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January 2, 2013

Remember the events that comprised 2012 in the Pointes

By April Lehmbeck and K. Michelle Moran
C & G Staff Writers

» click to enlarge «
From left, attorney Mark Kriger offers advice to his client, Robert Bashara, as Wayne County Sheriff Deputy Mark Bennets waits for proceedings to begin Aug. 7 in 3rd Circuit Court Judge Timothy Kenny’s courtroom in Detroit. Bashara was arraigned on information that day in connection with his efforts to hire someone to kill handyman Joseph Gentz.
Nina Goebel, of Grosse Pointe Park, came up with this playful design for “Clown Fish,” one of dozens of fish sculptures created for the Grosse Pointe Chamber of Commerce’s GP Fish project this summer and fall in the Pointes.
 

GROSSE POINTES — The Pointes tend to be safe cities, but 2012 saw killings in the Woods and Park, along with some shocking armed robberies, including an incident in which a gunman snatched a cellphone from two young City girls and a pair of armed men robbed a Farms jogger of his iPod, both of which took place during the day in otherwise quiet neighborhoods.

At the same time, budget cutbacks due to the dramatic decline in housing values found cities considering consolidation in areas such as emergency dispatching and public safety.

But it was also a year of positive developments, with new housing developments for seniors, the Grosse Pointe Chamber of Commerce becoming an ever-stronger presence in the community, and local nonprofits like Services for Older Citizens and the Full Circle Foundation getting homes of their own for the first time.

January
• To address a looming potential deficit of more than $1 million by the 2013-14 fiscal year, the Grosse Pointe City Council proposed a merger of their Public Safety Department with that of neighboring Grosse Pointe Park. At press time, results of a study into the feasibility of that proposal were not yet available.

• At a Jan. 9 Grosse Pointe Farms City Council meeting, the city’s engineers released findings to-date into several major basement backups in 2011. Engineers from Hubbell, Roth & Clark, as well as Anderson, Eckstein and Westrick, concluded that power outages from DTE Energy were the main cause of problems at the city’s pump station.

• With the Grosse Pointes-Clinton Refuse Disposal Authority slated to dissolve in March 2014, during a Jan. 10 meeting, GPCRDA Board Chair Joseph Leonard called upon his fellow board members to start talks with member communities about whether they intend to stay with the GPCRDA after that date or contract independently for refuse disposal.

• Two years after she was last seen on the shoreline of Lake St. Clair, across from St. Paul on the Lake Catholic Church in Grosse Pointe Farms, investigators and attorneys held a Jan. 12 press conference on the site to discuss evidence that leads them to believe late Grosse Pointe Woods mother JoAnn Matouk Romain was a victim of homicide, not an accident or suicide, as local police suspected after her body was discovered March 20, 2010, by a fisherman in the Livingston Channel of the Detroit River near Amherstburg, Ontario.

• The body of missing Grosse Pointe Park husband and father James Scott Ivers, 46, was discovered around 1 p.m. Jan. 19 by cadaver dogs from the Michigan State Police in a remote, marshy and wooded part of Belle Isle. Police said there were no signs of foul play, robbery or trauma, although Ivers had been involved in a minor car accident on the island shortly before his death.

• The Michigan Science Teachers Association recognized North High School physics teacher Gary Abud as a 2012 Teacher of Promise.

• During a Jan. 23 Grosse Pointe Public School System Board of Education meeting, there was some disagreement at the table about who should fill roles as new president, vice president and secretary. Ultimately, a couple of new board members snagged leadership roles.  

The only unanimous vote was for veteran Brendan Walsh as the board’s treasurer. The board voted 4-3 to make Judy Gafa the new president and newcomer Lois Valente the vice president, and the board cast a 5-2 vote for new board member Daniel Roeske as the board’s secretary.

• Park mother and marketing executive Jane Bashara, 56, was found strangled in her SUV in an alley on Detroit’s east side Jan. 25. Joseph Gentz, 48, of Grosse Pointe Park, a handyman who worked for her husband, Robert Bashara, told police that he killed her Jan. 24 at her husband’s behest. At press time, Gentz had pleaded guilty in December to second-degree murder, in exchange for agreeing to testify in the future. Robert Bashara, 54, who was named a person of interest by police early on, had not been charged at press time in his wife’s slaying, although he was in prison after pleading guilty to solicitation of murder for trying to hire someone to kill Gentz in prison, for which Bashara was sentenced to six to 20 years behind bars.

• John J. Schulte, the former deputy public safety director and deputy chief of police and fire in Grosse Pointe Park, was named the new Grosse Pointe Shores Public Safety director, succeeding retired director Stephen Poloni, who assumed the directorship in Grosse Pointe City. Schulte was sworn in Jan. 26.

February
• The Woods City Council extended a moratorium Feb. 6 on medical marijuana dispensaries in the city. In May, the council approved an ordinance permanently blocking such establishments from setting up shop in the Woods.

• During a meeting Feb. 6, the Farms City Council declined an offer to join a study of public-safety- department consolidation with the Park and City, who announced a proposed merger of their departments to save money.

• The Shores created its Ambassador Committee — designed to market the city to prospective residents, as well as create a positive public impression of the Shores — during a City Council meeting Feb. 21.

• Shores City Manager Brian Vick announced his resignation from the city Feb. 27. The embattled city manager, who began working for the Shores in December 2008, faced criticism from some residents as the Shores dealt with declining revenues during the recession and a fund balance that was depleted, as planned by elected officials, while the Shores switched from a village to a city in 2009, with a corresponding new fiscal year calendar.

• The school board continued to struggle to approve a set of district goals. After voting 3-2 against a set of goals in December, the board sent the administration back to the drawing board during a Feb. 27 meeting, asking for more specific, measureable goals.

• Voters approved a new millage of up to .7 mills annually for the Grosse Pointe Public Library during the Feb. 28 presidential primary. The millage runs until 2019 and the rate will be reviewed each year — and possibly lowered — if the money isn’t needed to cover costs.

March
• Former St. Clair Shores City Manager and Grosse Pointe Woods City Administrator Mark Wollenweber was named acting city manager in Grosse Pointe Shores during a special City Council meeting March 5. Wollenweber was later named the new permanent manager.

• Woods officials discussed seeking a possible Headlee override on the November ballot to make up for the decline in property tax revenues.

• The Farms City Council conditionally agreed March 12 to a resolution that would enable the five Pointes to receive a state grant of up to $300,000 for a joint dispatch/prisoner lockup. Farms officials didn’t want to deny their neighbors a chance to receive funding for this potential project but didn’t want to commit to it, either, before seeing all of the pros and cons of such an effort, as well as other details.

• Project Bloom, an adopt-a-garden project modeled after a similar effort in Grosse Pointe Shores, was launched after getting approval from the City Beautification Commission and City Council. The project was such a hit in its first year, organizers needed to add more gardens in the Village and elsewhere for people to sponsor.

• Beaumont Hospital, Grosse Pointe announced its goal of building a 60-space parking lot on property now occupied by two condominium buildings and two homes adjacent to the hospital. Residents, especially those on Notre Dame, who would be facing the lot, expressed concerns about the proposal during a March 15 City Council meeting.

• The Federal Emergency Management Agency reaffirmed a floodplain map that in 1998 removed a number of Park homes from the 100-year floodplain zone — and a corresponding requirement to maintain flood insurance on those homes.

• DTE Energy announced plans to replace three circuits in the Park, part of upgrades to the city’s lighting system intended to reduce streetlight outages.

• The Grosse Pointe Business and Professional Association of Mack Avenue, which represents businesses on Mack in the Woods and Farms and is a branch of the Grosse Pointe Chamber of Commerce, reorganized and became the Mack Avenue Business Association of Grosse Pointe.

• After several months of discussion on district goals, the school board approved a set of comprehensive goals by a 6-0 vote during its March 26 meeting. Several board members referred to the process as long and grueling, but they were pleased with the result.

• Grosse Pointe South history teacher Bruce Pelto was recognized as the 2012 Michigan Outstanding Teacher of American History by the Michigan Daughters of the American Revolution after receiving the local award from the Louisa St. Clair Chapter earlier this year.

April
• The final steel beam on the Neighborhood Club’s new two-story, 39,743-square-foot recreation and wellness center in the City was hoisted into place April 13. The Neighborhood Club was slated to open its new facility in early 2013.

• An estimated 150-200 people took part in a forum April 23 at the Grosse Pointe War Memorial, offering their opinions on proposed changes to Grosse Pointe City’s master plan. The plan, which included creation of a health care district in and around Beaumont Hospital, Grosse Pointe, and revised zoning on Mack and Fisher, was approved Nov. 12 by the City Council.

• A 29-year-old Livonia man, who was running naked in and out of traffic on Mack in Grosse Pointe Woods April 23, was apprehended by police, who had to use a Taser to subdue him. Police said the man was hallucinating and under the influence of methamphetamines at the time.

May
• The historic former home of Oscar Webber, the nephew of Joseph L. Hudson, became the first house used twice for the Junior League of Detroit’s biennial Designers’ Show House, which ran May 5-20 at the Shores home.

• The Rivers of Grosse Pointe continuing care retirement community, located on the old Children’s Home of Detroit property at 900 Cook Road in the Woods, announced it was scaling back its project slightly. Developers said they were eliminating a third story on the north side of the main building, during a May 7 City Council meeting.

• During a May 21 City Council meeting, former City Council member G. John Stevens unveiled his plans to create a nonprofit fundraising group to raise money to support Raleigh, the City’s K-9 officer. The K-9 program had faced possible elimination as part of budget cutbacks.

• A week after unanimously deciding to put an advisory question on the August primary ballot about moving to Macomb County, the Shores City Council rescinded that decision during a special meeting May 22. Some leaders and residents said the move would cut resident tax bills, but others said there were too many unanswered questions, including whether the Shores could convince Wayne County voters to let the upscale city — and its tax revenue — leave. In August, city officials decided to leave the Macomb question off of the November ballot.

• Six distinguished graduates of Grosse Pointe North were inducted as the first Grosse Pointe North Distinguished Alumni.

The school’s Distinguished Alumni Committee chose graduates from the 1970s, 1980s and 2001 to receive the honor, and they included a major general, a nationally renowned doctor and an Olympic gold-medal swimmer. The first-ever inductees were 1977 graduate Maj. Gen. Bob Brown, 1980 graduate Dr. Hans Stricker, 1981 graduate William Babcock, 1982 graduate John Ahee, 1986 graduate Sandra Joseph and 2001 graduate Carly Piper.

• Grosse Pointe South learned that the school placed third in the state in U.S. News & World Report rankings of American high schools.

• On the heels of finding out good news about the district being represented in the U.S. News & World Report list of top schools, Grosse Pointe Public School System found out that it once again had been validated, this time by Newsweek, concerning the quality of the high schools.

Both South and North high schools were named to the top 1,000 high schools in the country.

June
• Work began on a multi-million dollar overhaul of the Farms’ Kerby Road pump station, intended to prevent future basement sewer backups like the ones that devastated homes in 2011.

• Grosse Pointe Theatre officials shared their dream for a new $16 million fine and performing arts center in the Village with the City Council at a June 18 meeting, but while officials think the plan would be in keeping with developments in the district, they were less enthusiastic about the public price tag of about $6.25 million. There had been no decisions on this proposal, as of the end of 2012.

• During a June 19 meeting, the Shores City Council announced that it has reached a settlement with the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club regarding disputed water billings from 1997-2008. The deal calls for the Shores to pay the GPYC $25,000 a year for the next 16 years, a total of $400,000, either in cash or as future water bill or boat-well lease credits.

• The Edsel and Eleanor Ford House and WRCJ 90.9 FM hosted a regional and local arts day featuring organizations like the Detroit Institute of Arts, College for Creative Studies and Grosse Pointe Community Chorus June 23.

• The Park City Council approved the purchase of an asphalt patching machine June 25 to enable city workers to perform more street repairs in-house, something City Manager Dale Krajniak said should reduce costs.

• After 26 years with the City, Public Service Director Paul Weitzel retired June 30. The City offered him a contract to serve part-time as their building inspector after he retired.

• Grosse Pointe South choir director Ellen Bowen was placed on leave after she was accused of hitting a student with a cellphone.

• Grosse Pointe North teacher Don Pata was one of less than 100 teachers from the nation chosen for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.

• Grosse Pointe North Principal Tim Bearden spent his last day in the district, as he left for an administrative position at Detroit Country Day School.

• Grosse Pointe Woods city officials were excited as demolition of the former Children’s Home of Detroit started to pave the way for The Rivers of Grosse Pointe.

• School board members raised some concern about a low projected fund balance when they passed the 2012-13 school year budget by a 6-1 vote.

July
• Construction got under way to create a home for Services for Older Citizens at the Newberry House, located behind Henry Ford Health Services-Cottage on the Hill. The $3 million renovation, expected to be complete by March or April 2013, will give SOC its first permanent space after years of occupying other community buildings, most recently at Cottage.

• A weekend power outage left Grosse Pointe Woods residents in the dark during the weekend of July 6. The outage affected an area of the city north of Vernier and east of Mack that had major outage issues in the past.

• Close to 2,000 visitors came to the Ford House July 11 to see more than 50 giant fish sculptures decorated by local artists for GP Fish, a Grosse Pointe Chamber of Commerce-organized fundraiser for the nonprofit Grosse Pointe Chamber Foundation and SOC. The fish were placed throughout the Pointes during the summer and auctioned off at a gala in October at the GPYC.

• A number of Grosse Pointe Woods residents came out to a council meeting on July 16, looking for answers to what has been a decades-long problem in the city for the area north of Vernier and east of Mack. DTE representatives attended the meeting to address the outage that lasted the entire weekend of July 6.

•  The Grosse Pointers from a group called Residents for Residency stepped up to work with the district to find solutions to what they considered an enforcement problem, when it came to the district’s residency policy. A number of residents went to the Grosse Pointe Public School System Board of Education meeting July 23 to voice their concerns.

• The Pointes approved automatic aid for fires, an agreement that calls for other departments to respond immediately to certain types of fire runs, instead of waiting for second and third alarms to be called.

• At the end of the month, Farms Assistant City Manager/ City Clerk Matthew Tepper left that post to run a business in Ohio.

• South music students learned they would kick off the year with new band and choir directors, after the district made some tough personnel decisions. The district sent out a couple of press releases and a letter in early July that spelled out some of the decisions and changes with those positions. Steve Cross, teacher and band director at Pierce Middle School and South High School, was let go in June, and South choir teacher and director Ellen Bowen was placed on administrative leave in June, with plans to go through the process toward seeking to terminate her employment.

• With top-notch administrators already settling into new positions in other districts, the district decided to wait until the next major hiring season in 2013 to hire a principal for Grosse Pointe North and to choose an interim principal to lead the school during the 2012-13 school year.

August
• The Farms announced plans to tackle phragmites north of Pier Park with herbicide. The city eventually hopes to replace the tall, invasive reeds with lower-growing, native species.

• DTE Energy representatives addressed recurrent power outages in the Farms, along with the steps they’ve taken or plan to take to keep these problems from returning, during an Aug. 13 City Council meeting. Circuit splitting was one of the steps the utility said it was taking in some problem-areas.

• Longtime Farms resident, City Council member and GPCRDA Chair Joseph Leonard lost his battle with cancer Aug. 19 at the age of 76. The retired Farms Public Service director was honored during a packed funeral Mass Aug. 24 at St. Paul on the Lake Catholic Church.

• Shores Public Safety Lt. David Younk was honored for his 30 years of service to the city during an Aug. 21 City Council meeting, shortly after Younk’s retirement.

• After more than two decades together, the City Council at an Aug. 21 meeting severed ties with City Attorney Mark McInerney and approved a new, less costly contract for general counsel services with Lansing-based law firm Foster Swift. The bid from McInerney’s Detroit-based firm of Clark Hill PLLC was $12,000 more than that of Foster Swift. City officials praised McInerney and said the decision was based solely on cost.

• Grosse Pointe Schools chose some new administrators during an August meeting. The board approved the employment of Melanie O’Neil to take over the lead role at Kerby as its new principal and Debra Higgins to join the administration at South as assistant principal.

Christopher Pratt was chosen as the new choir teacher at South, taking Bowen’s place. Christopher Takis was given Cross’ former position as Pierce and South band teacher. 

• Tom Tobe, a retired school administrator who worked in Troy and Livonia school districts, was chosen as North’s interim principal.

• During the Aug. 27 school board meeting, Superintendent Thomas Harwood gave an update on the residency issue and work that has been done so far. At the same meeting, the school board voted 4-2 with one abstention to approve a tuition rate of $13,030 to be sought for violating the residency law.

• After city officials and DTE set up a meeting to continue discussions to address a long-standing power-outage problem in Grosse Pointe Woods, the lights went out again for some residents Aug. 29.

September
•  DTE representatives spoke to a packed crowd of residents in the Grosse Pointe Woods Community Center Sept. 12 about the ongoing power-outage issues.

• A man armed with a handgun reportedly robbed a couple of young sisters, ages 11 and 14, while they were walking in the area of Charlevoix and Lakeland around 11:30 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 16. The suspect, who remained on the loose at press time, is said to have stolen a cellphone from one of the girls and subsequently threatened nearby residents who saw him, police said.

• During a Sept. 18 meeting in Harper Woods, the members of the GPCRDA board elected Shores representative Brett Smith as the new board chair to succeed the late Joseph Leonard.

• Shores officials engaged in a ribbon-cutting Sept. 18 at Lake Shore and Vernier to mark the reopening of Lake Shore after a $1.2 million road repair program, 80 percent of which was funded with federal stimulus money.

• A proposed amendment to the Shores zoning ordinance that would allow more than one sign for houses for sale in the city sparked debate among residents and officials. As of the end of the year, the City Council hadn’t voted on the change.

October
• The Farms welcomed new Assistant City Manager Monica Irelan Oct. 1. Irelan, the former assistant to the city manager and coordinator of continuous improvement for Troy, was hired to replace the departed Matthew Tepper, who left the city in July. She was expected to eventually become the city clerk, as well, and was training for that position.

• A 2,000-kilowatt backup generator for the Farms’ Kerby Road pump station was installed Oct. 10 and placed online shortly thereafter, following tests to make sure it was working properly. The generator replaced a rented generator that had been at the station in recent months in the event of another power outage; such outages were blamed for sewage backups in 2011.

• City officials debated possibly eliminating rear-yard trash pickup during an Oct. 15 meeting, as they looked for ways to trim costs.

• A couple of days after a passionate meeting Oct. 15 concerning a notarized annual residency affidavit proposal, school board President Judy Gafa and Vice President Lois Valente released a letter about the district’s current residency verification process. The letter was meant to inform the residents about what the district was doing at that time.

• The City Council unanimously approved a change to retiree health care plans during an Oct. 15 meeting, despite vocal protests from a number of retirees, including several who said they retired earlier than they initially planned in order to preserve their existing coverage. The changes, which include increased deduc-tibles and co-pays, take effect Jan. 1.

• The Grosse Pointe Symphony Orchestra opened its 60th anniversary season with a concert Oct. 28 at Our Lady Star of the Sea Church in Grosse Pointe Woods.

• The Grosse Pointe Public Schools announced that it was planning to send a letter to families by Dec. 1 to explain the district’s residency requirements, and it appeared the matter had been put to rest at that time.

November
• Although he lost in Michigan and lost the general election, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney was the big winner in most of the Pointes Nov. 6. Voters retained local candidates like Wayne County Commissioner Tim Killeen, D-Detroit, and Wayne County Community College District Representative Mary Ellen Stempfle was unopposed in her re-election bid.

• Voters for the District 1 state House seat chose Democrat Brian Banks as their representative.

• Grosse Pointe Woods City officials planned to take a close look at the city’s finances to see what they needed to do to maintain the budget after two ballot proposals failed to garner enough votes during November’s election. The city asked for an additional 1.85 mills for the general fund and a 2.14-mill proposal that would have funded up to $10 million in road construction bonds. Both would have expired in 10 years, had they been approved.

• Grosse Pointe Woods City Council voted 5-2 to approve St. John Hospital’s request for a temporary helicopter landing pad. 

• Grosse Pointe Woods earned a top grade on its financial record keeping, but there were words of caution when it came to the city’s financial health.

• The Grosse Pointe Village Association, in cooperation with the Hill Association, hosted its 37th annual Grosse Pointe Santa Claus Parade Nov. 23 and drew a record crowd for the event. It was the last parade organized by the Village Association. The Grosse Pointe Chamber of Commerce announced Nov. 24 it had agreed to take over the popular community event, which attracts thousands of visitors, for 2013.

• Grosse Pointe Woods law enforcement officials were working with outside agencies to investigate the Nov. 26 homicide of Donald Lionel DeWulf, 54.

December
• The nonprofit Full Circle Foundation, which provides job and life-skill training and real- world experience for special needs students in the Grosse Pointe Public School System, held an open house Dec. 5 for its first permanent home on Mack, just off of Cadieux, in Grosse Pointe Park, where Grosse Pointe Alarm formerly had its offices. The 6,000-square-foot space is expected to give them room to offer more programs and serve more students in the community. At press time, they were tentatively slated to open at the new space Jan. 2.

• The Farms Public Safety Department hosted a meeting Dec. 10 at Pier Park with fellow public safety departments in the Pointes and Harper Woods to give the departments a chance to meet leaders of the new Detroit Crime Commission, a civilian organization that can use its resources to assist police departments in their investigations.

• A pair of unknown young male suspects robbed a 32-year-old Farms man at gunpoint while he was jogging in the area of Charlevoix and Moran at 1:43 p.m. Dec. 13. At press time, the suspects — who got away with the victim’s iPod — remained at large.

• State Rep. Tim Bledsoe of the City, the first Democrat ever elected to represent the Pointes in Lansing, concluded his second term in office. The Pointes were split into two separate districts during statewide redistricting, and Bledsoe failed to win the nomination for his new district in the August primary, which pitted him against fellow incumbent Rep. Alberta Tinsley Talabi, D-Detroit, who was ultimately elected to the new District 2 seat.

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

You can reach C & G Staff Writer K. Michelle Moran at kmoran@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1047.