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Archive | Voices and Views

Faces and facts tell the story of disability

 

Vonda VanTil

Vonda VanTil

By: Vonda VanTil, Social Security Public Affairs Specialist

 

Every family has stories—stories are a great way to carry on family legacies, pass lessons on to future generations, and share what is important to your family with the rest of the world. Your family stories may include ones about the birth of a child, serving in war, helping people in need, or the deaths of loved ones.

We’d like to share some stories about what it means to receive disability benefits from Social Security and we have a website that does just that:  The Faces and Facts of Disability is ready for you to explore at www.socialsecurity.gov/disabilityfacts.

Learning the facts and hearing people’s stories about disability allows for a fuller understanding of what is perhaps the most misunderstood Social Security program.

The Social Security Act sets a very strict definition of disability. To receive disability benefits, a person must have an impairment expected to last at least a year or result in death. The impairment must be so severe that it renders the person unable to perform not only his or her previous work, but also any other substantial work in the national job market. Social Security does not provide temporary or partial disability benefits. Because the eligibility requirements are so strict, Social Security disability beneficiaries are among the most severely impaired people in the country and tend to have high death rates.

In addition, Social Security conducts a periodic review of people who receive disability benefits to ensure they remain eligible for disability. Social Security aggressively works to prevent, detect, and prosecute fraud. Social Security often investigates suspicious disability claims before making a decision to award benefits—proactively stopping fraud before it happens.

Please read and watch some of the stories about real cases of people who have benefited from Social Security by visiting the Faces and Facts of Disability website at www.socialsecurity.gov/disabilityfacts.

Vonda VanTil is the public affairs specialist for West Michigan.  You can write her c/o Social Security Administration, 3045 Knapp St NE, Grand Rapids MI 49525 or via email at vonda.vantil@ssa.gov  

 

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Michigan’s criminal code most expansive in region

 

From the Mackinac Center on Public Policy

 

MIDLAND — Michigan’s 918-section criminal code is more than twice the size of Ohio’s and Wisconsin’s—and it’s only growing larger. In the past six years, Michigan has added an average of 45 new crimes to its criminal code each year, about half of which are felonies, according to a study released jointly by the Manhattan Institute and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy titled “Overcriminalizing the Wolverine State: A Primer and Possible Reforms for Michigan.”

“With thousands of laws and rules on the books, many people are at risk of being charged with a crime for something most people wouldn’t consider inherently wrong,” said Mike Reitz, executive vice president at the Mackinac Center and co-author of the study. “Being prosecuted for breaking one of these laws can have devastating consequences for individuals and families. It is encouraging to see lawmakers start to address the problem of overcriminalization, but the state needs to do more to prune archaic, unnecessary laws from books.”

The code includes several obscure crimes, many of which do not require criminal intent, meaning that individuals can be held criminally responsible for violating laws unknowingly. Rep. Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, recently introduced House Bill 5807 to address this problem by establishing a default criminal intent standard for newly enacted crimes.

Without a default criminal intent standard, many Michigan residents still face punishment for unknowingly committing crimes, including:

Kenneth Schumacher, who disposed of his scrap tires at a facility that appeared to be legal, but was sentenced to 270 days in prison and a $10,000 fine for unlawfully disposing of the tires because the facility didn’t have a license.

Lisa Snyder, who faced charges of operating an illegal daycare because she helped her neighbor’s children board the school bus each morning, free of charge.

As it stands, Michigan’s criminal code puts residents in jeopardy of prosecution for unknowing violation of obscure laws and stretches scarce law enforcement resources that could be devoted to prevention and prosecution of serious violent and property crimes. Michigan currently spends one out of every five general fund dollars on corrections.

James R. Copland, director of the Manhattan Institute’s Center for Legal Policy, said, “Michigan has an overcriminalization problem. We knew that when we selected Michigan to survey first among states in the Midwest, but our research has uncovered just how much more complex Michigan’s criminal code is in relation to its neighbors.”

The study’s authors make three recommendations for policymakers:

  • Create a bipartisan legislative task force to further investigate overcriminalization and make recommendations to the Legislature;
  • Create a commission to the review current criminal law with the intent to consolidate and clarify these statutes;
  • Enact a default mens rea provision, which would require all new criminal laws to meet a minimum standard for establishing intent before a person could be found guilty of a crime.

The full study can be found at http://www.mackinac.org/archives/2014/s2014-06.pdf.

 

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Some Thoughts on Governing 

V-Lee-Hamilton-web

By Lee H. Hamilton

 

I have been working in or around government for over 50 years, and if you asked me to boil down what I’ve learned to one sentence, it is this: Governing is much harder work than most people imagine. This doesn’t excuse its lapses or sluggish rate of progress, but it does help explain them.

Why is it so hard? Partly it’s the country we live in. There were 130 million Americans when I was in high school. Now we number over 300 million, with a diversity and cultural complexity that were impossible to imagine when I started out. Finding common ground, meeting complex needs, answering to an overwhelming diversity of interests — this is not work for the faint of heart.

The structure we do this with makes it even tougher. We have governments at the federal, state, and local levels, and they in turn have branches — executive, legislative and judicial — and a cornucopia of massive agencies. To solve a problem you have to navigate a slow, complex, untidy system whose transparency and accountability are always less than they should be.

This is magnified by an American public that, these days especially, wants mutually contradictory things. We want to rein in Wall Street excess, but we don’t support the regulatory structure to do it. We want affordable health care but don’t like Washington’s involvement in the health-care system. We want to shrink the deficit without any cuts in defense spending or entitlements.

Our diversity, complex structure, and difficulty settling on coherent policies make the hardest part of governing even harder. Building a consensus is the most important and most difficult part of political leadership. If politics is ultimately about the search for a remedy — I know, for many politicians it’s about ego or power or money, but I’m interested in the ideal — then you have to be able to get a consensus around that remedy. You need a majority in the U.S. House, 60 votes in the Senate, and the President’s approval. This country cannot be governed without compromise, dialogue and accommodation, and it comes apart at the seams when we go too long without them.

We often have disagreements in politics, but good politicians know that we have no choice but to work through them. The best want to bring different groups of people together, not pull them apart. They understand that not all the good ideas come from one source, and they reject the idea of constant conflict and permanent gridlock. In a divided country with a government specifically set up to divide powers, we need to follow this process — not because we want to but because we have to.

They know, too, that you have to treat every person with dignity and respect, even though the clashes may be hard. I used to watch Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill engage in tough, hard-hitting dialogue over the issues of the day, but for both of them the underlying premise was that they had to reach an agreement and move ahead. They knew civility had to be the rule — and always ended by trying to top each other with a good Irish story, doing their best to leave everyone in the room in an upbeat frame of mind.

Don’t get me wrong. The clash of ideas is important. In a dynamic system, with competing power centers and a panoply of interests trying to use their power to achieve their objectives, better policy — a policy that more nearly reflects the will of the American people — can emerge from this debate. Playing one side against the other, or merely stating the problem in order to rile up listeners — these are easy. Moving ahead to reach a solution: that’s the hard part.

Which is why our system works so slowly. It’s unwieldy, messy, and often very noisy, but most of the time, it gets there.

Yet there are no guarantees. Our system is not self-perpetuating. There is no automatic pilot. The question Abraham Lincoln asked at Gettysburg 151 years ago is as fresh today as it was then: Can a nation so conceived and so dedicated long endure? We’re still finding out, but we know one thing: It will take hard work.

Lee Hamilton is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.

For information about our educational resources and programs, visit our website at www.centeroncongress.org. Go to Facebook to share your thoughts about Congress, civic education, and the citizen’s role in representative democracy. “Like” us on Facebook at “Center on Congress at Indiana University.”

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Look for what’s right

Dear Editor:

 

It’s a simple fact: You find what you’re looking for. If you are looking for bad news, you will find something to criticize; if you are looking for good news, you will find something to compliment.

In this election cycle, I hear and read far too many candidates that are looking for the things that are wrong. Electing those candidates perpetuates bad news. Is everything perfect in Cedar Springs? In Michigan? In the United States? Of course not. But there is a lot that is right. I’m much more interested in focusing on those things.

The way to move our city, our state, and our country forward is to support those candidates that are focused on our strengths—on what’s right in our communities—and electing them into positions where they can help our strengths overcome our weaknesses.

Send a message this election cycle: Vote for the candidates that are looking for what’s good and right and strong.

 

Sincerely,

Craig T. Owens, City of Cedar Springs

 

 

Post Scripts Notice: The Cedar Springs Post welcomes letters of up to 350 words. The subject should be relevant to local readers, and the editor reserves the right to reject letters or edit for clarity, length, good taste, accuracy, and liability concerns. All submissions MUST be accompanied by full name, mailing address and daytime phone number. We use this information to verify the letter’s authenticity. We do not print anonymous letters, or acknowledge letters we do not use. No letters against a candidate will be published the week before an election. Email to news@cedarspringspost.com, or send to PostScripts, Cedar Springs Post, PO Box 370, Cedar Springs, MI 49319.

 

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Nelson Township Library millage request

The November 4, 2014 General Election ballot for Nelson Township voters will include a request for the Nelson Township Library operating millage to be restored to the original .5 mills which was approved in 1987.  Since 1987, the effect of the Headlee Amendment has reduced the levy to .3940 mills.  The November ballot request is asking for an additional .1068 mills to bring the levy back to the original ½ mill.

Since the construction of the new library in 2007, operating expenses have continued to rise and millage receipts have diminished.  The 2014-15 budget for the library was set at $51,400.00. Expenses for the building include utilities, insurance, custodial services, grounds maintenance and miscellaneous items.

The reduced millage of 0.3940 mills generates $46,600.00 annually. Approval of the requested additional 0.1068 mills will add $12,718.00 to the dedicated library operating funds. At present, the shortage comes out of the township general fund. If passed, property owners will pay 11 cents per thousand dollars of taxable value or $11 on a home with a taxable value of $100,000.

In August, Kent County voters approved a millage request by the Kent District Library. This money provides librarians, programs, books and magazines in both print and audio, music, videos, programs, computers and internet access, plus more. The townships in turn must provide a facility for the library to operate in and like KDL, our funds have remained flat while our costs have increased.

Please vote YES on November 4.

Dorothy Bishop, Nelson Township

Post Scripts Notice: The Cedar Springs Post welcomes letters of up to 350 words. The subject should be relevant to local readers, and the editor reserves the right to reject letters or edit for clarity, length, good taste, accuracy, and liability concerns. All submissions MUST be accompanied by full name, mailing address and daytime phone number. We use this information to verify the letter’s authenticity. We do not print anonymous letters, or acknowledge letters we do not use. Email to news@cedarspringspost.com, or send to PostScripts, Cedar Springs Post, PO Box 370, Cedar Springs, MI 49319.

 

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Message to woman who hit mailbox

The Cedar Springs Post welcomes letters of up to 350 words. The subject should be relevant to local readers, and the editor reserves the right to reject letters or edit for clarity, length, good taste, accuracy, and liability concerns. All submissions MUST be accompanied by full name, mailing address and daytime phone number. We use this information to verify the letter’s authenticity. We do not print anonymous letters, or acknowledge letters we do not use. Email to news@cedarspringspost.com, or send to PostScripts, Cedar Springs Post, PO Box 370, Cedar Springs, MI 49319.

 

 

Dear Editor,

 

On the morning of October 7th, a lady in a silver Buick hit my mailbox. While it’s inconvenient that I now have to put up a new one, I really just want her to be careful. My mailbox is a full car width from the travel lane on Fifth Street. So whatever it was that she was doing caused her to cross the equivalent of another lane, and she was going fast enough to snap the 4×4 off below ground level.

Whoever you are, please be careful. Had it been earlier in the day, my four-year-old would have been out there. You and you alone are responsible for controlling that 3,500 pound piece of metal. If you were sending or receiving something on your phone, shame on you. You could have killed someone. If you were distracted by something else in the car, pull over. The lane you had to cross to hit the mailbox was big enough. I am not interested in pressing charges, but remember that the difference between an “oops” and a felony is telling someone that you made a mistake.

Hope you are all right.

 

Molly Nixon, Cedar Springs

 

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President and Congress should work together on military intervention 

V-Lee-Hamilton

By Lee H. Hamilton

In his speech last week outlining his plans to use military force against the jihadists of the Islamic State, President Obama gave Congress only passing mention. “I have the authority to address the threat from ISIL,” he said. “But I believe we are strongest as a nation when the president and Congress work together.”

He’s right, of course. But that’s not the half of it.

Our process for deciding to use force has not caught up with these dangerous times. It has been decades since Congress asserted any meaningful role; its members prefer to avoid a potentially difficult political vote, let the President take the lead, and then criticize him if he was wrong.

There are certainly occasions when the President must act alone. If we’ve been attacked or hostilities are imminent or some emergency presents itself for which force is the only response, we’d expect the President to respond effectively.

But there are powerful political reasons for making the decision to use force abroad a joint one with Congress, in all but emergencies. When our nation must deal with controversial, complicated questions, there is great value to making the President articulate his analysis of the situation and the reasons for his decisions, and to test that thinking beyond close advisors who naturally tend to support him. The best place to do so is in Congress.

Moreover, military action supported by both the President and Congress carries more legitimacy at home and more conviction abroad. The U.S. is in a far stronger position before the world if it is clear that the branches of government are unified and we are speaking with one voice as a nation.

It is common wisdom that our Constitution is ambiguous on war powers, since it makes the President the commander in chief, yet gives Congress the ability to declare war. In a sense, though, the Constitution’s message is anything but ambiguous: by giving a role to each branch, it clearly considers the use of force to be a shared decision.

This imposes a responsibility on Congress. Congress cannot be a bystander when it comes to the grave decision to use our military abroad. It, too, needs to take ownership of decisions to use force, for the good of the American people’s understanding and acceptance of the issues at stake, and for the benefit of the nation’s profile abroad.

Lee Hamilton is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.

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Railroading

The Cedar Springs Post welcomes letters of up to 350 words. The subject should be relevant to local readers, and the editor reserves the right to reject letters or edit for clarity, length, good taste, accuracy, and liability concerns. All submissions MUST be accompanied by full name, mailing address and daytime phone number. We use this information to verify the letter’s authenticity. We do not print anonymous letters, or acknowledge letters we do not use. Email to news@cedarspringspost.com, or send to PostScripts, Cedar Springs Post, PO Box 370, Cedar Springs, MI 49319.

 

 

 

In the “good old days,” railroads and lumbering played a big part in the historical planting of small villages along streams in West Michigan. I am happy to see this theme highlighted by the visionaries of our Community Development Team. Everyone should get on board. It’s exciting.

We all know that railroad tracks are now history, but the article by the Post’s Editor, on September 11, seemed to bring the word railroading back to our minds.

Question: how can a City Council, with no input from the citizens of Cedar Springs, make an intelligent decision in 20 minutes, using a performance review form that I, as your Mayor, had fellow Council Members fill out over a year ago, regarding the performance of our City Manager, Thad Taylor, when he had only had about 6 months of track record?

Our newest Council Members, Dan Clark and Jerry Hall, never had an opportunity to fill out a performance review.

Some of us might have been born in the night, but it wasn’t last night. But with God’s help, railroading can become history. I made the following statement in council session. “I will not and I know many others will not be happy until we have an all new Cedar Springs, which can happen if everyone votes wisely in our November election.” Please, please, please send your message, and I promise you, we will listen.

 

Bob Truesdale, City Councilor

Cedar Springs

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Servaas supports O’Hara for Judge

 

Retiring 63rd District Court Judge Steven Servaas announced last week that he is supporting attorney Jeffrey O’Hara’s bid to succeed him. Judge Servaas is stepping down after serving as the 63rd District Court Judge for 42 years.

Judge Servaas said, “I have known Jeff as a trial lawyer for over twenty-five years. Jeff has appeared in my courtroom hundreds of times. He has extensive experience in criminal law which makes him the best prepared for a court where 80 percent of cases argued are criminal. I have witnessed firsthand his courtroom skills. He knows the law, the courtroom procedure, and the rules of evidence; all of which are imperative to being an effective judge. He also has the right judicial temperament. I have never seen Jeff raise his voice or lose his temper. He always conducts himself in a professional and respectful manner. I am aware that he is endorsed by nearly every sitting judge in Kent County.  Observing Jeff as I have, it came as no surprise to me that the Grand Rapids Bar Association evaluated him as ‘Exceptionally Well Qualified,’ the highest rating. I wholeheartedly endorse Jeff for our next 63rd District Court Judge, and ask voters to join me in voting for Jeff O’Hara on November 4th.”

Jeff O’Hara has been practicing law since 1986. He has personally handled over 2500 cases. He and his wife Christie, a 2nd grade teacher in the Rockford School District, are parents to Kathryn (Nick) Wallis, Daniel, and Colleen.

The 63rd District court covers half of Kent County, from 4 Mile Road north. Any registered voter living in that area is eligible to vote for this position in the November election.

 

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From the Editor’s Desk

 

By Judy Reed

 

Late last month, the Cedar Springs City Council went into closed session without being specific on what it regarded. When they came out, there was a vote on a new contract for the City Manager. It was approved 4-3. (click here for story.) This is a letter I read to the Council at their last meeting, September 11.

 

Cedar Springs City Council,

I have spoken with the Mayor briefly about this, but wanted to make the council aware of some concerns I have regarding the procedure used at last month’s meeting to approve the new contract for our city manager.

Please understand that I am not disputing the contract. It’s nothing personal regarding Thad. He is our City Manager, and if you have evaluated him and decided that he met his goals and will continue as our City Manager, then he does indeed need a contract.

My concerns, as I said, are with the procedure:

First, why wasn’t it on the agenda as approval of the City Manager’s contract? Instead, it was added to the end of the agenda to go into closed session to discuss “attorney correspondence.” And when you (the council) actually adjourned to closed session, the minutes read that you motioned to go into Executive Session, (which is a term used by the private sector and not a municipality) “to discuss a written, legal opinion of the City Attorney.” No mention of the City Manager contract. The language should have been more specific.

That presented two problems: One, it left the public in the dark, and gave them no time to comment on it. And two, even the council members did not have a copy of the contract, or know what was to be discussed, so had no time to digest the information before voting on it.

My second big concern is that the Open Meetings Act only allows specific things that you can go into closed session for. Discussing a city manager’s contract is NOT one of them. You can see the list in Sec. 8 of the OMA. Attorneys Foster Swift Collins & Smith PC, of Michigan, who wrote “Dealing with Employment Issues and Complying with the Open Meetings Act,” specifically stated this in their conclusion. They said:

CONCLUSION

Closed session is permitted under certain circumstances for discussion of:

dismissal, suspension, or disciplining of, or to hear complaints or charges brought against, or to consider a periodic personnel evaluation;

collective bargaining; or

applications.

However, not every employment-related issue falls into these exemptions.

For example, a city may not meet in closed session to negotiate a new employment contract (except for a collective bargaining agreement) for a city manager. Similarly, a village may not meet in closed session to discuss budget cuts that may result in layoffs or the reduction of employment benefits.” (http://www.fosterswift.com/publications-Employment-Issues-Complying-Open-Meetings-Act.html)

I do understand that Thad’s contract was to expire yesterday, Sept. 10 and you were under the gun to get it done. But since it was already late in the game, I think it would have been better to give Council members some time to digest the contract, and the public some notice, and then either approve it in a special meeting or at tonight’s meeting, even though a day late. Otherwise, it appears to people like it was something railroaded through. And I don’t think you want that or meant for it to be that way.

I believe that each one of you wants what’s best for this city, although you may have different ideas of what that is. The other thing you have in common is that you all want people to be more involved in their city government. But they can’t do that if you shut them out and disregard the Open Meetings Act, whether by accident or by design.

Thank you,

Judy Reed, Editor

The Cedar Springs Post

 

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