- Associated Press - Monday, April 23, 2018

The Detroit News. April 18, 2018

Let experts handle campus assault

With so much attention focused on the failures of Michigan State University to stop the serial abuse of young women by sports doctor Larry Nassar, it’s a good time to highlight the shortcomings of campus sexual assault investigations.

The university’s office for handling Title IX assault and harassment complaints clearly failed the women who sought help at MSU. This happens on college campuses around the country that take government funding and must abide by the federal law banning sex discrimination.

Over the years, that law has been stretched by the courts in a way that forces university administrators to serve as police and judge in these investigations.

And justice is often not served for either the accuser or accused. It’s a flawed system in need of an overhaul.

So it’s good that Gov. Rick Snyder and first lady Sue Snyder are seeking a better alternative for Michigan’s universities.

This week they announced they are putting together a group of experts who are charged with providing “a framework of best practices for preventing assault and a model to pilot regional centers to investigate reports of sexual misconduct.”

“To help keep our college students safe and ensure reports of sexual assault are being handled swiftly and appropriately on all campuses, we are going to pilot independent, regional centers to review and investigate reports of assault,” Snyder said in a statement about the workgroup, which will include representatives from universities and law enforcement.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has similarly suggested the concept of regional centers that could focus on investigating campus assault cases. DeVos is in the process of retooling guidelines for how campuses should handle such reports, and she laid out a few ideas last September, but the department’s Office for Civil Rights is still crafting its framework which will go before the public for comment before it’s finalized.

Under President Obama, the Education Department placed much more pressure on university administrators to wrap up investigations swiftly, as well as greatly lower the burden of proof to punish an accused student, stripping due process from the campus courts.

Regional investigation centers staffed by experts in sexual assault seem like a much better approach for ensuring justice is served in these cases.

“Having a new, uniform approach to investigating campus sexual assault is an important step toward ensuring justice for all survivors,” Sue Snyder stated.

This group continues the work the first lady has undertaken the past few years to combat and prevent campus sexual assault. She will be holding her fourth annual summit on the issue in September at Western Michigan University.

The current system isn’t working, and taking criminal investigations out of administrators’ hands is the right approach.


Times Herald (Port Huron). April 19, 2018

We’re sure Vertin’s show will go on

People from all over the Midwest are going to flock to Marine City and St. Clair for a summer-long theater season to rival the Shaw and Stratford festivals in Stratford and Niagara-on-the-Lake in Ontario? But the New York Times lists the Shaw and Stratford theater festivals as among the most important on the continent. Marine City and St. Clair are going to rub shoulders with those giants?

We understand any initial skepticism.

Except the Riverbank Stage Festival and Performing Arts Academy is Kathy Vertin’s project. And pulling this off would not be her first miracle. She and her husband opened the Snug and Riverbank theaters in Marine City and consistently fill every seat for live theater. She and her husband built and now have opened the Inn on Water Street, turning an empty car dealership into a destination hotel.

They are all part of the Marine City miracle that fills the downtown streets, thriving restaurants and vibrant stores every night. Marine City has the secret formula, and the Vertins one of the important ingredients.

With more great things happening in St. Clair, from the Riverview Plaza’s makeover to the resurrection of the St. Clair Inn and now the Vertin’s repurposing of the old St. Clair Middle School, the question will become who wouldn’t want to come to the Riverbank Stage Festival?

Vertin says she needs $5 million to pull it off. That sounds like a lot, but she got a $1 million pledge this week from the Franklin H. Moore Jr. and Nancy S. Moore Donor-Advised Fund through the Community Foundation of St. Clair County. A donor-advised fund is one in which the contributors get to specify how the money is used. Clearly, donors to the Moore Fund have confidence both in St. Clair and in Vertin.

The challenge grant comes with strings attached. The Riverbank Stage Festival and Performing Arts Academy gets the money only if Vertin can raise another $2 million toward the renovation of the former middle school. Another $2 million would be needed to launch the festival

“We wouldn’t have proposed it if we didn’t think it was doable,” Vertin said. “What we’re trying to do is use the arts and culture as a catalyst (for) an economic impact on the region.” It has worked for Marine City; it could work for the region.

The other part of the Vertin miracle is that they’ve accomplished much of their work without lining up for government handouts. They did get property tax breaks from the city for the hotel project as well as state brownfield loans and grants and an economic development grant. For the theater project, Vertin is looking for more private sector grants and donations.

We can’t wait for the curtains to rise.


Traverse City Record-Eagle. April 18, 2018

Paving takes one step forward, two steps back

City commissioners’ decision to spend nearly $900,000 to repair Traverse City’s aging sidewalk network is a step in the right direction.

But their reluctance to pay for a short-term smoothing of Eighth Street is a big jump in the wrong direction.

The board approved a move Monday night to shift cash between city accounts and kickoff about $4.5 million in investment in the city’s grid of pedestrian infrastructure.

The elected board voted 5-1 in favor of the down payment step toward the infrastructure investment plan they approved in December - at that time commissioners voted to task city staffers with preparing to issue bonds to cover the tab.

Since then, commissioners have been divided on how to pay for the sidewalk work, but all seem to support the overall effort.

It was refreshing movement toward addressing some of the city’s crumbling infrastructure, a throbbing contrast when situated on a meeting agenda adjacent to talk of resurfacing Eighth Street.

The Eighth Street debate followed on the heels of the sidewalk talks, but quickly plowed into much rougher waters.

Commissioners on April 2 deadlocked on a proposal to spend $1.2 million on reconstructing and repaving roads near Eighth Street and an alley that runs parallel to the arterial.

They also tripped over talks of spending about $230,000 to resurface Eighth Street with a “skim coat” of asphalt.

City Engineer Tim Lodge told commissioners the quarter-million-dollar BandAid for the crumbling thoroughfare wouldn’t be a good investment.

Some commissioners seemed to disagree, as would just about any of their constituents who have recently rolled through the roadway’s most traveled stretch between Boardman and Woodmere avenues.

Drivers spend more time dodging the abundant Moon crater-sized potholes and crumbling concrete debris than they do paying attention to other motorists.

Contrary to Lodge’s assertion, investing in smoothing Eighth Street carries with it a number of significant benefits - probably the most immediate and important result would be tamping down growing discontent over the street’s persistent state of disrepair.

It’s important for city officials to remember a few key points when it comes to Eighth Street, including the fact that local taxpayers and drivers have endured years of rough rides along that stretch as promises of reconstruction have inched further into the future each year.

Officials estimated the phased project to rebuild the entire corridor wouldn’t result in a new road surface until at least 2020, a timeline contingent on Michigan Department of Transportation grants.

The prospect of commuters enduring at least two more years of rough rides along what by modern standards barely passes as a paved street simply is unacceptable.

The estimated $230,000 price tag seems like a small price to pay for some goodwill from motorists who already have endured years of bone-jarring bumps.


Petoskey News-Review. April 19, 2018

Earth Day highlights environmental concerns and kudos

While it goes without saying that a healthy environment is important for every living thing on our planet, it’s an issue that is of extra-special importance to many of us here in Northern Michigan.

That’s because not only is the environment important for basic needs, such as clean water and air, (and so many more), but it’s also a big part of our way of life here. Being close to nature and outdoor recreation is a big reason many people choose to live here and a major driver for our tourism industries.

So, as Earth Day approaches on Sunday, we thought it would be a good time to take a brief look at a few things that give us both concern and hope for the health of our environment.

No discussion about local environmental concerns would be complete without mentioning Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline. The 645-mile, 30-inch-diameter pipeline carries petroleum products through Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas, originating in Superior, Wisconsin, and terminating in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada. As it travels under the Straits of Mackinac, Line 5 splits into two 20-inch-diameter, parallel pipelines that are buried onshore and taper off deep underwater, crossing the Straits west of the Mackinac Bridge for a distance of 4.5 miles.

As is well-known by many, there has been growing concern among some legislators, environmental groups and everyday citizens, about the safety of this more than 60-year-old pipeline. A leak from this pipeline would be extremely difficult to contain and could be devastating to large sections of the Great Lakes ecosystem. While many hearings, meetings and discussions have happened in recent years, we continue to implore our leaders that something more has to happen to address this risk sooner than later. As recent as the last few weeks concerns have heightened as a mineral-based oil coolant leaked from underwater electric transmission lines near the Straits, apparently caused by a ship’s anchor. Shortly thereafter, dents were discovered on Line 5, suspected to have been caused by the same ship’s anchor.

Another state-level area of concern for us is a proposed Michigan legislation package that would shift some of the Department of Environmental Quality’s rulemaking authority to state-appointed panels. Among the concerns this raises is potential for business interests - perhaps with financial objectives at odds with an active environmental protection program - to gain disproportionate clout in steering how rules are set and applied. This looks to us to have the potential for a “fox guarding the henhouse” scenario.

Although many facets of our environment have shown improvement since the first Earth Day in 1970, there are still many areas of concern.

On multiple occasions in recent years, we’ve reported on efforts of state and federal officials to clean up environmental hazards from years gone by. These include everything from the yearslong and multimillion dollar effort to stop caustic and heavy metal-laden leachate from the Bay Harbor development from seeping into Little Traverse Bay, to smaller cleanups of ground contamination from sites where industrial solvents were dumped or underground fuel storage tanks leaked.

We’re happy to see these cleanup efforts taking place, but we also know there are far more sites that need cleanup than can be addressed by the funds that are available. We encourage our government leaders to keep these cleanup efforts a priority.

Speaking of contaminants making their way into our water bodies, we are encouraged by increasing efforts by area groups to heighten awareness and offer options for mitigating non-point source pollution from making its way into area waterways.

These types of pollution include fertilizers and other contaminants that are washed into storm drains. Two examples of efforts to help with this concern are the Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council’s rain garden program, and a recent cooperative program in which the Boyne City City Commission agreed to allow the Lake Charlevoix Association to use the city’s Sunset Park as a location for area landscapers to display different options for environmentally sound lakeshore landscaping.

We continue to be encouraged by the efforts made by recycling programs in both Emmet and Charlevoix counties. Both programs made wide-ranging efforts through the years to develop convenient and comprehensive recycling opportunities.

Another bright spot is the efforts of the Little Traverse Conservancy which has helped to preserve hundreds of Northern Michigan properties in a natural state and regularly provides outdoor education opportunities for children and adults. The organization also will mark Earth Day with a (rescheduled) tree-planting event from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. on Saturday, May 5, at its Consuelo Diane and Charles L. Wilson Jr. Working Forest Reserve, located along Middle and Hughston roads north of Harbor Springs. The public is invited to participate.

These are just a few examples of environmental concerns and efforts to address them that are on our minds as this year’s Earth Day approaches.

Although in some of these instances you might feel like there is little you can do to make a difference, there are little things we can all do to help the environment every day. Recycling as much as possible, composting and taking environmental impacts into consideration with the products we purchase and use are just a few simple ways we can all make a difference.


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