‘Michigan blogger’ to speak in Sacramento

Michigan journalist  Joel Thurtell will speak in Sacramento about how he broke last year’s major story about California’s Capital Appreciation Bonds.

Thurtell is scheduled to address the annual conference of the California League of Bond Oversight Committees between 2:15-3:15 P.M. on May 10.

Known by California news media as “the Michigan blogger,” Thurtell published his first warning about California CABs on April 27, 2012. Thurtell broke the first of seven stories about Poway schools’ ultra-high-interest bonds on May 1, 2012.

After Thurtell began writing about California’s Capital Appreciation Bonds last year, the California CABs story was picked up by numerous news organizations, including the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Bloomberg, and NPR.

“How does a general assignment reporter at the Detroit Free Press come to write about an arcane financial instrument called Capital Appreciation Bonds?” mused Thurtell. “CABs were so obscure that the financial industry’s textbook on municipal bonds didn’t even mention them. Yet I convinced editors to let me drive every day for months to the state capital in Lansing, where I researched every CAB ever issued by a Michigan school district. I’ll give the lowdown on this high-interest story in Sacramento.”

Thurtell’s articles about Michigan school CABs in the April 5, 1993 Detroit Free Press prompted the Michigan Legislature in 1994 to enact a ban on CABs and a requirement that municipal bonds be competitively bid.

Thurtell’s Free Press stories won the Michigan Education Association’s 1994 School Bell Award for meritorious reporting about education. Re-published in 2009 on joelontheroad, the stories drew the attention of a California bond oversight committee member whose collaboration with the reporter helped spawn his 2012 exposés on California CABs.

The California League of Bond Oversight Committees was formed in 2006 to promote school district accountability and provide training and resources for members of bond oversight committees. A 2000 California law requires that local governments issuing municipal bonds appoint citizens committees to ensure accountability in bond issues.

Now retired from the Free Press, Thurtell in 2009 was named “best independent blogger raising hell” by Detroit’s Metro Times newspaper. Thurtell’s book, Up the Rouge!, about environmental conditions on a famous Detroit river, was published in 2009 by Wayne State University Press and named a 2010 Michigan Notable Book by the Library of Michigan. The journalism faculty of Wayne State University named Thurtell “2011 Journalist of the Year.”

Thurtell’s investigative reporting has been credited with impelling Detroit news media to cover Manuel “Matty” Moroun, the billionaire owner of Detroit’s Ambassador Bridge who hijacked a city park and was jailed for contempt of court in connection with a contracat involving the bridge approach.

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