Onward to 2013

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published January 2, 2013

 Gerard Smith, of Madison Heights, walks his rescued dog Loki, a 1-year-old retriever/shepherd mix, through Suarez Friendship Woods, enjoying the golden leaves of autumn. The park is now under county control, thanks to a new 25-year lease agreement with Madison Heights.

Gerard Smith, of Madison Heights, walks his rescued dog Loki, a 1-year-old retriever/shepherd mix, through Suarez Friendship Woods, enjoying the golden leaves of autumn. The park is now under county control, thanks to a new 25-year lease agreement with Madison Heights.

File photo by Deb Jacques

If you’re reading this, the world didn’t end Dec. 21, as some believed the ancient Mayan calendar foretold. Not that the threat of doomsday ever stopped Madison Heights and Hazel Park from moving forward. Whether it was Hazel Park improving recycling rates and opening an art garden, or Madison Heights securing the future of the newly named Red Oaks Nature Center at Suarez Friendship Woods, the two cities kept doing more with less, creating momentum that carries them now into the New Year.

• The Madison Heights Fire Department started off 2012 under new leadership: Gregory Lelito, previously a sergeant, was promoted to chief following the Jan. 1 retirement of the previous chief, Kevin Scheid.

• Tragedy struck when Clarence Tariq Hammond III, 33, an officer for the Michigan Department of Corrections and a father of two young boys, was killed upon returning to his apartment in the 31000 block of Harlo, shot in the head by an unknown suspect while still in the parking lot the night of Jan. 13, going on Jan. 14.

• A same-sex couple from Hazel Park — April DeBoer, a neo-natal intensive care nurse, and Jayne Rowse, an emergency room nurse — filed a federal lawsuit against Gov. Rick Snyder and Attorney General Bill Schuette Jan. 23, saying it’s unconstitutional for the state to keep unmarried couples from adopting. They own a home and have three kids, but can’t jointly share guardianship of them, due to the law.

• At the end of January, the Hazel Park Police Department saw its own change of leadership when David Niedermeier retired as chief, handing the reins over to his former lieutenant, Martin Barner.

• Madison Heights City Council unanimously approved the promotion of Melissa Marsh to the role of assistant city manager for administrative services. Previously, she was the city’s director of administrative services.

• Hazel Park’s first-ever Fear Factor, at the recreation center Feb. 19, challenged people to face their fears of creepy-crawlers, gross food and more, all for the noble cause of raising money for the Hazel Park Promise Zone, which sends graduates of Hazel Park High to college, starting with the Class of 2012.

• The state decided against merging the 43rd District Court in Madison Heights, Hazel Park and Ferndale with the 44th District Court in Royal Oak. This was originally considered as part of a plan to reduce judgeships statewide. Currently, the three branches of the 43rd District Court each have one judge, while the 44th District Court has two.

• Hazel Park City Council called upon residents to share “climate action plans” that could be locally implemented to enhance the environment and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as the focus of a community open house at the recreation center March 26.

• At a special session April 16, Madison school board trustees voted 6-1 to pass a resolution implementing teacher salary schedules for 2010-11, 2011-12 and 2012-13, involving a pay freeze and 10 percent pay cut retroactive to September. This met harsh resistance from the teachers — already the lowest paid in Oakland County — who challenged it through their union, the Madison Education Association.

On May 16, Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Colleen O’Brien denied the union a preliminary injunction against the district. The union then brought their case to the Michigan Employment Relations Commission, pointing to a 2007 dispute between Detroit Public Schools and Teamsters Local 214, where Administrative Law Judge Doyle O’Connor ruled against retroactive pay cuts.

On Aug. 6, the school board and union settled on a compromise: All pay reductions from September 2011 through March 2012 were returned to the teachers; the 10 percent pay cut from April through August remained in effect; and when the new school year began in September, the pay cut was reduced to 8 percent.

• Around 450 students, staff and parent volunteers from Bishop Foley Catholic High fanned out across a dozen cities in the tri-county area April 20, donating a combined 3,200 hours of labor at roughly 25 agencies.

• Continuing their eco-friendly focus, Hazel Park’s new Community Task Force held the city’s first annual Earth Awareness Day April 21, educating the public on such topics as watershed awareness and the merits of recycling.

• Kensington Church in Troy and Landmark Community Church in Hazel Park surprised the family of Gabriel and Vanessa Fournier with the news that the two churches, in cooperation with the Westland-based nonprofit Life Remodeled, would be building them a brand new house.

The finished build, located at 656 W. Shevlin, was unveiled to the family May 27, during a festive block party that brought the neighborhood together. It marked the end of a weeklong effort driven by volunteers, and the start of a new life for the Fourniers and their three daughters.

• Hazel Park challenged Huntington Woods to a contest to see who could increase their recycling rates the most during the month of May. Hazel Park won with an 11 percent increase throughout May 2011, while Huntington Woods saw just a 1 percent increase.

Recycling saves on trash-collection costs and earns money in rebates through the Southeastern Oakland County Resource Recovery Authority (SOCRRA). Huntington Woods has been at the top of the SOCRRA communities, when it comes to recycling, and Hazel Park has been at the bottom, but the friendly competition helped bring improvement.

• On May 5, the Eight Mile Boulevard Association held its 17th annual “Clean the D” event, a mass clean-up involving hundreds of people all along the Eight Mile corridor, some 27 miles between I-275 to the west and I-94 to the east.

• Madison Heights adopted its FY 2012-13 budget May 14, weighing in at $48.9 million, down $195,000 or 0.4 percent from the FY 2011-12 amended total of $49.1 million. The city tax rate, or millage rate, was set at 22.425, up from 21.8654 the year before. The average resident saved about $55 on their city tax bill, based on the average Madison Heights home with a market value of $68,429 and taxable value of $34,026.

The projected $1.5 million gap in general fund expenditures/revenues was plugged in several ways, including the elimination of two vacant positions — one in recreation, another in the records bureau — and the incorporation of union and non-union labor concessions: some $829,000 in wage reductions, wage freezes, reductions in holiday pay, an increase in employee contributions to pension, and a new medical plan for all current employees — with higher deductibles and co-insurance payments, and lower benefits for new hires. There were no layoffs in the proposed budget.

• At the Madison Heights Community Round Table’s annual awards luncheon May 16, where dozens of area organizations gathered to recognize their best volunteers, Martha Kehoe was named the 2012 Volunteer of the Year for her extensive work on the city’s Memorial Day Parade, and her involvement on various boards and commissions.

• Hazel Park adopted its FY 2012-13 budget May 29, clocking in at $26.5 million, down roughly 7 percent from the FY 2011-12 amended total of nearly $28.4 million. The city tax rate, or millage rate, was set at 32.0333 in FY 2012-13, up from 31.7733 in FY 2011-12. The average city tax bill was $595, down from $729 in the year prior, based on an average taxable value of $18,605, down from last year’s $22,948.

The position of economic development coordinator was vacated and eliminated, and a clerical position was eliminated. A fire marshal was restored, thanks to the SAFER grant, but previous cuts such as the superintendent and full-time secretary at the Department of Public Works, various police and fire positions and the reduction of clerical employee hours at City Hall to a four-day, 32-hour workweek remained in effect, as did an across-the-board 5 percent pay cut.

• Hazel Park Public Schools sold off a 30-year bond and secured a lower interest rate to save district taxpayers millions of dollars in interest. The original $54 million bond, approved by voters back in 2002, paid to demolish three aging school buildings and helped build the new junior high and United Oaks Elementary. The district refinanced $25 million of the bond in 2011, saving taxpayers about $1.4 million. In 2012, the remainder of the bond was refinanced, bringing overall savings to $3 million.

• The Madison Heights Intermediate Women’s Club, part of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, sponsored the first annual Madison Heights Pub Crawl May 12, with more than 100 participants touring 10 venues and raising $3,000 for the privately funded Madison Heights Memorial Day Parade.

• The Victory Garden, a community garden on the south end of the United Methodist Church of Madison Heights, 246 E. 11 Mile near John R, launched with an official groundbreaking June 9.

• A $50,000 donation from The Walmart Foundation clinched the Hazel Park Promise Zone’s $100,000 match grant from the Sutar-Sutaruk-Meyer Foundation, effectively raising $200,000 for the cause of sending Hazel Park High grads to college.

• In response to the rising number of teens addicted to K2 and other designer drugs, Madison Heights City Council unanimously adopted an emergency ordinance at their meeting June 11, amending the city’s drug control policy to add synthetic cannabinoids to the list of prohibited controlled substances.

• Fireworks lit up the skies — and drove many people crazy — in the wake of changes to state law that allowed fireworks that were previously illegal. In Hazel Park, a 21-year-old wheelchair-bound man blew off his leg when he dropped one such firework in his lap on Independence Day.

In response to such incidents, and public outcry about the noise and debris, Madison Heights City Council adopted an ordinance July 23 banning the use of consumer fireworks for most of the year, starting Aug. 2. Shortly thereafter, Hazel Park City Council adopted the same ban.

Specifically, consumer fireworks are banned on all but 30 days, on which state law says they must be allowed. Those 30 days are the day of, before and after 10 national holidays: New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King Day, Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.

• In the election Aug. 7, voters approved proposals for millage increases supporting the Detroit Institute of Arts and Hazel Park Public Schools.

HPPS was approved for 3.1 mills between the school improvement bond and building and site sinking fund.

For a Hazel Park resident with an average taxable value of $18,214, the two proposals will cost $56.46 a year, or 15 cents a day. For a Ferndale resident in the district with an average taxable value of $27,302, it will cost $84.64 a year, or 23 cents a day.

The first proposal asked voters to approve an $8 million bond to buy new technology, in particular computers, and to improve the schools and athletic facilities. The tax levy will range from 0.79 mills to 2.10 mills, repaid throughout 20 years.

The other proposal was for a building and site sinking fund, in the form of a 1-mill tax raising roughly $304,340 each year for five years. The money can only be spent on fixing and maintaining existing facilities; it cannot be used for operating costs or other expenses, such as teacher, administrator or staff salaries.

Voters in Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties approved the proposal for the DIA millage increase. The measure is a new tax of 0.2 mill for 10 years, from 2012-21, through the art institute authority millage.

In Madison Heights, a homeowner with an average taxable value of $34,026 will pay an extra $6.81 a year. In Hazel Park, a homeowner with an average taxable value of $18,605 will pay an extra $3.72 a year. Residents now have unlimited free admission to the museum, including free school trips.

The millage generates about $10 million in Oakland County, $8 million in Wayne County and $5 million in Macomb County.

• Melvin Rose, a trustee on the Madison Board of Education, suffered a gunshot wound to the arm when he showed up at someone’s house with a baseball bat and got into a fight with a man wielding a handgun. The incident occurred in the 28000 block of Edward Avenue around 3 a.m. Aug. 12. Rose said he feared for the safety of the man’s wife and went to their home. No charges were filed on either side. 

• Looking to achieve more good together than they could apart, Pastor Ben Rathbun of Gospel Life Church and Pastor Sam Anderson of Central Church began mobilizing local churches to form a coalition called The Church at Madison Heights.

• During the summer, Community High School, an alternative school for at-risk youth in Madison Heights, was re-branded as Madison Preparatory High School, or Madison Prep for short, starting with the 2012-13 school year.

• Work got under way on Hazel Park’s first art garden, located at 21809 John R, right next to Dairy Park near Granet. One of the first sculptures planned for the garden, spearheaded by the Hazel Park Arts Council, was a 1,200-pound concrete chess/checkers table with two stools, memorializing Beverly Presson Hamby, a long-time Hazel Park resident, and supporter of the community, who loved children.

• The future of the nature center was secured when Madison Heights finalized a 25-year lease with Oakland County Parks and Recreation, where the county will manage the park as the Red Oaks Nature Center at Suarez Friendship Woods, while the city retains the final say on how the land — south of 13 Mile and west of Dequindre — is utilized. The deal was effective Oct. 1. 

• CityEdge Church teamed up with members of the community to muster the resources to transform the unruly flower garden outside the Hazel Park Memorial Library into a 1,500-square-foot patio with chairs and tables, the original garden scaled back. Long a dream of former library director Jessica Keyser, the patio now serves as a gathering space for people outside the popular destination.

• The first annual Hazel Park Harvest Festival was held at Green Acres Park Sept. 21-23, serving as a new way for the community to celebrate the fall season.

• Madison Heights City Council unanimously voted Sept. 24 to refinance the remainder of the fire stations bond, saving residents of the city nearly a quarter of a million dollars throughout the next decade.

• The second annual Hazel Park Pub Crawl, benefiting the Promise Zone, was held Sept. 28, attracting more than 80 participants across 10 venues and raising more than $1,400 after expenses.

• The stadium at Madison High School was renamed Jim Myers Stadium during the school’s homecoming weekend Oct. 4-6, in honor of the former Madison teacher and coach who had dyslexia and connected with students who were also struggling. Nationally, Myers made a name for himself wrestling in the WWF — now the WWE — as George “The Animal” Steele.

• Hazel Park City Council unanimously approved a new one-year contract for the police Oct. 9, in which police accepted $250,000 in concessions, including a 2.5 percent cut in pay; a switch from Community Blue 1 health care coverage to Community Blue 4, resulting in higher co-pay deductibles; and the elimination of holiday pay.

• After reviewing how the two-year trial period went, Madison Heights City Council voted to continue allowing domestic hen ownership in the city, with City Councilman Richard Clark being the lone dissenting vote. The new ordinance allows residents to keep hens indefinitely but requires the hens to wear an ID tag, renewed each year.

• A group of kids and young adults were fired upon in a drive-by shooting not far from Hazel Park High the evening of Oct. 26. No one was hurt, and in the ensuing police investigation, one of the suspects — Steven C. Houston, 23, of Southfield — was arrested and charged with one count of carrying a concealed weapon, a five-year felony; two counts of assault with a dangerous weapon, a four-year felony; and one count of possessing a firearm in the commission of a felony, a two-year felony.

• A 59-year-old Madison Heights man died after a fire broke out in his home and he re-entered the building for reasons unknown. The incident occurred around 12:40 a.m. in the 26000 block of Alden, near 11 Mile and Dequindre, on Oct. 28. The fire appeared to start in the kitchen and adjacent utility room.

• During the Nov. 6 general election, a couple of local candidates vied for office. Madison Heights resident Mark Bliss, Republican, tried for representative in the state Legislature’s 26th District, but came up short against incumbent Jim Townsend, Democrat.

Meanwhile, Gary McGillivray, Democrat, another Madison Heights resident, prevailed in his bid for Oakland County Board of Commissioners, District 20, beating Antoine Delaforterie, Republican. 

• At their meeting Nov. 26, Madison Heights City Council approved Benjamin Myers, the current deputy city manager, as the next city manager of Madison Heights, effective Mach 1, 2013. The current city manager, Jon Austin, announced earlier that fall that he would be retiring after 21 years of service, the longest in city history.

• Police continued to be alarmed by a string of fatal and near-fatal incidents, all involving pedestrians getting hit by vehicles while incorrectly crossing the road. The latest was an 11-year-old Hazel Park boy who was hit by a truck while darting across traffic at Nine Mile and John R Dec. 6.

He survived, but two others weren’t so lucky: Maxine Patton, 69, of Madison Heights, was killed Nov. 14, and Clestia Foster, 64, of Warren, was killed Nov. 30 — in both cases, while jaywalking on Dequindre.

• Schools got into the spirit of giving, with one notable example being Webb Elementary in Ferndale, part of Hazel Park Public Schools, which raised roughly half of the 10,000 cans collected for this year’s Holiday Baskets program benefiting the needy,

Another example was Bishop Foley Catholic High’s “12 Days of Christmas” Dec. 11, where 300 students engaged in 12 activities reaching the lives of 2,000 people across Metro Detroit, including seniors, soldiers overseas, the homeless and foster children. The event served as a year-end extension of their “Be the Difference Day” back in April.