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2003'S TOP NEWS STORIES: Diversity's on, but power's off

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  • James
    December 31, 2003 There were thousands of stories in the Motor City in 2003. Here are a dozen that represent some of the most significant events and issues in
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 1, 2004
      December 31, 2003

      There were thousands of stories in the Motor City in 2003. Here are a
      dozen that represent some of the most significant events and issues in
      the area this year. Some had national and even international impact.

      High court splits in U-M policy case

      2003'S TOP NEWS STORIES: A war and more

      Bad news, good news

      Seven heroes

      Come back to Page 1B in the Free Press on Friday for a preview of
      people and issues to watch in the coming year.

      For previous installments in this series, go to www.freep.com/specials
      to read about the unforgettable lives of Michigan people who died in
      2003, and the unusual news of the year.

      In a case that sparked a nationwide debate, the U.S. Supreme Court
      struck down in June the University of Michigan's 150-point admissions
      system. The court found that the system, because it awarded 20 points
      to blacks, Hispanics, American Indians and other minorities, didn't
      give applicants enough individual consideration.

      At the same time, the court upheld U-M's law school admissions policy,
      reaffirming its past ruling that permitted race as a factor to promote

      UPDATE: U-M replaced its application with a longer version requiring
      multiple essays and more recommendations and socioeconomic data from
      applicants. Enclosing information on an applicant's race is optional.

      U-M is working out the kinks in the new system, which cost about $1.8
      million to implement. The school has hired 30 new staffers to ensure
      that each file is read at least twice.

      Affirmative action continues to be a hot issue in Michigan. California
      businessman and University of California regent Ward Connerly has
      announced a campaign to put an anti-affirmative action initiative on
      Michigan's November 2004 ballot. A Free Press poll suggests that as
      many as two-thirds of Michigan residents favor a constitutional
      amendment that would essentially negate the high court's ruling by
      barring preferential treatment of women and minorities.
      Trial in Detroit is first related to 9/11

      U.S. District Court in Detroit was the site of the nation's first
      terrorism court case related to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. After
      the nine-week trial, Abdel-Ilah Elmardoudi, 37, of Minneapolis and
      Karim Koubriti, 25, of Detroit were convicted of conspiring to provide
      material support to terrorists and document fraud. Ahmed Hannan, 35,
      of Detroit was convicted of document fraud. Farouk Ali-Haimoud, 22, of
      Detroit was acquitted of all charges.

      Prosecutors said the men planned to recruit, train and equip
      terrorists to attack targets in the United States and overseas. The
      men also were accused of planning to acquire weapons to ship overseas.

      UPDATE: Despite the verdicts, the case seems far from over. In
      October, lawyers for the three convicted men asked Judge Gerald Rosen
      to toss out the jury's verdict or grant the defendants a new trial
      because of alleged prosecutorial misconduct and judicial errors. In
      December, the judge rebuked federal prosecutors for withholding
      documents in the terrorism case. But he delayed a decision on ordering
      a new trial.

      Rosen ordered the U.S. Attorney's Office and the FBI to look for
      material prosecutors should have turned over. The convicted men remain
      in jail, awaiting sentencing.
      Millions plunged into darkness
      Starting around 4:14 p.m. on Aug. 14, power surges knocked out
      electricity to 50 million people from Michigan to New York and Ontario
      to Ohio. In Michigan, more than 2.3 million residents were left in the
      dark for up to three days. And businesses such as grocery stores and
      automotive suppliers lost millions of dollars because of the lack of

      The outage forced Detroit Edison, the electricity subsidiary of DTE
      Energy, to spend $16 million on costs associated with the blackout,
      such as equipment repairs and overtime. That does not include $14
      million the company lost because it could not provide power.

      UPDATE: In October, a federal investigation blamed FirstEnergy Corp.,
      an Ohio utility, for starting the blackout. That left open the
      possibility that DTE Energy could sue to recover the millions of
      dollars it lost. But the company said it was too soon to tell what it
      would do. Detroit Edison is planning to seek a rate increase in
      Michigan to recover some of the cost.

      Mayor seeks control; charter plan fizzles
      In November, Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick made a bold announcement: He
      wanted to take charge of the troubled Detroit Public Schools. Almost
      immediately, his plan got bogged down in Lansing as critics at home
      and skeptics in the state House hammered it.

      In October, philanthropist Bob Thompson withdrew his offer to spend
      $200 million to build 15 charter high schools in Detroit, blaming the
      fractious debate over legislation to allow his project. Thompson's
      decision snuffed out a smoldering effort between Democratic Gov.
      Jennifer Granholm and Republican lawmakers to reach a compromise on
      how to allow Thompson's schools and regulate all charter schools in
      Michigan. Some Detroiters opposed the gift; Kilpatrick wavered on
      Thompson's proposal.

      UPDATE: By Christmas, Kilpatrick's legislative allies were trying to
      broker a deal that would let Detroit voters choose between a modified
      version of the mayor's plan and a traditional school board.
      Ironically, Republicans who led the state takeover of Detroit schools
      in 1999 were more enthusiastic about turning the schools over to
      Kilpatrick than Democratic colleagues. Charters could be back on the
      table in 2004.
      Cop's firing turns rumors into news

      For months, rumors had circulated throughout Detroit that Mayor Kwame
      Kilpatrick had hosted a wild party at his official Manoogian Mansion
      residence. But no news media outlet reported the gossip. Just as the
      rumors appeared to have run their course, though, the mayor fired a
      deputy police chief. Turns out that ranking cop was investigating
      reports of the wild party, plus allegations of wrongdoing by the
      mayor's security team.

      The firing, as well as Free Press stories about rampant overtime run
      up by Kilpatrick's bodyguards, prompted state Attorney General Mike
      Cox to investigate. Kilpatrick proclaimed his innocence and blamed the
      citywide buzz on the "demonic influence" of a ratings-hungry media.
      Cox found fault with the firing of the deputy chief and the
      bodyguards' conduct, but no criminal wrongdoing and no evidence of a
      party, wild or otherwise. State Police continue to investigate.

      UPDATE: The deputy chief, Gary Brown, filed a lawsuit against
      Kilpatrick, former Police Chief Jerry Oliver and the city for $14
      million. Lawyers are taking depositions from participants. Political
      consultant Bob Berg testified in a deposition that he and Kilpatrick's
      top aides decided to leak a confidential Police Department memo to the
      news media, thinking the memo would help deflect allegations by Brown
      against the mayor. This came at the same time Kilpatrick was
      denouncing the media's feeding frenzy.
      Articles spur action to lower lead threat

      In January, the Free Press published a 5-day series on lead poisoning,
      the single biggest health problem facing U.S. children. The Free Press
      found that Michigan's lead-poisoned children often don't get help from
      government cleanup programs; a Detroit lead smelter spewed toxic dust
      into the air for decades, but the neighborhood around it was never
      cleaned up; widespread lead contamination in soil is often ignored,
      and few Michigan children are tested for lead.

      UPDATE: As a result of the Free Press series and follow-up stories,
      the federal Environmental Protection Agency has begun cleaning up the
      neighborhood surrounding the former smelter. The Detroit City Council
      has created a pilot program to help renters remove lead hazards from
      their homes. And Gov. Jennifer Granholm has released a plan for
      curbing lead poisoning.

      Part of that plan included getting legislators to approve five bills.
      Look for the full Senate to consider all five bills early in 2004.
      Similar bills also are being studied by a House committee.
      Cash-poor hospitals put on life support

      Two of Detroit's hospitals, including the tri-county area's only
      top-leveltrauma center, teetered on the brink of closing in 2003.
      That's just one symptom of the fiscal cancer that is eating away at
      the city's health care network.

      Detroit has lagged behind other cities in applying for grants to run
      clinics for poor people. Doctors in private practice have abandoned
      the city in droves. Reimbursements from insurers, particularly the
      state- and federally funded Medicaid program for poor people and those
      with disabilities, have declined even as demand for care has

      A panel appointed by Gov. Jennifer Granholm studied the situation and
      recommended a $50-million tax-funded bailout of the two vulnerable
      hospitals. The committee also called for the creation of a public
      health authority that would oversee safety-net health care for the
      county's poor and uninsured population.

      The formal creation of the Detroit Wayne County Health Authority was
      announced in December.

      UPDATE: Officials are working out details on how the authority will

      The City Council and Wayne County Commission still need to sign off on
      the intergovernmental agreement before the authority can start
      functioning. A board will be appointed and a search for a chief
      executive launched shortly thereafter.

      Wayne County Prosecutor Mike Duggan was appointed the new chief
      executive officer of the financially imperiled Detroit Medical Center.
      He takes the reins at a time when the future of the city's largest
      health system is in question. The two hospitals being supported by the
      public bailout -- Detroit Receiving and Hutzel Women's hospitals --
      may or may not remain part of the privately operated DMC. Other DMC
      hospitals may be closed or sold.
      Governor asks the public where to cut

      Newly elected Gov. Jennifer Granholm took the state's fiscal mess
      directly to the public with two budget tours aimed at garnering
      support for erasing almost $3 billion in red ink. A Democrat and the
      state's first female governor, Granholm drew praise for striking a
      deal with Republicans in the summer, and then again this month.

      UPDATE: The final pieces of a deal to erase a $920-million deficit
      fell into place before Christmas, including a 6-month delay of an
      income tax cut. Republicans said they put their imprint of lower taxes
      and smaller government on the budget. Granholm said it protects
      funding for schools and health care for children, the elderly and
      Wrongly freed man suspected in killings
      Each year, there are some 100,000 serious crimes in metro Detroit.
      This was one of the worst of 2003:

      Daniel Franklin, a convicted drug dealer from Pontiac, was paroled
      June 17 as a result of a clerical error in the state Department of
      Corrections. He was angry with Machekia Robinson, who had divorced him
      while he was in prison, several witnesses testified in August at his
      preliminary examination. Franklin was upset that Robinson had his
      belongings in her townhouse, that the name of a boyfriend was tattooed
      on her stomach, and that she didn't want to see him anymore.

      Police say Franklin, 33, raped Robinson, then slashed to death
      Robinson and two of her children, Rockell Johnson, 10, and Taria
      Johnson, 8. A third child, Robinson's and Franklin's 3-year-old
      daughter, was found unharmed in the top of a bunk bed in the Pontiac
      home the morning of June 22. In the bottom bunk, one of the child's
      sisters lay for at least seven hours before the bodies were
      discovered, according to testimony.

      UPDATE: Franklin was ordered to stand trial on murder charges, and
      will have his day in court early in 2004. The case was the catalyst
      for a review of 470 paroles issued to prison inmates under a new state
      law that allows more flexibility in paroling first-time drug
      offenders. Similar clerical errors had let out 13 other parolees too
      early, said state Corrections Department officials. They said the
      problem has been corrected.
      District spending gets scrutinized

      The Oakland County intermediate school district was under fire most of
      2003 amid allegations that some district employees used taxpayer money
      to pay for lavish trips and that the district used special education
      money to finance its new $30-million headquarters in Waterford.

      In January, Superintendent James Redmond was fired amid allegations he
      arranged secret buyouts for some employees and that he steered
      district contracts to companies with which he had ties. In August,
      after reports in the Free Press detailed travel expenses, two school
      board members resigned. In November, the school board demoted the
      acting superintendent, Dan Austin, saying the agency needed a set of
      "fresh eyes" at the helm.

      Throughout the year, some public officials have sought the
      resignations of the three remaining board members who served during
      Redmond's reign. Gov. Jennifer Granholm was among those asking that
      the group step down.

      UPDATE: On Dec. 18, the state Legislature approved a bill to give the
      Michigan Attorney General's Office $660,000 to expand its
      investigation of the Oakland Schools and several other intermediate
      school districts. But the governor vetoed the bill on Dec. 24. The
      district, meanwhile, is conducting a national search for a new
      Brothers guilty in 18-year-old murders

      For 18 years, investigators were unable to figure out what happened to
      best friends Brian Ognjan of St. Clair Shores and David Tyll of Troy,
      who disappeared while hunting in northern Michigan. Finally, police
      located a witness to the killings. She said she had been afraid to
      come forward because of the threats and reputation for ruthlessness of
      the two suspects, Raymond (J.R.) Duvall, 52, and Donald (Coco) Duvall,

      The Duvalls were charged with bludgeoning to death Ognjan and Tyll in
      a dark field near Mio in November 1985, after a dispute of unspecified
      origin. The Duvalls were each convicted Oct. 30 of two counts of
      first-degree murder.

      UPDATE: Declaring their innocence to the end, Raymond and Donald
      Duvall were sent to prison in November for the rest of their lives.
      After the sentencing, police vowed to continue tracking leads to try
      to find the bodies of the victims, their truck or their belongings --
      none of which were ever recovered. They also would not rule out
      charges against others. Three men are thought to have watched the
      beating, and others may have helped dispose of evidence. Some people
      say they heard the Duvalls brag about feeding the bodies to pigs.
      Leaders led out of two big cities

      Detroit Police Jerry Oliver was an aggressive, by-the-book
      administrator. So his resignation became inevitable after he had
      become the focus of a criminal investigation by Wayne County

      The probe stemmed from an Oct. 18 incident in which federal
      authorities found a loaded .25-caliber handgun in Oliver's checked
      baggage at Detroit Metro Airport. Oliver, 56, was charged Nov. 3 in
      Wayne County with a misdemeanor count of possession of an unlicensed
      handgun because the gun hadn't been registered in Michigan as required
      by state law. He pleaded no contest to the charge, which will be wiped
      from his record if he keeps his nose clean for 90 days. He resigned
      Oct. 31. The Sterling Heights City Council fired City Manager Steve
      Duchane Oct. 21 for a history of lying about his college education.
      Duchane was city manager for 17 years, stabilizing a seat that had
      been held by three people in the two years before he was promoted.

      UPDATE: In November, it was revealed that more than two years before
      the gun incident in Detroit, Oliver had had a similar run-in involving
      a handgun at Richmond International Airport in Virginia when he was
      chief there. The new Detroit police chief, Ella Bully-Cummings, is one
      of the first women in the nation to head a big-city department.

      Meanwhile,Duchane walked away with a $117,000 severance check and
      health insurance for life. "I'm probably the only person in this room
      that everyone knows everything about . . . and it will probably be
      that way with every room I walk into forthe rest of my life," Duchane
      saidafter being canned. Sterling Heights, the fourth most populous
      city in Michigan, is searching for a new city manager.

      Staff writers Jeff Bennett, Emilia Askari, Kim Norris, Chris
      Christoff, Hugh McDiarmid Jr., Teresa Mask and M.L. Elrick contributed
      to this report.
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