The Detroit News. Feb. 5, 2016
Congress right to press EPA on Flint.
Congress served precisely the role it should have in the U.S. House Oversight hearing Wednesday on the Flint water crisis. Members of Congress rightly pressed hard on the role the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should have played, but didn't, in protecting Flint residents.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, chairman of the Oversight Committee, handled the various interests of committee members appropriately, while insisting on answers from the staffer the EPA sent to speak for the agency.
But more questions remain, both for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ), Flint's then-Emergency Manager Darnell Earley, the Snyder administration, EPA's former Region 5 head Susan Hedman and even EPA administrator Gina McCarthy.
The EPA sent Joel Beauvais, deputy assistant administrator for its Office of Water, to testify before Congress on what has been the agency's abysmal handling of the most significant public environmental health crisis in the U.S. in recent memory.
New to the job, he had little first-hand knowledge to draw on. When he was asked about an email from an EPA employee advising MDEQ officials on how to deny having seen the memo from EPA water expert Miguel Del Toral, Beauvais' response was insufficient.
"I do not know why that email was sent," Beauvais said. "We are looking into that." As they should.
Emails previously made available show Del Toral was silenced by Hedman. It's that question — why a federal agency didn't act on information that water in a major U.S. city was contaminated — Congress must get to the bottom of.
One of Congress' roles is to ensure federal agencies are performing correctly. The EPA is one of the largest federal agencies, and it's completely appropriate the hearing spent a majority of its time investigating its shoddy performance in Flint.
The MDEQ put up Keith Creagh, the man now in charge of the embattled state agency, but he also wasn't responsible for the missteps that took place over a year ago under someone else's watch.
Marc Edwards, the Virginia Tech researcher who studied Flint's water on his own, was indispensable to the hearing. His truthfulness and nonpartisan approach to the systemic, multi-level government failure has been refreshing in a situation that quickly became politically polarized.
"Had it not been for people completely outside the system, those people in Flint would still be drinking this water to this day. That is a fact," said Edwards, placing blame largely on the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.
As helpful as it was to hear from witnesses before the committee, the elephant in the room was those who weren't there.
To that end, Chaffetz said his committee wants Hedman to give a deposition under oath to committee lawyers about her agency's response to Flint. And he authorized U.S. marshals to find Earley and bring him before Congress. It's also possible Snyder will be called before the committee. The governor should not wait for a subpoena. It is in his interest to project transparency.
The Port Huron Times Herald. Feb. 5, 2016
Jail and Bail unlocks funds for healthy babies.
For 75 years, the March of Dimes has fought for the health of babies and young children. The fight continues, because although much progress has been made, many threats remain to the health and lives of babies, including new ones such as the Zika virus and old ones such as racial and social disparities in preterm births, infant mortality and other measures.
For 60 of those 75 years, the Port Huron branch of the March of Dimes has been staging its Jail and Bail fundraiser. This year's Jail and Bail is Saturday at the Masonic Center, 927 6th St., Port Huron.
Port Huron volunteers invented the Jail and Bail concept. Now, March of Dimes volunteers in dozens of cities across the country use it to raise money to fight premature birth and other threats to our babies. Now other advocacy groups, raising money for everything from cancer research to local youth sports leagues, have adapted Port Huron March of Dimes' time-proven formula.
Volunteers and prisoners raised $112,517 last February during the 59th annual Jail and Bail fundraiser. The event raised $155,537 in 2014. It deserves our continued support.
Unlike some other causes, March of Dimes has had a formidable record of success in its 75 years. It actually was born with a different name, and was the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. That name had to change when the foundation's efforts to eradicate the horrible childhood disease played an essential role in wiping out polio.
Since then, it has led efforts to get mothers immunized against rubella, pioneered advances in prenatal and neonatal care, taught mothers the importance of folic acid to prevent certain birth defects and every few years has to lobby Congress to continue providing health care for low-income mothers and their infants.
The March of Dimes' current mission is the elimination of preterm births, something that affects the lifelong health and success of about one in nine babies born in Michigan. As bad as that sounds, the March of Dimes has helped lower that rate by about 2 percent over the past decade. Babies who survive an early birth often face serious health problems and intellectual delays.
The Lansing State Journal. Feb. 5, 2016
Make your voice be heard now.
No more excuses. Your vote does make a difference. Not voting because you don't like the choices is not an option.
There may not be the perfect candidate for you, but someone will be elected in each race on the ballot. And that "someone" will represent you for the next two, four or six years depending on the office.
There are sizable issues that need to be tackled at every level - from immigration and health care reform at the national level, to ensuring equal rights for all Michigan citizens on the state level, to figuring out how to fund hundreds of millions for pension and health care liabilities on the local level.
The outcomes of these issues will affect you. Your tax dollars will pay for them. Your voice should be heard.
The Flint water crisis is a prime example of why civic engagement matters. Our elected officials - and those they appoint and hire to serve the public - failed at critical junctures. Rightly, there are calls for accountability. Residents of Michigan should be among those held accountable.
Historically, voter turnout in Greater Lansing has been dismal. In the 2006 gubernatorial election, only 38,000 Lansing residents - 46 percent of registered voters - showed up to vote. The 2010 election only saw 28,000 voters bother to cast a vote. And just last year, in the 2015 "off-year" election, less than 15,000 Lansing residents - out of 114,000-plus - turned out.
In the Nov. 2012 presidential election, only 4.7 million registered Michigan voters turned out. This means more than 2.5 million people chose to not be heard in one of the most important roles we play as citizens.
Michigan's presidential primary is March 8. It's your next opportunity to use your vote as your voice. The final day to register to vote in that election is Feb. 8. (www.Michigan.gov/vote)
In May, Lansing School District voters will decide the fate of a $120 million millage proposal - calling for extensive renovations to buildings across the district - that likely will define the future of education in the city.
In the August primary and general election, Michigan voters will elect state representatives and senators as well as county sheriffs, commissioners and more.
Voting is a huge responsibility - and privilege. Why should 42 percent of the people of Michigan decide the direction of our state?
So whatever excuse you have for not voting, it's not good enough. Register now. Educate yourself.
The Petoskey News-Review. Feb. 3, 2016
Having choices adds healthy touch to local elections.
Their tone may not always be to everyone's liking, but election-year conversations play important functions in our system of governance.
The months leading up to an election are a time for candidates to weigh in on how they'll respond to current issues, and on why they'd be best at filling a given office's duties. It's a time for voters to consider if an incumbent's record makes him or her deserving of another term, or whether a challenger would indeed deliver the promised fresh approach.
With many of the local and county-level offices around Emmet and Charlevoix counties going uncontested in recent years on the ballot, though, these exchanges often don't turn out to be very lively. With deadlines on the horizon to secure spots on this year's ballots, we'll reiterate the value of choices when it comes to representative democracy.
Some might argue that uncontested elections are a sign that all is well, that incumbents without challengers on the ballot hint at contentment among their constituents. To be sure, we've encountered some officeholders who've served effectively for one term after another, whose popularity or accomplishments perhaps make them seem formidable to would-be challengers.
At the same time, we think it's a healthy situation when two or more candidates square off for a position and give voters a choice of perspectives to consider. It's a process that can help keep incumbents on their toes, with dialogue that can perhaps alert them to emerging concerns among their constituents.
Around Northern Michigan, the pay for elected local officeholders is often modest, and in some cases non-existent. But for a successful candidate, helping a community move in a positive direction can perhaps be fulfilling in itself. Do you see a unit of government that needs to rethink spending priorities? Would you like to promote transparency and openness? Is there some public service that you think could be improved, or a need you see to bring about a new one? Do you have fresh ideas to share for economic development?
We offer encouragement to those who'd be interested in pursuing such opportunities, and have the time and skills to contribute. If this is the year when prospective officeholders see fit to make their move, there are dates for them to keep in mind.
Around the region, all township board and county commissioner seats, along with most county-level elected positions will be up for voters' consideration this year. Those who plan to pursue these with a party affiliation will need to file by April 19 to secure their spots on the primary ballot, with petition signatures or a waiver fee required when filing. Candidates running for such seats with no party label face a filing deadline of July 19. People pursuing school or community college board positions, or village-level elected offices, have a deadline of July 26 to secure spots on the November ballot.
County clerk's offices can be a source of information about candidate requirements, with Emmet County's reachable at (231) 348-1744 and Charlevoix County's at (231) 547-7200. The elections portion of the Michigan Secretary of State's website, http://www.michigan.gov/elections, also can be a reference on such topics.