Letters 10-24-2016

It’s Obama’s 1984 Several editions ago I concluded a short letter to the editor with an ominous rhetorical flourish: “Welcome to George Orwell’s 1984 and the grand opening of the Federal Department of Truth!” At the time I am sure most of the readers laughed off my comments as right-wing hyperbole. Shame on you for doubting me...

Gun Bans Don’t Work It is said that mass violence only happens in the USA. A lone gunman in a rubber boat, drifted ashore at a popular resort in Tunisia and randomly shot and killed 38 mostly British and Irish tourists. Tunisian gun laws, which are among the most restrictive in the world, didn’t stop this mass slaughter. And in January 2015, two armed men killed 11 and wounded 11 others in an attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. French gun laws didn’t stop these assassins...

Scripps’ Good Deed No good deed shall go unpunished! When Dan Scripps was the 101st District State Representative, he introduced legislation to prevent corporations from contaminating (e.g. fracking) or depleting (e.g. Nestle) Michigan’s water table for corporate profit. There are no property lines in the water table, and many of us depend on private wells for abundant, safe, clean water. In the subsequent election, Dan’s opponents ran a negative campaign almost solely on the misrepresentation that Dan’s good deed was a government takeover of your private water well...

Political Definitions As the time to vote draws near it’s a good time to check into what you stand for. According to Dictionary.com the meanings for liberal and conservative are as follows:

Liberal: Favorable to progress or reform as in political or religious affairs.

Conservative: Disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditions and limit change...

Voting Takes A Month? Hurricane Matthew hit the Florida coast Oct. 6, over three weeks before Election Day. Bob Ross (Oct. 17th issue) posits that perhaps evacuation orders from Governor Scott may have had political motivations to diminish turnout and seems to praise Hillary Clinton’s call for Gov. Scott to extend Florida’s voter registration deadline due to evacuations...

Clinton Foundation Facts Does the Clinton Foundation really spend a mere 10 percent (per Mike Pence) or 20 percent (per Reince Priebus) of its money on charity? Not true. Charity Watch gives it an A rating (the same as it gives the NRA Foundation) and says it spends 88 percent on charitable causes, and 12 percent on overhead. Here is the source of the misunderstanding: The Foundation does give only a small percentage of its money to charitable organizations, but it spends far more money directly running a number of programs...

America Needs Change Trump supports our constitution, will appoint judges that will keep our freedoms safe. He supports the partial-birth ban; Hillary voted against it. Regardless of how you feel about Trump, critical issues are at stake. Trump will increase national security, monitor refugee admissions, endorse our vital military forces while fighting ISIS. Vice-presidential candidate Mike Pence will be an intelligent asset for the country. Hillary wants open borders, increased government regulation, and more demilitarization at a time when we need strong military defenses...

My Process For No I will be voting “no” on Prop 3 because I am supportive of the process that is in place to review and approve developments. I was on the Traverse City Planning Commission in the 1990s and gained an appreciation for all of the work that goes into a review. The staff reviews the project and makes a recommendation. The developer then makes a presentation, and fellow commissioners and the public can ask questions and make comments. By the end of the process, I knew how to vote for a project, up or down. This process then repeats itself at the City Commission...

Regarding Your Postcard If you received a “Vote No” postcard from StandUp TC, don’t believe their lies. Prop 3 is not illegal. It won’t cost city taxpayers thousands of dollars in legal bills or special elections. Prop 3 is about protecting our downtown -- not Munson, NMC or the Commons -- from a future of ugly skyscrapers that will diminish the very character of our downtown...

Vote Yes It has been suggested that a recall or re-election of current city staff and Traverse City Commission would work better than Prop 3. I disagree. A recall campaign is the most divisive, costly type of election possible. Prop 3, when passed, will allow all city residents an opportunity to vote on any proposed development over 60 feet tall at no cost to the taxpayer...

Yes Vote Explained A “yes” vote on Prop 3 will give Traverse City the right to vote on developments over 60 feet high. It doesn’t require votes on every future building, as incorrectly stated by a previous letter writer. If referendums are held during general elections, taxpayers pay nothing...

Beware Trump When the country you love have have served for 33 years is threatened, you have an obligation and a duty to speak out. Now is the time for all Americans to speak out against a possible Donald Trump presidency. During the past year Trump has been exposed as a pathological liar, a demagogue and a person who is totally unfit to assume the presidency of our already great country...

Picture Worth 1,000 Words Nobody disagrees with the need for affordable housing or that a certain level of density is dollar smart for TC. The issue is the proposed solution. If you haven’t already seen the architect’s rendition for the site, please Google “Pine Street Development Traverse City”...

Living Wage, Not Tall Buildings Our community deserves better than the StandUp TC “vote no” arguments. They are not truthful. Their yard signs say: “More Housing. Less Red Tape. Vote like you want your kids to live here.” The truth: More housing, but for whom? At what price..

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Crime & Punishment (and Reward)

Stories from several weeks of sitting in at mental health court

Patrick Sullivan - April 15th, 2013  

Two of the mental health court participants, an 18-year-old woman there for shoplifting and a 29-year-old man there for drunk driving, have been headed in different directions in recent weeks.

The older one is taking vocational training and doing well. He is making all of his therapy sessions and when he meets with his probation officer, he brings proof that he’s completed his required drug and alcohol testing and has been to the AA meetings he’s supposed to attend.

The younger one, who is still in high school, has been skirting the edge of trouble -- she’s missed some meetings, she’s had some suspicious test results, and she was recently caught in a car with some other folks who were smoking pot.

These are just two of the defendants in District Court Judge Michael Stepka’s mental health court, one of Michigan’s growing list of specialty courts. Grand Traverse County was one of nine places selected to test the program, beginning in 2009.

The specialty courts seek to free up jail space by identifying what’s causing a person to run afoul of the law and see if it can be addressed. It is hoped this approach can save money and improve lives.

If you attend a mental health court hearing, which takes place Wednesday afternoons, you can tell pretty quickly these are no ordinary days in court.


The tone of mental health court is usually nothing like that of a typical criminal court hearing.

The participants are there to report on their progress, and when they’re done, they’re supposed to stick around until everyone else is also done. They are encouraged to show support when someone does well.

At a hearing in February, the 29-year-old student was first up.

He walked to one of the attorney’s tables and sat down before the judge. Stepka asked him how he was doing.

“Yesterday I got a scholarship. I don’t know how I got it,” the man said.

He explained he had just received $1,000 though NMC. The announcement prompted a round of clapping.

The next week, Stepka had a surprise for him.

“How’s it going?” Stepka asked after the man took a seat in front of him at a table.

“Pretty good, and you, your honor?” A fishbowl appeared and the man stuck his hand inside. He won a reward for doing well -- a $25 gift certificate to an arts and crafts store.


That’s how mental health court goes. A lot of it, anyway. At least when someone is doing well.

Judge Stepka addresses the participants by their first names. There is friendly chit-chat about their lives.

Mental health court is as much group therapy meeting as it is court hearing.

Another defendant -- a 26-year-old man there for a deferred plea in a domestic violence case -- told Stepka of his progress in treatment.

He said as part of his therapy he’d been keeping a journal of his daily activities and writing down his thoughts and feelings. He was also writing some poetry.

Stepka seemed intrigued and perhaps slightly concerned.

“Would you mind at some time sharing some of your poetry?” Stepka asked.

The man agreed to share.

There is an informality that makes these proceedings softer than regular court.


The people on a recent day may have had being there in common, but they didn’t share a lot else.

They ranged in age from 18 to 53. Two of them were there for drunk driving. Another two had been charged with home invasion and pleaded guilty to illegal entry misdemeanors. Someone was charged with disorderly conduct. There was the one there for shoplifting. One got into a scuffle with police.

That’s about as violent as your offense could be and still qualify for the program, Stepka said.

They won’t take folks with criminal histories that include felony convictions for drugs, assault or criminal sexual conduct.

The people who work with the court -- a team consisting of a counselor from Community Mental Health, treatment providers, a probation agent, a transition house manager, and a prosecutor and defense attorney who act as advisors -- help the participants adjust to a clean and sober life and help them set themselves up in the world.

Some participants are headed for success -- an end to the weekly or semimonthly appearances before a judge and all sorts of required meetings; a new chance at a life without court-mandated restrictions.

Some are headed back to jail.


Stepka said he often gets asked whether people try to fake their way into the court in search of lighter sanctions.

If that’s what they do, they’ve got a lot in store for themselves.

The program can last up to two years and it involves intensive supervision. Participants go to therapy, drug and alcohol testing -- possibly Alcoholic or Narcotics Anonymous meetings -- and they must attend regular court hearings.

It’s enough to bring to mind the paradox about whether someone who fakes their way into an asylum in fact deserved to be there in the first place.

Someone who isn’t committed won’t be able to succeed.

For example, in one case, Stepka said, someone was kicked out of the program for forging signatures on attendance slips from AA meetings.

He said the court has probation agents who have enough experience to spot when those slips have been forged. That person found themselves serving the rest of the maximum sentence they had originally faced, 93 days in jail.


The team of advisors meets each week to discuss everyone’s progress.

They talk about each case and decide whether someone should advance to another level, whether someone should graduate, or whether someone should receive an award. They also talk about whether someone should be sent to jail.

Mark Risk, who serves as the defense attorney advisor, said even though he is there to look out for the rights of the participants, he advocates jail for some when everything else has failed.

“All of the studies are showing a really short jail term is the most effective,” Risk said.

He said when he started working as an advisor to the court in 2010, of the roughly 15 participants, he had represented four or five of them in the past. He said he was pleased to see those people in the mental health court because he knew them well enough to know they would need special attention to succeed.

“When I was working with them before, I knew that they would not make it on regular probation,” Risk said.

It’s been even more gratifying, he said, to watch people finish the program and become productive members of society. He has watched some participants, for whom the jail used to have a revolving door, go on to get jobs, get homes and settle into the community as regular people.


Some are still tough cases. Over a series of recent Wednesday hearings, that 18-year-old shoplifter found herself in deeper and deeper trouble.

First, there was a problem with her paperwork. She didn’t have the signed sheets to prove she attended AA when she was supposed to have them.

Stepka warned her she needed to do what was expected of her, and he told her: “you had a bit of a rough start, but we’ve worked our way through that.”

He assigned her an essay about the importance of finishing assignments.

The next week, Stepka learned she had turned in that essay late.

But that wasn’t the worst of it. She had also been found in a car on the way to school with others who were smoking marijuana. She said she didn’t smoke and Stepka warned her that her drug test better come back clean.

At the next hearing, Stepka said her test had come back with levels that indicated she may have attempted to mask a positive result by drinking lots of water before the test. She was also still failing to get AA sheets in to probation.


In the 18-year-old’s case, the advisors had decided a week earlier that jail might have been appropriate after she was found in the car with the pot smokers.

Stepka decided to give her one more chance.

But when she showed up the next week and was still making excuses, the judge decided her chances were done, at least for the moment.

“Unfortunately, during the months that you’ve been with us this has essentially been a continuing saga,” Stepka told the teenager.

Stepka sent her to jail for two weekends and told her she was only barely staying in the mental health court program. She gasped and cried a bit.

“While you’re there, please think about whether you want to be in the program or not,” Stepka told her.

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