- Associated Press - Monday, June 30, 2014

Traverse City Record-Eagle. June 24.

Cherries take a back seat at their namesake festival

It’s called the National Cherry Festival and it’s supposed to be about cherries and the cherry industry.

But some of the festival’s business partners - many of them smaller operations that focus on all kinds of locally made cherry products - are beginning to wonder where they fit into the larger picture.

The Cherry Festival just announced another round of fee hikes for vendors who sell cherry-related items (and all kinds of other offerings) and some are wincing.

Farm market vendors who sell exclusively cherry products will pay $2,000 for a booth at this year’s festival, an increase of almost 54 percent over 2013. Those selling non-cherry products will pay $3,000, 50 more than last year.

They aren’t the only ones paying more. Rates for vendors in the food court and beer tent also went up, but not as much. Corporate promotional partners’ rates are negotiated individually, but most of those also increased.

The reason for the latest round of hikes, according to Cherry Festival Executive Director Trevor Tkach, is to cover the cost of bigger entertainment acts, which are presented free to festival goers.

Tkach said bigger crowds drawn by those bigger-name acts should increase vendors’ profits and offset price increases.

That’s the theory. But theory doesn’t pay the bills.

Naturally Nutty owner Katie Kearney, who sells nut butters at the Cherry Festival’s farm market, saw a 50 percent hike in her fee.

“I was frustrated,” she said. “I feel like it makes it more difficult for a small local business to be able to afford a local festival.”

Six Lugs manager Daniel Umulis said the price increase will be too much for small local companies trying to break into the market.

Umulis paid $4,000 for two booths for his cherry dressings and preserves. Umulis said he can stomach the price increase unless bad weather hits.

“This year my main concern is rainy days. It could really cause some big issues for us as far as the cost,” he said.

It’s not as though rates have been frozen in recent years.

The cost for farm market vendors was $1,700 in 2008, then dropped to $1,000 for vendors selling exclusively cherry products in 2009. Fees went up in 2011 to $1,250 for cherry product vendors and $1,950 for non-cherry vendors. Prices increased to $1,300 for cherry product vendors and $2,000 for non-cherry product vendors in 2013.

This isn’t the first time the festival has put a major emphasis on bigger-name entertainment, but past experiments had mixed results.

And it’s fair to ask why festival officials think that’s so necessary, anyway. Presumably they know their market and what draws crowds. But at what point should the festival worry less about bigger-name acts, bigger crowds and bigger everything?

Moving the festival to the first week in July virtually guaranteed local cherries wouldn’t be harvested in time for the festival, and now those who specialize in all things cherry are getting hit - again - with fee hikes to help pay for bigger entertainment acts.

It’s time for the festival, the community, the cherry industry and the festival’s business partners to talk frankly about what the future should look like and how to get there.


The Mining Journal (Marquette). June 23.

Accountability needed in Medicaid overpayment mess

A recent state audit showed that Michigan improperly spent $160 million over three years caring for Medicaid recipients needing in-home services primarily because it failed to obtain invoices and other required documentation from service providers.

That’s $160 million that could have been spent on the state’s massive infrastructure problem, or its public education system or to veterans care.

But instead, that $160 million could end up costing us even more, as auditors warned the state could be forced to repay nearly $97 million to the federal government.

This is not the type of fiscal accountability so often touted by our budget-balancing governor, who takes every opportunity to tell state residents that the state of Michigan is coming back. According to Gov. Snyder, the state’s finances are on the rebound and are being closely monitored.

Although much process has been made in other areas, a blunder of this magnitude doesn’t help the state’s financial picture for the year.

And it wasn’t just a financial mistake that was made. The audit also shows that nearly 3,800 of the roughly 70,000 home health providers had felony convictions, including 572 for violent crimes. It showed that state caseworkers failed to follow up with clients about who their in-home care providers were, citing one egregious example of the state Community Health and Human Services agencies possibly improperly paying one home aide unemployment benefits, after the person was fired by a Medicaid recipient for having illegal drugs and stealing the client’s medications.

We would like to know who was in charge of the oversight of these funds, because it seems as though a lot of people were asleep at the wheel.

We’d like to see these people held accountable for their monumental mishandling of state of funds, and their role in placing people in need of home health aides in danger by employing violent felons. We hope it’s more than just a slap on the wrist.

It’s going to take a lot of relentless positive action to right this ship. We hope the governor is up to the task.


The Detroit News. June 23.

Detroit is troubled, but on the rise

Detroit’s population continued to decline in 2013, despite revitalization efforts within and outside the city.

But the rate of population decline has slowed significantly.

Other data indicate that economic growth in and around Detroit is strong.

While, ideally, Detroit’s population will increase in the near future, a slowed rate of decline is still good news for the city.

According to June data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Detroit’s population has fallen under 700,000 residents. The survey shows that Detroit’s population was 698,582 in 2012, and fell nearly 10,000 residents to 688,701 by summer 2013.

With a 2010 population of 713,777, Detroit’s population decline has slowed significantly to an average of 7,500 per year since 2010, compared with 24,000 per year in the 2000s, as The Detroit News reported.

Getting people to move into Detroit is critical to revitalize the city’s neighborhoods, beyond the thriving downtown and Midtown areas.

To that end, Mayor Mike Duggan’s initiative to auction off redeemable houses in the city - buffered by a Neighbors Wanted campaign - is a good step in this direction.

Residential building permits increased almost 240 percent from 2009 to 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics.

Rents in the downtown area recently reached $2 per square foot, which opens developers to better financing and indicates strong growth in residential properties will continue.

Although construction jobs in the area took a nosedive from 2004 to 2010, decreasing by almost 40 percent, those jobs have rebounded over the past few years, too.

A new report from the Manhattan Institute analyzes economic data for metropolitan areas throughout the country, ranking the top and bottom 20 regions, based on economic output, personal income and jobs.

Metro Detroit - which includes Detroit, Warren, and Dearborn - made it into the top 20, at number 18.

Despite the fact that some job growth, particularly in manufacturing, slowed over the past year, this is a promising sign that the work being put into the city and surrounding areas is paying off.

Other positive indicators include a low rate of dependence on government jobs.

The area’s dependence on government jobs as part of total earnings went down almost 6 percent from 2009 to 2012.

By comparison, the average for other metropolitan areas was to add almost 5 percent of earnings in government jobs.

Once Detroit is past bankruptcy and city government jobs are more reliable, this percentage might increase.

It’s worth noting that the Monroe and Grand Rapids areas also made the top 20 list.

No Michigan metro areas - and in fact no Midwestern areas - were on the bottom 20 list.

There’s still much work to be done. But a slowed rate of decline is a good sign for Detroit’s future.


The Holland Sentinel. June 22.

Legislature helps, hurts public schools

The Michigan Legislature passed so many bills in so little time before rushing off to its summer recess earlier this month that journalists, and we suspect some legislators as well, could barely keep track of what was going on. After the dust cleared, it became apparent that legislators had pushed through some far-reaching actions - some positive, some negative - affecting public schools in Michigan. Here are a few that caught our attention.

- Narrowing the funding gap. The $13.9 billion school aid package provided K-12 schools a 4 percent increase in funding, but not everyone is getting the same boost. All districts will receive at least a $50 increase in per-pupil funding, but lower-funded districts will get as much as $175 more than last year. That’s good news for the Holland-Zeeland area, where most of the public school districts are at or near the state minimum in per-pupil funding. Eliminating the wide gap in funding between school districts was supposed to be addressed by Proposal A, adopted back in 1994, but two decades later, disparities still persist. The new school aid bill narrows the gap between the top and bottom districts from $973 to $848 per student, a step in the right direction.

- Weakening the Michigan Merit Curriculum. Score one for supporters of weaker graduation standards in Michigan. The rigorous Michigan Merit Curriculum has been under fire ever since it was adopted eight years ago from critics who think our state’s students aren’t capable of handling challenging classes. Bills passed this month would let students substitute career training courses such as welding and agricultural science for academic courses such as algebra 2 and physics. They also cut the foreign language requirement from two classes to one, and allow it to be taken before high school. The purpose of the Michigan Merit Curriculum was to give every student an education that prepares him or her to go to college, if that’s the course they want to pursue, or a job in the modern knowledge-based economy. The latest legislation, if it’s signed into law, would deprive many students of those opportunities. This retreat from educational rigor would be a sad development for Michigan, and if Gov. Rick Snyder is serious about raising educational standards, he should veto this legislation.

- Longer school year. Included in the school aid bill is a provision requiring Michigan public schools to offer at least 180 days of instruction by 2016-17, up from the current 175 days. Lengthening the school year has been a priority of ours for some time, since it’s repeated instruction, not longer class periods, that really help students master important concepts. Michigan dropped its day requirement in 2003-04 in favor of a requirement of a minimum of 1,098 hours of instruction, and many school districts reduced the number of school days from 180 to less than 170 to save money on transportation and utilities. A return to the 180-day school year should improve education and bring Michigan back to the U.S. standard, even though our school year will continue to be much shorter than those in Asian and European countries whose students regularly outperform ours.

- The MEAP survives. Gov. Snyder, state education officials and non-conspiratorially minded legislators overcame objections to Michigan adopting the Common Core school standards. But the critics - including conservatives who view Common Core as a backdoor route to federal control of public schools and liberals who consider it a plot by Bill Gates for a corporate takeover - mounted a successful rearguard effort to block use of the Smarter Balanced test, the national assessment tool designed to measure how well students are meeting the new standards. Before recessing, the Legislature instructed the Department of Education to use the MEAP, which the department has been trying to retire, for another year and tweak it to mesh with Common Core. That’s easier said than done, given the complexity of designing a standardized test for use next spring. So now Michigan has new school standards without any way to measure how students are faring and how they compare with their peers in other states. This makes no sense. Perhaps a majority of legislators prefer not to know how Michigan students stack up, but we’d like to know the truth. This is a provision of the school aid budget where Gov. Snyder should exercise his line-item veto.

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