Cabela’s opened a 90,000-square-foot store in August in Chesterfield Township. It is the fourth store in Michigan.

Cabela’s opened a 90,000-square-foot store in August in Chesterfield Township. It is the fourth store in Michigan.

File photo by Patricia O’Blenes


Looking back on the big Macomb County news of 2017

By: Joshua Gordon | C&G Newspapers | Published January 9, 2018

 Macomb County Clerk Karen Spranger battled the county throughout her first year in office.

Macomb County Clerk Karen Spranger battled the county throughout her first year in office.

File photo by Deb Jacques

 The Gibraltar Trade Center closed in August in Mount Clemens after 27 years of offering market and show space to the area.

The Gibraltar Trade Center closed in August in Mount Clemens after 27 years of offering market and show space to the area.

File photo by Erin Sanchez

 Phase I construction work on Hall Road wrapped up in October, just in time for holiday shopping. Phase II of the 3.7-mile, $65 million project is expected to start back up again in the spring.

Phase I construction work on Hall Road wrapped up in October, just in time for holiday shopping. Phase II of the 3.7-mile, $65 million project is expected to start back up again in the spring.

File photo by Deb Jacques

 Macomb County hosted an event Nov. 3 for 24 people originally from 17 different countries to take the Oath of Allegiance and become U.S. citizens.

Macomb County hosted an event Nov. 3 for 24 people originally from 17 different countries to take the Oath of Allegiance and become U.S. citizens.

File photo by Donna Agusti

MACOMB COUNTY — Big news came out of Macomb County in 2017, from major name brand companies opening in the county to road work that caused headaches in hopes of a better future for those corridors.

But at the county level, it was the battle between Macomb County and Clerk Karen Spranger that seemed to keep popping back up.

Spranger won the position as a Republican in the November 2016 election, and only a few weeks later, she was denied computer access for allegedly allowing nonemployees to access her county computer network.

The clerk had issues with union employees almost from the beginning. At the end of March, two former employees filed a whistleblower lawsuit against her.

In June, Spranger filed a lawsuit of her own against Macomb County — in particular Executive Mark Hackel and the Board of Commissioners — over her IT access as well as firearms allowed in her office.

The county quickly moved to file a countersuit against Spranger in hopes of removing her from office, claiming Spranger lied on her affidavit in running for office. The county alleges that Spranger does not reside at the Warren address listed on her affidavit.

Before the countersuit was allowed to go forward, Spranger’s attorney, Frank Cusumano Jr., moved for all Macomb County Circuit Court judges to recuse themselves from the case because Spranger also serves as the clerk for the court.

The judges did just that, and in September, the case was assigned to St. Clair County Circuit Court Judge Daniel Kelly. A few weeks later, Kelly allowed the county to file the countersuit.

In the countersuit, the county states that there has been no water service since 2014 to the Hudson Avenue address that Spranger listed. Issues were also raised about Spranger using Michigan Bridge Card funds in Wayne County, where the Macomb County counsel alleges she used it exclusively between November 2011 and the end of 2016.

Both lawsuits are ongoing.

On top of all the lawsuits, the Macomb County Circuit Court issued Spranger a letter in November, stating that the Clerk’s Office was behind on Law Enforcement Information Network criminal history reports dating back to August, as well as 3,000 e-filing bundles.

When Spranger failed to meet the court’s deadline to catch up on the work, the Board of Commissioners asked for a full report on Spranger’s office at the Nov. 30 meeting. Spranger told the board she did not have adequate staff to do the work, despite the board telling her she had around 14 open positions she could and should fill.

In December, Kelly ordered Spranger not to interfere with the county’s Human Resources Department filling the openings. Macomb County Corporate Counsel John Schapka said at the time he expected all the positions to be filled by mid-January.

 

County tackles opioids
As local residents, and people all over the country, struggle with opioid addictions, Macomb County was one of nine Michigan communities involved in a federal lawsuit targeting multiple drug makers, distributors and retailers for their role in the opioid epidemic across the country.

Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel announced the lawsuit in December, saying there needs to be accountability for the deaths associated with opioid addiction.

The lawsuit, which was filed Dec. 18 in the U.S. District Court in Detroit, is requesting that the court compel the defendants to remedy the exorbitant costs to taxpayers for the increased burdens to their residents and communities.

The Macomb County Office of Substance Abuse, or MCOSA, hosted a two-hour forum on the opioid crisis in October, looking to help instruct the public on facts and figures related to the epidemic.

MCOSA Director Randy O’Brien said at the forum that the number of total drug-related deaths in Macomb County rose from 223 in 2011 to 358 in 2016, with totals rising each year since 2013.

MCOSA Assistant Director Helen Klingert talked about the county’s Hope Not Handcuffs program, which helps addicts get help and use law enforcement as relief.

State Rep. Henry Yanez, D-Sterling Heights, and State Sen. Steve Bieda, D-Warren, were also part of the forum, and said the issues are not specific to one demographic, but widespread.

 

Open for business
Two big companies, Cabela’s and Amazon, pegged Macomb County as a place they wanted to do business in 2017, while another international company may not be far behind.

Cabela’s opened a 90,000- square-foot store on Aug. 3 in Chesterfield Township. It was the fourth Cabela’s store to open in Michigan, with the closest to metro Detroit being in Dundee.

Thomas Guastello, president of Center Management, developers of the property on which Cabela’s opened, said he expected the store to be one of the busier locations because of the proximity to Lake St. Clair, parks and rivers. The store brought 175 jobs to Macomb County.

In September, Amazon announced that it will build a 1 million-square-foot fulfillment center at 23 Mile and Mound roads in Shelby Township, slated to open in 2018.

Amazon estimates that the project will include a $90 million investment and 1,000 full-time jobs. The property previously was used for industrial purposes.

The next big brand to open in Macomb County could be Ikea, the Swedish-based furniture company. Ikea has one Michigan location in Canton, but could be scouting metro Detroit — and Macomb County, in particular — for a second location.

Guastello said his property would be perfect for Ikea, while Hackel said there are a number of places in Macomb County that could work.

“We are open for access, and we are doing work to create a tremendous amount of businesses wanting to locate here,” Hackel said in November.

 

An improved M-59
It took almost eight months, but a large portion of the 3.7-mile, $65-million reconstruction project on Hall Road was completed to help improve traffic flow and extend the life of the corridor.

The project started in March with Phase I, which spanned from Delco Boulevard to Hayes Road. It concluded in October, and Phase II, from Hayes to Romeo Plank Road, is expected to start back up again in the spring.

The work included updating traffic signals, sidewalks and drainage systems, as well as making aesthetic improvements. A fourth lane is expected to be added during Phase II.

The work caused backups and headaches for commuters and people who lived in Shelby Township, Utica, Clinton Township and Macomb Township. But Phase I work wrapped up right before the holidays — a welcome sight for businesses on the corridor.

 

Other big stories
After nearly a year of work, the sinkhole on 15 Mile Road between Hayes and Utica roads, straddling Fraser and Clinton Township, was repaired at the cost of $75 million, wrapping up in early December.

Throughout 2017, several local elected officials were indicted as part of a widespread FBI corruption investigation in Macomb County, including former Rizzo Environmental Services leaders.

Gibraltar Trade Center closed in Mount Clemens after 27 years in August. The 55-acre property was sold, meaning the 600,000-square-foot facility that provided a market and show space to the area had to close.

Selfridge Air National Guard Base was not selected to house the F-35A fighter jet, the Air Force announced Dec. 21. Selfridge was among five National Guard bases considered for hosting, maintaining and training the F-35As.