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A roundup of recent Michigan newspaper editorials

September 4, 2017

Detroit Free Press. August 29, 2017

Detroit’s economy is growing: But who’s getting the jobs?

Detroit still struggles to define who its resurgence is for, or how the influx of new jobs and residents to downtown and Midtown effect longtime Detroiters.

Drive outside the 7.2 miles of downtown and Midtown, or outside the handful of stable and rebounding neighborhoods, and the trope of two Detroits — one booming, the other distressed and struggling — is undeniable.

Population and jobs numbers included in the most recent report from Detroit Future City, a nonprofit that’s developed a strategic framework for land use in the city, offer a stark look at how far Detroit has come, and how far we have yet to go.

Detroit’s jobs-to-population ratio has increased, from 25 jobs per 100 residents in 2010 to 30 jobs for every 100 residents now. That’s a promising improvement.

But there’s another revealing measure. Of the jobs in the city, 33% are held by African Americans. That’s down from 2010, when 36% of the jobs inside Detroit were held by African Americans. Because Detroit is 80% black, it’s fair, when looking at these metrics, to use race as a stand-in for residency.

There are a couple of important caveats, here: It’s entirely likely that the number of suburban jobs that have moved into the city is what’s boosted 30-to-100 ratio. When a suburban business moves downtown, it’s not hiring for dozens or thousands of new positions. Those jobs are held by employees who move with the company. Nor is this a bad thing. Non-residents who work in Detroit pay city taxes at 1.2%, and because Detroit-based employers are required to withhold those taxes, collection rates are pretty high.

Suburban employers moving downtown means there are more people working in Detroit, more people paying taxes and patronizing businesses. That’s all good stuff.

But it’s not enough. What those numbers tell us is that Detroit’s celebrated growth, centered in downtown and Midtown, is not resulting in more jobs for Detroiters.

It’s just one metric, but it’s pretty important.

Why those jobs, those company relocations or expansions, haven’t resulted in more widespread employment for Detroiters — it’s complicated. Twenty-two percent of Detroiters lack a high school diploma; 33% have a high school diploma or a GED. Just 7% have an associate’s degree, and 13% have bachelor’s degree or higher, according to the Detroit Future City report.

Companies hired to build the new hockey arena say they can’t find sufficient Detroit residents with experience in the skilled trades to meet city-mandated hiring quotas for the project’s construction.

Without significant policy change, expect those trends to continue.

Jobs training, better transportation to connect workers to available jobs, low or no-cost childcare that would enable women with children to work — that’s what needs to happen. But a truly comprehensive program would be phenomenally expensive.

Growth and redevelopment centered in midtown and downtown for organic reasons. Most simply, each area has resources — like major employers, educational institutions or hospitals — that attracted investment.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and city planner Maurice Cox believe the same kind of strategies can benefit other Detroit neighborhoods — like Fitzgerald in northwest Detroit, where more than $4 million will rehabilitate 115 vacant houses and create a new park and other amenities — chosen in part because of nearby anchor institutions like like Marygrove College and the University of Detroit-Mercy. It’s a pilot program, one intended to serve as proof of concept that targeted investment can bear results outside Detroit’s urban core.

Likewise, Cox hopes to direct investment to the city’s commercial corridors — outside of midtown and downtown — in an intentional manner, bolstering existing business districts.

It’s the kind of patient planning Detroit requires — and more of it — to close the chasm between the Detroit that is, and the Detroit we need to be.


Lansing State Journal. September 1, 2017

Stop the unnecessary attack on state worker unions

New limits on collective bargaining - currently being considered by the Michigan Civil Service Commission - are an unnecessary attack on state workers.

Workers unions, along with the process of negotiation, are part of a long-established tradition in the U.S. that brought us the 40-hour work week, weekends and holidays, safety in the workplace and much more.

To apply additional limits on collective bargaining is an attack on the system, a system that has protected workers for many decades.

Among items on the chopping block: How overtime is assigned, how performance bonuses are issued and the way staff are reassigned after layoffs.

Each of these three items is currently covered by hundreds of pages in state contracts, the hard-fought results of negotiations between workers and employers over many years.

It’s no wonder that five of the six employee unions that represent more than 30,000 state workers spoke out against the proposal.

And why now?

The proposal was made to the Civil Service Commission - a body of four governor-appointed members that regulates state workers - by State Personnel Director Jan Winters, who says in the proposal that the employee relations policy hasn’t been comprehensively reviewed since the 1990s.

It could be considered for a vote at the commission’s Sept. 20 meeting.

Timing of the proposal is suspicious in that there is no apparent problem with the unions or looming crisis that anyone is responding to. And just a bit ironic in that it’s being considered around Labor Day - the national holiday that celebrates unions and the labor movement.

Additionally, state worker union contracts are approved through Jan. 1, 2019 and won’t be renegotiated until the middle of next year.

There is however the newest member of the commission - Jase Bolger, the former Republican speaker of the Michigan House of Representatives - who came in with a goal of reform and has questioned the existence and relevance of state worker unions.

Bolger questions need for state employee unions

“I want to learn more about the history of why we have both civil service and union representation, why that was put into place,” Bolger said in January.

It makes sense that Bolger would ask questions about unions: He led the House in late 2012 when Michigan officially became a right-to-work state, which allows workers to opt out of union membership without paying a penalty or fair-share fee.

Following the switch in Michigan, membership remained steady over the next two years and only decreased slightly since then - down 2.2 percentage points between 2012 and 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

It makes sense that workers would see the value of unions: They fight for better wages, benefits and working conditions for their members. All of that comes through negotiations, compromising on key issues to ensure the best overall opportunities for the membership.

The relationship between the state of Michigan and its employees is a critical one. It’s their partnership that will move Michigan forward in the coming years.

Let unions do their jobs in being the voice of their constituencies.


Times Herald (Port Huron). August 31, 2017

Cleveland, Wilson need more than new furniture

We empathize with parents who feel their children, students at Port Huron’s Cleveland Elementary School, are being used as guinea pigs in a series of education experiments. But we disagree with their opposition to ending the current experiment and beginning a new one.

The current experiment is failing their children.

Cleveland Elementary School is one of the worst-performing schools in the state of Michigan.

Instead, Port Huron Schools has proposed to make Cleveland a different school. Yes, it is another experiment upon the students at Cleveland, but the only way to expect different results is to try a different approach.

What the district plans is turning Cleveland and Woodrow Wilson — also low-performing — into specialized academies.

Cleveland, beginning with the 2018-19 school year, would be an early elementary literacy academy with a specific, intense focus on reading and writing proficiency. Reading and writing at Cleveland is a scandal. Fewer than 5 percent of its third-graders were proficient on last spring’s state standardized test. Something has to be done.

Wilson will be a science, technology, engineering and math academy. Upper-elementary students will graduate from Cleveland and focus on technical and problem-solving skills in the third, fourth and fifth grades. Fewer than one in eight are now leaving the two schools proficient in math and science.

Success will depend on more than calling the schools “academies” and giving them bright, new furniture. What Cleveland and Wilson kids need are the best teachers and the best leadership. That may seem logical, but that is not how teachers and administrators are assigned.

Teachers and principals largely get to apply for any opening in any school across the district. That, seen here and across the nation, filters the better teachers in to the better-performing schools. It’s why, according to U.S. Department of Education civil rights data for 2013, average teacher pay at Cleveland was $10,000 a year less than the average for Thomas Edison Elementary.

If Port Huron Schools truly intends to invent something new in its academies, it needs to create a system that puts the teachers with the most skill and experience where they are needed most.


Petoskey News-Review. September 1, 2017

Don’t diminish local role in short-term rental policy

When it comes to setting policy for short-term residential rentals, we don’t think one size will fit all for communities around Michigan.

For that reason, we’re concerned by the cookie-cutter approach which two bills pending in the Michigan Legislature would impose throughout the state, restricting local governments’ ability to regulate such rentals.

House Bill 4503, sponsored by state Rep. Jason Sheppard, R-Temperance, and the similarly worded Senate Bill 329, sponsored by state Sen. Joe Hune, R-Hamburg, have been assigned to legislative committees for consideration. Each would amend the Michigan Zoning Enabling Act, prohibiting municipalities from defining a property renting for less than 28 days as a commercial use and precluding them from restricting short-term rentals in residential districts.

Short-term rentals have entered local policymakers’ conversations in numerous Michigan communities during the past few years, a time in which online tools for listing short-term residential rentals have grown in popularity. Sometimes, these conversations have stemmed from complaints by neighbors of the rental properties, who’ve reported disruptive behavior from some renters and objected to what they see as departures from neighborhoods’ residential character.

Petoskey is one community where the short-term rental questions have surfaced, with city officials putting some regulations in place in 2014. These regulations grandfathered existing vacation rentals, but new rentals are limited to business districts and must be licensed annually. In a resolution approved this summer, the Petoskey City Council expressed opposition to the pending short-term rental legislation — the sort of step which the Michigan Municipal League has been encouraging its affliated communities to take.

In an interview with the News-Review, state Rep. Sheppard downplayed fears among some at the local level that his legislation would strip communities of their policymaking abilities concerning short-term rentals, and said the aim was to avoid outright bans on such arrangements. Sheppard said it’s rare for people to offer multiple properties for routine short-term rentals without setting them up as a commercial practice, and noted that communities often have policies in place — such as noise ordinances — which can be used to respond to problematic renters.

Like Sheppard, we recognize that some who offer short-term home rentals don’t approach the practice as a full-time commercial venture. In some cases, people who aren’t able to stay frequently in their vacation homes might see the arrangement as a way to earn extra cash when the home would otherwise sit dormant. At the same time, we see opponents of the legislation raising some legitimate concerns.

While perhaps not the dominant scenario for short-term rentals, the bills would seem to leave the door open for people to set up full-time rental enterprises in residential surroundings. Along with the potential to reshape a neighborhood’s character, there are other concerns to consider. If a home used mainly for short-term rentals can’t be categorized as commercial, communities may lose opportunities to provide the sort of health and safety oversight that they otherwise would for lodging operations — putting the traditional lodging industry at a disadvantage in the process.

Homeowners may have varying goals in mind when they offer their properties for short-term rentals. At the same time, these properties’ contexts and surroundings vary considerably around the state as well. We’d urge legislators to reject the short-term rental bills as proposed, and maintain a greater degree of input for local officials in policies concerning these lodging arrangements. At the same time, we’d urge local officials to keep the perspectives of all stakeholders in mind when it comes to short-term rental policies, and strive for reasonable balances in these.

During the 2010s, we’ve seen Michigan legislators offer up policies that rein in local policy decisions on a variety of matters, from consumer fireworks usage to living wage standards — and now, potentially, short-term property rentals. During these years, both houses in the Legislature have consistently been controlled by Republicans — members of a party which has long espoused local control as a core value. In practice at least, we’re seeing some unfortunate examples of a trend away from that principle.


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