO choices to pull out of contract negotiations with the authority is bringing long-overdue attention to the way the authority spends its money and manages contracts.  

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