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Harper Woods

January 2, 2013

City, schools wrap up 2012

By April Lehmbeck
C & G Staff Writer

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From left, 911 dispatcher Barb Skalba, police Lt. Robert Hunter, Amari Young, Police Chief James Burke and Mayor Ken Poynter were recognized at a council meeting to honor Skalba and Young for their actions during a break-in earlier this year.

HARPER WOODS — After years of financial struggles following the 2008 economic crisis, a streak of optimism about financial matters fell over both the city and the schools in 2012. However, there were still challenges that were tackled and major decisions were made during the year.

Here is a look back at 2012:

January
• A Harper Woods Police sergeant had a scary New Year’s Day incident, when someone fired a trio of gunshots at a scout car patrolling in the area of Kelly and Washtenaw just before 2 a.m. Jan. 1.

• Harper Woods City Council votes 6-1 Jan. 18 to give Acting City Manager Randolph Skotarczyk the power to cut staffing levels to help with the city’s financial difficulties. At the time, Skotarczyk estimated that the city needed to cut about seven people from its payroll. Skotarczyk said both the police and the fire services had said that they needed more staff, not less. It was something he said was not financially possible.

• Police arrested an 18-year-old Detroit man, who was believed to be involved in multiple burglaries spanning a few separate communities.

February
• Skotarczyk reluctantly issued police and fire layoff notices, as well as eliminated the civilian aid program in the Police Department on Feb. 1, due to severe budget constraints. He called the decision painful. Layoffs were to be effective in March.

• Guns and knives were found at Harper Woods Secondary campus Feb. 16 after a weapon had been accidentally discharged in the school.  There were no injuries in the incident.

•  It was standing-room only in the large City Council chambers Feb. 22 for an issue that wasn’t even initially on the council meeting agenda. Residents filled the seats and lined the back and side walls, wanting more information about the city’s plans to lay off four police officers, four firefighters and all eight civilian aides in the Police Department.

• The Harper Woods School District Board of Education and administration held a community forum Feb. 27 in a packed community room at the high school to give people an opportunity to ask questions and give input after a student accidentally fired a gun at the school last month. The school search after the incident revealed a couple additional guns, knives and a small amount of marijuana. Superintendent Todd Biederwolf reviewed the additional security measures the district had put in place, which included metal detecting equipment.

• Longtime Harper Woods activist John Bruneel died at the age of 94. Up to his death, he played an active role in the city, including serving on the Planning Commission, attending City Council meetings and lending a hand in other ways.

• Harper Woods police launched an investigation that led to the arrest of a 34-year-old Detroit man in an armed robbery of Subway that occurred on Feb. 23. Then, their investigation led to solving a year-old bank robbery, as well. Police said he was the man on the video of an attempted armed robbery of Chase Bank in Harper Woods in 2007.

March
• Police were able to catch two home-invasion suspects, thanks to the quick thinking of Amari Young, a 10-year-old girl who led her younger siblings to safety in a closet and called 911 when the suspects tried to break into her home on Country Club Drive on March 5.

• Police were called out after shots were fired, when a large group of teens took to the street in the 19700 block of Kenosha March 14. Teens fled when police arrived, but police caught four of the suspects who ran from the scene. Three shell casings were found on Kenosha. Police later discovered that the shots were fired by a junior at Harper Woods High School, so they went to the school, pulled him from class and searched his car. While they did not find the weapon in that search, the teen told them the he gave it to an adult in Detroit and it was later found in a home on Chatsworth in Detroit.

• Harper Woods City Council voted in favor of setting up special assessment districts during a council meeting, which was one step toward being able to approve a special assessment that officials hoped would help save a dire budget situation.

• Harper Woods Library announces its partnership with OverDrive to give library patrons remote access to many library items, including audio books and e-books.

• Harper Woods Mayor Ken Poynter suffered a heart attack following Bruneel’s memorial service, where he spoke. A defibrillator was used at the scene to save Poynter’s life.

April
• Harper Woods dispatcher Rose Schroeder helped victims of an attempted carjacking/shooting make it to safety when they called 911.

• Police released its annual Year End Report, which showed a drop in serious crimes in 2011. The report also showed a decline in the number of top staff in the department by the end of 2011, because of voluntary early retirements due to financial shortfalls in the city.

• A Harper Woods police officer witnessed a fatal shooting in the area of Kelly and Roscommon April 25. The officer pulled into an alley and was getting out of his vehicle after seeing a man walking behind a couple in the area. As the officer was exiting his vehicle to check out the situation, the man walking with the woman fired a handgun at the man who had been following them. Video surveillance of the alley later showed that an armed man tried to rob the couple. The couple told police that they were able to get the gun from the man and shot the would-be robber as he was leaving.

May
• Harper Woods City Council votes 6-0 May 7 to move forward with a project to update the city’s master plan. The state requires updates every five years, but Harper Woods hadn’t done an update in about seven years.

• City Council unanimously passed a 9.5-mill special assessment on May 7. Before approving the special assessment, the city had to host two separate public hearings. A number of residents had been vocal on this issue with many saying that they supported the measure or realized that it was necessary.

• Harper Woods Middle School students earn national recognition for their work in June Teisan’s class through an intensive science project studying water pollution on Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair.

• Although crew in both the Harper Woods Police and Fire departments were given layoff notices, only the firefighters took the manpower hit March 23. The police officers had an extension, due to being further along in negotiations than firefighters.

• Harper Woods School Board member Rachelle Anderson resigned May 22 after being charged with marijuana possession. The charges were later dropped.

• Amari Young and Harper Woods dispatcher Barb Skalba were honored at the May 21 council meeting for their teamwork in helping to keep Young and her brothers safe from attempted home invaders until police arrived and made the arrest. 

June
• Harper Woods Schools announces the school board’s decision to authorize refunding of construction bonds, which would mean long-term savings of approximately $3 million. 

• Jason Tinsley was appointed to the Harper Woods School Board June 5 to fill the seat left vacant by Anderson’s resignation. The board interviewed four candidates for the seat.

• City Council member Michael Monaghan resigned his seat because he was moving out of the city, taking more than 16 years of council experience with him.

• City Manager James Leidlein died at the age of 60 June 16, after a long battle with cancer. He had been out on medical leave for several months.

• Police officer Veronica Poleacu was named the 2011 Officer of the Year. Poleacu was the department’s first woman to receive the recognition.

July
• Harper Woods Schools approves a plan to work with an outside educational firm to allow an alternative school to set up shop in the city. 

• Leslie Frank was appointed as Harper Woods City Clerk.

• Former Council member Hugh Marshal is appointed to fill the seat left vacant by the resignation of Michael Monaghan.

August
• City Council votes to approve the sale of the city’s Community Center for $216,000 per a land contract deal with Accuracy Temporary Services, which had contracted with Harper Woods Schools to establish an alternative school program in the city.

• After replacing one council member in July following a resignation, long-term Council member John Szymanski announced his resignation after taking on a new career opportunity that conflicted time-wise with council meetings.

September
•  After months of working with a skeleton crew in the Fire Department, four laid-off firefighters were headed back to work after winning arbitration, but that wasn’t the only big news for that department. The layoffs were due to financial difficulties the city has been facing, but Fire Chief Sean Gunnery came through by applying for a major grant that will help fund those four firefighters for a two-year period. The department learned that it received the grant, which would provide approximately $519, 000 to help with wages and some of the cost of benefits.

• City Council chose Valerie Kindle to fill the council seat left vacant by Szymanski’s resignation. Susan Uhl and Veronica Paiz, two residents who also have been actively involved in the city, interviewed for the seat, as well.

• Beaumont and the American Heart Association donated a defibrillator to the city’s library in honor of Poynter, who was saved with the use of one after suffering a heart attack earlier in the year.

October
• Being in a tight financial spot didn’t absolve the city from having to make its pension fund contributions, and a judicial ruling resulted in the city needing to levy about 5 mills on the winter tax bill. The city was about $1.4 million behind in its payments.

• A little more than a year after appointing former Police Chief Randolph Skotarczyk to the role of acting city manager, the City Council made the relationship a more permanent one. The council voted unanimously to appoint Skotarczyk as city manager during its Oct. 15 City Council meeting.

• City officials present a budget that brings more optimism for the future than the ones discussed in previous years. Despite still needing a special assessment, city officials felt that things were improving.

November
• Days after a man shot toward the McDonald’s on Eight Mile and Kelly, police had tracked down a male and female suspect in that case. Police said a man fired at least one round at an employee of the restaurant from outside after a customer dispute. A bullet was discovered in the window pane of the restaurant.

• City officials learned that the city would be able to make some upgrades to Salter and Johnston parks with a $70,000 grant allocation through the Wayne County Parks Millage Fund. The city council approved the grant agreement during its Nov. 5 meeting.

• Voters in the Grosse Pointes and Harper Woods chose school board members during the November election. The faces of members on the Grosse Pointe School Board remained the same, after voters chose to keep the incumbent candidates. Harper Woods voters chose some new representatives, with only one incumbent running among the three vacancies. Grosse Pointe Schools voters chose to keep current Board President Judy Gafa and Trustee Cindy Pangborn. Harper Woods chose to keep incumbent Jill Quarker and also elected Regina Williams and Tabithia Mahone.

• Police nab 14 felony suspects during the weekend of Nov. 9. The suspected crimes included home invasions, robbery and assault with intent to murder.

• A 41-year-old Harper Woods man was arrested at his home following a standoff with police. He faced 27 charges from the incident, in which he allegedly shot at police at the scene.

December
• Police announce that serious crime was on the rise, but that the police unions had agreed to bring in part-time police officers to work inside the department, freeing up current officers to spend more time in the neighborhoods.

• The new Harper Woods High School debate team won its first tournament for the school.

• The Harper Woods School Board said their farewell to Board Trustees Joseph Zichi and Jason Tinsley as they move on from their positions on the board.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer April Lehmbeck at alehmbeck@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1043.