Detroit News. September 5, 2023.
Editorial: Lansing fails to deliver transparency
It’s been several months since Gov. Gretchen Whitmer held a formal press conference in which she took unfiltered questions from the media. That is setting the tone for an administration that came into office promising transparency and accountability and five years later has delivered neither one.
Press conferences give the public an unscripted lens into government. They are part of the good working of governance.
Yet just last week, following her “What’s next” address, the governor took zero questions from reporters to further expand on the progressive platform she presented — unusually timed after the budget has passed and the legislative session is winding down.
She is happy, however, to sit down with publications that will bolster her national image, including the Atlantic, Vanity Fair and Bloomberg News.
It’s not a new approach for Whitmer.
She hid from the press for extensive periods during the COVID pandemic in 2020, going for as long as five months at a time without in-person briefings. Instead, her administration would only allow reporters to participate virtually and would select individuals to ask her questions after they had been posted in the video application.
When then-director of the Michigan Department of Human Health and Services Robert Gordon abruptly resigned in 2021, Whitmer — again, virtually — refused to answer numerous questions about the nature of his departure.
And she has failed to be transparent on data and decisions related to nursing home deaths during the pandemic.
But there are other transparency issues in Lansing as well, including that Whitmer and the Democratic-led Legislature has done nothing to implement Proposal 1.
That amendment to the state constitution, passed by a broad margin of voters on a ballot measure last fall, requires the Legislature, the governor, secretary of state and attorney general to file annual financial disclosure reports beginning in April 2024.
But in her recent stump speech containing a litany of progressive goals, there was no mention of transparency or government ethics and financial disclosure reform.
Whitmer and lawmakers aren’t holding up their end of the bargain, which is to disclose some information about their personal finances. Voters supported these reforms for good reason.
A News investigation, for example, recently found that Rep. Angela Witwer, D-Delta Township, has maintained a close relationship with the consulting firm she founded while in office, giving one client access to policymakers and representing multiple conflicts of interest.
There’s also the curious case of a coding malfunction in Whitmer administration emails that a recent lawsuit alleges is an attempt to evade Freedom of Information Act disclosures regarding unsafe drinking water in Benton Harbor.
While those inside and outside the administration involved insist the incident was not intended to make the warnings about residents’ water untraceable. But it turns out it wasn’t included in an extensive FOIA search file.
Lawmakers must fulfill their obligation to implement the transparency voters have demanded despite Whitmer’s failure to lead by example.
Traverse City Record-Eagle. September 8, 2023.
Editorial: Workforce health depends on child care
We hear a constant grumble about workforce hiring. It often comes with a resigned blanket commentary, “No one wants to work anymore,” or, as part of a package complete with “how different it was” back in the olden, golden days.
But oversimplifications often miss the point, and undercut real solution-finding.
So it is with Michigan’s child care crisis.
We already know that child care models operate on razor-thin margins. Operators can only charge what families can afford to pay. Full-time workers are looking at paying for 40 hours/week of care. Babysitting wage is currently $15/hour for a teenager. At this rate, families would pay more than $23,000 a year per child, about the same as a year of state university tuition, room and board.
Child care centers cost less, while requiring degreed professionals and state certifications. Yet, in Michigan, child care worker wages average about $13.25/hour and there were 9,000 vacancies posted in 2022, according to a recent Bridge Michigan story.
These vacancies impact every other workforce, as these centers, group homes and licensed family homes operate on ratios that set out how many children can be supervised by one adult.
A recent LARA survey found that nearly seven in 10 child care operations are accepting fewer children, nearly half increased wait lists and 39 percent cut operating hours because of staffing.
Fewer workers mean fewer families served, and increase chances that someone may drop out of the workforce.
Traverse City’s Angel Care Preschool and Child Care has 22 slots for infants and toddlers, and 150 families on a waiting list. The center stabilized its 16-person workforce with $18-22/hour wages, but families, many already struggling with inflation, pay for the increases, Executive Director Alicia Swanson told Bridge. Five-day, full-time tuition runs about $16,000/year.
“I honestly don’t know how families do it,” Swanson said.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics pegged Michigan’s jobless rate at 3.6 percent in July. That’s not a population that “doesn’t want to work.” We also know Baby Boomer retirements accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic, and, that people having fewer children, longevity and the cost of long-term care will take an impending toll on our overall economy.
The child care problem has no simple solution — what’s clear is that it’s a good place to start looking.
Iron Mountain Daily News. September 6, 2023.
Editorial: A reminder that it’s ‘OK2SAY’ when hearing about threats
As schools embark on a new academic year, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, State Superintendent Dr. Michael F. Rice and Michigan State Police Director Col. Joe Gasper are teaming up to remind parents and students alike that Michigan’s student safety program OK2SAY is a valuable resource to help keep students safe.
“OK2SAY gives students the ability to report concerns directly, confidentially and with the understanding that caring adults will be involved and provide help,” Nessel said in a news release. “OK2SAY gives students a voice to break the code of silence by equipping authorities with the information needed to respond to threats and avert tragedy.”
OK2SAY, which is housed within the MSP Office of School Safety allows students to confidentially report tips on potential harm or criminal activities directed at students, school employees, or schools in this state.
“The Michigan State Police continues to be proud of the positive impact this program is having in improving safety within our schools and in supporting students,” Gasper said. “OK2SAY is a much-needed safety net that allows students and staff to reach out confidentially to get help and prevent tragedies.”
OK2SAY has received nearly 40,342 tips since the program was launched in 2014. Tips are categorized into 30 types, the top five of which are: suicide threats, bullying, drugs, “other” (e.g., anxiety, stress, depression, and harassment) and threats.
Additionally, Nessel, Rice and Gasper remind Michigan principals to fill out or update the online OK2SAY School Contact Form per Public Act 670 of 2018. This emergency after-hours contact information will allow OK2SAY technicians to efficiently communicate with school personnel about potential harm or criminal activities directed at school students, school employees and schools.
“OK2SAY gives students and young people a resource and an outlet to help protect themselves and others in danger,” Rice said. “Our young people are subject to so many pressures today, which can feel and be overwhelming at times, and we want them to know that there is a lifeline for them to get help.”
OK2SAY is available statewide for public and nonpublic schools in Michigan. To help create awareness about this important student safety program, schools are encouraged to use the resources provided by the state.
Nessel has visited school districts across Michigan to review and discuss how they are using the Competitive School Safety Grants which the MSP began awarding to public and nonpublic schools, as well as school districts and intermediate school districts in 2015.
Additionally, Nessel released a video in 2022 explaining the potential charges one could face if they make a threat of violence against a school, which include:
— Communicating a threat of terrorism, 20-year felony;
— calling in a bomb threat, a four-year felony;
— malicious use of a telecommunications device, a six-month misdemeanor; and
— threatening violence against school employee or student, a one-year misdemeanor.
Anyone who receives a threat or know of a threat of violence against the community should contact local law enforcement or call 911. Non-emergency tips can be submitted in these ways:
— Call: 8-555-OK2SAY, (855-565-2729)
— Text: 652729 (OK2SAY)
— Email: OK2SAY
— Go online to: OK2SAY website
— OK2SAY Mobile App: Available for download for Apple, Google and Android mobile devices.