The Detroit News. February 14, 2018

Elected state ed boards don't work

Prior to the sexual abuse scandal that has rocked Michigan State University, chances are you probably hadn't paid much attention to its Board of Trustees. Now, those trustees are under a spotlight. The university's bungled handling of this horrible situation has drawn needed attention to how Michigan chooses these school leaders.

Many, including this newspaper, have called for the eight elected trustees to step down, following the statements of more than 200 young women who related their stories of abuse at the hands of Dr. Larry Nassar and MSU's lackluster response, even when administrators were alerted to what was going on.

The MSU faculty senate Tuesday cast a vote of no confidence in the trustees.

The situation at MSU has sparked a broader discussion about changing how these boards are chosen.

The state is alone in how the top three universities — MSU, University of Michigan and Wayne State University — select their governing boards. The state constitution mandates these boards be chosen in statewide elections (on partisan ballots). Trustees serve eight-year, rotating terms and have "general supervision" of the universities and are responsible for choosing school presidents.

Michigan's other 10 public university boards are appointed by the governor, which is much more in line with how it's done elsewhere.

Similarly, we've made the case for several years that the State Board of Education is an ineffective institution, similarly chosen in statewide elections.

A new resolution introduced by a state lawmaker seeks to overhaul how these four boards are selected — and would go a long way to putting the state on par with its peers.

Only seven states, including Michigan, offer the governor so little direct control over K-12 schools. In other states, the governor either appoints the education board members or the head education official — or some mix of these powers.

Being an outlier in this area has not benefited Michigan, given the state's continued slipping in its K-12 performance.

A new leadership structure could help.

That's why Rep. James Lower, R-Cedar Lake, wants to put the question before voters. Since it would involve a constitutional change, he needs a two-thirds majority of both the House and Senate to get the proposal on the general election ballot.

Rep. Tim Kelly, who chairs the House Education Reform Committee, has similarly introduced resolutions to do away with the state board, something the Saginaw Township Republican refers to as a "nameless, faceless" body. The same can be said about the university boards.

"If there was ever a window, it would be right now," says Lower, given the situation at MSU, which he calls "frightening."

Lower says he needs to bring on "nine or 10" Democrats in the House to pass the measure. This shouldn't be a partisan issue. Michigan should learn from what has worked in other states and build a new framework from that.

The current setup isn't working well, and this would be a good time to do something about it.

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Traverse City Record-Eagle. February 15, 2018

Drug court helps addicts navigate a hard road

The road away from drug addiction is long, winding and strewn with obstacles.

By all accounts, people who want to escape drug addiction face an almost superhuman task. Trying to tackle that task alone often results in failure — at worst a tragedy, at best a wasted life.

The 86th Circuit Court launched a specialized drug treatment court just over a year ago with the intent of helping pull people away from the claws of addiction.

Prosecutor Bob Cooney said that when the opioid crisis accelerated in Grand Traverse County about five years ago, the crime rate went up for offenses like larceny, breaking and entering, domestic violence and child abuse. He pushed for the creation of a drug court with the goal of reducing both addiction and the crimes that come with it.

The program's first participants now are entering their second year of involvement. Participants will spend a total of two or three years in the program, much like participants in the recovery court for alcohol-related offenses, said Judge Thomas J. Phillips, who administers the drug court.

The voluntary program is for non-violent offenders who live in the county and who've been diagnosed with substance use disorder.

Participants are required to check in with Phillips every two weeks so they can meet with the court's team of prosecutors, attorneys, community corrections workers and therapists. They must get a program sponsor and a job or do volunteer work. They frequently are tested for drugs and alcohol and must attend 12-step program meetings — at least one per day for the first 90 days, then four per week.

Many offenders who are offered a drug court plea don't take it. They're not ready to commit to a three-year program and would rather serve 90 days in jail, Cooney said.

But the drug court appears to be working for addicts who commit to the long term.

"So far I think we're doing very well," Phillips said last week.

Three people have graduated to the second phase of the program. Another 18 are at various points in the first year of the program.

Drug court is a choice for some people (generally addicts, not drug dealers) being sentenced. Those who drop out usually do so within the first month or two, Phillips said. There are many possible motivating factors for people who choose drug court, including not wanting to lose their children and or not wanting to go to prison.

"The carrot is to get clean and have a more productive life," Phillips said.

That's a great motivator for the addicted. It's also a great motivator for authorities who see the value of lifting people out of addiction and into mainstream society.

Grand Traverse County secured a $50,000 state grant in late 2016 to help launch the drug court. That funding enabled the continuing efforts of Cooney, Phillips and all the workers who are helping county residents navigate the hard road away from addiction.

It is money — and effort — well spent.

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Times Herald (Port Huron). February 14, 2018

McMorran decision not perfect

Something had to be done about the McMorran Authority. The board is ostensibly in charge of the McMorran Place civic center in downtown Port Huron. In reality, though, it is more of a third wheel. None of its decisions mattered if the city administration and ultimate the City Council didn't agree with them.

McMorran Place is a public amenity like a park or a street. It would we ridiculous to have an independent managing board for Lakeside Park or for Washington Street. The city owns McMorran Place and the city is, was and should be in charge of the day-to-day management of the facility as long as its long-range planning and policies.

What will be done is not a perfect solution, but it is a step in the right direction.

The city will allow the authority board to expire, meaning McMorran Place will stop being its own separate government within city government. And it will create a commission to decide certain aspects of McMorran's operations. It essentially creates a new city board, equivalent to the planning commission or zoning board, to make decisions about specific matters. Fiscal authority over the complex will remain in City Council's hands.

The main benefit of the arrangement is that it removes an awkward dotted line from the city's organizational chart. City government can have only one ultimate authority, and that is City Council.

Perhaps "removes" isn't the right word. It smudges the line, giving the commission a voice in some matters and preserving at least some of the redundant decision-making that frustrates the recreation department managers who now operate the facility. We anticipate the McMorran commission, city administration and City Council will need a few months to understand how to share their various new responsibilities.

Dissolving the authority also makes the city completely responsible for the civic center's finances. That, of course, has always been the case. But the small deceit that McMorran was its own government authority opened the possibility that it could sell bonds to borrow money without encumbering the city's general fund or its taxpayers. In reality, the distinction doesn't exist; when McMorran has debts, taxpayers get the bill.

That leads to the decision's most important benefit to taxpayers. Clarifying who owns and operates McMorran also clarifies that it, like the rest of city government, must comply with Michigan's open meetings and freedom of information laws. The authority board hasn't flouted those laws in the past, but it has been less than completely enthusiastic about full transparency.

City Council first might consider moving the commission's meetings to a time more accessible to the taxpayers footing the bills.

Dissolving the authority and bringing the civic center more formally into city government preserves McMorran and protects taxpayers. It is the right thing to do.

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Petoskey News-Review. February 16, 2018

Budget cuts to Great lakes protections are the wrong move

We find ourselves, for the second year, having to write an editorial denouncing President Trump's budget proposal, specifically its proposed funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

Once again, the budget proposal includes huge cuts in funding for this vital budget item that impacts every single person living, working and visiting the Great Lakes region. This year, the proposal cuts funding from almost $300 million to $30 million, around 90 percent.

"The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has been instrumental in cleaning up toxic pollution, restoring fish and wildlife habitat, controlling invasive species, and reducing farm and city runoff," Jennifer McKay, policy director for Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council, said in a story in the Petoskey News-Review.

Perhaps the president and his administration just do not realize the importance of the Great Lakes to not just the overall economy of this region, but the nation and it's vital importance as a source of fresh water for millions of people?

As McKay pointed out in the story, "Investments in Great Lakes restoration create short-term jobs and lead to long-term economic benefits for the Great Lakes states and the country."

She added, "A Brookings Institution report shows that every $1 invested in Great Lakes restoration generates at least $2 in return, making Great Lakes restoration one of the best investments in the federal budget. More recent research from Grand Valley State University suggests that the return on investment for certain projects may be closer to 6-to-1."

"Aging sewers, invasive species and toxic pollutants are just a few of the pervasive threats that impact the region, endangering human and wildlife health, lowering property values and hurting the region's economy. Cutting funding will slow restoration efforts, allowing problems to get worse and making them more expensive to solve," McKay said in the article. "Ultimately, cutting spending on the Great Lakes won't save money — It will cost the nation more."

We were pleased to see that Senator Debbie Stabenow seems to agree the Great Lakes deserve to be protected at more adequate funding levels.

"If there's one thing we've learned, we can't take it for granted that others understand how important our water is. This is outrageous," Stabenow said in a statement included in the story in the Petoskey News-Review. "People across Michigan spoke out and took action last year to stop these cuts and I know they'll do it again."

While Stabenow voiced her displeasure at this funding cut, Representative Jack Bergmann also stressed the importance of the Great Lakes funding.

"I look forward to reviewing the administration's budget suggestions and working with my colleagues on the budget committee to pass a balanced budget for 2019. It's not lost on me that our country faces a severe budgetary crisis. We cannot continue down the road of reckless spending and irresponsible governing that has become the new normal over the past decade," Bergman said. "Congress has the final say on funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, Essential Air Service, and other important government services, and I will continue to fight to protect these important issues that directly affect the constituents of the First District. In the days and weeks ahead, I will continue my work with the House Budget Committee to pass a fiscally conservative budget for 2019 that remains focused on border security, defense and infrastructure."

We must point out while the government doesn't seem to think it has money for the Great Lakes, a vital feature of this region and the nation, the President's budget does find $18 billion towards a border wall along the Mexican border — which the president insisted during the election the country of Mexico was going to pay for.

We think if we can find money for a wall, we can certainly find money to adequately protect the Great Lakes.

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