Getting to the Bottom of SB 5: Ohio’s Collective Bargaining Law

Union members rally at the Ohio Statehouse for a vote on SB 5. Photo courtesy of OPR.


You may have heard about that controversial bill in Ohio that limits public workers’ collective bargaining rights. It was signed into law Thursday night by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, and it’s one of several new laws affecting unions that have popped up in our region. Dan Bobkoff and Ida Lieszkovszky of the Changing Gears team wanted to get beyond the rhetoric and answer why some of these provisions are in Senate Bill 5 in the first place.


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EVENT: Our Love/Hate Relationship With The Media

On  Thursday, April 7, the American Democracy Project at the University of Michigan-Flint presents  “Our Love/Hate Relationship With The Media.” The program, part of the Critical Issues Forum, features Gwen Ifill, the moderator and managing editor of Washington Week on PBS. She also is a senior correspondent for the PBS Newshour.

PBS host Gwen Ifill

Ifill will be joined by Changing Gears Senior Editor Micki Maynard, who appears regularly on The Newshour. Other participants include  Mike Lewis, the journalism director at U-M Flint, and Rebecca Hayes, an associate professor of comunication at U-M Flint.

The program will be held at 10 a.m. at the University of Michigan-Flint Theater, 303 E. Kearsley Street, Flint. It is free and open to the public.

Q&A On New Collective Bargaining Laws

New laws on collective bargaining are in the spotlight across the Great Lakes. In the past few weeks, Michigan, Wisconsin and now Ohio have taken steps to limit or eliminate collective bargaining rights for public employees. Indiana and Illinois are having their own debates. How do the measures compare, and what could come next? Our friends at PBS Newshour have the latest, and Changing Gears answers your questions. Continue reading “Q&A On New Collective Bargaining Laws”

Commentary: What About Wisconsin’s Environment?

Gary Wilson is worried about Wisconsin’s environment. The former co-editor of the Great Lakes Town Hall and board chair of  The Biodiversity Project says Wisconsin’s Governor isn’t just upsetting public employee unions, but environmentalists as well. Gov. Scott Walker has proposed rolling back some environmental regulations in his state to cut costs, including loosening the regulation of phosphorus runoff from fertilizer and ending Wisconsin’s mandatory recycling program. Those suggestions, among others, inspired Wilson, a former finance executive at United Airlines, to write a commentary for the Great Lakes Echo to protest them.

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Michigan Cuts Future Unemployment Benefits

Michigan has become the first state to reduce unemployment benefits to 20 weeks from 26 weeks. Will other states in the Great Lakes region and elsewhere follow its lead?

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder

The move came in legislation signed Monday by Gov. Rick Snyder that extended federal unemployment benefits to state residents. Without the extension, those unemployed residents would have lost federal benefits on Friday.

But the legislation also contained an amendment, backed by Republicans, that reduces state-financed unemployment benefits, beginning with new filers in 2012. People who lose their jobs also would remain eligible for federal assistance. Continue reading “Michigan Cuts Future Unemployment Benefits”

Goose Island Now Part of Anheuser-Busch

Chicago beer fans awoke with a start Monday at the news that the Goose Island Beer Company had been sold to Belgian-owned brewing powerhouse Anheuser-Busch for $38.8 million. Here’s a story from our Changing Gears partner WBEZ.

Goose Island has been a fixture in Chicago and across the Midwest for years, but it became even better known to Chicago visitors when it opened its brewpub on Clybourn Avenue in 1988. (Its name comes from the only island in the Chicago River. ) In a sense, it is synonymous with Mayor Richard Daley’s quest to develop Chicago beyond the lake front, as Niala Boodhoo reported earlier this year.

Back then, Clybourn was a largely industrial corridor. Now, it’s a lively neighborhood, with shops, apartments, and as everyone around Chicago knows, lots of traffic on the weekends.

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Zoning Out: Why Cities are Rewriting their Codes to Transform their Look


Zoning is the DNA of a community: it controls how you live, shop, and work.  After nearly a century of many cities separating those uses, now, they’re going back to the future: trying to recreate an old way of life. Streetsboro, Ohio is one such place. Drive down its main commercial district and it has nearly every chain store you can imagine: A Walmart and a Target, a Lowes and a Home Depot.


Streetsboro's big box stores are set way back from the street. The city wants to change that with new zoning. (Photo: Dan Bobkoff)

Some call it sprawl. Streetsboro calls it economic development. This six-lane strip of big box shopping centers has served this city well since its explosive growth started in the 1960s. It just doesn’t look like a traditional town.

The town center is an intersection with a grassy knoll on one side. But Jeff Pritchard is in charge of planning there now and he’s aiming for a future Streetsboro that would look very different. These big box stores could eventually be replaced by attractive housing and shops. The way towns and cities used to be.

“A place where they can walk to a corner store, maybe live above a store, says Anthony Flint of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. “And, those kinds of things, that’s illegal in America today in so many of our communities. “

Illegal because of zoning.  In many cities and towns, zoning codes don’t allow living and working in the same place. And, when zoning spread across the country in the 1920s and 30s, that was considered a good thing.

“ You didn’t want to have a slaughter house next to a residential apartment,” Flint says.

But those issues aren’t as big a deal anymore. As the Great Lakes region reinvents itself, there’s a growing feeling among planners and thinkers that much of the public wants to spend less time in their cars. They point to rising gas prices, and think fewer people will want the single family home separated from everything else in their lives. So, cities as diverse as Peoria with its historic downtown, and Pontiac, Michigan, with its post-industrial woes are joining Streetsboro in rethinking their zoning.

Jeff Pritchard (Photo: Dan Bobkoff)

The change could be dramatic: something called form-based code. In his Streetboro planning office, Pritchard shows the city’s current colorful zoning map: purple for industry, yellow for homes, pink for those big box stores.

Streetsboro's Current Zoning Map

But there’s no overlap, no mingling of uses. Form-based code is the opposite. It encourages mixing. The city controls how a building looks and operates: say, three stories high, up against the curb, parking in the back. But it doesn’t dictate the use. So, it could be housing and shops in the same building.

How does this work in the real world? A decade ago, Miami, Florida had a mess of buildings, but some streets had few shops at street level. So, city planner Ana Gelabert-Sanchez pushed for parts of the city to try form-based code.  She says the zoning now allows for the kinds of streets more residents want to live and walk on.

“Younger people started moving into downtown because they wanted to live close by,” she says. “They wanted to work close by. So, it’s happening. And, what I think is great is that it’s happening at every age.”

But is this a life everyone wants? Critics say this is government dictating how people should live and that there isn’t enough evidence that a broad swath of the population really yearns to return to dense, urban areas.

“I sort of chuckle at those sorts of arguments,” says Lolita Buckner Inniss of the Cleveland Marshall College of Law. She says form-based code, and the larger so-called New Urbanist movement, is based on a nostalgic notion of cities. For many people, they had no choice but to live in a dense neighborhood.


“That wasn’t necessarily something that they sough or that was beneficial,” Inniss says.  “That was how they lived. Many of those people, when they got the opportunity, looked for less density, more fresh air.”

That’s not stopping Streetsboro officials from trying to turn a part of this exurb into more of a traditional town. It will likely take years or decades before the changes are noticeable. Standing in front of Walmart, Sean Smetak and Becky Slattery had a hard time imagining this strip having sidewalks and people walking.

“No, no, it’s too busy, definitely too busy,” they said.

But, they have no love for the way it looks now.




Here and Now Looks at Michigan’s New Law

While the country’s attention was focused on the budget battle in Wisconsin earlier this month, Michigan’s Republican governor Rick Snyder signed a law that gave sweeping new power to emergency managers.  These unelected managers would have the authority to nullify existing union contracts, impose their own working conditions, privatize city services and dissolve elected city and school governing bodies in financially-troubled communities.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder

Critics call the measure “financial martial law” that is a backdoor tactic to bust unions. On Thursday, the public radio program Here and Now spoke with Changing Gears’ senior editor Micki Maynard about the new law.


Unexpected Employee Protests Against Michigan’s Snyder

A protestor holds up a sign.

Republican governors in Midwest are gaining a reputation as union battlers – but Michigan’s new Governor Rick Snyder did not set out to be one. Despite his own state’s budget crisis, he’s tried to keep the debate over public employee benefits and compensation from boiling over.

But that hasn’t stopped thousands of angry union members and other protesters from showing up at his doorstep, just as A protestor holds up a sign. they’ve done in other states. Michigan Public Radio’s Rick Pluta brings us this report.


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Backlog At The Tax Tribunal

Donald Betlem bought this home for $5,000 in 2008. He had to convince Detroit it wasn't worth ten times as much. Photo by Kate Davidson.

DETROIT — Property values have plummeted across the region.  That means cities and towns have watched their tax revenue plunge as well.  But many homeowners and businesses think their property taxes are still too high.  The result is a double hit.  Local governments are in fiscal crisis.  And the tax courts of Michigan, Ohio and Illinois are clogged with people who want refunds.  [display_podcast] Continue reading “Backlog At The Tax Tribunal”