Census phone line closes tonight

Seventy-seven percent of Michigan residents have mailed in their Census forms – that’s the fifth-highest response rate in the nation.

Those who didn’t respond by mail should have gotten a knock on the door from a Census enumerator.

The Census Bureau has offered a third option, too, for counting yourself – a toll-free phone line.  That line closes, though, at 9 o’clock tonight.

Ken Darga is the state demographer.  

“There was certainly a lot of relief that the process went as smoothly as it did, and that the Census Bureau seems to have succeeded in getting its operations complete, on time, and a little bit under budget.”

The phone line helped get a more complete count, says Darga, getting responses from more people.

“People who failed to turn back a form, or didn’t get a form, and haven’t been visited by an enumerator, can call that number and provide their Census information.”

According to Darga, some enumerators will be in the field through August, wrapping up the nationwide count.  They’re checking on addresses that were reported as vacant or inhabitable.

According to Darga, work at the Census Bureau will soon shift to processing the data.

“By the end of the year, December 31, the Census Bureau will be releasing the apportionment counts – the total population for each state – to be used for apportioning Congress.  And then in April, the first of the more detailed information will come out.”

Darga says 130,000 people across the country have so far been counted by calling 1-866-872-6868.  

This is the first time the Census has used a phone line in this way.

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Search continues for survivors in Lake Michigan plane crash

The Federal Aviation Administration is continuing its search for survivors in a plan crash that occurred this morning in Lake Michigan.

The plane was a medical transport leaving Alma on its way to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

The FAA says five adults were on board the aircraft when it went down. The pilot, Jerry Freed, was rescued shortly after noon and is being treated at memorial medical center in Ludington. 

Elizabeth Isham Cory is with the FAA.  She says the investigation on the crash could take six months to a year before completed.

“The pilot reported a loss of power to air traffic control approximately 10 min before the aircraft went down.  The FAA will investigate this event the National Transportation Safety board will lead the investigation” says Cory.

The FAA says Freed reported a loss of power to air traffic control ten minutes before the plane crashed.

Alma school superintendent Don Pavlik and his wife were on board the aircraft, along with Dr. James Hall of Alma, and co-pilot Earl Davidson.

The FAA says the investigation will be lead by the National Transportation Safety Board.

Traverse City Marine killed in Afghanistan

A Marine from Traverse City died in Afghanistan on Monday, according to the Department of Defense.

Officials say Corporal Paul J. Miller died in Helmand Province. Published reports say he was on foot patrol when an IED exploded.

Pat Lamb is the principal of the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District’s Career Technical Center, where Corporal Miller was a student.  

Lamb says Corporal Miller was an exemplary student.

“He was just a delight to have in class – a great young man that came to school every day, had a strong work ethic, and did well in his program.  He just had a good heart.  Not a kid that ever made bad choices.  He just came to school every day, and did what you asked – just a nice young man.”

Corporal Miller studied drafting at the technical center, and was a 2006 graduate from Benzie Central High School.  

Corporal Miller is survived by his wife.

Voters can now track absentee ballots online

About 20 percent of Michigan voters use absentee ballots, yet few know if their ballot is actually received by their local clerk. But a new online system is promising to change that. 
The new system allows voters to track their ballots by entering a name or drivers license number, and some other basic information, on the state’s elections website.
Ken Silfven is a spokesman for the Secretary of State. He said the tracking system adds an additional level of service for voters.
“There is not a problem when it comes to absentee voting, it’s just that this is a logical step in the evolution of our online services for voters,” said Silfven.
“An absentee voter can track the progress of his or her ballot and see when the ballot was sent from the local clerks office, and when it arrives,” he said.
The new absentee ballot tracking service is free and available to all Michigan residents.
You can find it at Michigan.gov/vote.

Facebook group raises questions about consumer protection

BY LAURA WEBER
Michigan Public Radio Network
LANSING — A Facebook page started by a Western Michigan University student has sparked a debate about freedom of speech and consumer protection laws in the state.
Justin Kurtz says a towing business is using a lawsuit to harass him because he used Facebook to complain about his treatment by the company. Kurtz says T&J Towing removed his car from his apartment parking lot and told him he had to pay before he could see his car. Kurtz says none of his valuables were stolen, but his apartment parking pass was missing and his car alarm had been reset. He says no one took his complaint seriously.
“I filed the police report, I tried to get somewhere with the towing company, I tried to get somewhere with the department office, so I started a Facebook group called ‘Kalamazoo Residents Against T&J Towing,” said Kurtz.
Kurtz is being sued by the company for three-quarters of a million dollars. A bill on the House floor would require courts to throw out such lawsuits against people who are exercising freedom of speech or the right to petition. Kurtz says it’s gone much farther than he expected.
 

Governor signs bills to crack down energy theft

BY RICK PLUTA
Capital Bureau Chief, Michigan Public Radio Network
A growing number of cases of people siphoning gas and electricity has led to a new law that cracks down on people who steal energy from a utility.
The illegal connections can be dangerous. Jumper cables patched into power lines expose people to the risk of electrocution. Rigged gas connections can cause fires.
And the work of investigating energy theft and turning off illegal connections can also be dangerous – including dealing with angry people. 
“The key is, you’ve got to read it. If they’re talking, you’ve got a chance. If they’re not talking, you’d better start running,” said David Heatherly, a theft investigator for DTE Energy. 
“I’ve had 40 caliber pistols put on me. I’ve had knives pointed at me. I’ve had ball bats, dogs let out on me,” he said. 
The new law will make it a five-year felony to attack a utility worker shutting off an illegal connection. The hope is that will serve as a deterrent to people who want to take out their anger on utility workers doing their job. 

Granholm: Detroit council should ask voters if mayor should run schools

BY RICK PLUTA
Capital Bureau Chief, Michigan Public Radio Network
LANSING — Governor Granholm is calling on the Detroit City Council to ask voters if they’d like to have the mayor run the schools. So far, the council has refused to approve the question for the November ballot.
“The fact that the city of Detroit, the school’s test scores have been worst in the nation in the history of test-taking on a national test should demonstrate that the status quo is unacceptable,” said Granholm. 
Governor Granholm wants big city mayors to run their local schools – including hiring and firing superintendents. She’d like to start with the state’s largest school district, Detroit. It would be up to the governor and the Legislature to enact a law allowing that. The governor says the ballot question would provide them with critical guidance on the wishes of city residents.
“These kids cannot wait,” said Granholm. “It’s unfair to them to be in a school district – captive in a school district where the situation is untenable.” 
The schools are currently being run by an emergency manager whose contract is up in March. Granholm says she expects the next governor will name a new emergency manager rather than return control to a school board that she says is dysfunctional. 
The governor says the choice is mayoral control, or having Detroit’s schools managed by Lansing.