Editorial Roundup: Michigan

Detroit News. Aug. 28, 2021.

Editorial: Get politics (and politicians) out of MSU athletic director search

Meddling in the athletic departments of Michigan’s colleges is fine sport for state politicians. That’s particularly true at Michigan State University.

MSU is searching for a new athletic director to replace Bill Beekman, who is leaving the post he’s held since 2018.

It is a highly desirable position that carries a lot of weight on campus. And so everyone wants a say in the selection process.

The new director will report to MSU President Samuel Stanley, who should be able to appoint someone with whom he feels comfortable working.

But the MSU board — and others — want to do the president’s job for him.

The board has always been more interested in the football and basketball programs than any other function of the university, and has too often allowed its boosterism to interfere with its oversight responsibilities.

Shades of that have emerged in this search. Some on the board reportedly proposed that head basketball coach Tom Izzo be named interim athletic director while the hunt for a permanent athletic director continues.

History recommends against such a dual role. In 1988, MSU gave then-football coach George Perles the job along with his coaching duties to keep him from going to the NFL after winning the Rose Bowl. The move was a failure that ultimately cost MSU a good president in John DiBiaggio.

Izzo already has a big job, and one whose performance would likely suffer if he had to split his time and energy between winning basketball games and running the athletic department.

Stanley, who is interviewing candidates himself, insists there’s no need for an interim director, since Beekman will stay until his replacement is hired.

He’s getting plenty of unsolicited outside help. This week, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, who is running perhaps the most dysfunctional wing of state government, offered her thoughts on how Stanley should conduct the search.

In a letter to Stanley and MSU Board Chair Diane Byrum, Benson opined a “national, open and transparent search brings the chance to recruit and hire one of several of the nation’s leading female athletic directors.”

Citing her role as the chair of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Task Force on Women in Sports, Benson also included this not-so-veiled warning: ”... having personally visited and met with college athletes at several of our state’s public universities, we have seen and will be soon communicating to the Governor the direct distinction between athletic departments that support and invest in women athletes — such as Alma College — and those that do not.”

So Benson wants a woman in the post, while the board and key donors reportedly favor an unnamed African American male already working in the athletic department, setting up a diversity duel.

What should drive Stanley’s decision is getting the most capable person for what is becoming a vital role at major universities such as MSU. Football and basketball have become big businesses, generating considerable revenue for the schools, meaning a successful AD must have solid business skills.

The position also requires a hands-on manager willing to stand up to coaches who too often have been unaccountable. MSU learned during the Larry Nassar sexual assault scandal the damage that can come when athletic departments are too loosely managed.

The challenge will become even greater as college sports enter the name, image and likeness era, which will allow individual athletes to profit off their popularity and performance.

MSU needs an athletic director able to navigate the potential land mine of athletes striving for social media fame. The choice must also be prepared to continue the reform of a department with a history of abuses that have endangered student athletes.

Beekman was appointed by interim MSU President John Engler, and, as a member of the MSU inner circle during the Nassar debacle, was not well suited to fixing the operation.

Stanley is moving him out of that position and looking for a replacement who can handle the complex duties that come with the athletic director’s job.

This is what the board hired Stanley to do. His search should proceed without undue interference from a hero-worshipping board or politicians who haven’t done such a swell job in staffing their own operations.

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Traverse City Record-Eagle. Aug. 27, 2021.

Editorial: Seniors deserve a slice of waterfront

A view of the bay is worth something.

Maybe not half workers’ pay — but it definitely has value. The county’s seniors recognize the value of that bay view and want to hold onto it — that’s why a grassroots fundraising effort to replace the old Traverse City Senior Center building at 801 E. Front St. began nearly two decades ago.

The building needs a major update. But the waterfront site is worth preserving for the enjoyment of current and future seniors.

It’s time for the county and the city to stop pointing fingers at who’s to blame for the disintegration of the effort to pass a millage to fund a new building last year. It’s time to start focusing on how to bring a new senior center to fruition.

The Grand Traverse County Senior Center Network, which runs senior center activities funded by a county-wide millage, and the city, which owns the property in Traverse City, have cooperated for decades to provide county residents with services and recreational opportunities. It’s sad to see the rift between two governments inflict wounds on our seniors.

County officials have floated the idea of building a new Traverse City Senior Center on LaFranier Road, south of town. Some seniors want the center to remain where it is, on the waterfront in the city. They’re not happy with the idea of a senior center farther from downtown, far from the beach.

A Grand Traverse County ad hoc committee currently is gathering information it will use to decide where its senior services programs will be based. That may or may not be at the current waterfront site.

Everyone acknowledges there are problems — parking, for example — to overcome at the current property. But many seniors correctly contend a bigger parking lot is a flimsy tradeoff for a beachfront location.

We suspect most county residents would agree. That’s why waterfront homes cost so much: Everyone wants to be on the water. Most Grand Traverse County seniors can’t afford a beach house. The city and county should work together to allow seniors, regardless of their socio-economic status, to enjoy a water view — for perhaps an hour a week — as part of their retirement plan.

The county network provides programming for seniors at locations in Interlochen, Kingsley and Fife Lake. But the Traverse City center is the program’s centerpiece because so many seniors live nearby — and because it offers that view of the bay.

The senior center is home to social programs, learning programs, wellness services, exercise classes, dancing, card games and more. While partaking of those services, seniors can gaze out of the blue waters of the bay.

County voters repeatedly have approved millage to support the center and its programming. They recognize that seniors’ lifetimes of toil has earned them the right to relax — and to enjoy the view.

Seniors deserve a little piece of the shore to call their own, a little enclave where they can go if they don’t want to compete with the summer hubbub of younger folks. Some seniors revel in the atmosphere of a typical summer beach, but some don’t. In winter, the bayside facility offers seniors a glimpse of the bay while they’re attending a watercolor class, taking line dancing lessons or playing shuffleboard.

It doesn’t really matter why plans for a new building at the current site — plans that had been discussed for more than two decades — fell into disarray. What matters is putting the plan back together so the county’s seniors can get on with the business of viewing the bay.

City and county officials should work together to do what’s right for the county’s seniors, who deserve a slice of waterfront to call their own.

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Detroit Free Press. Aug. 28, 2021.

Editorial: What Detroit council members targeted by FBI need to do now

The spectacle of FBI agents raiding the homes of Detroit City Council members Janee Ayers and Scott Benson in what the bureau describes as “an ongoing public corruption investigation” has shaken whatever confidence Detroiters have placed in their city’s elected leaders.

Without explaining how it suspects the two lawmakers may have violated the law or what evidence it expects to find in the property its agents seized, the FBI has delivered a crippling body blow to both lawmakers’ career prospects. No employer would renew an employee’s contract without satisfying the concerns raised by such an aggressive law enforcement initiative, and Detroit voters should exercise the same caution.

In the long run, the FBI will have to demonstrate that the corruption it suspects is so serious that its decision to raid the incumbents’ homes just two months before the November general election was justified. Unless it can marshal persuasive evidence implicating Ayers and Benson in significant crimes, the bureau will invite suspicion about its own motives.

But it’s unlikely that the feds will charge or clear either council member before Detroit’s Nov. 2 election. So fairly or not, it’s incumbent on Ayers and Benson to explain why they believe they have been targeted, and why Detroit voters should not hesitate before granting each another four-year term.

An election turned upside down

Until last Wednesday, Ayers and Benson each seemed on a glide path to re-election in November.

Other council members selected Ayers in 2015 from a field of 135 Detroiters seeking appointment to the seat vacated by former Councilwoman Saunteel Jenkins. Ayers won a special election the following year and was re-elected to her first four-year term in 2017. She was the leading vote-getter in this month’s five-way primary contest for two at-large seats.

Benson, who represents Detroit’s northeastern-most council district, faces no opposition in his November bid for re-election to a third term.

The Free Press Editorial Board endorsed Benson in both of his previous city council campaigns. We endorsed Ayers in 2016 and 2017 and again in this month’s primary.

The FBI’s ongoing probe appears to be a continuation of an investigation that has already resulted in the indictment of District 4 Councilman Andrew Spivey. Spivey, who is not seeking re-election, was arraigned Aug. 3 on a single felony count of conspiring to commit bribery. Federal prosecutors allege that Spivey and an unnamed staffer referred to in court documents as “Public Official A” accepted more than $35,000 in bribery payments from 2016 to 2020.

Neither the FBI nor the U.S. Attorney’s office is saying who offered the bribes or for what purpose. But Mayor Mike Duggan, who says he has not been briefed on the federal investigation, believes it focuses on the city’s contracts with towing companies.

“No comment” is not an option

To be clear: Neither Ayers nor Benson has been charged with any crime or ethical impropriety. Both council members should enjoy the presumption of innocence. And private citizens in similarly awkward circumstances might be well advised to say nothing publicly until prosecutors either produce compelling evidence against them or absolve them of criminal wrongdoing.

But sitting council members enjoy no such luxury. To earn the electorate’s continued confidence — and ours — Ayers and Benson will have to answer questions raised by the raids on their homes and offices:

— What have Ayers and Benson (or their lawyers) been told about the federal investigation, which now appears focused on their own conduct?

— What was seized in the searches conducted by FBI agents, and what reassurance can Ayers and Benson offer voters that what investigators found will exonerate them of illegal or unethical behavior?

— What information have they provided to investigators, and what assurances have they received in return?

Voters’ interests come first

To repeat: Private citizens have no legal obligation to prove their innocence, or even to respond to allegations, however baseless. And speaking publicly about an investigation that might result in criminal charges, even unfounded ones, might contravene the advice any cautious lawyer would offer Ayers and Benson

But holding public office entails an obligation to resolve any conflicts between the office-holder’s interest and the public’s in favor of the latter. Ayers and Benson surely have the right to remain silent, but in exercising that right they risk forfeiting a wary electorate’s trust. However unfairly, the ball is in the incumbent candidates’ court.

Qualified candidates who were reluctant to challenge either Ayers or Benson previously are already reconsidering their prospects in light of this week’s developments. There is no provision for expanding the number of names that appear on the Nov. 2 ballot. But candidates have until mid-October to declare their interest in conducting an 11th-hour write-in campaign — and even Benson could be vulnerable to such a challenge if he fails to address the elephant in the room forthrightly.

If Ayers and Benson contend they have done nothing wrong, they should say so loudly, and produce any credible witnesses and evidence that could support their claims.

But they can’t remain silent and expect to retain voters’ confidence.

END