HFD Embarrassments

About all things in and around the Detroit area

Re: HFD Embarrassments

Postby Mad Max » Thu Mar 03, 2016 9:57 pm

Intersections: Unexpected discoveries in a new home

Yesterday, after walking almost a mile on snow-covered streets, I ate a tandoori pizza, courtesy of the Bengali-American community and the fusion of their rich cuisine with that of American favorites.

A few days before that, I had a paczki, pronounced "ponchki," on Fat Tuesday, a Polish delicacy that people in Detroit and probably the greater Midwest love so much, that Uber even offers to make deliveries on demand of the doughy pastry that comes with a variety of fillings.

Recently, I ran into a neighbor who was walking his dogs, and it turned out he was Serbian. He asked what my ethnic background was, and when I told him I was Armenian, a smile beamed across his face.

"So you're Orthodox like me!" he said. I smiled back, and somehow in the span of 10 minutes, we had somehow managed to cover the entire history of the Yugoslav wars, along with the situation in Crimea, musings on Vladimir Putin and Nostradamus.

After our conversation, I made my way to the Arabic supermarket to stock up on garlic sauce and olives. Today, I discovered a bar where some of the most legendary black musicians have performed over the years and put it on my "To-Do List" of all things Detroit.

I now live in the most diverse Zip Code in the state of Michigan, in a delightful mix of cultures and backgrounds that on paper might not seem to work, but get along just fine in the surrounding 2 or 3 miles they encompass, thank you very much.

It is cold, and the gear needed for surviving winter is a new challenge for me, a native Californian who prior to last week had no proper, practical use for thermals. But despite the weather, I am truly embracing the neighborhood I now call home.

There is so much to discover in Detroit, once considered the fastest-growing city in the United States. There is so much that the world does not know about Detroit, so much that does not fit into the neat narratives and sound bites you've probably heard on the news, so much that goes beyond numbers and "worst of" lists.

But the thing is, you have to be here to see and embrace it all. My optimism for this place doesn't ignore the reality it's going through. The devastation of this city is real, it confronts you before you have a chance to confront it.

Drive down any street and the crumbling, decaying structures tell a silent story that constantly reminds you of the reality of being here — the crime, the segregation, the education system in need of a complete do-over, the city services in need of major improvement.

However, in the short time I've been here, I have met and spoken to more strangers in one day than I have an entire year in Los Angeles. I've had the opportunity to learn and see the history of one of the most important and significant cities in this country. I've gotten a chance to hear from Detroit natives and their insights into both the descent and ascent of their city, which is not without its controversy.

I've eaten Michigan apples, the best in my life, and started to set my sights beyond the city, hoping to write some stories about life in rural America, too. I have started researching the immense Armenian-American contribution to this city (for starters, look up the Manoogian Mansion — official residence of the mayor of Detroit) that often remains hidden, sometimes to people who have been here all their lives.

The Motor City and its surroundings have gone through a lot, but if you want to get a sense of what makes this place great, all you have to do is talk to the people. Just a few minutes alone with my Serbian neighbor, who made sure he let me know that I should not be eating pork after 50 before saying goodbye, will convince you that there's much to treasure about Detroit, after all.

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Re: HFD Embarrassments

Postby The Suburban Avenger » Mon May 02, 2016 12:52 am

Federal investigators have subpoenaed Detroit's Auditor General's office requesting records related to the use of federal funds in the city's massive demolition program, the Free Press has learned.

Detroit auditor general Mark Lockridge, whose office has been investigating Mayor Mike Duggan’s demolition program since October, said the subpoena delivered to his office on Thursday is from the investigative division of the Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or SIGTARP.

“They’re not just doing an audit of course,” Lockridge said today. “Some type of investigation.”

Detroit’s blight demolition program under Duggan largely has been paid for with federal dollars from the Hardest Hit Fund, a TARP program. Detroit so far has been allocated $172 million from the federal Hardest Hit Fund and has torn down more than 8,000 blighted homes since 2014.

Duggan’s blight elimination program has been under fire for rising demolition costs since last fall. The average cost to tear down a blighted home went from $8,500 to $10,000 under former Mayor Dave Bing to an average at one point of $16,400 under Duggan.

• Free Press report: Insider's e-mails shed light on Detroit demolitions

Lockridge said he was on a conference call with SIGTARP officials a couple months ago and believes the agency is interested in the rising costs under Duggan’s program and bidding practices in the early stages of the program.

“They are looking at why costs went up,” Lockridge said.

Detroit’s demolition program is carried out by the Detroit Land Bank Authority and the Detroit Building Authority — both public agencies over which Duggan has influence. Federal money for the program is funneled to the city by the Michigan Housing Development Agency.

Duggan spokesman John Roach said in a statement: "The Land Bank has not received any subpoenas but welcomes all investigations into its operations. We are confident it will continue to cooperate with all reviewing agencies as it has from the beginning."

On Friday, a spokesman for SIGTARP said the agency, as a general practice, does not comment on questions about subpoenas.

As a law enforcement agency, SIGTARP has the power to seize, search and arrest. SIGTARP was established in 2008 to audit and investigate spending of the economic stimulus money.

Lockridge, who was appointed by the City Council in 2012 to a 10-year term, said his office has until May 20 to fulfill the request. He said he can’t remember ever receiving a subpoena before.

Lockridge said he did not know why SIGTARP subpoenaed the records as opposed to just asking for them. He speculated that the subpoena may have been prompted by his office’s recent report that found a conflict of interest for David Manardo, a Duggan appointee who has served in at least two roles with the city. The report found that Manardo’s two job responsibilities created a situation in which he essentially reports to himself.

The city's top lawyer, Melvin (Butch) Hollowell, rejected the auditors' findings after the report was released because, he said, it is impossible for the city to be in conflict with itself.

This is not the least bit surprising.
The lion's share of Hardest Hit Fund money initially went to the Step Forward Michigan program, which offered up to $10,000 (I think ... it's been a while since I worked at Oakland County) to homeowners who had gotten behind on their mortgages and/or property taxes post-2008. It helped a lot of people (the average award was about $7,500 IIRC, and it mostly was to keep people in their houses in Pontiac or Hazel Park) and included several clubs, most notably a five-year promise to remain current on new payments to fully satisfy the terms of the agreement.
The fund in Michigan (several other states had similar programs, all drawing from TARP funds) was very popular and dried up quickly, but in late 2014, the MHDA began steering more money to demolition. Other states did the same. It's not a stretch to think companies like Homrich wondered why this free money was going to poor people and not them.

And, sweet Jesus, why the fuck does Butch Hollowell still have a job?
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Re: HFD Embarrassments

Postby The Suburban Avenger » Thu May 19, 2016 10:20 am

My Facebook feed had plenty of the Freep story about the city's population decline ebbing. I was a lot more concerned by this one:

Michigan, already sliding toward the bottom nationally for fourth-grade reading performance on a rigorous national exam, is projected to fall to 48th place by 2030 if the state does nothing to improve education.

That finding is included in a report out today from Education Trust-Midwest, a nonpartisan education research and policy organization based in Royal Oak. The organization analyzed more than a decade's worth of results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress — or NAEP, a tough exam given to a representative sample of students in each state.

In 2003, Michigan ranked 28th in fourth-grade reading. In 2015, the state was ranked 41st.

"We're certainly not on track to become a top 10 state any time soon," said Amber Arellano, executive director of the organization. "It's totally unacceptable for the economy, for business and especially for kids themselves."

The natural (and wrong) inclination will be to blame teachers and administrators, of course, but Jesus ... how the fuck does this happen? You can't blame it all on DPS, either.
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Re: HFD Embarrassments

Postby The Beav » Sat May 21, 2016 4:00 pm

The Suburban Avenger wrote:The natural (and wrong) inclination will be to blame teachers and administrators, of course, but Jesus ... how the fuck does this happen? You can't blame it all on DPS, either.

Look at what has happened to education in the state since 2003:

1. In 2003 there were 188 charter schools in Michigan. This year there were 232. Funding 44 more schools cuts the amount of funding for each school also in existence. Since then the laws on funding education have changed so that in real money schools are getting considerably less each year to fund their programs. Charter schools do not fully accept all special ed students, especially cognitively impaired and mentally handicapped children. Those kids, who must be taken by law by public schools, cost some where between 2 and 5 times the ordinary child to educate.

2. Loss in funding means layoffs and closures of classrooms which means higher classroom sizes, which has been shown to effect elementary school students more than high schools students.

3. Loss in funding means lower pay scales and no pay steps. Experienced teachers who have less that 10 years are leaving the profession in droves in Michigan. Turnover is high, and when veteran teachers retire, it leaves an extremely high number of inexperienced teachers. Combine that with charter schools hiring Teach For America goons and other recent grads who sign up for loan forgiveness by teaching in poverty stricken areas for a 2-year contract, and you get douchebags who don't invest their profession or their students since they will be getting a better job after 24 months.

4. Organizations like GLEP and The Mackinaw Center demonize teachers and their unions. It flows into what parents tell kids about teachers. There is an an extreme lack of respect throughout the state for teachers. Kids know they won't have real consequences at home because the parent don't respect the teachers or what they are forced to teach (WHY ARE YOU TEACHING MY KID COMMON CORE MATH?!!!-- Well, the folks you elected are forcing us to teach your kids that, but go ahead and blame the teachers, and let your kids know that teachers are teaching you the wrong stuff, too) More people leave the profession.

5. State mandated testing takes up about 6-8 weeks of actual teaching time. Almost a full marking period of missed instruction. We can't teach reading to kids only 3/4 of the year.

6. State mandated tests require us to test all kids. Special Ed and Non-English speakers as well. Last year my school had almost 60% ELL kids. Can you guess what our reading scores were on the M-STEP?

I could go on, but I have to get ready for my Saturday night shift job I have had to have for 19 years to pay bills on my cushy teacher's salary.
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Re: HFD Embarrassments

Postby Craig » Sat May 21, 2016 5:07 pm

One of my high schoolers watched Jaws as a part of his public school course in oceanography. Not sure where, if at all it fits into Beav's 14 points but I read the kid's experience to mean that the teacher either was a dolt or just didn't care.

Crap reading level among fourth graders says more about parents' lack of involvement with their kids than it does about schools and the teaching profession.
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