Tracy Samilton | Michigan Radio
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Tracy Samilton

Energy and Transportation Reporter / Producer

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry 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 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.

MDOC

Corrections officers at Gus Harrison Correctional Facility in Adrian are mourning the death of one of their own from COVID-19.

Randy Rumler worked at the facility for 24 years. His local union rep, Mike Lennox, says Rumler was a family man, who was always there to help when people needed help.  

Lennox says everyone who worked with him is shocked and upset.

Unemployment office sign
BYTEMARKS / FLICKR - HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCLO

The state of Michigan says it has met an internal goal to clear out a serious backlog of claims that were filed between March 15 and May 1.

The state's Unemployment Insurance Agency is dealing with a historically high number of people filing for benefits due to the coronavirus pandemic and resulting recession. The agency is also dealing with large numbers of fraudsters using stolen identification to file false claims.

people signing petitions
Fraitag.de / Adobe Stock

The Board of State Canvassers will consider two petitions Monday, both related to Governor Gretchen Whitmer's use of emergency powers during the pandemic.

One petition is sponsored by a single individual, Michael Garabelli. It seeks to recall the governor for some of her actions during the coronavirus crisis, including an executive order that prohibited evicting residents from long-term care nursing facilities.

eglin.af.mil

In most Michigan communities, public pools are closed.  Libraries are closed. Public buildings are closed, due to efforts to keep the coronavirus from spreading.

That means fewer places for people to go to cool off when it gets really hot - and the next nine or ten days will be really hot - with high temperatures around 90 to 95 in much of lower southern Michigan.

Fears of spreading the coronavirus to vulnerable residents have even caused groups in Oakland County that normally open up cooling centers to say, "not this year." 

wikipedia

The U.S. Department of Justice has charged four sitting Toledo council members and a local attorney in a scheme to take bribes in exchange for votes.

Bribery charges were filed against council members Tyrone Riley, Yvonne Harper, Gary Johnson, and Larry Sikes, along with attorney Keith Mitchell. 

They're accused of taking bribes in amounts from $500 to $5,000,  in exchange for favorable votes on rezoning to allow several new internet cafes – and a subsequent moratorium on internet cafes that would compete with them. 

Gretchen Whitmer at a podium
State of Michigan

The state's much-anticipated pandemic road map for returning to in-person K-12 instruction was released Tuesday.

The plan includes requirements that all school districts must follow, along with recommendations.  Districts will be permitted to institute stricter measures if they wish.

pxfuel/creative commons

The state Senate Transportation and Infrastructure Committee heard more testimony on a controversial gravel mining bill on Wednesday. Committee chair Tom Barrett (R-Charlotte) said he expects the committee will take action on the bill "in the not too distant future."

The bill would exempt gravel companies from township ordinances and regulations. 

Opponents fear the committee plans to vote to approve the bill while there is restricted access to committee hearings because of the pandemic.

rollingroscoe / Morguefile

Updated: 1:19 p.m., June 22, 2020

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals is hearing a case on Monday filed by inmates of the Oakland County Jail.

Inmates say they are denied basic sanitation items like soap and disinfectant to clean surfaces and shared items during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Some inmates say the jail uses transfers to a unit that has active COVID-19 infections as a punishment, for refusing job duties that might expose them to the coronavirus, or complaining about unsafe conditions.

Flickr/creative commons / Jeff Clark, BLM

Updated:  6/18/2020

Sixty eight people have died of COVID-19 so far in Michigan prisons, according to the Michigan Department of Corrections.

It's the second highest number of COVID-19 related deaths in a state prison system in the country, according to the non-profit Marshall Project, which is tracking the cases. Ohio is number one for COVID-19 related inmate deaths.

head shot of Dana Nessel
Jodi Westrick / Michigan Radio

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel is proposing statewide changes to policing oversight, to reduce excessive use of force incidents.

She says the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards issues licenses for police, but needs more authority to take those licenses away.

"And I think it's one of the reasons why you see officers that have committed numerous acts of misconduct and they still have their license," says Nessel. "And also officers that get terminated by a particular agency, they're so easily able to just go to another agency because they still have their license."

Motown31 / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

School districts are in the middle of a budget nightmare.

Balanced budgets are due to the state by June 30. But administrators don't know what the state's per pupil funding will be, because the state has postponed finalizing its budget until the fall.

They can't estimate how many pupils they will have, due to pandemic uncertainty.

And the state could also cut funding for the current fiscal year, because its own revenues are so uncertain.

Gary Jones stands at a UAW podium
United Auto Workers

UAW President Rory Gamble and U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider will meet at the end of this month to discuss ways to eliminate corruption in the union.

It's a last-ditch chance for Gamble to stave off federal control of the union, according to Erik Gordon, who's on the faculty of the University of Michigan Ross School of Business.

Gordon is skeptical the meeting will work. He says Gamble has balked thus far at the depth of reforms that are needed.

Photo inside a prison.
Unsplash

A federal district judge says it is unconstitutional for the state of Michigan to insist that the organizers of a proposed ballot initiative meet the usual state deadline for filing signatures.

Judge Matthew Leitman notes that SawariMedia, the organizer of an initiative to repeal Michigan's Truth in Sentencing law, was "well on its way to collecting a sufficient number of signatures (340,000) to place its initiative on the November 2020 ballot.....and then the world changed."

designer491 / Adobe Stock

Experts on Michigan's unemployment system say the huge number of claims due to the pandemic is shining a spotlight on glaring problems with the computer system that processes those claims.

Rachael Kohl is Director of the University of Michigan Law School's Workers' Rights Clinic. 

She says the state's computer system that processes claims was created during the Snyder administration, with the aim of  generating as many red flags as possible, in order to reduce the number of people who qualify for unemployment.

Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

Tuesday's rally to inform protesters about what happened in a meeting with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan got off to a rocky start.

Joanna Underwood, an activist who helped organize the first Detroit protest against police brutality, screamed at, ranted, and angrily lectured the protesters, along with two other activists she accused of "hijacking," the movement she was leading.

Underwood said Tristan Taylor and Nakia Wallace, who'd met with Duggan, were not legitimate leaders of the movement, because they were relatively new to the protest scene, while she'd been working for justice in the city for 15 years.  

Michigan's Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA)
Bytemarks / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Unemployment checks have stopped coming for some legitimately out-of-work Michiganders.

State officials say criminals are filing huge numbers of false claims, and that could cost the unemployment system in Michigan hundreds of millions of dollars, if not checked.

The state has flagged 340,000 claims as potentially fraudulent. But officials acknowledge many of those claims are valid.

Brian Jennings stands at the front of a crowd of protesters who marched through Grand Rapids Wednesday.
Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

Grand Rapids officials told residents the city is commited to implementing changes to make policing more accountable, and safer for residents, in an online update forum on Friday.

Tracy Samilton

About 150 people turned out in the city of Howell for a protest against police killings of black Americans Thursday.

That's despite being urged by Livingston County Sheriff Mike Murphy not to show up. 

On his Facebook page, Murphy said rumors that he had invited open-carry gun advocates to the protest were not true, and that he had asked those groups not to come and counter protest.  

Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

Washtenaw County Sheriff Jerry Clayton has released body cam videos showing Sha'Teina Grady El fiercely resisting arrest, including biting a deputy on the arm.

Grady El was arrested after she refused to move away from the perimeter of a probable crime scene. Prior to her arrest, Grady El was videotaping deputies investigating a shooting, and advising the occupant of a nearby home that they needed a warrant to enter.

MDOC

Temujin Kensu has been in prison for nearly 35 years, after being convicted of a murder that took place in Port Huron, even though multiple witnesses placed him in Escanaba in the Upper Peninsula at the time.

Kensu's appeals have all failed, largely on technical grounds.  

The 57 year old Kensu, who changed his name from Fred Freeman after his conversion to Buddism in prison, has battled chronic health conditions for years, including an auto-immune disorder, according to his attorney. 

couple walking on a sidewalk
Katie Raymond / Michigan Radio

Child care businesses in Michigan are still shut down as part of Governor Whitmer's "Stay Safe, Stay Home" executive order, except for those caring for children of essential workers. 

Rebooting this industry will be essential for the recovery of the state’s economy.  But child care administrators say it will likely be a painfully slow process, and require the creation of a “new normal,” for kids, parents, and workers.

Ford Motor Company

Workers at Ford Motor Company's Dearborn Truck Plant are expected to return to work on Tuesday, after their local, UAW Local 600, filed a grievance over COVID-19 protocols at the plant.

The grievance was filed after two UAW members showed up for work last week, before learning the results of tests they'd received for COVID-19.  The tests turned out to be positive.  The situation sparked a brief walkout on Wednesday.

DTE's River Rouge plant
DTE Energy

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel wants what she calls "some shared sacrifice," from utilities to limit how much they get back from customers for pandemic-related costs.

AJ Mast / General Motors

Republican President Donald Trump will visit Ford Motor Company's Rawsonville Components Plant on Thursday.  He is expected to make remarks afterwards.

Ford, in a partnership with General Electric, is building ventilators to help hospitalized COVID-19 patients who need help breathing.

The automaker's contract with the federal government under the Defense Production Act calls for Ford to produce 50,000 of the simplified ventilators by July, at a total price of $336 million.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The state of Michigan has set aside $130 million from its federal CARES Act funding to help child care businesses - both those that have remained open to care for the children of essential workers, and those that have been forced to close due to the state's stay at home order.

May 2020 Consensus Conference / Michigan House and Senate Fiscal Agencies

Michigan's state budget faces a more than six billion dollar shortfall this fiscal year and next, according to a consensus revenue estimate from the state House and Senate Fiscal Agencies.

Budget officials say it's twice as much as the decline in state revenues at the beginning of the Great Recession. The estimate may have to be revised downward again later in the year.

flickr/jobsforfelonshub.com

A federal district judge says an Iraqi man who was being held by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the Calhoun County Jail should not go back into custody there.  

U.S. District Court Judge Judith Levy had ordered ICE to release Fawzi Zaya in April because his obesity and diabetes put him at great risk of "irreparable injury" or death from the coronavirus.

He was released despite a history of serious crimes, including a second degree murder charge in 2008, as well as ICE's contention that he is a flight risk. 

rollingroscoe / Morguefile

Two ICE detainees with medical conditions have been freed after a federal district judge ordered the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to release them from the Calhoun County Jail.  

In her order releasing the two, U.S. District Court Judge Judith Levy said, "COVID-19 does not respect prison walls. The raging global pandemic outside of Calhoun County Correctional Facility and a confirmed case within the facility pose a serious risk to those inside."

Person in orange jumpsuit sitting behind prison bars
Lightfield Studios / Adobe Stock

The coronavirus pandemic is taking a growing toll on the lives of state prison inmates. 

As of May 10, 50 inmates have died after contracting the virus. 

The Michigan Department of Corrections is trying to release as many people as possible in response. But a state law called Truth in Sentencing means only some will benefit from that effort.  

green ooze
Michigan Dept. of Transportation

After a lengthy trial, Circuit Court Judge Hala Jarbou says the city of Madison Heights has the right to tear down most of the buildings on the site of Electro-Plating Services, owned by Gary Sayers.

Pollution on the site was responsible for a bright green spill of liquid onto I-696 in late December last year.

State environmental investigators found the "green ooze" contained high levels of hexavalent chromium, a known carcinogen.  

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