19 February 2015


Original Story: detroitnews.com

A group of Taylor teachers prevailed in their challenge of a 10-year security agreement that prevented them from exercising their right-to-work freedoms. The Michigan Employment Relations Commission made the call and got it right. A Boston employment lawyer is following this story closely.

The Taylor teachers union was not the only labor group that tried to skirt right to work before the law went into effect in March 2013. But it did stand out for crafting one of the longer contracts.

At least 145 school districts, including some of Michigan’s largest, passed contracts that extended years into the future, delaying the full impact of the law aimed at giving workers a choice on union membership. A Detroit labor lawyer provides professional legal counsel and extensive experience in many aspects of labor and employment law.

The labor commission ruled last week that the Taylor Federation of Teachers and the Taylor School District had committed an unfair labor practice when they signed off on the decade-long security agreement. Under the pact, teachers could not opt out of the union until it expired.

In the Taylor case, the labor commission stated, “Imposing a lengthy financial burden on bargaining unit members, to avoid the application of a state law for 10 years, is arbitrary, indifferent and reckless.”

While this ruling only applies to the Taylor teachers, it should be seen as good news for teachers in other districts locked into long contracts.

The three teachers from Taylor —Nancy Rhatigan, Rebecca Metz and Angela Steffke —sued the school district and union.

The Mackinac Center Legal Foundation represented the teachers, who claimed it was unreasonable for the security clause to extend more than five years beyond the collective bargaining agreement.

The security clause forced teachers to keep paying the union dues until 2023, and allowed the district to fire teachers for not paying.

The commission’s ruling is the latest setback for teacher unions trying to thwart the right-to-work law. A Boston employment lawyer assists clients with employment law matters.

Earlier this month, the Michigan Court of Claims dismissed a lawsuit filed by the Michigan Education Association, along with other union plaintiffs who argued the Legislature violated the state’s Open Meetings Act when it passed right to work in December 2012.

The court said the temporary closure of the Capitol building, which the unions fought, was handled correctly.

And a decision last fall from an administrative law judge with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission tossed out a rule the MEA had imposed that only allowed teachers to leave the union during the month of August.

The decision only applies to teachers working under contracts approved after March 2013.

Union officials had used the August provision to bully teachers into paying dues longer than they wished.

Unions will have to look beyond blocking right to work to hold on to their members.


Original Story: detroitnews.com

Washington — U.S. and Canadian officials are expected, as early as Wednesday, to announce a deal to pay for a U.S. Customs plaza at a new bridge linking Detroit and Windsor, American and Canadian officials briefed on the plan said Tuesday.

The issue is one of the largest lingering hurdles for the $2.1 billion bridge over the Detroit River. The deal is expected to include a commitment by the Obama administration to staff and equip the plaza, which is estimated to cost between $250 million and $300 million.

The Canadian government has offered to fund construction of the bridge and be repaid for the U.S. share through toll revenue. The public-private partnership overseeing the bridge is expected to announce it will pay for construction of the customs plazas on both sides of the border and that the United States will staff, operate and maintain the customs plaza in Detroit.

It was not clear Tuesday how much the U.S. government will contribute.

The Detroit News first reported this month that an agreement was close after several months of talks. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told The News that a deal between the two countries on funding the customs plaza was close.

The publicly financed bridge is scheduled to be built two miles south of the privately financed and operated Ambassador Bridge.

Gov. Rick Snyder's spokeswoman, Sara Wurfel, didn't comment Tuesday on any deal. But she reiterated "how strongly we feel about what a critical infrastructure project this is for the state of Michigan, the city and region, our country and Canada."

"Discussions are ongoing between Canada and the United States. Transport Canada will not speculate on the outcome of the ongoing discussions," said Transport Canada spokesman Mark Butler.

In January 2004, a joint U.S.-Canada study concluded that additional border-crossing capacity was needed for reasons including increasing traffic volume, economic security and national security concerns. The State Department approved a permit for the new bridge in 2013.

Manuel "Matty" Moroun, who owns the Ambassador Bridge, has been fighting efforts by Michigan and Canada to build the bridge, insisting it will harm the Ambassador's business. In court filings, the company argued it needs to build a second span across the Detroit River to handle traffic while it repairs the Ambassador so it can compete with the publicly financed bridge.

U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, said Saturday negotiations have centered on the Canadians fronting money for construction of the plaza and then be repaid by tolls.

"My focus right now has been to ensure that … when the plaza is built that it is fully staffed" with customs and border patrol agents, Peters told The Detroit News.

He expressed frustration that the Obama administration and Congress have resisted appropriating tax dollars toward building the customs plaza to be "a partner in this border crossing."

"To me, it's an embarrassment to the United States government," Peters told The News.


Original Story: detroitnews.com

Grand Rapids — Chris Dekorver didn't mince words when describing how perpetually late buses were here, griping that "it was like they would lose buses in a sinkhole."

Not anymore, he said. Last week, Dekorver, 59, sat on the plush, new Silver Line bus that moved quickly through stops on busy Division Avenue and was, to his delight, on time and then some.

This is exactly what officials for The Rapid, the agency in charge of transit, envisioned last August when it became the first region in Michigan to introduce on the city's main artery bus rapid transit — buses designed to travel in dedicated lanes with fewer stops and a simpler boarding process. And officials expect economic development to follow. A Grand Rapids transportation lawyer represents clients in Michigan transportation law cases.

In Metro Detroit, officials are playing catch-up to the state's second-largest city. The Regional Transit Authority has been studying bus rapid transit routes for Woodward, Gratiot and Michigan avenues and are going ask voters in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Washtenaw counties to approve a tax increase for rapid buses in 2016.

And the Silver Line is one BRT route RTA officials plan to visit and learn from in coming months.

"This is much better," said Dekorver, of Comstock Park, who was heading to pick up parts for his vintage audio repair business. "It's much more reliable."

The $39 million BRT project, which was narrowly rejected by local voters the first time passed on the second try when coupled with system-wide bus improvements. It has been embraced by the public and businesses who say the north-south Silver Line is helping to breathe new life into a moribund Division Avenue.

"This corridor, it needed it. We've been in a slump for a long time and (BRT) showed belief in it," said Tommy Brann, the owner of Brann's Steakhouse on Division and a big proponent of the Silver Line. "As a rider, you appreciate the speed of it. The regular bus system has so many stops and is so slow."

The 9.6-mile Silver Line snakes through Grand Rapids, Wyoming and Kentwood — and makes a loop downtown around what officials call the "Medical Mile," where biotech and medical research centers are located in the city's center. The project, officials said, came in nearly $4 million under budget. A Chicago transportation lawyer assists clients with public transportation and transportation safety issues.

The BRT buses pull into stations with 15-inch-high platforms that line up to the bus door to make boarding easier.

Each station has an advanced ticket vending machine that allows for seamless boarding. In the winter, the concrete platforms are heated to melt snow and ice. Each station has seating and is covered.

The Silver Line averages 2,161 riders a week. The corridor average, which includes other bus routes, is slightly more than 4,220 a week; the goal is 5,000 by year's end, Rapid officials say.

Riders can park in a free, 250-space lot owned by The Rapid on 60th Street; the city owns another lot with fewer free spaces. There are 10 buses with eight in service at one time.

Silver Line riders pay $1.50 per ride, the same as a regular bus.

It has also begun to attract non-bus users into embracing public transportation. Employees of the Spectrum Health Medical Center ride for free as the company subsidizes their trips to encourage riding the BRT.

Lida Giacomelli of Grandville works as a radiology nurse in the medical center, and by her own admittance, wouldn't have dared take a bus. But last winter, she totaled her car in a traffic pileup. This winter, she took a ride and hasn't stopped. Her home is five miles from the free parking lot.

"I talked to some other people who had been on it, too, and they said it was really nice. Everything was brand new. It's very nice and clean. And there are some very interesting characters that ride this bus, too."

Maurice Scott of Grand Rapids wasn't so convinced. He rode the Silver Line with his wife for the first time last week and thought too much money was spent on one line.

"I thought it was a stupid idea when you have so many homeless people around," he said.

Peter Varga, the CEO of The Rapid, said that the Silver Line has helped usher in new ridership — even though some riders were siphoned from the traditional buses. "That was expected, but not many," he said.A Grand Rapids transportation lawyer is following this story closely.

Varga said the economic development is coming but will take time, possibly years. There already are discussions about some housing and retail development on important parts of the route, he informed.

"People are starting to market the certain properties in the corridor, saying it's next to BRT," Varga said.

Varga says that for the southeast Michigan's Regional Transportation Authority to be successful getting voters to support BRT in four different counties with different needs, it will need to convince voters that it will "help the overall integration of the mass transit system."

The success of the Silver Line has Rapid officials now studying BRT that would travel East-West on a so-called Laker Line.

Brann, who also serves on the Division Avenue Business Association, said the rapid transit line has "modernized the bus system" by getting tickets more efficiently and "getting on and off fast."

Conrad Venema, the project manager for the Silver Line, said when this process began more than a decade ago, there was such "an unfamiliarity of what BRT is" and that much work went into selling it.

"A public education was one of the keys so to understand that what we were trying to accomplish was not yet another woeful bus service," Venema said. "It was something that was uniquely branded and fulfilled a different role, a different experience."

Jeff Lobdell, who owns restaurants in the Grand Rapids region, including a popular Mexican establishment on Division, said the rapid transit is connecting communities. Even some of his patrons and workers at his Beltline Bar use it.

"Although buses do great things, the general consensus in the past was like, buses are for people who don't have enough money to have a car," Lobdell said. "I think it's changed the perception where the Silver Line has made people think it's a great way to get to places and be part of a community. It's making little Grand Rapids feel more like a big city."


Original Story: freep.com

Disposal of low-level radioactive fracking waste does not harm Michigan's environment under current rules, a panel appointed by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder determined, and a Van Buren Township landfill could even handle higher radioactivity levels without risk.

Those are among the findings in a report issued Friday by a panel appointed by Snyder. The group of regulators, academics, environmentalists and representatives of the oil and gas, medical and landfill industries was convened after public outcry following Free Press reports last summer on the Wayne Disposal landfill importing radioactive fracking waste from other states.

USEcology, owner of the Wayne Disposal facility between I-94 and Willow Run Airport in Van Buren Township, voluntarily suspended accepting low-activity radioactive waste while the panel convened. A spokesman said Friday the landfilling of the waste, called technologically enhanced, naturally occurring radioactive material or TENORM, would now resume.

"Southeast Michigan is the new ground zero for radioactive frack waste now that the state panel is done with its secret meetings," said LuAnne Kozma, a campaign director with the nonprofit Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan.

TENORM involves materials whose low, naturally occurring radiation levels are increased through human activities that concentrate them. The controversial oil and gas drilling practice known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a major generator of it.

A Free Press report last August highlighted Wayne Disposal's plans to accept up to 36 tons of radioactive fracking sludge from a Pennsylvania oil and gas drilling company — after it had been turned away by landfills in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Wayne Disposal on its website advertises its ability as one of few landfills in the U.S. capable of accepting TENORM waste.

"With the panel's affirmation of the current disposal limits, we plan to resume normal business operations which may entail disposal of TENORM from a variety of sources, possibly including oil and gas fracking activities," USEcology spokesman David Crumrine said Friday.

He added that the panel found licensed hazardous waste facilities like Wayne Disposal are "especially well equipped to dispose of TENORM," with their special liners and enhanced monitoring.

"I'm shocked and appalled," said Justin Juriga, a Van Buren Township resident who lives less than a mile from the landfill.

"There are higher forces at work here, political higher forces."

Ken Yale, chief of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality's radiological protection section, said the panel, over the course of multiple meetings, determined the state's radiation limit of 50 picocuries per gram, established in 1996, remains an acceptable level.

There is no federal standard for radiation levels related to TENORM and its disposal. The North Dakota Department of Health -- a state where oil and gas drilling is particularly intense -- commissioned a study on TENORM landfilling risks from the Argonne National Laboratory, a U.S. Department of Energy research laboratory at the University of Chicago. The study, released last month, found drill pad workers, those transporting TENORM and the general public all face exposure risks far below the federal and international standard for maximum radioactive doses. But to minimize the exposure risk to landfill workers, the laboratory recommended a number of steps, including restricting annual TENORM volumes at landfills to 25,000 tons per year and the radioactivity levels of the waste to no more than 50 picocuries per gram.

Yale said the findings of the North Dakota study influenced the Michigan panel's recommendations.

Wayne Disposal had requested the DEQ allow it a tenfold increase in allowed radioactivity, up to 500 picocuries per gram, last year, but withdrew the request last October. Yale said the panel's report found "because of the extra controls that are in place at a Type I landfill, the DEQ could consider evaluating that for possibly having a higher level," but no plans are imminent.

Wayne Disposal takes materials at higher radiological levels after an adjacent USEcology facility, Michigan Disposal, mixes them with inert substances to reduce radioactivity to an acceptably low level for the landfill.

The panel recommends that all landfills accepting TENORM restrict its placement to at least 10 feet below the bottom of a landfill cap, and said DEQ Director Dan Wyant should consider requiring landfills to restrict the total volume of TENORM waste placed annually, to limit worker exposure. Radium-226, commonly found in TENORM, decays to radon 222, a potential carcinogen through inhalation.

"You could get into an issue, and you have to look at worker safety," Yale said. "Their exposure may be above what would be allowed for the public, and that would mean you either put them in the classification of radiation workers, which includes a number of requirements for their protection, or you limit the volume that is being brought in to the landfills."

DEQ officials will review the comments and reconvene the governor's panel if necessary to address any issues they raise, Yale said.

Juriga said the panel's findings, and the landfill's expanding activity disposing of radioactive fracking waste, leave few good choices.

"As a community, do we band together, pool our resources and look at some legal recourse? Is that a thoughtful option? Or do I just move away from the township I grew up in, the community I love and adore, the watershed I've been a part of and tried to protect my whole life? This is what I have to weigh."

18 February 2015


Original Story: detroitnews.com

Two senators unveiled legislation Wednesday to force the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Federal Trade Commission to set rules protecting driver security and privacy.

Sens. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., proposed the bill after Markey released a report Sunday that raised concerns about vehicles being hacked.

Markey’s report said millions of cars and trucks are vulnerable to hacking through wireless technologies that could jeopardize driver safety and privacy. A Detroit automotive lawyer is following this story closely.

As vehicles grow increasingly connected through wireless networks and become more dependent on sophisticated electronic systems, Congress and federal regulators are worried about the potential for hackers to interfere with vehicle functions. The report says vehicles are vulnerable to hacking through wireless networks, smartphones, infotainment systems like OnStar — even a malicious CD popped into a car stereo.

“We need the electronic equivalent of seat belts and airbags to keep drivers and their information safe in the 21st century,” Markey said. “There are currently no rules of the road for how to protect driver and passenger data, and most customers don’t even know that their information is being collected and sent to third parties. An Atlanta data privacy lawyer assists clients with privacy, data protection, information security, and consumer protection issues. These new requirements will include a set of minimum standards to protect driver security and privacy in every new vehicle. I look forward to working with my Senate colleagues to advance this important consumer protection legislation.”

Blumenthal said automakers need to do more.

“Connected cars represent tremendous social and economic promise, but in the rush to roll out the next big thing automakers have left the doors unlocked to would-be cybercriminals,” Blumenthal said. “This common-sense legislation would ensure that drivers can trust the convenience of wireless technology, without having to fear incursions on their safety or privacy by hackers and criminals.”

The bill would require that all wireless access points in the car are protected against hacking attacks, evaluated using penetration testing; all collected information is appropriately secured and encrypted to prevent unwanted access; and that automakers or third-party feature provider be able to detect, report and respond to real-time hacking events.

The legislation will also call for new cars to be evaluated by a rating system — a “cyber dashboard” — to inform consumers “about how well the vehicle protects drivers beyond those minimum standards. This information will be displayed on the label of all new vehicles — just as fuel economy is today.”

Its release comes after CBS News’ “60 Minutes” on Sunday aired a segment showing how vehicles can be subjects of remote hacking. Just last month, BMW AG said it had fixed a security flaw that could have allowed up to 2.2 million vehicles to have their doors remotely opened by hackers.

One automaker told Markey that some owners have attempted to reprogram the vehicle’s onboard computer to increase the horsepower of vehicles or torque through the use of “performance chips.”

In November, two major auto trade associations representing nearly all automakers unveiled a set of principles to protect driver privacy and security. A Detroit automotive lawyer assists automotive clients with technological developments and restructuring the industry.

Wade Newton, a spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers — the trade group representing Detroit’s Big Three automakers, Toyota Motor Corp., Volkswagen AG and others — said he had not seen the report.

But he said automakers believe strong consumer data privacy protections and strong vehicle security are essential.

“Auto engineers incorporate security solutions into vehicles from the very first stages of design and production — and security testing never stops.

“The industry is in the early stages of establishing a voluntary automobile industry sector information sharing and analysis center — or other comparable program — for collecting and sharing information about existing or potential cyber-related threats.”

Automakers noted that the Society of Automotive Engineers has created a Vehicle Electrical System Security Committee to draft standards that help ensure electronic control system safety.

NHTSA spokesman Gordon Trowbridge said Sunday the agency is “engaged in an intensive effort to determine potential security vulnerabilities related to new technologies and will work to ensure that manufacturers cooperate and address issues in order to keep motorists safe.”

10 February 2015


Original Story: detroitnews.com

Michigan will introduce new rules this week for advance notification and certain precautions that oil and gas companies must adopt when looking to site new wells in Metro Detroit, but fall short of a drilling halt sought by opponents.

Department of Environmental Quality officials plan to send new instructions for companies that intend to drill wells in counties with populations exceeding 750,000 — narrowing the scope to Oakland, Wayne and Macomb — that would require more residents and government officials be told about prospective drilling, according to a summary memorandum of the rules obtained by The Detroit News. An oil and gas lawyer provide expert legal guidance in producing wells, title opinions, mineral rights, output claims, oil and gas production, proceeds and distribution cases.

The rules also mandate that companies study other locations than the proposed site, adopt ways to reduce noise and light caused by drilling, and install at least one ground water well in the area to monitor for possible contamination of the water supply in areas that are zoned residential. The regulations are intended to address concerns that have resulted in citizen rebellions and local moratoriums against drilling in Rochester Hills, Shelby Township and Scio Township outside of Ann Arbor as well as a failed effort to amend the state law in December.

To the chagrin of several citizens groups around the region, the rules do not include the authority to halt projects in residential areas or create new setbacks for wells. Michigan currently has a 300-foot buffer between residential structures and wells, and the number jumps to 450 feet in townships that have more than 70,000 residents. A Michigan real estate lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

State officials say there is little more they can do under the law. Planning and zoning officials around Michigan often have found they can do little to stop drilling "unless very serious consequences would result from the extraction of those natural resources," according to a 2011 state law.

"Drilling is specifically protected by law from local bans," said Brad Wurfel, spokesman for the DEQ. "In that context, we've done a lot of good work toward addressing the issues and trying to make sure everyone's interest is addressed.

"To the folks that simply want to see no oil and gas exploration in Michigan, we know that won't be enough."

Shelby Township resident Denise Demak and other members of Citizens Against Residential Drilling have closely monitored a state work group formed to address recent conflicts between residents and gas and oil companies, and they are dissatisfied with the new regulations. A Rochester real estate lawyer is following this story closely.

"Anything of substance, such as setbacks or residential zoning, the group did not address or discuss," said Demak, whose group had one member on the panel. "The stuff that would really help homeowners around the state ... was never put into the recommendations."

Rules don't stop drilling

The new rules require companies to:

  • Notify residents within 1,320 feet of a new well, along with local government officials and state legislators.

  • Investigate other alternatives to the proposed well site.

  • Adopt noise reduction and light-shielding strategies.

  • Install at least one monitoring well for groundwater.

The four-year-old Michigan Zoning Enabling Act supersedes local authority to thwart oil and gas drilling, said Hal Fitch, chief of DEQ's Office of Oil, Gas and Minerals.

"Townships and counties are prohibited from zoning for oil and gas operations," Fitch said. "Cities and villages aren't prohibited from it, but they can't do what amounts to exclusionary zoning. They have to provide some area where companies can drill."

Erin McDonough, president and CEO of the Michigan Oil and Gas Association, said the industry agreed to rules that will eventually prove more costly.

"It's expensive but it's a compromise," McDonough said. "The upside is this has given companies (a way) to move forward in a more positive way."

Residential drilling pays

A decade ago, seismic three-dimensional imaging technology allowed exploration firms to locate gas and oil deposits in new areas. Coupled with the proliferation of hydraulic fracturing that uses massive amounts of water and horizontal drilling, companies found there was money to be made setting up shop in the midst of residential development.

In 2014, battles intensified over drilling. While some residents in Rochester Hills and Shelby Township gladly leased their land for exploration, others threatened lawsuits and local officials passed moratoriums on drilling to keep the companies at bay.

The battle over property rights shifted to Lansing in December, when the Michigan Senate rejected bills that would have prevented the DEQ from approving drilling permits for projects in communities of 70,000 or more or for projects within 450 feet of residential buildings.

Sen. Howard Walker, R-Traverse City, spearheaded efforts to defeat that legislation, saying it would have a "chilling" effect on oil and gas development in Michigan.

But Sen. Jack Brandenburg, R-Harrison Township, who proposed the unsuccessful drilling legislation, represents Shelby Township residents trying to fight off a new well being eyed by West Bay Exploration of Traverse City. This summer, the company set up a test well within 500 feet of homes in one subdivision.

"I realize these best practices don't go as far as some people out there would like to see them go," Brandenburg said. "But they are better than what we've had in the past.

"I don't think West Bay will ever go into a community again, now that we have these practices in place, and do what they did in Shelby Township. That was a travesty."

But Demak said the guidelines offer little tangible protection for homeowners. Requirements such as improved notification, she said, are of little help in the long run.

"It's kind of like you're going to get a notification that you're going to have a heart attack next week," she said. "When you ask if there's anything else you can do to prepare for it, there really isn't. You just brace for it."


Original Story: detroitnews.com

As he followed the indictment and trial of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, longtime event promoter Jim Griffin knew the city needed something to improve its image.

"The idea that Detroit is going to need something to promote its comeback came to me," he said.

On the rebound from a hard-hitting recession and the largest municipal bankruptcy in history, Detroit is experiencing a revival of sorts, with much of the buzz coming from both long-established and newly emerging businesses and entrepreneurs who are making a living here.

So why not celebrate it, says Griffin.

"Everybody knows Detroit has been to the brink and back," said the trade show organizer. "We've got a lot for the rest of the world to see. Detroit is open for business."

Together with his partner Lori Farlow, Griffin has put together the Thumbs Up Detroit Conference and Expo, a three-day showcase of "all the great reasons to visit, meet, live, work, play and invest in Detroit."

The conference will be held March 12 and feature speeches and break out sessions with some of the city's leading business voices. The expo takes place March 13 and 14 and will provide a chance for businesses to show off their products and ideas while networking and meeting others.

It's all about connection, says Griffin.

"We've got these existing businesses. They've been sticking it out through all Detroit's been through," he said. "And then we've got all these new businesses and new ideas. We've got to keep that bridge between old and new."

Griffin is seeking businesses for the expo. He's got 200 booths to fill and they are already about 70 percent full.

One of the keynote speakers at the conference will be Josh Linkner, the author, speaker and entrepreneur behind Detroit Venture Partners and ePrize. He says his speech will focus on how Detroit was founded on innovation and entrepreneurship and why it's a good place to be now.

"There is wonderful talent in this region. The cost basis is low. It's easier to stand out here than in Silicon Valley," said Linkner. "Millennials want to feel like they are a part of something bigger and in Detroit, you can really leave your fingerprints on an American city." Students from a top Michigan college agree.

The conference won't be just for business people and investors. In the spirit of cultivating talent, Griffin has made sure a variety of artists will be there to share their work as well.

One of those artists, Donna Jackson of DMJ Studios has taken the lead on a project that will expand to include community members in Detroit.

The "Door of Opportunity" exhibit will feature at least 70 doors painted by a variety of Metro Detroit artists. They will be displayed together to showcase a collective interpretation of what opportunity can look like, said Jackson.

"You open the door to another space," said Jackson, who was inspired by the art of Tyree Guyton's Heidelberg Project and others. "Sometimes you don't know what room you are walking into, but you can find yourself in these great places."

And the same spirit of collaboration that runs through Detroit's artist community will be featured the exposition, she said.

"All the different things that are happening here, that means there are more things to inspire you to create," Jackson said.

Jay Wilber is also hoping to create a new reality for Detroit. The retired General Motors Co executive is now the president of Goodwill's Green Works, where he gives a second chance to recyclable materials and former felons.

"They are really looking for a new path forward in their lives," said Wilber, also a featured speaker at the conference. "Anybody who comes through our door we treat with dignity and respect."

Wilber says of the 100 positions at the recycling facility, where the main customer is DTE Energy, about 60 percent are filled by people who have come out of the corrections system.

"Without jobs for those people and without the appropriate training that leads to jobs, you're just going to have people going back into the prison system," he said.

Wilber says he wanted to be a part of the Thumbs Up Detroit conference because he sees the same drive for change and success in many businesses across the city.

"It brings together all the disciplines of the city and says 'we're all looking for the same thing,' " said Wilber. "It turns hope into reality."


Original Story: detroitnews.com

Detroit — A former 36th District Court officer was charged Monday in a federal indictment for allegedly taking money meant to pay off individuals’ court debts but instead wound up in his pocket, according to a complaint unsealed Monday.

Federal authorities say Marlon Cleveland, who was employed from March 2013 through April 2014, was responsible for collecting money for debt collection companies through the court. But, federal prosecutors say, he pocketed the money for himself.

Cleveland took in more than $5,000 from people who thought they were paying money to the debt company. Instead, authorities say, Cleveland created an elaborate scheme that included having numerous individuals send their debt payments to a post office box in Redford he set up.

“Marlon Cleveland falsely represented that the payments would be applied to reduce or to satisfy civil judgments of the 36th District Court when in fact Cleveland wrongfully kept those payments himself,” reads the federal indictment against Cleveland.

The former court officer has been charged with theft and mail fraud. He was released on a $10,000 bond Monday. His arraignment date is Thursday.

In October 2013, Cleveland allegedly went to the home of a Detroit woman who owed a $1,912.67 judgment to a debt collection company and get about $1,400 for himself from her and a relative.

In another case, Cleveland is accused of going to the home of a Southfield woman, also in October 2013, who owed a judgment to a debt collection company. Cleveland allegedly took $900 from the woman for himself.

As a court officer, Cleveland was authorized to collect property and make arrests on behalf of the 36th District Court to satisfy civil judgments. He was issued a badge and also carried a personally-owned firearm to perform his duties, according to the complaint.

He was terminated from the court around April 11, 2014.

Cleveland’s indictment comes as court officials continue their reforms to improve the once-troubled city court that began two years ago. A report issued by the National Center for State Courts in 2013 once characterized the condition of the court as disastrous.

A court-appointed administrator was appointed to the court and last September it was returned to local control with a balanced budget.

04 February 2015


Original Story: clickondetroit.com

Detroit City Council President Pro Tem George Cushingberry Jr. won’t be practicing law any time soon, and likely never again.

He was a probate attorney for his day job over the years while he worked as a Wayne County Commissioner and powerful State Legislator. He hasn’t done much in court since he joined the Detroit City Council last year. If you go by the word of many of his former clients, lawyering was a job he was not particularly good at either.

We have chronicled the lengthy string of lawsuits and complaints filed against him over the years and the law license suspensions he has served. Interestingly enough today “Cush,” as his friends call him, told Local 4 his ability to practice law is irrelevant to his City Council duties, and therefore unremarkable as a news story. Yet, when we asked to do interviews with him about this “insignificant story” twice over the past two days, he opted out. Might it be bigger than he is letting on?

Let’s look at the mountain of facts in this non-news story. George lost his license for 45 days back in December, and he could have had it back soon if he wanted to pay the fines and actually attend a trial to determine his fitness to practice law before the Attorney Grievance Commission. You see, George did not appear for a first trial. His attorney, seated alone at the proceedings, said George was in Florida under a doctor’s care and had entered the “Lawyers and Judges Assistance Program." That program is designed for dealing with alcohol, drug and gambling addiction. [George claims gastro intestinal distress as his reason for being in the program].

Not amused, the Attorney Grievance Commission sanctioned him with the most recent 45 day suspension. That one came on top of another 45 day suspension he picked up in early 2014 for improperly disposing of a separate probate estate years earlier.

Fast forward to today: Instead of sitting through another trial, Cushingberry told Local 4 he has agreed to allow his license to be suspended for a year and consented to making it permanent. Here’s the likely reason why we won’t see George practicing law again: in order to get his license reinstated he would have to sit for the bar exam again.

Now, the one-year suspension started today (view the suspension order here) and the Attorney Grievance Commission paperwork says it is for not showing up at the hearing back in December. The Attorney Discipline Board never even got to the question of whether George committed malpractice in the handling of a woman’s estate that brought on this latest suspension, which as you will recall would be his third in a year.

While George’s claim that he can still be a City Council Pro Tem without his law license may be correct, but only to a point. Remember that George himself told us when he first got into office that it needs to be a new day in Detroit; where City Council needs to lead in a new and different fashion.

Sadly, George’s escapades with a traffic stop that included an open container of alcohol and the smell of marijuana, personal bankruptcy and old clients looking to garnish his city council wages seems to have the feel of “same old Detroit City Council." Might we remind the councilmember he is an elected city official, whose qualifications and history [both personal and professional] matter greatly to voters and the city itself. An Oakland County real estate lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

Most of his issues were not known during his City Council campaign. Voters cannot be blamed for wondering if George’s “gastro intestinal” problems are weighing down his customer service, or whether his now admitted legal missteps might hurt his ability to represent their needs at the council table. Moreover, they certainly cannot be blamed for wondering if these constant headlines about a city council member with more problems than the Kardashians might not be helping the city’s post-bankruptcy reputation.

George, perhaps not spending any more time in a courtroom might free you up for more work trying to revive the city. But this city cannot ignore the oil slick of disaster that trails behind you as you take your seat at the council table. An LA CPA is following this story closely.


Original Story: detroitnews.com

Lansing — The $1.2 billion road-funding plan endorsed by Gov. Rick Snyder may leave a $102 million pothole in the pockets of as many as 1.2 million Michigan taxpayers who deduct vehicle registration fees on their federal income taxes.

Economist Patrick Anderson's East Lansing-based firm says the "far reaching and complicated" road funding package lawmakers slapped together on the last day of December's lame-duck session will likely cause federal income tax bills to rise.

That's because lawmakers changed the tax on vehicle registrations from an ad valorem property tax to a "straightforward excise tax," the Anderson Economic Group said in a report published Wednesday.

But the federal tax code only allows taxpayers to deduct vehicle registration taxes if it was property tax, meaning taxable income of Michiganians will likely rise if voters approve the road funding package in May, Anderson said.

The economist said the change in law could result in $410 million in fewer deductions for up to 1.2 million Michigan taxpayers, increasing federal income tax bills in the state by $102 million annually. The change will likely hit two-income families the hardest, he said.

"If you drive your car home and park it in your garage, this almost certainly affects you," Anderson told The Detroit News on Wednesday. "If you own two cars in your household, this probably affects you. The property tax deduction is more popular than the mortgage interest deduction."

More than half of all families with a household income between $50,000 and $100,000 claimed property tax deductions in 2012, according to Anderson's analysis of Internal Revenue Service data.

About 90 percent of households earning $100,000 or more annually deducted property taxes on their federal returns in 2012, he said.

The exact number of Michigan taxpayers who could be affected by the change cannot be determined because IRS data does not differentiate between taxpayers deducting property taxes paid on vehicles from property taxes paid on their homes, Anderson said.

A package of bills designed to generate $1.2 billion more annually for roads by 2017 hinges on voters approving an increase in the sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent on May 5.

Passage of Proposal 1 will trigger a series of new laws to go into effect, including House Bill 4630, which eliminated the depreciation schedule for new vehicles and changed the registration fee to an excise tax.

An IRS spokesman said Wednesday the agency doesn't comment on pending state-level tax legislation.

Anderson, a conservative economist, said the "crowning insult" to taxpayers is the money isn't going to fix the state's roads, but to help fill the U.S. Treasury. He said lawmakers should consider "fixing" the impending law before the May vote.

"Certainly this is something that many of them, if not all of them, didn't know about when they voted for it," Anderson said. "And a lot of their constituents are going to be unhappy about it.

Rep. Mike McCready, sponsor of the vehicle registration fee bill, said legislative leaders were aware of the impact on federal deductions, but chose to eliminate the depreciation discounts for new vehicles instead of increasing the tax rate on all vehicles.

"We felt this would be the least painful (option)," said McCready, R-Bloomfield Hills.

Under the current tax rate, the owner of a $30,000 new vehicle being titled and registered for the first time pays $161 at the Secretary of State's office.

The current law allows the value of the vehicle to depreciate 10 percent annually for the first three years, lowering the so-called annual "birthday tax."

McCready's bill gets rid of the depreciation discount for new vehicles purchased after Jan. 1, 2016, locking in tax rates for the life of the vehicle.

As more new vehicles are sold, the Senate Fiscal Agency estimates the change could generate an extra $150 million annually by 2026 in vehicle registration fees, which rival fuel taxes as a source of road repair funding.


Original Story: detroitnews.com

Detroit — More than 950 people facing tax foreclosure descended on Cobo Center on Thursday to meet with Wayne County officials in hopes of saving their homes.

Among them was 64-year-old Pamela Hyde. She's owned her tan aluminum sided bungalow on the east side for 35 years, raised her son there and paid her mortgage. But she said a series of illnesses and her small pension has made it difficult to chip away at her $4,400 in tax debt. A Detroit real estate lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

"I can't afford to lose my home," said Hyde, who waited with hundreds of others for her number to be called to speak with county officials. "There is not a lot of wiggle room. The utilities are sky high. ... I am in need of help. It's my home."

Wayne County officials are pursuing foreclosure on a record number of properties this year. Some have worked out payment plans, but 56,000 properties in Detroit still face foreclosure, said Chief Deputy David Szymanski. Another 4,000 homeowners elsewhere in Wayne County also are set to be foreclosed because of at least three years' of nonpayment of taxes.

The Cobo sessions continue weekdays through next week. They're another chance to meet with county officials to enter payment plans or learn about other relief programs. Nonprofits are also in attendance to provide legal counseling and other help negotiating out of foreclosure.

Recent legislation signed by Gov. Rick Snyder allow the treasurer to lower interest on debt from 18 percent to 6 percent for many homeowners. In many instances, homeowners can have taxes capped at a quarter of the market value of the home. A Tulsa real estate lawyer is following this story closely.

"These new programs are breathtaking in the ways they are able to help out," Szymanski said. "We've never had these types of options."

On Thursday, a whole section of chairs in Cobo was reserved for renters living in homes owned by delinquent landlords. Many were hoping to find a way to purchase the homes themselves.

Sharon Searcy hasn't heard from her landlords for months and hasn't paid rent for more than a year. She's hoping she can find a way to purchase the home and stay there with her two teenage boys.

"I want to stay in the home," Searcy said. "If I could just come up with the payments I could buy it and live there."

Her options are limited and she and other renters typically have to try and bid on the houses they live in at auction this fall. The home has $4,700 in tax debt that Searcy said she doesn't have.

One reason for the increase in at-risk property owners is because of a policy shift by county Treasurer Raymond Wojtowicz, who decided this year to foreclose on all properties that are at least three years' late in taxes. A Detroit real estate lawyer has experience representing clients in foreclosure, workouts, and bankruptcy cases.

By law, those properties are supposed to be foreclosed. But since 2005, Wojtowicz has not taken action on properties with smaller tax bills — $1,500 to $1,700 per year — because he said he lacked the staff to handle that many. Doing so, though, allowed some properties' bills to accumulate to several thousand dollars because the treasurer looked only at the amount of annual tax bills.

"Until you tell people we could take their property, the vast majority hope it will go away," Szymanski said.

At least 18,000 Detroit properties had delinquent taxes dating to 2010 or earlier, according to county data as of this fall.

In a move to stem the tide of foreclosures, Mayor Mike Duggan announced Wednesday that residential property assessments citywide will decline 5-20 percent, the second consecutive year he's cut taxes. Critics argue the city's unrealistic assessments contributed to the foreclosure crisis.


Original Story: freep.com

Two days ago Detroiter James Robertson couldn't afford a car — and today he can afford a small fleet.

Just last week, Robertson was spending lonely hours walking 21 miles to and from his suburban factory job, treks forced by the Motor City's sky-high car insurance and the region's spotty bus service.

It's been a whirlwind three days. Calls and e-mails have flooded the Free Press sending him well wishes and offering him cars, jobs, rides to work and encouragement, Some who read his story just want to meet him — shake his hand or give him a hug.

"I gotta say, this is Detroit, this is how people are in Detroit. They say Los Angeles is the city of angels. That's wrong. Detroit is the real city of angels," Robertson said.

Robertson spent Monday and Tuesday being shuttled to interviews. National networks interviewed him Monday night. Radio stations and People magazine have talked to him as well. And through it all, the 56-year old factory worker has remained humble.

"I have to be careful how I act about this — the same God who brings you all these blessings can take them away, but hopefully I'm ready for what happens," Robertson said.

Sunday's story, still available to read at freep.com, told of how a full-time job and daily commutes of 21 miles on foot each day left him just two hours for sleep, eased at times when a friendly banker would stop in bad weather to give him rides. Immediately a college student got the ball rolling to raise money to buy Robertson a car, with an initial goal of raising $5,000. As of late Tuesday more than $254,000 has been donated.

At Mr. B's Food & Spirits bar in Rochester, Robertson hugged WSU computer whiz Evan Leedy, 19, of Macomb Township, in thanks for creating the fund-raising web page.

"I'm always going to be in your debt. I will never forget this," Robertson said, as the younger man in the sweater-hoodie shook his hand Monday night.

Many of those who saw the Free Press story were so impressed with Robertson's work ethic — he has a perfect attendance record — "they want to say you earned this money," Leedy told the older man.

The unprecedented power of the Internet turned what a generation ago might have been local civic leaders passing the hat into a digital phenomenon of thousand, across the globe, giving amounts from $1 to hundreds. Yet, as TV crews, magazine writers and even local radio legend Dick Purtan circled Robertson for interviews — and more cash poured into a GoFundMe Internet site set up by a Wayne State University student — this soft-spoken operator of an injection-molding press vowed that all the money and attention wouldn't change him.

By Tuesday afternoon, at Purtan's lakeside mansion in West Bloomfield, Robertson told the retired radio funnyman he had no intention of quitting his $10.55/hour job, no plan to leave bosses and coworkers he cares deeply about, no intention of ever moving from the neighborhood in central Detroit where he'd lived all his life. Purtan was moved, like countless others who've read about Robertson or seen the Free Press video of him making a commute through miles of snow in Oakland County last week.

"James, the work ethic is fabulous. You're an inspiration. Would you run for president? 'Cuz I'd vote for you," Purtan said into a radio mike at the mini-studio in his dining room that's heard over the web.

"I'd have to think about it," Robertson said, grinning. Then his mien turned serious: "If I can teach one person, or do something to help Detroit, that would make me the happiest man in the world."

The Free Press told the story on Sunday's front page of Robertson's arduous regimen of bus rides and foot-slogging to keep his suburban factory job after his aging Honda quit, his employer moved north nine miles from Madison Heights to Rochester Hills, and bus service was repeatedly cut back in metro Detroit, forcing him to walk longer and longer distances each day. Rochester Hills is one of scores of suburban communities whose residents declined to approve property-tax millage for SMART buses, so no fixed-route large buses run there, SMART officials said.