Welcome to the 2016 Dubious Achievement Awards 

Michigan’s most dubious

click to enlarge ILLUSTRATION BY SEAN BIERI
  • Illustration by Sean Bieri

Every year is full of achievements — often proud ones illustrating how far we've come.

That's not what this issue is about.

No, this year, we're focusing on achievements that show how far we have to go.

Whether it's the antics of Gov. Rick Snyder's administration, a brief invasion of creepy clowns, a strip-teasing fiftysomething politician, or any of a dozen other misguided, off-course, out-of-proportion, anticlimactic, or just plain bizarre events this year, we wanted to encapsulate those stories that show how weird it can get here in Michigan and metro Detroit.

Hence our year-end piece: The Dubious Achievement Awards.

It's a sort of homage to the annual year-end roundup the wags at Esquire magazine did until 2008. It's also a blast from our own past: We emulated the awards in our 2004 and 2005 year-end issues, complete with a golden mascot whose pants were frozen in mid-drop.

What is it that earns somebody a Doobie? The deed should be memorable — usually because it shouldn't ever be repeated. It should be possible to sum up in about 100 words. And it should induce a giggle, a guffaw, or at least an open-mouthed awe.

And what better image to lead off this endeavor than that inspired by the Oakland County mom who apparently went ballistic and drop-kicked a confection at a local supermarket, sending cake and icing flying all over the place. We like to think our mission is similar: making sure everybody gets a look at some of the hottest messes of 2016 — right after they wipe the frosting out of their eyes.

Didn't see that one coming

As far as crooked corporate news items go, this one's almost heart-warming. Ervin Brinker, 70, the former CEO of a community mental health authority in Battle Creek, is sentenced in January to 32 months to 10 years in prison for embezzling Medicaid funds. Why did he need all this extra money? Drug habit? Private dances? Italian suit fetish? No, our good man Brinker stole $510,000 from Medicaid to make payments to a psychic palm reader and her husband in Key West, Fla. Maybe next time, he'll find a better psychic.

Poison isn't free, you know

Flint started the new year off by sending shut-off warnings to residents. In late 2015, the city had been enjoined from sending shut-off warnings — remarkably, not because the city's water contains hazardous levels of lead, but because of a court injunction stemming from a billing lawsuit. But with the injunction expiring and the holidays over, Flint returns to sending shut-off warnings when its residents don't pay the highest rates for water in the country — for poison. Think you'd just thumb your nose at the city and refuse to pay? Think again: In Michigan homes without water service, parents can be referred to social services and run the risk of losing their children.

Water cooler talk

In January, after Flint's water crisis had been officially declared a state of emergency, emails obtained by the group Progress Michigan reveals that a year before, the Snyder administration discreetly trucked water coolers into a state building. According to one email — sent days after the city told residents that the smelly, rust-colored water was safe to drink — water coolers were to be placed next to the water fountains, so that government employees "can choose which water to drink." Apparently for the Snyder administration, what was good for the goose was not good for the gander.

Say "cheese!"

With news spreading far and wide that a Snyder-appointed emergency manager's poor decisions led to the city's water being poisoned with lead, the guv reacted swiftly: hiring not one but two public relations firms, and staging a showy photo op of him signing a short-term aid bill. But with a half-million people already demanding his resignation, you'd think Snyder and his handlers would know better than look positively tickled as an all-white crowd of smiling Republicans presents the aid bill as if it were a birthday gift to him. One PR professional called the photo a classic case of "how to make a horrible situation look worse."

A poke in the brown eye

In February, the Michigan Senate passes a bill declaring all sodomy not just illegal, but a felony punishable by as much as 15 years in prison. The law was not targeted solely at homosexuals, but was improbably linked to new legislation drawn up against the act of bestiality. That's right — there wasn't a law against bestiality, and it does make sense to try to pass one. But to make it a felony for anyone to commit "the abominable and detestable crime against nature with mankind or with any animal" is not only beyond unnecessary, it risks being declared unconstitutional, as anti-sodomy laws have already been declared. It's like a Reese's Peanut Butter cup, except instead of chocolate you have sexuality-based hatred, and instead of peanut butter, you have ... oh, we'll stop now.

What were they smoking?

In March, a zoning ordinance to regulate Detroit's medical marijuana dispensaries goes into effect, barring shops from operating within 1,000 feet of schools, arcades, parks, party stores, child care facilities, churches, public housing, and other dispensaries. The problem? That leaves few parcels city available to consider opening a business and tapping into Michigan's budding marijuana industry. As a cursory glance at the city's Medical Marijuana Caregiver Center Eligibility Search Engine reveals, the ordinance creates wide swaths of "green ghettos" — in a city where 1 in 4 households doesn't own a car, and public transportation stinks.

The blame game

The Flint saga continued in April with Attorney General Bill Schuette announcing criminal charges against what would become the first patsies of the crisis, filing felony charges against two DEQ officials and one city of Flint official. In July, he would charge three more DEQ employees and three Michigan Department of Health and Human Services employees. In December, Schuette charged four more people, including former Flint emergency managers Darnell Earley and Gerald Ambrose.



Sorry to drink and run

In a bid to restore confidence in Flint's lead-plagued water system, Snyder claims to have visited a Flint home and consumed filtered water out of the family's kitchen tap, and that he intends to continue drinking filtered Flint tap water for the next 30 days. But instead of being seen as a selfless display of empathy, many see it as an insincere PR stunt. Flint Mayor Karen Weaver says the promise "does not impress us at all." And all of five days go by before the guv jets off to Europe for trade discussions. A spokesperson says bringing Flint water along "isn't feasible."

click to enlarge ILLUSTRATION BY SEAN BIERI
  • Illustration by Sean Bieri

The book battle

In April, a Tecumseh couple were arrested and arraigned, facing misdemeanor charges for failing to return two books borrowed from their public library (thriller The Roman Prophecy and Dr. Seuss, A Hatful of Seuss, for the record). In addition to late fees, each were to be charged a $105 "diversion fee" — and according to the judge, failure to pay could result in 93 days in jail and a maximum $500 fine. In May, the charges were dropped after they paid the late fees for the novel and the cost of replacing the Dr. Seuss book, which they had misplaced.

Missing the mark

A New York-based program called the Caliber Collection holds a gun buyback event in June — in quite possibly the most garish example of the monetization of Detroit's decline. The group takes unloaded guns, melts them down, and turns them into chic jewelry (sometimes diamond-encrusted). But no, donors don't get to keep the jewelry: they just get a $50 gift card. Sure, they're getting guns off the street, and a percentage of sales goes to funding future gun buyback programs, but something here seems like a misfire to us.

Can't muzzle this dog

In 2009, Maryland's Flying Dog Brewery and the Michigan Liquor Control Commission entered into a lengthy legal battle after the agency tried to ban the sale of the brewer's "Raging Bitch" Belgian-style IPA, objecting to the beer's double entendre name and label artwork (which featured a Ralph Steadman illustration of a dog with humanlike genitalia and breasts). In May, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit sides with the brewery, ruling that Michigan officials could be violating the brewery's First Amendment rights. Flying Dog later used the damages received to found the "1st Amendment Society," a nonprofit dedicated to free-speech issues.

That's not how you get a bachelor's degree

Speaking of free speech, just because you can say something doesn't always mean you should. In May, Harrison strip club Miceli's Corner updated its street sign to say "Now Hiring Class of 2016," seemingly encouraging graduates of the local high school to apply. Some residents think that was not the right message to be sending to their youths. "Children fresh out of high school shouldn't be taking their clothes off for money," one resident tells Saginaw's WNEM. "In no way were we trying to offend anybody," Miceli's management later told WNEM in a statement. "The sign was simply a joke."

Doesn't anybody knock anymore?

In Redford, a report of a domestic violence situation caused police to shut down a neighborhood around midnight, blocking off several streets, and initiating a tense, 11-hour standoff in the area of Winston and Acacia. Special tactical vehicles from Livonia and Redford were deployed, as police clad in body armor did everything they normally do when a suspect barricades himself in a home, launching tear gas canisters into the house and even making an effort to send a robot in. Finally, at about 11 a.m., police discovered the home was empty.

Fruitcake to go

Tricia Ann Kortes, 46, went to a Bloomfield Township Kroger to pick up a custom cake for her son's birthday party, and she was so unhappy with the Batman v. Superman decoration on it that she screamed, "They fucking ruined my 7-year-old's birthday cake!" and then drop-kicked it, sending frosting and cake flying. Kortes stomped on what was left of the confection, and kicked over a "wet floor" sign while storming out of the store. After being approached later by police, Kortes said the cake "accidentally slipped out of her hand." The case got so much publicity that Kortes was identified as a customer who slapped an employee at Ray's Ice Cream last year.

Stripping, for freedom

In June, a paunchy, bearded man stripped down to a thong at the podium at a Libertarian Party Convention in Florida. That man was one James Weeks, a then-county sheriff candidate of Livingston County, Mich. Weeks said he did the striptease as a dare, but also an act of performance art. "To me it meant that our government is so corrupt that it needs to be stripped down," he later told MT. Turns out a lot of Libertarians seemingly aren't that chill about free speech, though — Weeks' dance was met with immediate boos from the convention floor. (Later, in November, Weeks lost the race for Livingston County Sheriff.)

Taken aback

In June, a 25-foot-tall statue is erected near Woodward Avenue and 13 Mile Road in Royal Oak, based on Alfred Eisenstaedt's iconic photograph of a Navy man kissing a woman in New York's Times Square at the end of World War II. But as some critics pointed out, the statue is essentially a monument to sexual assault: The story behind the photo is that the dude, drunk, ditched his date to smooch the woman, a stranger, later identified as Greta Friedman. "I was grabbed," Friedman said in 2012. "That man was very strong. I wasn't kissing him. He was kissing me." (Friedman died this year at the age of 92.)

The only thing "wasted" was your tax money

In 2014, Snyder signed off on a pilot program that screened adults applying or reapplying for state cash assistance. A questionnaire was part of the "suspicion-based program" attempting to determine which applicants should be subjected to drug tests — with failure of two tests, or failure to take one, resulting in the loss of benefits. After a year of testing in three Michigan counties, Lansing announces the amount of drug users the program ensnared: zero. What's more, nobody refused the test. Total money earmarked for the program: $300,000. Total money saved: $0.

Popu-fucked

Populux, the electronic music venue that took over the Magic Stick's former digs, sows the seeds of its demise in July when someone tweets a racist tweet from its Twitter account that included hashtags #BlameObama and #FuckBlackLivesMatter while linking mass shootings to "libtards." The incendiary tweet is deleted quickly, but not before artists and patrons pledge to boycott the fledgling club. An apology tweet notes that the venue's account had been hacked, a claim that was never substantiated. The club closes permanently a couple weeks later when it was announced that the Magic Stick would return.

Grab 'em by the titties

Long before this disastrous election ended with disastrous results, we still thought that Donald Trump's campaign was a joke (still is a joke — just a very real and scary joke). When Trump makes a stop on the trail in Detroit (at the Economic Club, no less), he makes a Freudian slip that we can't help but wonder if it was a slip at all. Instead of the word "city," it sounds like Trump said the word "titties." The internet goes wild once this happens and one Detroit beat-maker, djkage, uses the slip to craft a ghetto house anthem called "Massive Titties in Detroit." It could be the only positive that came out of this awful election.

click to enlarge ILLUSTRATION BY SEAN BIERI
  • Illustration by Sean Bieri


Oh, Canada

One of the last signs that summer is officially ending is the annual Float Down that takes place in Port Huron. Hundreds of rowdy river rats float down the St. Clair River until they reach the beachy shores of Marysville. This year however, Mother Nature has different plans for the float down participants. While participants are shotgunning beers and riding on inflatable swans, winds gust so high on the river that hundreds of drunk floaters are blown over to Canada in what seems to be the biggest "F U" to homeland security ever. According to bystanders, the scene was complete chaos and those who skipped customs had to be bussed back to the U.S.A.

click to enlarge ILLUSTRATION BY SEAN BIERI
  • Illustration by Sean Bieri

Remote control

Flint Mayor Karen Weaver says she didn't necessarily intend on suing the state of Michigan over its water crisis. By law, the city had until March to file a notice of intent to sue to reserve its rights should it decide to pursue legal action later. That's when the ghost of emergency management reared its ugly head. Though Flint was no longer under emergency management, a state-appointed Receiver Transition Advisory Board still exerted partial control over the city. The board responded to the threat of a lawsuit by changing the rules, saying it needed to approve any litigation.

Bookies boycott

In September, video footage was released showing police in Tulsa, Okla., shooting Terence Crutcher — sadly, yet another example of police shooting an unarmed black man in recent years. "Get ready for the liberal media frenzy of BS," Mark Jerant, co-owner of Detroit's Bookies Bar & Grille, writes on Facebook. Despite the fact that the comments are posted using his personal account on a friend's page, screenshots soon go viral and people call for a boycott. Later, co-owner Jay Lambrecht took to Facebook to distance himself from his business partner's callous comments. "I am embarrassed and sorry, Bookies only has survived because of the community support of the last (14 years)," he wrote. "I have always been proud to have one of the most diverse bars in the city ... that's what makes Bookies a special place." Jerant later issued an apology for the "tone and tenor" of his comments.

Let's call him 'The Duke of Numbnuts' instead

With all of the hubbub in the media surrounding gender identity and some folks' desire to refer to themselves with non-binary pronouns, surely an enterprising young person might find it hilarious to take advantage of the situation? I mean, who wouldn't want to mess with policies enacted after much deliberation to foster "an environment of inclusivity," right? University of Michigan's newly announced pronoun policy does allow students to list chosen pronouns on their official bios, which are sent out to teachers. But one student, Grant Stroble, chose to list his pronoun as "His Majesty." We will let you guess whether Stroble is in fact a cisgendered, straight, Caucasian-American male who in reality bears an uncanny resemblance to Howdy Doody, or not.

Where's their suggestion box, at the Mystery Spot?

After giving preliminary approval to Nestlé Waters North America to pump many more millions of gallons a year out of Osceola Township, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality notifies the public of the deal and its right to comment on it. It just does it very, very quietly — in The DEQ Environmental Calendar, a biweekly publication not read by the general public. Environmentalists catch wind of the comment period with less than a week to go, and emails begin to pour in at the department. Under pressure, the department extends the deadline to March 3, 2017, and has received more than 13,000 comments so far.

click to enlarge ILLUSTRATION BY SEAN BIERI
  • Illustration by Sean Bieri

Clowning around

In September and October, "creepy clown" sightings spiked around the country, leading Insane Clown Posse to comment on the state of creepy clown affairs. They assure everyone that this was totally normal and nothing to worry about, but days later a late night clown sighting in Clinton Township have people on edge. Reports of clown sightings stopped trickling in sometime after Halloween, leading us to believe it was nothing but a grassroots hoax put on by individuals who just happened to have a clown suit lying around.

Culture shock

In September, Mojo in the Morning personality DJ Styles posted a blog that discussed which Michigan colleges had the sluttiest girls on campus. Naturally, the blog draws immediate negative attention — especially in light of ex-Stanford University swimmer Brock Turner's troublingly lenient punishment for sexual assault — and was taken down. But, before the whole nasty incident ended, Styles released a particularly vexing apology in which he claimed he was not aware of rape culture and that "maybe that's sad and a subject I should know more about." Yes, Styles is still a Mojo in the Morning employee.

Kate Upton's opinion matters

White America really loves to tell black America when it's appropriate to protest (spoiler alert: It's never), especially when NFL player Colin Kaepernick decided to kneel during the national anthem as a form of protest. Kate Upton, supermodel turned fiancé to Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander, takes to social media to shame other NFL players who decided to join Kaepernick in the peaceful protest on Sept. 11. Upton thought it was unacceptable to protest during the anthem and the internet reacted accordingly by dragging her through the coal and calling her out on her privilege. Then Verlander tweets "All Lives Matter" a few weeks after, completely forgetting that he plays for a team in a city that is 82 percent black. Fun stuff.

A lead balloon

Snyder releases a proclamation declaring "Lead Poisoning Prevention Week," urging Michiganians to "become aware of the sources of lead poisoning and actions to prevent exposure." He even shares the message on his Twitter account, prompting hundreds of wags to share their reactions to a politician unaware that he's wading knee-deep in offensive irony.

Will Eminem's real daughter please stand up?

A teenager from Memphis, Tenn., goes on the Dr. Phil program to make a case for herself that Eminem is her actual birth father. We wish we were making this shit up, but sadly, we are not. The teen claims that she has photos of herself as a baby with a man resembling Eminem holding her, but her mother (who was also on the show) says that the man holding her is her uncle. Clearly she is facing some mental health issues and we hope that she got some help, but speaking to whackjob Dr. Phil is not the right professional to help you through your issues.

Off the wall

In November, days after the 2016 presidential election, a group of Royal Oak Middle School Students are videotaped chanting, "Build a wall" to the dismay of their Latino classmates. Later posted to social media, the video goes viral and even spawns a demonstration during a school basketball game. The school addressed the incident, promising that the student who instigated the chant was punished, but the true perpetrators — parents who spout this sort of division-creating rhetoric at home — got off scot-free.

The most dubious of them all

We've got to hand it to Snyder and his administration, who cleaned the floor at this year's Dubious Achievement Awards in their handling of the Flint crisis. But just when we thought the administration couldn't embarrass itself any further ... Snyder and co. pulled through. In November, a federal judge ordered the state to deliver bottled water to all homes that don't have a working water filter. The state quickly filed a motion to stay with the federal district court in Detroit, claiming that would cost $10.5 million a month. A federal appeals court refused the stay in December, saying the state's price tag was unfounded. Seemingly determined to earn yet another Doobie, the state filed a motion to appeal.


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