A roundup of recent Michigan newspaper editorials
The Detroit News. October 10, 2019
Protect vulnerable in budget battle
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer erred in putting funding for some of the state’s most at-risk populations on the line in her budget negotiations with the Legislature. Holding funding hostage for citizens who need it most isn’t helpful, and Republican lawmakers are right in trying to fix those wrongs.
GOP leaders met with Whitmer Thursday to discuss restoring some of the more essential of the 147 items, totaling nearly $1 billion, she vetoed from the budget. Many of these cuts were also unpopular among Democratic lawmakers. A spokesman for House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, says the meeting was a “productive session and they plan to meet again next week,” but declined to give additional details.
The Legislature this week introduced $260 million in supplemental spending bills. Whitmer should reinstate those dollars while she seeks some sort of compromise on other budget items with lawmakers. The governor has said her priorities are additional funding for corrections, health and human services, among others.
She should have never used vulnerable adults and children as bargaining chips to achieve her goals.
The 23 spending bills the GOP has introduced include restored funding for the following:
(asterisk)$1 million for the Autism Navigator program
(asterisk)$35 million for $240-per-pupil increases for charter school students — the same as all other financially troubled public school districts will receive
(asterisk)$15 million for summer school literacy programs targeted at third graders who don’t score “proficient” on state reading tests.
(asterisk)$15 million in PFAS and emerging contaminants grants for municipal airports
Funding for rural hospitals, rural policing, county veterans services, opioid response grants and school security.
Whitmer has received some of the fiercest criticism — statewide and nationally — for stripping the $1 million from the autism program, run by the Autism Alliance of Michigan. Autism advocates say the funding is crucial and that the hotline is a lifeline for families and individuals who are struggling to find the services they need.
If funding isn’t restored soon, these programs and schools will start feeling the pinch of the cuts. As it is, the uncertainty poses challenges, especially for school districts that are well underway in the new academic year.
As Amber McCann, spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, said this week: “We don’t want the governor’s actions to have an unintended consequence and effect on the most vulnerable populations. We want to make sure we have all options at the ready should we decide to move forward with this funding restoration.”
That should include the possibility of veto overrides, which would require two-thirds support in each chamber. That means some Democrats would need to get on board, and right now legislative minority leaders are saying they aren’t interested in taking that tactic.
But Republicans and Democrats should be able to agree that these cuts are harmful: The most in-need Michigan citizens should not be pawns in this budget battle.
The Mining Journal (Marquette). October 9, 2019
Gilchrist swing through U.P. may be beneficial for local cities
What city doesn’t want to thrive?
Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist has been visiting the Upper Peninsula this week as part of the 2019 Thriving Cities tour.
Gilchrist, who visited Northern Michigan University as one of his stops on Monday, made the insightful comment that government, to be responsive, has to listen to different communities’ needs.
Communities, after all, are different. What concerns a small Upper Peninsula town, for example, might not be as much of a concern in urban Detroit.
They both, however, want to thrive.
At the NMU roundtable discussion, local stakeholders talked spurring economic development through various means, such as improving access to high-paying jobs and creating programs to help start-up companies. These ideas would be expected in such a discussion, but they also discussed better access to day care and childcare services, both of which directly and indirectly help economic progress.
Gilchrist stressed he wants to reform the criminal justice system in the U.P. where, he said, jails are overcrowded. He called that a drain on county resources, plus inmates need access to mental health and substance abuse services.
How the 2020 Michigan state budget will play still is up in the air, with Gilchrist explaining that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer line-item vetoed nearly $1 billion from the budget and called for further negotiations.
On his Facebook page, Gilchrist talked about this Thriving Cities stops in the Upper Peninsula, two of which were Michigan Technological University and Neuvokas, a company in Ahmeek that manufactures a basalt rebar.
Gilchist posted as he was in Marquette for his ninth Thriving Cities stop: “We have cities all over the state that have different needs and it’s up to us to meet those needs.”
Having roundtable discussions and other events to talk about a community’s needs is a good start, but follow-up is needed too. It would be sad if the ideas mentioned at Monday’s roundtable discussion were left just in the talking stage.
Action is the next step, and we hope any momentum that began with the Thriving Cities tour keeps going, at local and state levels.
Lansing State Journal. October 6, 2019
Take a deeper look at the process by which Lansing police report to the public
A process meant to provide citizen oversight of Lansing’s police - to hold them accountable to the public they serve - appears to operate as a rubber stamp for internal decisions made by police leadership.
This is despite language in the City Charter that gives Lansing’s appointed Board of Police Commissioners broad oversight authority for the department, including “final authority to impose or review discipline within State statutes and collective bargaining agreements.”
Those last three words are the rub, however, because the contract of the Capital City Labor Program, the union representing Lansing’s police officers, says that only the chief of police or the chief’s designee can discipline an officer.
There are eight police commissioners, but only three serve on the Complaint Review Committee that gets briefed on complaints and disciplinary actions.
In theory, according to new Police Chief Daryl Green, the committee has the power to influence the chief. In practice, the Lansing State Journal learned disciplinary matters often are reviewed with that committee after the punishment has been decided and imposed.
More from the LSJ Editorial Board:
Fix the damn budget. Refusing to negotiate isn’t acceptable.
Schools must report bullying, it’s Michigan law and common-sense leadership
Sheriff Wriggelsworth should hold himself to a higher standard
Adding to that, the committee is considered “advisory” in nature, its meetings are not open to the public and the findings are not disclosed. That creates an element of secrecy.
The full Board of Police Commissioners holds monthly meetings that are posted and public under the Open Meetings Act. It also keeps minutes of those meetings and makes them public. And while other committees report details of their actions to the full board, minutes show the complaint committee reports only that it met.
Once a year the Board of Police Commissioners and the Lansing Police Department report to the City Council on the number of complaints made and those formally investigated. That’s all the public sees: just numbers.
So Lansing residents - and the City Council - do not know how many complaints came from citizens or from other officers, the nature of the complaints or their resolutions.
LSJ has been able to report the names of three officers who were disciplined this year because members of the public raised concerns.
Two are the officers involved in the June arrest of a teen whose resistance was met with 18 punches to her leg. Those names were released before an internal investigation was complete in no small part because a citizen’s video of the incident went viral online.
The name of an officer the department fired for using racial slurs toward another officer in 2018 was released to the LSJ in July in response to a request for public records, but only after the newspaper appealed the city’s initial denial.
Notably, the LSJ learned about this incident because a citizen asked former chief Mike Yankowski about it at a June public meeting of the Board of Police Commissioners.
Public pressure, it seems, significantly influences the level of transparency. Unfortunately, making details of these difficult situations public only in the face of such pressure is not a trust-building exercise.
Just the opposite, in fact.
What’s best for Lansing is for everyone to take a deeper look at this process.
Chief Green suggested in an interview that he might be willing to be public with more information. At least one activist is calling for a charter change to make police commissioners elected officials accountable to the public. Better would be a change that gave real power to the police commissioners.
Why you won’t hear about most complaints made against Lansing police officers
Meet the 8 people who oversee Lansing police
Lansing Police Department officer who struck teen girl will resume duty
In Detroit, police commissioners vote on discipline decisions. In Grand Rapids, police commissioners serve as a board of appeals, with the authority to overturn the police department’s decisions.
Those are major changes that would require a vote of the people.
Yet there are steps that could be taken to make the Complaint Review Commission’s work more visible without a charter revision. For starters, let the committee or the chief make a real report to the full board. State the number of cases reviewed each month, list the type of complaint and the resolution.
This can be done without naming victims or officers involved. Although yes, we’d suggest there are times when an officer’s name should be public - for example when one is terminated for cause.
These small steps could provide meaningful leaps forward. They would give the new chief a chance to be proactive and build sturdier bridges between the department and the community.
Trust can’t take root in secrecy. Let’s fix this.