- Associated Press - Monday, November 2, 2015

The Detroit Free Press. Oct. 27, 2015

If you’re riding a bus up Woodward from Detroit to the suburbs, you shouldn’t have to switch or transfer - but for years in southeast Michigan, during most times of the day, that has been a staple of our dysfunctional transit system.

But that may be about to end - and that change may portend other important improvements in the region’s transit system.

The Regional Transit Authority, created a few years ago and still getting its sea legs as a unifier of interests between the Detroit Department of Transportation and the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation, has negotiated a way to expand bus service in the city - maybe by having more cooperation between the city and suburban systems.

This can’t happen soon enough.



For decades, the two-system approach to transit has ill-served this region, and especially penalized bus riders in the city, where as many as a third of all households lack access to a car.

The biggest problem has been that DDOT and SMART see themselves as rivals, and do indeed compete for the share of federal dollars going to transit in the region.

Detroit has too often wound up on the short end of that competition, as it did a few years ago when the funding formula was changed to send more money to SMART than DDOT, even though DDOT carries far more passengers every day than the suburban bus system.

But the wider context was that SMART is under-funded, too, if the goal is a fully functional system that gets people from where they are to where they need to go, wherever they live. It is still far too difficult, even if you live outside Detroit, to get around here - and that’s about investment, planning and execution.

One of RTA’s missions is to deal with that broader funding issue; the agency is expected to ask voters to address its own funding next year in a ballot question. But one of RTA’s near-term tasks is certainly to help squash some of the chippy rivalrous behavior between DDOT and SMART, and to do better, with both systems participating, at deploying transit resources more reasonably.

The deal struck last week would move the funding split between the city and suburban systems to 50/50 and pour a few million dollars into expanded service along key thoroughfares. Planners from SMART and DDOT are hammering out a plan. There’s a possibility, though not a commitment, that all-day service on certain routes could return in Detroit (it was chopped amid budget cuts).

These are the basics, yes, and far from the dramatic changes and improvements that will be needed to give Detroit and its suburbs what nearly every other major city has. But after four decades of sniping and deterioration of our mass transit infrastructure, any progress is welcome. And it’s a bonus that the RTA was at the center of this change.

Frustration and futility could be giving way, slowly, to functionality and success. It’s hard to understand why it took us so long to get here, but building on this small victory should be everyone’s priority going forward.

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Lansing State Journal, Oct. 29, 2015

Holes in City charter proposal.

At face value, the city charter proposal on the November ballot seems like an easy yes for Lansing voters.

“It is proposed that the Lansing City Charter be amended to add a new section that requires all employment contracts for at-will employees, including Mayoral appointees, City department directors, and all agencies, boards, and commissions of the City, be limited to a maximum one year term.”

But this proposal begs the questions: Why do we want or need to limit the contracts of at-will employees? Isn’t this an example of overlapping government?

According to Lansing City Clerk Chris Swope, the mayor asked for the proposal to help prevent another situation like the expensive settlement with former Board of Water & Light general manager J. Peter Lark. . The BWL Board of Commissioners fired Lark for “just cause” in January and agreed to pay him $650,000 in May to avoid litigation.

While Swope acknowledges the proposal could negatively impact bringing in top talent, he said a provision exists to make exceptions.

The proposal’s third sentence states: “A position may be exempted from one or more of these limitations.”

What is the point of these contract limitations if a position can easily be exempted?

“It shines a brighter light on the exemption,” Swope said. “Being presented to city council for approval definitely makes it more public.”

But how would this make it any different than before? Shouldn’t our city leaders already be paying attention to contract terms and lengths?

In what appears to be a response to poor leadership in the past, the city charter proposal was created to force transparency in a process where transparency should already exist.

For voters looking for the superficial answer, a yes vote will suffice. For those who take the time to ask deeper questions, the decision isn’t as simple. We want to limit the city’s potential liabilities for huge payouts if at-will employees are terminated. We also want to give city officials the tools to hire the best talent available to fill key jobs. There are times that might entail a contract of longer than one year.

The intent of the proposed amendment to the city charter it spot on. There must be more oversight of the contracts the city enters into with at-will employees. But it misses the point in making it the function of the city charter rather than the function of our elected and appointed officials.

Vote ‘no’ on the proposed amendment to the city charter.

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The Petoskey News-Review. Oct. 30, 2015.

Why are lawmakers balking at outright ban?

With looming issues like the state’s inadequately funded road maintenance budget and the future of energy production in Michigan still unsolved, you’d hope that a clear-cut, seemingly obvious solution to one problem would be adopted and lawmakers would move on to the next.

Except, for an unknown reason, the Republican-led legislature is pushing forward a bill that falls short of providing the necessary regulations to outlaw use of small but harmful pieces of plastic used for their abrasiveness in cosmetic and other personal care products.

Experts say these so-called microbeads end up in our waterways, where they are consumed by fish who mistake them for food. At the least, consumption of microbeads trick fish into thinking they are full and do not need to eat. Or worse, they become stuck in their digestive systems.

While environmentalists admit the industry is already curbing use of these hazardous bits, they’re still pushing for legislation nationwide to ban their use. A handful of states have already adopted such a policy, while Michigan is one in a group of others to be considering the proposal.

House Bill 4345, which appears to be the favored choice of GOP members in the legislature, seeks to stop use of microbeads, which are defined in the legislation as “an intentionally added non-biodegradable sold plastic particle less than 5 millimeters in all dimensions.”

The bill seemingly prohibits use of these materials, but environmentalists say there is a loophole that could be exploited. The concern, they say, is that there is no defining language for what non-biodegradable means.

“On the surface, the legislation looks like a ban of microbeads,” said Jennifer McKay, policy specialist for the Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council. “But the devil is in the detail.”

There is no contention from companies that sell personal care products. There is no additional expense or cost associated with switching out microbeads for other materials that serve the same function, either. And, as experts have said, much of the industry is already changing its products to conform with legislation adopted in other states.

We hear from our legislative leaders repeatedly in their campaigns that protecting the Great Lakes and our natural resources will be a priority if they’re elected. In this instance, given the opportunity to prove they are doing just that, it looks like Republican lawmakers are stopping short of enacting a regulation that would ensure these microbeads are no longer in use.

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The Midland Daily News. Oct. 28, 2015

Stemming prescription drug abuse a priority.

Michigan is facing a much needed reality check on prescription drug and painkiller addiction.

Over seven years, Michigan has seen a four-fold increase in the number of prescribed Schedule II pills, including opioids such as oxycodone that have high potential for abuse and are often a precursor to heroin use.

“It’s hard to believe that’s solely related to appropriate medical care,” Gov. Rick Snyder said on Monday. “The growth curve is absolutely incredible and is tragic.”

Michigan’s rate of heroin-related overdose deaths doubled from 2009 to 2014; overall overdose deaths have tripled since 1999.

We’ve seen overdoses in Midland County, and officials are seeing them around the state.

We agree with Snyder that it’s time to address it. He has called for more than two dozen changes aimed at targeting the worsening crisis of prescription drug and painkiller addiction, including $3 million to improve an outdated database that tracks prescriptions.

Other proposals include updated pain clinic regulations, stiffer sanctions for physicians and other health professionals who violate proper dispensing practices, and easier access to Naloxone, a medicine that counters the effects of heroin and morphine overdoses.

The 25 primary recommendations would require legislative approval and include prevention, treatment and enforcement measures.

We urge legislators to carefully consider changes to stem abuse while protecting those who need medications for pain management.

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