Motor City Muckraker’s Steve Neavling on the importance of investigative journalism in Detroit, the launch of Ypsi’s new IB elementary school, the campaign for the Riverside Park playground, and talking improv and cancer with Pointless Brewery & Theatre co-founder Tori Tomalia… on episode 41 of the Saturday Six Pack


I’m still playing catch-up, trying to get the most recent episodes of the Saturday Six Pack posted here. I’m sorry that it’s been taking me so long, but other projects keep getting in the way. [Speaking of which, we’re set to close on that building I was telling you about by the end of the month.] The episode I’m posting here tonight was our 41st, and, if you like hearing people talk about cancer, improv, journalism, arson, playground design and early childhood education, I suspect you’ll really enjoy it… If you get a chance, check it out. Here, in the meantime, are my rough notes.

The Opening of Ypsilanti’s New International Baccalaureate Elementary School

During our first segment, after a wonderful opening theme song written by Linette’s cousin Andy, we got right into things with Karla Graessley, the director of elementary education for Ypsilanti Community Schools (YCS), and Cassandra Sheriff, the future principal of the as-yet-to-be-named International Baccalaureate elementary school that will open this September on the edge of Prospect Park, inside the school we presently know as Adams.

Graessley, Sheriff and I discussed the International Baccalaureate (IB) philosophy, and the circumstances surrounding the Ypsilanti Board of Education’s decision to launch an elementary program. [Graessley noted how the high school and middle school IB programs had both successfully pulled families back to Ypsilanti, and how there has been a great deal of interest on the part of new parents to expand public school options for local children entering school.]

We talked about the decision to close Adams, as opposed to another school in the district, and why it was that this new school didn’t just open inside of one of the district’s many already vacant buildings. [The district, as I suspect most of you know, has been shrinking and consolidating for some time now, as parents have been moving to charter schools, taking advantage of openings in Ann Arbor Public Schools, etc. At present, I believe, there are six vacant former school buildings in the district.] Grassley explained that part of the reason Adams was chosen was because student achievement, at least as reflected in test scores, wasn’t improving at the school. Furthermore, she said that their analysis had shown that most students attending Adams don’t live in the neighborhood surrounding the school, and, as such, have better performing schools that are closer to them. Much of the work now, Graessley told us, will be ensuring that the current students at Adams are transferred to schools that will serve their needs. [As the new IB school, at least the first year, will only go from pre-school to second grade, there won’t be an opportunity for most students currently at Adams to enroll at the new school. The parents of first graders currently at Adams, however, will be given information as to how their children can apply for positions in the 2nd grade class at the new school.]


Sheriff [pictured above] and I discussed her history, and her plans for re-setting the culture at the school. We talked about what she’s looking for in teachers, and how they plan to get everyone trained in the IB philosophy over the course of the summer, and ready to start teaching around interdisciplinary themes, which as the heart of the IB philosophy. [Some teachers currently at Adams will apply for positions at the new school, but the YSC administration is opening the search to any qualified teachers, and they’re hopeful that they may get applicants with IB experience.] Sheriff and I also talked about what resources are available to her, given that she’s never before worked in an IB environment. [As I mentioned during the show, the situation was somewhat different when the high school, and then the middle school launched, as Principal Okma came to Ypsilanti not only with years of experience, having run an IB school in Southfield, but also a core team of teachers and administrators familiar with the system.] Sheriff and Grassley noted that, as IB schools are proliferating across the state, there’s a relatively strong network now, even for the elementary programs, which are still a bit less common. And they assured our listeners that teachers and administrators would be engaged in intensive training all this summer. [While we’re on the subject of Adams, I meant to ask why the school, which was relaunched not too long ago as a “STEM” school, hadn’t achieved what they’d hoped, but I guess I have to save the question for the next time Superintendent Edmondson in in the studio with us.]

We also talked a little bit about the district’s decision to launch a tuition-based IB pre-school alongside the K-2 program, and what it means for the district to venture into something so completely new. And, of course, we talked about how interested families would go about applying, how many classes they’re planning to have, and their plans for reaching out to families of young children. [below: Karla Grassley]


[If you would like to listen to episode 41 of The Saturday Six Pack, you can either download it from iTunes or scroll the bottom of the page, where you’ll find the Soundcloud file embedded.]

The Motor City Muckraker’s Steve Neavling on His Mission to Keep Investigative Journalism Alive in Detroit

At the 29-minute mark, we called independent investigative journalist Steve Neavling at his home in Detroit, where he was waiting for us with a Moscow Mule in hand. We talked with Neavling about the journey that brought him to Detroit, the forces that kept him here after he lost his job as a reporter at the Free Press, and the year of his life that he dedicated to reporting on every single structure fire in the city of Detroit. We talked a great deal about the “pursuit of truth,” and why it is that, instead of just leaving Detroit and doing something else, he decided to turn his life over to the Motor City Muckraker, working endless hours for no pay, to break stories about everything from unsafe conditions within Detroit’s schools to instances where, because of antiquated equipment and shrinking maintenance budgets within the Detroit Fire Department, lives have been lost.

[If you haven’t read it yet, Patrick Dunn wrote a great piece about Neavling’s investigative work for Metromode a few weeks back.]

By the time Neavling joined the Free Press, the paper was already a shell of its former self, he told us, and it’s only gotten worse since. In spite of the enormity of the problems faced by the people of Detroit, the press presence continues to fade. And that, said Neavling, is why he chose to stay. He felt as though he needed to be in Detroit, to “uncover the problems that are keeping things from improving.”

We talked a lot about the current state of journalism, and the forces at play which are keeping good investigative work from happening… the fact that those who still remain in our local newsrooms have to write new stories each day, and are forced to jump from one subject to the next, unable to develop sources and deep subject matter expertise in any one area. It’s no surprise, Neavling told us, that local journalism has become little more than a regurgitation of who said what, without any real insight into why things are happening, or what the impact might be. This, as he said, is a “critical time” in our history, and people aren’t being given the information they need to make informed decisions at the polling place, or in their own lives.


[above: Photo of Neavling courtesy Doug Coombe.]

We also talked about Neavling’s plans on transitioning the Muckraker into a non-profit, so that perhaps he can attract funding from a foundation with an interest in Detroit, and expand coverage even further, filling the void left by our rapidly shrinking traditional papers.

And, of course, we discussed the situation on the ground in Detroit, how it got to where it is today, and what it’s likely going to take to get people around the United States interested enough to demand action… like what we saw recently in relation to the Flint water situation.

Tori Tomalia on the Successful Launch of Pointless Brewery & Theatre and Living with Cancer

And, at the 1:00-mark, after a song from our old friend Pete Larson in Kenya, we were joined by Tori Tomalia, the co-founder of the improv comedy space Pointless Brewery & Theatre. In addition to just catching up on how things have been going at Pointless since we last spoke with her, we talked about her upcoming 40th birthday, and how she planned to celebrate it by hosting an event to raise money for research into the rare cancer subtype that she has. [The event took place a few days ago at Pointless, and I’m told that it went really well. Sadly, I couldn’t attend, as I was sick with a cold.]

Here’s Tomalia telling us how, when she and her husband decided to launch Pointless a few years back, shortly after she was diagnosed with stage-four lung cancer, she didn’t know if she’d be around to see the space actually open. Not only has she made it to opening day, though, and continued to expand programming and create a thriving space in our community for comedy and performance, but she’s working with other individuals with cancer resulting from ROS1 gene mutations to organize, fund research, and find a cure… It’s super awesome, inspiring stuff, and you should just listen.


The Campaign for a Playground in Ypsi’s Riverside Park

And, at 1:22, we were joined in the studio by two representatives from the Play Riverside Task Force – Cara Talaska and Teresa Gillotti – who brought us up to date not their campaign to get a playground back in Ypsilanti’s Riverside Park. We discussed the steps they’ve taken thus far, the feedback they’ve received from community members, and why it is that, in their opinion, it’s so imperative that Riverside Park have a swings, a slide, and a bunch of metal tubing for kids to twist themselves around. Here’s Talaska telling us how a playground would not only make it easier for parents to interest their kids in a trip to the park, but also demonstrate to people coming to the park for events like Beer Fest and the Color Run, that Ypsilanti is a family-friendly city.


According to Gillotti [pictured below], who, up until a year or so ago served as Ypsi’s City Planner, there’s not much debate as to whether or we should have a playground in Riverside Park. The idea has come up over the past decade, she told us, every time there’s a public planning meeting where input from the community is sought. We’ve tried over the years to see it accomplished with grant dollars, she told us, but those attempts have been unsuccessful. So, this time, a group of interested community members just decided to do it themselves. They got two playground designers at the University of Michigan to help with a design that would work in harmony with the park, they launched their task force, and now they’re setting out to raise the nearly $50,000 it’ll cost to build it out. [Their estimates range from $45,000 to $48,000.]


If you stick around to the end, you’ll hear a great conversation about Europe’s so-called adventure playgrounds, where children are encouraged to set things on fire, build structures from rusty metal and leap from bone-breaking heights. Gillotti and Talaska don’t go so far as to endorse my idea for incorporating these elements, and a bar for parents, but they come close.

Here, in case you’re interested, is what they feel they first phase of the playground build-out will look like.


Thanks, as always, to AM 1700 for hosting the show, Kate de Fuccio for documenting everything with her camera, and Brian Robb for running the board, making sure the bills paid, and insuring that the toilet paper and bleach stays stocked. [All photos above come courtesy of Kate.]

If you like this episode, check out our archive of past shows at iTunes. And do please leave a review if you have the time, OK? It’s nice to know that people are listening, and, unless you call in, that’s pretty much the only way we know.

Now, if you haven’t already, please listen for yourself, and experience the magic firsthand.

[Episode 41 of the Saturday Six Pack was recorded live on March 5, 2016, in historic downtown Ypsilanti, Michigan, in the studies of AM1700 Radio.]

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  1. Kit
    Posted March 28, 2016 at 6:13 am | Permalink

    My concern is that YCS is chasing a trend with IB, the way that they did with STEM. I’d like to be proven wrong.

  2. Demetrius
    Posted March 28, 2016 at 6:34 am | Permalink

    I don’t blame parents for wanting better choices for their children – but if everyone who was promoting privates, charters, special “academies” and whatnot invested their time in energy in our local public schools instead, they wouldn’t be in such bad shape.

    To me, this seems like a classic “tragedy of the commons” situation.

  3. anonymous
    Posted March 28, 2016 at 8:06 am | Permalink

    Someone actually complained about the sound of breastfeeding at Riverside Park?

  4. The Horrendous Sucking Noise
    Posted March 28, 2016 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    August 20, 2013 comment from Megan:

    “I know i’m in the minority about this, but i absolutely hate public breastfeeding. I know it’s healthy, i think all kids should be breastfed, but i don’t see why i need to be subjected to some woman’s boob in a kid’s mouth and that HORRENDOUS sucking noise that seems to permeate everything like nail clippers do. Why is feeding your child equal to showing everyone your tits? What happened to dignity and decorum and just a tad bit of class? Share this moment with your kid in private, not with everyone in the coffee shop. With this argument i always run into the boobs aren’t sexual objects! They’re food! Newsflash. This is America. Marketing firms don’t use elbows to sell cars and beer. They use boobs because boobs give men and lesbians hard ons (well, not the lesbians, but you know what i mean!). I have no interest in seeing nipples when i’m out and about. If i wanted to see nipples i’d turn on the computer or go to Deja Vu.”

  5. 734
    Posted March 28, 2016 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    You should have asked Neavling how he lost his job at the Freep. I heard it had to do with Charles Pugh.

  6. Meta
    Posted March 28, 2016 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    I looked it up, 734. This is from the Metro Times:

    Steve Neavling, a five-year Detroit Free Press veteran who has covered the City Hall beat for the past two years, announced last week via Twitter that he’d been fired.

    He isn’t going away quietly.

    “If you support independent, objective journalism, boycott @freep for firing a reporter who stood up against city hall,” Neavling wrote on his Twitter account last week.

    A reporter for 13 years now, he was working at the Bay City Times when his muckraking there caught the Freep’s attention and he was recruited to join the big leagues in October 2006.

    With the city’s financial problems making national news recently, Neavling has been front and center covering one of the biggest stories in Detroit’s history.

    Two weeks ago, in the days leading up to a crucial Detroit City Council vote on a controversial consent agreement with the state, Council President Charles Pugh decided to hold a meeting to discuss the volatile issue in the council chambers rather than move proceedings to the much larger Erma Henderson Auditorium located down the hall. As a result, a couple dozen concerned citizens were reportedly forced to cool their heels in the hallway outside.

    During a break Neavling asked Pugh, why not hold the meeting in a room that could accommodate the crowd? Pugh’s flippant response was: “We’re holding the meeting in here. That’s why.”

    The council president then whined when the quote appeared in print.

    In an April 5 letter to James Hill, metro editor of the Free Press, Pugh detailed his discontent with the decision to use the quote, indicating that Neavling had somehow sandbagged him.

    “As a former journalist, I know it is proper to indicate if questions are off-the-record, on-the-record, or for background,” wrote Pugh. “To publish my response to a casual question as if it were my official response is irresponsible.”


    A reporter asks a public official a question at a public setting. And Pugh, former journalist that he is, expects the reporter to spell out beforehand whether the response will be on or off the record? That’s ludicrous.

    There’s no doubt Pugh should have known that anything he said in that situation is fair game. At least there’s no question here at the Hits. But it seems that Paul Anger, editor and publisher of the Freep, might disagree.

    “That was something Paul Anger was mad at me for,” Neavling tells News Hits. “I didn’t make clear that I was on the record. I’m sitting there as a reporter with a pen and notebook in my hands. When you’re at a council meeting you don’t need to say you’re on the record. Now, if I was exercising with Pugh, I’d assume he would think it was off the record.”

    Does Anger really think every question posed by one of his reporters — even if it’s a well-seasoned public official being queried— has to be prefaced by a warning that the answer could appear in print? We don’t know for certain if that’s what Anger expects, because he and other higher-ups at the Freep refuse to discuss anything involving Neavling with us, saying this is a personnel matter.

    Too bad, because there’s even more to the story.

    Before this incident, Neavling had filed a grievance claiming one of his editors had given preferential treatment to another reporter. According to Neavling, he was told to take a week off while the allegation was investigated.

    He’d been back on the job a few days when the aforementioned council meeting took place. The next day, according to Pugh’s letter, the council president called Neavling out.

    “I said to Mr. Neavling, ‘I think that was BS what you did to me the other day by putting that quote in the paper,'” Pugh recounted. “Mr. Neavling then shouted across the crowded room, ‘I think what you said was BS!'”

    So, let’s get this straight. Pugh accuses a reporter of crap reporting. Then what? Neavling walks across a crowded room to shout his response? Or did, as Neavling alleges, the president of the Detroit City Council loudly lash out at a reporter for all to hear? If that’s the case, then who’s the one guilty of acting unprofessionally, President Pugh?

    On April 5, the same day Pugh’s letter to the Freep is dated, Neavling says he was called before Anger and managing editor Jeff Taylor. At that point, it seems, no one from the paper had seen Pugh’s complaint saying he would no longer deal directly with Neavling, for a variety of reasons.

    However, the reporter was already in hot water for something else. The editors, Neavling says, were upset over the fact that he’d chimed in on a Facebook thread discussing the potential outcome of City Council’s pending consent agreement vote by saying, “It looks like it’ll go 5-4 either way,” he says.

    The problem, in the eyes of the editors anyway, was that someone else had quipped earlier, “the fix is in,” implying something fishy was going on between the council and the state behind closed doors. Neavling’s comment, said his editors, suggested that he shared the sentiment.

    At that point, they told Neavling he was off the City Hall beat.

    Read more:

  7. 734
    Posted March 28, 2016 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    I’m sure Neavling would have liked to have been at the Freep when news broke that Pugh was soliciting sex tapes from the young men he mentored.

  8. Eel
    Posted March 28, 2016 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    One hopes the Play Riverside Task Force does not fall victim to the Spinal Tap “feet as inches” curse.

  9. dot dot dash
    Posted March 28, 2016 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    Funny, I was just reading about playground design.

  10. Demetrius
    Posted March 28, 2016 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    Will the new playground have a designated breast-feeding station? Will it be equipped with a microphone and speakers so the horrendous sucking noise can permeate the entire park?

  11. Oz
    Posted March 28, 2016 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    I like that at IB grade school is opening here, although I feel badly for the teachers at Adams and the families of the students who went there. Hopefully the teachers at Adams will be given fair consideration when applying for these new positions, and not just be forced aside in an attempt to “reset” the school culture.

  12. Murf
    Posted March 29, 2016 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    “…that will open this September in Normal Park, inside the school we presently know as Adams.” I’m confused. Isn’t Adams located on the other side of the city by Prospect Park?

  13. site admin
    Posted March 29, 2016 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    You are right, Mr. Murf. Mr. Maynard fucked up. Please accept my sincere apology.

  14. Murf
    Posted March 29, 2016 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    Thank for the rephrasing. Don’t scare us EPPNA (aka not Normal Park) people like that. It sounded like Adams was closing and going to be just an empty building.

  15. Posted November 6, 2018 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    On the way up the street to vote, I noticed that the play structure is being installed at Riverside Park.

2 Trackbacks

  1. […] [For more on Tori, and the work she’s doing to to organize, fund research, and find a cure for cancer resulting from ROS1 gene mutations, check out episode 41 of the Saturday Six Pack.] […]

  2. […] of what’s floating around on Facebook, is an excerpt from a recent Metro Times article by our old friend Steve Neavling of Motor City Muckraker fame. Neavling, who joined several private Facebook groups associated with […]

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