The Detroit News. December 5, 2017

MSU must come clean in abuse case

Michigan State University must come completely clean on the sexual molestation of nearly 150 gymnasts by a team doctor who was on the school's payroll. That starts with making public the internal report MSU commissioned to determine culpability for the scandal.

The university has been unacceptably sparing with the release of information that would help determine who knew what and when in regards to the abuses of Dr. Larry Nassar, the gymnastics team physician who has pleaded guilty to 10 counts of rape already and faces more charges.

The report, commissioned by the board of regents, was conducted by former federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald of the Valerie Plame Affair fame, but has not been released by the board.

The reason is obvious: The board, MSU President Lou Anna Simon and other school officials are named in the 144 federal lawsuit charging the university did not meeting its responsibility in protecting the young gymnasts from a sexual predator and the school is hoping to contain its liability.

Only Nassar has faced accountability.

Even the coach, Kathy Klages, who blew off the concerns of gymnasts about Nassar's unorthodox treatment, which often included genital penetration, was allowed to retire with her pension without facing the consequences of her actions. Nassar's supervisor, who sent the doctor a letter demanding he alter his treatment methods, has not faced inquiry, either.

This is curious. A very similar sexual misconduct scandal at Penn State University resulted in criminal charges against several school officials, including the president, vice president and athletic director.

But at MSU, there seems no sense of urgency to determine whether official negligence enabled Nassar's assaults.

Attorney General Bill Schuette appears ready to change that. He wrote a letter this week asking Simon to release Fitzgerald's report.

Hopefully this will be the start of a more comprehensive investigation, and one that should have begun months ago.

Nassar's victims face a lifetime of trauma because of his attacks. Those girls and young women deserve answers to why they weren't protected by Michigan State.

Hopefully, they will get some of them later this month when the lawsuits pending in the Grand Rapids federal court enter the discovery stage. Simon, the trustees and other university officials named in the suits will likely be subpoenaed.

Before it gets to that point, MSU should make public what it knows.

These lawsuits have the potential to be enormously costly for the college. Penn State's liability totaled nearly $250 million. More than five times as many suits have been filed against MSU, meaning the payouts could top $1 billion.

In the face of such potential cost, a public university should be transparent about what it knows.

Schuette, in his letter to Simon, said the Fitzgerald report is critical to understanding what happened in the MSU gymnastic program, and who other than Nassar might share responsibility. He's right.

Simon must release the report to preserve her integrity and credibility and that of Michigan State University.


Lansing State Journal. December 7, 2017

New CATA CEO faces real challenges .. is he up to the job?

Congratulations are in order for newly named CATA CEO Brad Funkhouser; promoted after two years as deputy CEO following work as a transportation specialist for MDOT and in marketing and business development for DLZ Corp.

Between his background and ongoing experience with the organization, he is a well qualified leader for CATA. He will use the skills he has learned to lead the public transportation group into a new era upon taking over in February 2018.

Under retiring CEO Sandy Draggoo, CATA has come under serious criticism for a general lack of transparency and questionable financial practices, relating both to overtime and legal fees.

Funkhouser will have both the challenge and opportunity to revamp CATA's reputation in the region, by working to ensure decisions and practices occur with greater transparency - and working to better promote goals through public education.

Funkhouser should:

Reposition CATA as more than a bus stop

As the transportation authority in the region, CATA is much more than buses running between downtown and MSU's campus. The public transportation system is an integral part of the community; the ability for some to get to the grocery store is of equal importance as those taking the bus to the Amtrak train headed to Chicago and beyond.

Shoring up concerns encountered with the failed Bus Rapid Transit plan will take work, however CATA is well positioned to partner with stakeholders to improve public perception.

Update financial planning and practices

At the beginning of 2017, CATA was fined $1.2 million for late payroll tax reporting and other tax issues. In October 2017, a report was issued that showed about 90 missing checks and thousands of missing invoices.

This is not acceptable for an agency with the $45.9 million budget tasked with serving all of Greater Lansing.

These shortcomings were compounded by news that a shortage of trained drivers meant many employees were working long, potentially dangerous hours - and some were making nearly double their salaries in overtime pay.

Strong fiscal management is non-negotiable, especially when taxpayers are footing the bill. Addressing these concerns and communicating how solutions are being implemented will provide citizens with a clearer understanding of CATA's performance.

Communicate goals more transparently

Listening to stakeholders, getting out in front of policy changes and communicating more often are essential to CATA's success. Past snafus have stacked the deck against them and serious work is needed to regain buy-in for goals.

CATA can and should be a vital player in Greater Lansing's future. A strong public transportation system is integral to quality of life and economic development.


Times Herald (Port Huron). December 7, 2017

Lansing fiddles as cities burn bridges

The Michigan Association of Counties is very polite. "This fell far short of the mark," Stephan W. Currie, its executive director, said Thursday after the Michigan Legislature did nothing about the unfunded pension and retiree benefits crisis strangling local and county governments across the state.

Instead of giving cities, townships and counties real tools to deal with the real and growing problems, lawmakers are going to create a bureaucracy to collect more data. As we've reported repeatedly, and as new media across the state and country have reported, the data already exists. Local governments in the Blue Water Area, across the state and around the country face millions of dollars in payments to their retirees that they won't be able to make without devastating cuts to local services — the only strategy now available to them.

Port Huron taxpayers this year approved new funding for police and fire services and for parks and recreation so that the city would be able to spend more of its general fund to meet its annual obligation to its retirees. That was supposed to give the city breathing room while the Legislature worked up the courage to help fix the issue.

It hasn't yet.

Some have suggested that legislators were intimidated by the police officers and firefighters who traveled to Lansing this week to demonstrate at the capital. Lawmakers, they said, were worried about the power of police and fire unions to organize opposition to their re-election. Lawmakers who can't address one of the most important problems facing local communities should not be re-elected.

A simple solution has been proposed: Allowing local governments to refinance their debts to retirees. It's too complicated for lawmakers.

Those lawmakers need to think beyond their term limits. Angry firefighters and law enforcement officers will be back in Lansing, and their demonstrations will be noisier, when emergency managers start taking over cities and counties and announcing they can't afford first responders. Demonstrations can turn the heads of legislators, but aren't likely to sway an emergency manager fending off bankruptcy.

We all value and appreciate our police and fire departments. But we want to be able to rely on them in the future. Local governments backed into a corner by higher and higher pension and retiree health care costs won't have any choices. The first obligation will be pension payments guaranteed by the state constitution. The second choice will be asking voters to increase taxes. If they say no, layoffs are inevitable.

Until the Legislature figures out the undeniable arithmetic for itself, employee and retiree groups need to be working with their elected officials and administrators to plot a soft landing that harms as few workers, residents and taxpayers as possible.


Petoskey News-Review. December 8, 2017

Line 5 agreement shows some potential shortcomings

With the past year's revelations of questionable conditions along the Line 5 oil/gas pipeline's Straits of Mackinac segment, action by state officials to compel some safety efforts on pipeline owner Enbridge's part would seem in order.

However, we see some potential shortcomings in a recently signed state agreement with Enbridge, one which Gov. Rick Snyder's office said would provide safeguards for Michigan waters as the state works toward a final decision on the 1950s-vintage pipeline's future. In particular, we're concerned that the agreement looks to set a path for the pipeline's future — involving tunneled piping beneath the Straits — before the public has had a full opportunity for input on all of the identified alternatives.

Line 5 runs from Superior, Wisconsin, to Sarnia, Ontario, via Michigan, with an underwater crossing at the Straits along the way.

Among the new agreement's stipulations are for Enbridge to:

— Replace the portion of Line 5 that crosses beneath the St. Clair River (which forms part of the boundary between southeastern Michigan and southwestern Ontario) with a new pipe in a tunnel under the river

— Undertake a study, in conjunction with the state, on the placement of a new pipeline or the existing dual pipelines in a tunnel beneath the Straits of Mackinac. The state's alternative analysis identified tunneling as an alternative to the current pipelines. This study will examine several possible techniques and allow a much more detailed examination on the technical feasibility of such a tunnel.

— Temporarily shut down operation of Line 5 in the straits during periods of sustained adverse weather conditions, because those conditions do not allow effective response to potential oil spills.

— Implement technologies that improve the safety of Line 5 in the straits by allowing faster detection and a more immediate response in the event of a spill.

— Implement measures to mitigate a potential vessel anchor strike on Line 5 beneath the straits. A vessel anchor strike was identified in the final alternatives analysis as one of the most serious threats to Line 5 safety in the straits.

— In partnership with the state, implement additional measures to minimize the likelihood of an oil spill at every Line 5 water crossing in Michigan.

— Increase transparency by providing the opportunity for the state to fully participate in each of the evaluations required under the agreement; providing all information requested by the state about the operation of Line 5 in Michigan; and meeting regularly with the state to assess and discuss any changes to the pipeline's operation.

Among these provisions, we see some measures which potentially could enhance the line's safety standing from what would otherwise exist. However, we also some details remaining unresolved, such as the gaps in protective coating recently revealed to exist at a majority of the 48 anchor suppoint points inspected so far this year by Enbridge along the Straits span. With more such points remaining to be inspected — there are 128 in all — we share a concern recently noted by a Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council staff member about the agreement's lack of attention to the coating deficiencies recently found and how to address them.

We're also concerned about the agreement setting what looks to be a default path toward a tunneled pipeline beneath the Straits, especially amid other state exploration of options for the pipeline's future. An independent consultant enlisted by the state recently analyzed six potential alternatives which could be pursued for the Straits section of Line 5 — ranging from maintaining the tandem pipeline segment in its current form to replacing the existing structures with a trenched or tunneled line to constructing one or more new pipelines that avoid open Great Lakes water routing and then decommissioning the Straits section. Public input opportunities concerning the various options are happening this month, with officials also in discussions toward another study phase — involving risk analysis — for the Line 5 options.

We've previously called for Enbridge to begin working in the direction of decommissioning Line 5, given the enormity of the environmental catastrophe that would result from petroleum spillage along the Straits section and the far-reaching harm to the region's tourism and recreation economy that would accompany it. While pipelines offer some safety and cost advantages compared to other oil transport methods, we have deep-seated reservations about their fit in Great Lakes waters.

Before concluding that a tunneled pipeline would be a reasonable way to mitigate these risks, we would want to see further risk-analysis details, and would urge the state to carefully explore those before starting movement toward that specific option. In charting a path for Line 5's future, we'd also hope state officials would consider the public feedback that emerges from the ongoing comment processes associated with the study — input opportunities that weren't in place for the recent agreement's formulation.