- Associated Press - Monday, October 2, 2017

The Detroit News. September 27, 2017

Can diverse views survive on campus?

Conservative firebrand Ben Shapiro gave a speech this month at the University of California, Berkeley. And while that’s a victory for any right-leaning speaker these days, it cost $600,000 on security measures to make it happen and keep Shapiro safe.

So much for “free” speech.

Berkeley may be on the far end of the intolerance spectrum, but it is far from alone. Dozens of speakers get disinvited - or shouted down - every year by students and university administrators uncomfortable with the message they bring to campus.

Free expression is hotly debated these days, and many are up in arms over the ridiculous (and uncalled for) spat between President Trump and a growing number of NFL players refusing to stand for the national anthem - which they have every right to do thanks to the First Amendment. The Rev. Jesse Jackson was in Detroit Monday to defend these players.

Anyone who cares about free speech should be extremely alarmed by a new study from Brookings that highlights why so many college students have become known as snowflakes.

John Villasenor, a nonresident senior fellow in governance studies at Brookings, wrote the report. As he notes, “colleges and universities are places where intellectual debate should flourish.”

That doesn’t seem to be happening because many students don’t have a solid understanding of the First Amendment and what kind of speech it protects. And students will take those views with them into adulthood. The ramifications are huge.

“If a significant percentage of students believe that views they find offensive should be silenced, those views will in fact be silenced,” Villasenor writes. “Freedom of expression is deeply imperiled on U.S. campuses.”

The First Amendment protects a wide swath of speech - the good, bad and the ugly. Unprotected speech is a narrow band, and includes speech inciting imminent lawless action and true threats.

Yet that’s not what many college students believe. In a survey of 1,500 U.S. college students, this is what Villasenor found:

-Fewer than half the students polled (across the political spectrum) think hate speech is protected by law.

-Sixty-two percent of Democrats and 39 percent of Republicans agree that it is acceptable to shout down a speaker they don’t like; roughly 20 percent of students from both parties think violence is acceptable to silence speech.

-More than 60 percent of all students believe the First Amendment requires a college organization to offer a countering viewpoint when a speaker comes to campus.

-Sixty-one percent of Democrats want a campus environment that shelters them from offensive or biased viewpoints; 53 percent of GOP students would rather have a robust campus that exposes them to a variety of views.

These numbers demonstrate a significant misunderstanding of one of the most fundamental pieces of our Constitution. Clearly, universities must do better to foster free speech on campus. But K-12 schools and higher ed institutions should also ensure students have a foundation in these principles.

Michigan’s Hillsdale College requires all students take a course on the Constitution, regardless of their major.

More should do the same.

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Lansing State Journal. September 28, 2017

Vote! It’s not that hard

Fewer than 15% of registered voters showed up to the Lansing primary election Aug. 8 - to help choose the people who decide some of the most contentious issues in the city.

And now it’s time to make final selections for four Lansing City Council seats and Mayor of Lansing. Don’t sit at home Nov. 7 and let others decide.

Here are three simple steps to show how easy it can be:

Step 1: Register

You must be a U.S. citizen. This requires a driver’s license or state identification card to prove citizenship and confirm your address. This piece must be done thirty days in advance, by Oct. 10 for the 2017 general election.

You can register in person at any Secretary of State, city clerk or county clerk’s office; you can also mail in registration or make name and address changes online. More information is available at lansingmi.gov/187/Register-to-Vote.

Step 2: Get informed

The Lansing State Journal believes in an informed citizenry, and has published questionnaires for each of the candidates for Lansing City Council and mayor. In October, the editorial board will post endorsements based on meetings with each candidate.

Others - such as neighborhood associations unions, and business groups - have done the same.

Don’t want to trust someone else? The public has the opportunity to meet and speak with Lansing candidates this October at three events which are free and open to the community as a whole.

Partnering with the Lansing School District allows us to bring the forums to places with which you’re familiar: Oct. 2 at Everett High School for Ward 2, Oct. 3 at Sexton High School for Ward 4 and Oct. 10 at Eastern High School for at-large and mayoral candidates. All three forums begin at 6 p.m.

Step 3: Show up

After confirming you are registered and getting informed on candidates and issues, you simply have to vote.

Download an absentee ballot application at lansingmi.gov/1466/Information-for-Voters or in person at the city clerk’s office.

Or, to vote in person on Nov. 7, find your polling place at lansingmi.gov/188/Polling-Locations and show up anytime between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. with your driver’s license or identification card.

Need a ride? There are several groups offering rides to seniors, disabled persons and more - the Capital Area Transportation Authority offers free rides on election day. If you need a ride, check online or call the city clerk’s office at 517-483-4133 for options.

Following the highly contentious national election of 2016, interest in local politics is at an all-time high in many parts of the country - and Lansing should be no different.

At the local level, it is vital to have a strong City Council and mayor working to help the city progress. And it’s equally vital to know who you’re voting for.

Issues such as the regulation of medical marijuana, being a welcoming city for immigrants and new developments coming to town have recently been decided by the people elected to these positions.

And the time to weigh in is now.

It’s not that hard to vote. In the long run, there’s greater difficulty caused by those who sit idly by and let others make decisions that affect the city and its residents for years. Register, get informed and vote Nov. 7.

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Times Herald (Port Huron). September 28, 2017

Lansing has another chance to protect bike riders

First, there is no question that what Brandon Nickson did is reprehensible. The former Casco Township resident confessed to beating his girlfriend’s dog to death in April. Despite the evidence, his lawyer argued at his sentencing Monday that Nickson didn’t torture the animal and that his only failing was as a pet owner.

Nickson pleaded guilty in a deal to avoid felony charges. He was sentenced to a year in jail.

To animal advocates complaining that it doesn’t seem like much punishment, consider that if he had killed a bicycle rider instead he would probably be out of jail already. He might have been sentenced to six months in jail, and with credit for time served, he would be back on the streets about now.

State lawmakers are looking at laws that would make Michigan safer for bicycle riders. Motivated in part by the tragic deaths last year in Kalamazoo of five cyclists, lawmakers have again introduced safe-passing legislation. The bills would require drivers to give bicycle riders at least five feet of space when passing them.

Thirty states have safe passing distance laws to protect bicyclists and other vulnerable roadway users. Most set the standard at 3 feet. Pennsylvania requires 4 feet. South Dakota requires 6 feet at speeds greater than 35 mph and 3 feet at lower speeds.

Roadway safety experts argue the standard keeps bicycle riders, pedestrians and motorists safer by keeping them out of each others’ way. Legal authorities argue that it makes it easier to police bad behavior by drivers and bicycle riders. That’s because when there is a clear line delineating who should be where, it is easier to tell who is doing something they shouldn’t.

It works in other states. There is no reason to believe that asking Michigan drivers to pass only when it is safe to do so would create gridlock on Court Street.

This isn’t the first time the Michigan Legislature has considered a safe passing distance bill. Previous versions have died in committee. Perhaps the Kalamazoo massacre will motivate passage of the current bill.

It would be a start toward making our streets safer for all users. Companion bills raising penalties for causing an accident while texting or phoning would help as well.

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Petoskey News-Review. September 29, 2017

County’s financial review the right move

Accountability is a key tenet in all areas as a foundation for good government, but it’s especially true when it comes to finances.

As citizens, we entrust our government officials with many important responsibilities - not the least of which is good stewardship of our tax dollars.

With this in mind, we are at the same time pleased and concerned about a recent forensic review process that the Emmet County Board of Commissioners asked an accounting firm to do on the county’s books and financial management processes.

While the $35,000 the commission spent on the process is a notable amount of money, we feel it was well worth it, especially given the issues that the reviewers turned up and highlighted in a report discussed last week.

As reported in recent News-Review stories, the report from the Rehmann Robson accounting firm, showed a number of inconsistencies and missing internal controls.

The firm reviewed three aspects of financial controls and polices: purchasing and accounts payable, cash receipts, and capital asset monitoring. For each aspect, they considered the processes currently in place at the county to be unsatisfactory.

“To have good internal controls, its important to have the policy written down and documented, communicated and it needs to be enforced,” Stephen Blann, the firm’s owner and director of governmental audit quality, said during a presentation at the board’s meeting Thursday.

Blann also discussed strong internal controls and how they can help deter potential risks of fraud. Blann identified three factors that result in acts of fraud: incentives or pressure for an individual, rationalization or attitude, and opportunity.

Another aspect of the report reviews the contacts with AECOM Technical Services, an architecture firm that worked for Emmet County from 2009-2016.

In 2012, a master agreement was signed for the firm to conduct “miscellaneous professional services,” for the county from Oct. 15, 2011, until 2016.

While the county has a standing policy of seeking bids for projects and purchases costing more than $5,000, the report stated that this particular contract seemed contradictory to the policy.

The firm examined 273 invoices spanning 38 distinct projects from 2011 through 2016, which totaled $2.3 million. The total amounts approximately equal the limits noted by AECOM on invoices.

“However, these limits were increased during the course of 18 of those projects (by more than $1 million) without any documented approval process, so this comparison is not especially meaningful,” the report states.

Because there wasn’t a consistent process to secure bids for the work, the report also states that it’s difficult to determine whether the increases were reasonable in relation to market prices for the service.

The report also identified 32 separate change orders during the Headlands International Dark Sky Park observatory project that related to “identified design errors that had to be corrected after the project began,” the report states.

The report recommends that the county update and amend its purchasing policies and procedures to provide for appropriate bidding for larger projects. An alternative suggestion was to issue a request for proposals and hire a firm as a retainer for engineering services for a designated time frame, such as three years, and forego competitive bidding for each individual project. But that approach should also build in appropriate safeguards “to ensure the county is still getting the best value for its investment.”

We are happy to see the county board taking steps to review these internal financial control practices and we are hopeful that it will take heed of the recommendations offered by the firm to address the issues it cited as concerning. Further, we encourage the board to consider the potential benefit of extending similar reviews to other county operations.

The potential dividends both in actual money saved and in bolstering public trust could be significant.

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