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.

Michigan Election Law

The Board of State Canvassers is scheduled to meet on Monday to certify the results of Michigan's November election.

The Board has a very limited role in elections, which is essentially to confirm the math from voting documents submitted by the Michigan Secretary of State, and certify the results, according to election experts.

Courtesy of Kate Madigan

Consumers Energy has reached a one percent cap on rooftop solar customers established by the state's energy law. 

The utility says it plans to ask the Michigan Public Service Commission to allow it to voluntarily increase the cap to two percent, so that additional customers will be able to get permits to install solar panels on their homes.

Environmental groups are pleased by the utility's plan, but they say reaching the one percent cap is a wakeup call. DTE Energy has not yet reached its one percent cap.

Steve Fecht / GM

General Motors says it is accelerating its development of electric vehicles, promising less expensive, longer-range electric vehicles within five years as its effort to become an all-electric car company continues.

GM says a pending breakthrough in battery chemistry will cut the price of its electric vehicles to near-parity with the cost of those powered by gasoline within five years.

The technology also will increase the range per charge to as high as 450 miles, with batteries that offer higher energy density at approximately 60% lower cost.

The South Oakland County Resource Recovery Authority (SOCRRA) and Madison Heights meet in court May 17.
User: steakpinball / flickr

A West Michigan Christian school is pursuing a federal appeal against a state order requiring masks and physical distancing. 

That's even though it shut down voluntarily last week.  

Ottawa County Public Health Department shut down Libertas Christian School on October 23,  after two teachers contracted COVID-19, and the school refused to cooperate with contact tracing, in addition to refusing to require students and teachers to wear masks. 

creative commons

The number of inmates in Michigan prisons testing positive for COVID-19 has more than doubled in just two weeks.

Currently, 2,790 inmates are considered active positive cases.  The number was about 1,200 two weeks ago. The largest number of cases are at Handlon, Brooks, and Central Michigan correctional facilities, with smaller outbreaks at the Bellamy, Egeler, Ionia and Newland facilities.


Corrections Department spokesman Chris Gautz says the dramatic spike reflects what is happening outside the prisons as well.

City of Detroit Facebook screenshot

Detroit is stepping up enforcement of COVID-19 protocols on city businesses, urging residents to call the health department if they see a business flouting the rules, such as not requiring employees and customers to wear masks or physically distance.

Mayor Mike Duggan says an inspector will go to that business immediately, and inspectors have been given the authority to issue a $1,000 fine or even shut the business down if necessary.

MHSAA

The Michigan High School Athletic Association has forced an Upper Peninsula varsity football team to forfeit tonight's game.

That's after Pickford Public Schools held an emergency meeting Thursday evening to release players from quarantine, so they could play in the  Friday night game that was scheduled against Indian Lakes Schools.  

Pickford Public Schools is in Chippewa County, which is experiencing a big outbreak of COVID-19.

The Pickford Panthers were State Champions last year in the 8 player 2nd division. This year they were in Division one.

Michigan House of Representatives

The abrupt cancellation of Thursday's House floor session and committee meetings has Democratic leaders questioning their Republican counterparts as to what is going on.  

Republican House leaders say the sudden cancellation was because there was "nothing immediately time sensitive up for a vote on the floor." 

Warren Mayor Jim Fouts
City of Warren

Warren Mayor Jim Fouts has closed city hall after a number of employees there tested positive for COVID-19, along with several police officers and district court staff. 

"We're taking every possible precaution because it's important," says Fouts. "We don't want it to spread, we don't want any of our valued employees to get sick, and we don't want of the people who come to city hall to get sick." 

A healthcare worker process a COVID-19 test at Beaumont.
Beaumont Health

The public health capacity to deal with contact tracing of COVID-19 cases is becoming overwhelmed, according to Susan Ringler-Cerniglia, Communications and Health Promotion Administrator for the Washtenaw County Health Department.

She says her staff is exhausted, after working overtime and weekends for months.

The University of Michigan West Quad
Emma Winowiecki / Michigan Radio

The University of Michigan is telling undergrad students who don't need to live on campus to study online from home for the winter semester.

Given the rapid increase in COVID-19 cases in the county, as well as hospitalizations, that's the right call, according to Susan Ringler-Cerniglia of the Washtenaw County Health Department.

"In the dorm settings or some of these off campus houses where many students live together, it's very, very difficult to have good distance or more separation," says Ringler-Cerniglia.

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

Steve Gray, the director of Michigan's beleaguered Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA), has resigned.  

Gray used to run a clinic at the University of Michigan to help unemployed people who were fighting for unemployment benefits. He also represented some of the more than 40,000 people whose claims were wrongly accused of fraud between 2013 and 2015 by a defective software program. 

He was appointed head of the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency last year.  

Warren Mayor Jim Fouts
City of Warren

Warren Mayor Jim Fouts is a year into his fourth term. But it could very well be his last, after voters approved a term limits proposal this week.

The 78 year old Fouts was reelected to a fourth term last year, despite controversy over recordings of offensive private comments he allegedly made about women, Black people and people with intellectual disabilities. Some of the tapes were deemed authentic by a forensic audio expert.

This week, despite a majority voting for Fouts last year, a significantly larger majority approved a term limit of 12 years for mayor.

Brandon Griggs at paralitik / unsplash

Nearly three-quarters of Ann Arbor voters said “yes” on Tuesday to a 20-year millage that will help low and moderate income people find places to live in the city. 

Teresa Gillotti is Director of the Washtenaw County Office of Community and Economic Development. She says the millage will help construct, acquire or subsidize up to 1,500 housing units for people making 60% or less of the median area income.

Pixabay

Homeless shelters are gearing up for their first full winter during a pandemic.

Laurel Burchfield, Associate Director of the Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness, says last spring, most shelters swiftly located additional places to house homeless people so they could physically distance.

Shelter residents were frequently tested, and the most medically vulnerable were put up in hotels. Burchfield say the measures prevented big COVID-19 outbreaks among homeless people in most cities.

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

Some people's unemployment claims have been snared in serious gridlock at the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency.

The agency is dealing with large numbers of potentially fraudulent claims, and the UIA says backdated claims for large sums have to go through a lengthy review process and be approved by a manager.

image of furniture and mattresses on curb
User wolfpeterson / Flickr - http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

State officials say evictions in Michigan  in September and October were about half what they were during the same time period last year.

That's after the CDC issued an eviction ban for people who lost their jobs due to the pandemic and have been unable to obtain government assistance for rent.

"Vote here" sign
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

A number of Michigan police and sheriffs’ departments are increasing staffing levels on Election Day, just in case.

There could be more poll watchers and poll challengers than usual this year, and the Michigan Supreme Court has yet to rule in a lawsuit over whether the Michigan Secretary of State can ban people from openly carrying guns into and near polling places. 

Do not eat the fish because of pfas sign
Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Surface water levels of PFAS chemicals have plummeted in a creek that flows into the Huron River, after a state investigation.  

Investigators went upstream from Ann Arbor to try to discover the source or sources after PFAS chemicals showed up in the city's treated drinking water in 2018. 

A main source was discovered to be the Wixom Wastewater Treatment Plant, which was discharging PFAS-laden effluent from Tribar Manufacturing, a plating company, into Norton Creek, which flows into the Huron River. 

Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

Michigan's Attorney General has filed a lawsuit against Arbor Hills Landfill in Salem Twp.

The lawsuit says the landfill has repeatedly violated state environmental laws since at least 2014. 

That includes failing to control methane and other noxious-smelling emissions, as well as failing to keep pollutants from leaching into the groundwater.

Monya Ibrahim lives near the landfill, and her son attends school next to it.

Emergency room hospital
Pixabay

Doctors in charge of Michigan hospitals are asking people in Michigan to voluntarily "do the right thing" to slow the spread of COVID-19, now that the Michigan Supreme Court says Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer does not have the authority to issue executive orders on COVID-19.

The statement, signed by 28 top medical officers of hospital systems across the state, was issued after COVID-19-related hospital admissions surged by more than 80% in recent weeks.

Dr. Gary Roth is Chief Medical Officer for the Michigan Health and Hospital Association.

The University of Michigan West Quad
Emma Winowiecki / Michigan Radio

Undergraduate students at the University of Michigan will be required to stay in place for two weeks effective immediately, the Washtenaw County Health Department ordered Tuesday. 

sign that says "vote here"
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The Michigan Secretary of State's office says people who want to be poll watchers or challengers have to abide by the rules. 

Spokesperson Tracy Wimmer says a poll watcher is exactly that: just someone who heads over to a polling place and observes what's going on. They're basically just a fly on the wall, and can't interfere with voting or the workers. 

There are also rules for people challenging someone's right to vote.  

group of college students wearing face masks
Valerii / Adobe Stock

Ottawa County's "staying safe" order for some Grand Valley State University students lifted at midnight Friday.

But students on the Allendale campus are still being urged to take precautions to avoid contracting and spreading COVID-19, by wearing masks, physically distancing, and frequent handwashing.

COVID-19 cases among GVSU's students on the Allendale campus surged shortly after classes returned for the fall term. 

Prison wall
Microsoft Images

A large and growing outbreak of COVID-19 at Marquette Branch Prison has now infected 85 corrections officers and other staff and 182 inmates as of Thursday afternoon, including 50 inmates who were recently transferred from an infection-free facility.

The 85 cases among staff is the highest number of staff testing positive in any one state prison so far.

Chris Gautz is a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Corrections. He says the new transfers were moved out of Chippewa Correctional Facility, after they allegedly participated in a riot.

Barry County

The Michigan Sheriffs' Association says it condemns statements made by Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf after the arrests of militia members who allegedly plotted to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

At least one of the alleged terrorists lived in Barry County.

Dylan Fereira / unsplash

The Michigan Department of Corrections is rolling out video visitation for inmates during the pandemic.

It's hoped that will help inmates stay connected with loved ones they can no longer see in person.   

MDOC spokesman Chris Gautz says it could be a long time before in-person visits start up again, especially as cases on the outside begin to rise.

A chain-link fence and barbed wire
Max Pixel

There's a big outbreak of COVID-19 at the Marquette Branch Prison in the Upper Peninsula.

Michigan Department of Corrections spokesman Chris Gautz says it appears that both corrections officers and inmates were routinely failing to wear masks and take other precautions.

He says union officials with the corrections officers union initially claimed the coronavirus was brought into the prison by new inmates from the Chippewa Correctional Facility, transferred to Marquette after a riot, but Gautz says that's clearly not true.

Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

At least there were loaner umbrellas.

Democrats did not cancel their outdoor voter mobilization event in Lansing Monday night, despite heavy rain that began pouring down a few minutes after it began. Attendance was strictly limited, with nearly as many reporters as Democratic officials, operatives and voters.

Michigan Radio

A report from the Union of Concerned Scientists says Michigan's electric utilities are losing money at times because they're using their own coal-burning plants when it would be cheaper and cleaner to buy electricity from market sources.

And that cost is being passed on to consumers.

Joe Daniel is an energy analyst with USC. He says statewide, electric customers pay on average an extra $60 a year on their bills because of the issue, which appears to happen simply because of past practice.

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