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Center Line, Warren

January 2, 2013

So long, 2012!

By Brian Louwers, Cortney Casey and Maria Allard
C & G Staff Writers

» click to enlarge «
Terrie Welsing, of Warren, opens her arms to hug military son Zachary Welsing as he arrives home, with dad William Welsing looking on.

WARREN — From beginning to end, from the national news to the local level, 2012 sure seemed like another year of struggles. 

Leaders in the region tussled with the question of how best to tighten their fiscal belts, while many residents were asked to pay a little more for things like water and public safety.

Seemingly everywhere, the desperate times brought violence into communities, while the criminal justice system and law enforcement — often working with depleted resources — worked under a heavy burden.

Not all the news was bad, however. The year had its heroes, its feel-good stories, and possibly signs of light at the end of the tunnel.

Here’s a look back at the news that touched the cities of Warren and Center Line in 2012.

Find more about all of these stories in our archive at www.candgnews.com.

January
• Warren residents entered 2012 facing the prospect of slightly higher costs for water and sewer services, after the City Council approved a scaled-back hike of 1.5 percent for wastewater treatment charges. The increase was set to cost the average user about 76 cents each month.

• A “controlling” and “obsessed” Minnesota man accused of murdering his stepdaughter, 20-year-old Jessica Mokdad, in April 2011 was deemed competent to undergo a preliminary exam in the 37th District Court. Rahim Abdul Alfetlawi, 46, was found guilty Oct. 19 by a jury in Macomb County Circuit Court. He was eventually ordered to spend the rest of his life in prison.

• Dajuan Gratton appeared in the 37th District Court, while the boy he was accused of raping in November 2011 recalled the beginnings of the alleged encounter clearly and in detail. The roughly 20 minutes of testimony Jan. 19 was all that was needed to convince Gratton, 21, to waive his right to a preliminary hearing on charges of first-degree criminal sexual conduct and kidnapping, which put him in jail for at least 25 years, following his April conviction in Macomb County Circuit Court.

• With a consistently low occupancy rate contributing to a loss of more than $70 million throughout the last five years, representatives of the Henry Ford Macomb Hospital-Warren announced plans to close the facility at 10 Mile and Schoenherr at the end of March.

• Warren officials were left looking for answers after an auditor’s report found 3,647 tons of salt worth about $200,000 missing from the city’s storage dome. While the mystery was never definitively solved, Mayor Jim Fouts blamed the discrepancy on a conversion rate glitch and pledged to institute a list of practices designed to make sure the city holds on to its salt in the future.

February
• Fouts said all options were on the table as he began the process of putting together the city’s budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year amid an anticipated shortfall of up to $19 million.

• Saying they found the man they were looking for in a new public safety director, officials in Center Line welcomed Paul Myszenski to lead the department. After beginning his career with a stint as a reserve officer in Center Line in 1982, followed by more than 27 years with the Bloomfield Hills Public Safety Department, Myszenski started work as Center Line’s new public safety director Feb. 13.

• Catholics in Warren and Center Line learned more about how their parishes would operate in the months and years ahead, based on plans outlined by the Archdiocese of Detroit Feb. 20.  The plans, announced as part of the “Together in Faith” process for parishes in the church’s Central Macomb Vicariate, included solutions for five churches in Warren and one in Center Line. The moves were part of a broader effort, which included alignment plans for all of the Archdiocese of Detroit’s 267 parishes, assembled, according to Archbishop Allen Vigneron, through a collaborative effort among thousands of parish volunteers and input from lay advisory board.

• A judge in Macomb County Circuit Court affirmed a 2011 decision by Warren’s Zoning Board of Appeals, ruling that construction at the city’s only strip club exceeded approved variances and that, as a result, the business lost its right to operate under current zoning rules. Amid pending litigation in the Michigan Court of Appeals, however, the structure on Mound north of 11 Mile Road remained unfinished and closed for business, as 2012 drew to a close.

• It was another letdown for Center Line Public Schools officials Feb. 28, when voters again said no to a tax increase to renovate school buildings, update the district’s technology infrastructure and revamp the Center Line High School athletic complex. During a school election, the CLPS voting majority turned down two initiatives — Proposal 1 for $39.9 million and Proposal 2 for $3.8 million.

March
• On March 8, a jury in Macomb County Circuit Court convicted Andrew Terrell Clark of murder in the November 2010 death of 57-year-old Robert Miller. Prosecutors said Clark, 20, stabbed Miller 132 times in a Warren condo near 14 Mile and Hoover. He was later ordered to spend the rest of his life in prison.

• Prompted by a list of concerns shared by Mayor Jim Fouts, members of the Warren Planning Commission agreed to ask the City Council to approve a moratorium on new used-car lots for six months. The City Council unanimously approved the moratorium on April 10, effectively putting the brakes on new lot applications, while the city examined its related zoning ordinances.

• As warm spring weather continued to shatter records, preparations began in March for an ongoing wave of repairs to a long list of bumpy local streets. Warren City Council members approved contracts for two cement contractors totaling $1.27 million, plus an additional $545,000 for manhole and sod repairs.  Acting City Engineer Donna Dordeski said the work planned for 2012 involved hundreds of repair projects across the city.

• Fouts championed Warren as “a success story in the midst of the economic collapse,” when he spoke to a crowd of about 500 gathered at Andiamo Italia March 28 for his State of the City Address. In a speech again focused on keeping Warren a “cleaner and safer” city, Fouts credited his administrative team for enacting a list of reforms and efficiencies he said have allowed the city to continue “doing more with less.” He also alluded to a possible big local investment, but he declined to elaborate.

• On  March 1, Westview Elementary teacher Doug Kopp, Chatterton Middle School teacher John Phillips and Fitzgerald High School teacher John Smith were recognized for being nominated district-wide as the 2012 Macomb County Outstanding Teacher of the Year for their school level in Fitzgerald Public Schools.

• The painting “Two Figures and Landscape,” painted in 1954 by artist Hughie Lee-Smith, was found on the FPS’ premises and displayed at the Detroit Institute of Arts in Detroit.

• Crews finished up installation of a solar array atop the roof at Warren Consolidated Schools’ Career Prep Center, part of DTE Energy’s SolarCurrents program. The array harnesses energy from the sun and directs it back into the power grid, generating 189 kilowatts. DTE is paying WCS for usage of the space under a 20-year lease.  

April
• The Warren Planning Commission unanimously approved plans for a new Menards big-box home improvement store at the former home of the Van Dyke Sports Center.  The project was set to include a 170,000-square-foot Menards retail store, an adjacent 40,000-square-foot open air warehouse, and 180,000 square feet of outdoor sales space on the west side of Van Dyke at Convention Blvd., south of 14 Mile Road.

• Fouts delivered his proposed $88.4 million budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year to the City Council April 10, calling for increases in both the city’s sanitation and police and fire pension millage to offset a continued drop in tax revenue.

• Kennedy Elementary special education teacher Linda Dunn was recognized as Macomb County’s Outstanding Teacher of the Year at the elementary school level for the 2011-12 school year.

• Westwood Elementary School teacher Michelle Deaton, Warren Woods Middle School teacher Annmarie Sanderson and Warren Woods Tower High School teacher Carlyce Johnson were recognized April 16 at Warren Woods Public Schools meeting as outstanding teachers for the 2011-12 school year.

• Retired WWPS musical director James Higginbottom directed the district’s “Once Upon A Mattress” at no cost.

• At a Macomb Community College Board of Trustees meeting April 17, the board authorized, by a 5-0 vote, an approximately 2 percent increase effective fall 2012. Chairperson Jim Kelly, Secretary Connie Bolanowski, Treasurer Nancy Falcone, and trustees Joseph DeSantis and Charley Jackson voted in favor of the new tuition rate. Vice Chairperson Christine Bonkowski and Trustee Roseanne DiMaria were absent.

May
• A year after a massive blast obliterated an industrial laundry near Hoover and Stephens, life still hadn’t returned to normal for a group of affected homeowners. Several homes remained unoccupied in the wake of the May 4, 2011 blast.

• The Warren City Council approved an amendment to the city’s code of ordinances, prohibiting disturbances within 550 feet of funerals, memorial services, viewings, burials or funeral processions. The amended ordinance makes it a violation to make threatening statements or gestures that intimidate anyone in attendance at such events. By city code, violators are subject to fines of up to $500 and/or 90 days in jail.

• Fouts pledged to use every means at the city’s disposal to rid the Stilwell Manor senior housing complex of bedbugs after staffers at the 300-plus unit development near 11 Mile and Hoover discovered the problem. The mayor signed off on an emergency expenditure of $10,000 to hire an eradication contractor and vowed to call for stepped-up inspections.

• A morning fire at Young’s Garden Mart & Christmas Fantasy April 29 brought fire crews from Warren and surrounding areas to battle a blaze that destroyed a retail store loaded with Christmas decorations and other products.

• Judge Dawnn Gruenburg left her post at the 37th District Court later May 21 to serve a federal judicial appointment with the Social Security Administration.

• Council members voted 7-0 May 8 to place a proposed 4.9-mills public safety millage on the ballot for the city’s primary election. The request, sent from City Hall as a last-minute item added to the council agenda, came less than a month after Mayor Jim Fouts presented his proposed $88.4 million budget for the 2012-13 year.

• The operators of a sanctuary for wayward felines who had sought the city’s blessing to shelter up to 200 cats in a residential home near Nine Mile and Hoover announced plans to go elsewhere.

• A pregnant Detroit woman who was allegedly kidnapped, set on fire and shot during Memorial Day weekend gave birth to a baby boy, while two men accused of plotting to kill her were arraigned on a list of felony charges. Jamal Rogers, and his housemate, Antonio Mathis, both 22 of Warren, were arraigned May 29 in the 37th District Court on charges of unlawful imprisonment, assault with intent to commit murder and conspiracy. The case remained pending at the end of 2012.

• For the first time in recent memory, the Warren City Council passed the city’s new budget in late May, nearly five weeks before its required deadline and despite an increasingly dire financial forecast. In the words of City Council President Cecil St. Pierre, “there wasn’t room to do much of anything” right now.

• Lincoln High School students won The Get Schooled Challenge by showing an 8.56 percent increase in attendance. As their reward, Big Sean, MTV news host Sway and WJLB radio host Coco visited LHS May 14.

• On May 16, a six-member jury found Andria Black guilty of truancy after her son, J’Rez Tarrant, amassed what the prosecution called an abnormal amount of absences and tardies since the fall of 2008. Tarrant was a Westview Elementary student in FPS.

June
• A federal judge took the city’s side in a battle regarding Mayor Jim Fouts’ decisions to display a nativity scene at Christmastime and not to allow an adjacent sign trumpeting the “Winter Solstice” and an atheist message.

• Warren Police Commissioner Jere Green announced the decision to cease arming police officers with Tasers in the fight against crime. Green said the “business decision” to walk away from Taser products was made after the company informed him that 152 of the department’s devices, purchased six years ago, had “gone beyond” their “useful life.”

• Center Line Public Safety officers investigated a shooting after the city’s annual fireworks display, which injured 19-year-old Warren man. The shooting occurred at around 11 p.m. June 26 along 10 Mile Road west of Lawrence, as crowds dispersed following the display in nearby Memorial Park. The suspect reportedly fired one shot from a handgun, which struck the victim in the back, 30 to 45 minutes after the fireworks ended in the park on Lawrence, north of 10 Mile.

• At a Board of Education meeting June 11, the Van Dyke Public Schools Board of Education voted 7-0 to eliminate approximately 35 staff positions for the 2012-13 school year. The cuts became effective June 30, expected to save the district $1.37 million.

• At a WWPS board meeting June 29, the school board voted 6-0 to adopt the 2012-13 original budget. Trustee Gerry Barkey was absent. Revenues, which include local, state and federal dollars, were predicted at $30.32 million. Expenditures — retirements, salaries, benefits, utility costs, and supply and purchase services — were predicted at $33 million. To make up the $2.7 million difference, school officials used money from the district’s fund-balance account.

• On June 18, the CLPS board voted 7-0 to approve the preliminary budget for the next school year. Revenues were projected at $29.3 million. Expenditures were predicted at $31.8 million. School officials dipped into the district’s fund-balance account to make up the $2.5 million shortfall.

• The Van Dyke Public Schools Board of Education approved the 2012-13 proposed budget, which included a number of cuts, 6-1 at its school board meeting June 25. Board Vice President Jim Brinkey voted against the measure. Revenues were projected at $31,332,673; expenditures at $31,327,552.

•  The VDPS Board of Education voted 7-0 to accept out-of-county students from Wayne, Oakland and St. Clair counties. Under the Schools of Choice policy, the district would accept only kindergarten students and their siblings.

• At a school board meeting June 28, the FPS board voted 7-0 to approve the proposed budget for the 2012-13 school year. Revenues were totaled at $29.2 million. Expenditures were slightly higher than revenues, at $30.1 million. The district used its fund-balance dollars to make up the approximate $900,000 shortfall.

• On June 27, WCS passed its 2012-13 budget, which anticipated $160.5 million in revenues and called for drawing $9 million from the district’s savings account, reducing expenditures by $8.5 million and boosting student-to-teacher ratios to head off a projected deficit.

July
• City officials voted to limit revelry with fireworks in Warren, despite a change to state law that made it legal to purchase and ignite things that explode on the ground or in the sky. At the request of Warren Mayor Jim Fouts, members of the City Council approved a new fireworks ordinance that includes a list of restrictions beyond those included in the Michigan Fireworks Safety Act. Based on the ordinance, consumer fireworks were banned in Warren on any days not specifically exempted by the state law.

• The 137-year-old Bunert Schoolhouse, on Bunert just south of Martin Road and north of 11 Mile, was designated a National Historic Site by the National Park Service of the U.S. Department of the Interior. The schoolhouse, conveyed to the Warren Historical & Genealogical Society in 1987, once served students as the Warren Township District No. 4 School and remained in use by what would become the Warren Woods Public Schools district until 1944. The structure was originally built on the northeast corner of Bunert and Martin in 1875. It was moved to its current location shortly after it was acquired by the society, and now it serves as a museum.

August
• Warren’s full fleet of new fire engines was put into service.  The new engines, all made by Sutphen Corp., were purchased late last year at a total cost of $1,864,791, paid throughout a six-year period, minus an initial down payment of $250,000. The first of the new engines was delivered to the city in late July.

• Officer Don Viars of the Warren Police Department was shot in the stomach during an early-morning encounter in the 7000 block of Paige Aug. 1. The suspected shooter was killed when police returned fire. Viars, 35, an eight-year veteran of the department, was hit in his protective vest and later returned to duty.

• Rep. Jon Switalski defeated state Rep. Lesia Liss in a battle of second-term incumbent Democrats vying for a chance to represent the new 28th District in the Michigan House of Representatives.

• With the threat of decreased police and fire protection looming over the city, Warren residents overwhelmingly supported the city’s 4.9-mills proposal to maintain current public safety levels Aug. 7. The new tax increase passed by a margin of 65.4 percent to 34.6 percent. Administrators said the vote would allow them to avoid deep personnel cuts — including at least 60 first responders — and maintain police and fire protection at their 2012 levels. The administration said the new millage would cost the owner of an average home — one with a cash value of $67,000 — about $164 each year in taxes.

• Zachary Welsing, a 2007 CLHS graduate, decided to end his five-year stint in the U.S. Army in a slightly different way. He biked all the way from Fort Bragg, N.C., to his mother’s house in Warren. It took him about three weeks.

• WCS ushered in the new school year with a number of administrative shifts, with new faces moving into positions at the Career Preparation Center; Siersma and Hatherly elementaries; Grissom and Beer middle schools; North Star Academy; and Warren Mott, Cousino and Sterling Heights high schools.

• Macomb Community College and Oakland University officials signed a reverse-transfer agreement Aug. 14 at the University Center in Clinton Township to allow students to use credit hours earned at OU toward an MCC associate degree. The agreement applies to students who acquired 30 credits at Macomb and 35 degree credits at OU. The students can be those who transferred from MCC to OU or who are attending both schools simultaneously.

September
• Inspectors armed with citations and city employees wielding “mosquito dunks” were directed to canvass the city as part of a stepped-up effort to fight the spread of the West Nile virus.

• Fouts asked the Warren City Council to put an ordinance on the books, supporting his decision to ban smoking within 100 feet of city buildings. Despite a disagreement with 37th District Court Chief Judge John Chmura, who stated Fouts had no authority to unilaterally change the law, the council later approved an even more stringent smoking ban, covering any city “campus.”

• City officials confirmed that the federal government demanded records in August related to Warren Deputy Public Service Director Gust Ghanam, the purchase of waste hauling equipment and the city’s business with the company that operates the Detroit incinerator. In a statement released by the mayor, along with a copy of a subpoena commanding disclosure of “certain city records,” Fouts pledged to cooperate fully with the federal grand jury probe leveled at City Hall, and vowed to fire any political appointee indicted by the U.S. government as a result of the grand jury investigation. No indictments were announced as of Dec. 20.
 
• Flanked by a representative of Wal-Mart, Mayor Jim Fouts confirmed plans to bring the retailer back to its former location at the Tech Plaza shopping center, at 12 Mile and Van Dyke, in redeveloped space.  The 185,000-square-foot Wal-Mart Supercenter would bring a $20-million investment to Warren and about 300 jobs to the Tech Plaza shopping center, where Fouts had been pressing for development since his 2011 State of the City remarks.

• An attorney representing residents who sued the city regarding damages left in the wake of basement flooding last year said the list of potential plaintiffs could grow after a new round of flooding was reported in early September. Attorney Steve Liddle said his firm, Macuga, Liddle & Dubin, P.C. in Detroit, received about 20 phone calls from Warren residents left with water and raw sewage in their basements after it rained on Sept. 4. A similar deluge of requests followed rains in May and November of last year, prompting Liddle’s firm to file a lawsuit against the city in Macomb County Circuit Court.

October
• The Michigan Department of Community Health said the Southeast Michigan Surgical Hospital on Dequindre in Warren was among a list of facilities that received shipments of steroids prepared by the Massachusetts-based New England Compounding Center, linked to a deadly meningitis outbreak. 

• Almost a year after voters approved a 2.1 mills residential streets millage, city officials and engineers gathered Oct. 10 to celebrate the official reopening of the newly reconstructed Warner Ave. Officials said the half-mile stretch of residential street was completely rebuilt for the first time since the subdivision north of Common between Ryan and Dequindre was developed in the 1960s.

• A 41-year-old Warren woman died less than a week after firefighters removed her from a filthy apartment near 12 Mile and Hayes.  Her death was eventually ruled an accident, but her husband, Michael Dewayne Brooks, was charged with felony abuse. The case remained pending.

• After a 12-year legal odyssey, the city of Warren has agreed to pay a $1,420,000 settlement to a group of homeowners who claimed their properties were damaged by trees once planted along residential streets. Attorneys representing the city and plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed in Macomb County Circuit Court said the settlement would avoid further legal wrangling in a case that began in 2000 with an initial group of about 50 residents. The homeowners claimed they suffered flooding, broken sidewalks, and plumbing or sewer problems as a result of trees planted on city property by builders during the late 1950s and early 1960s.

• Citing concerns about high winds from the remnants of Hurricane Sandy, Warren Mayor Jim Fouts has suggested moving Halloween from Wednesday Oct. 31 to Friday Nov. 2. The move set off a firestorm of confusion about the longstanding American tradition. Fouts later said the change was “not mandatory” and offered to pass out candy throughout a three-day period at his own home.

• Through a partnership, students and school officials from the Jiading District in Shanghai, China, visited with students and staff of FPS. Together, the staff and students visited a number of attractions, including the Detroit Zoo Bronner’s and Zehnders in Frankenmuth, Birch Run, and C.J. Barrymore’s in Clinton Township.

• At a VDPS Board of Education meeting Oct. 24, the school board voted 6-0 to appoint Diane Boehm to the board. She took over for Kelly Kolassa, who resigned from the board effective Sept. 28. After the vote, She will serve until the next election in November 2014.

• On Oct. 25, the FPS Board of Education voted 6-0 to appoint Randy Meisner to the school board to fill a vacancy when Cheryl Day stepped down. Meisner’s term ends Dec. 31, 2014.

• Macomb County Judge John C. Foster dismissed a discrimination lawsuit against WCS filed in 2010 by the parent of a former student. Plaintiff Jamey Petree claimed that the reading of a book about slavery, which contained strong language, in a Black Elementary classroom, affected the “mental and emotional well-being” of his daughter.

• About 150 people — including students, staff and local dignitaries — gathered at the Macomb Community College Michigan Technical Education Center in Warren to celebrate its 10-year anniversary Oct. 31.

• Macomb Community College faculty held a grand opening Oct. 17 for the school’s new art gallery in “S” Building. The gallery will feature the artwork of staff and students.

November
• Many voters in Warren and Center Line opted to keep the status quo Nov. 6, electing two county-level incumbents to new terms on the Macomb County Board of Commissioners. In District 1 Democrat Toni Moceri defeated Republican challenger Mary Kamp, the former president of the Warren City Council, by a margin of 65.2 percent to 34.8 percent, respectively. In District 2, longtime incumbent Democrat Marv Sauger defeated his Republican challenger, former Warren City Council member Mike Wiecek, by a margin of 62.5 percent to 33.5 percent. In a relatively low-key contest for a seat in the Michigan House of Representatives representing the 28th District, incumbent state Rep. Jon Switalski, D-Warren, cruised to a win over Republican Steven Klusek by a margin of 71.5 percent to 28.5 percent.

• On Nov. 15, Chrysler Group LLC announced plans to add a third shift and 1,000 jobs at the Warren Truck Assembly Plant in March.  The announcement by Warren’s second-largest corporate taxpayer came less than two months after its largest, General Motors Co., revealed plans to add 1,500 tech jobs and a new IT facility at its Tech Center campus.

• Voters in the Warren Consolidated Schools district elected two newcomers, Sue Trombley and Ben Lazarus, to the Board of Education in the Nov. 6 general election.

• At the polls Nov. 6, voters turned down a $56 million bond initiative that, if passed, was designed to fund capital expenditures to renovate and update Macomb Community College facilities and the school’s technology infrastructure.

• Center Line Public Schools officials announced the sale of its 2012 School Building and Site Bonds in the amount of $6 million. The bonds will be used to make various capital improvement projects at the district’s five schools: Center Line High School, Wolfe Middle School, and Crothers, Peck and Roose elementary schools.

• Veterans Day ceremonies were held Nov. 12 at many local schools.

• The popular Crafty Buyer’s Shoppe at Warren Woods Tower High School turned 30.

December
• Michigan Republican Gov. Rick Snyder picked local attorney Dean Ausilio to serve on the bench of the 37th District Court, filling a vacancy created by the departure of Judge Dawnn Gruenburg in May. An attorney for 26 years, Ausilio said he represented parties in a wide variety of criminal and civil cases, including many in the 37th District Court. He served as Warren’s deputy treasurer from 1987 to 1988, and was appointed by former Mayor Mark Steenbergh to adjudicate cases for the city’s Administrative Hearings Bureau, or “blight court,” in 2006.

• After a three-year hiatus brought about by legal wrangling with the county and fueled by the ire of a Wisconsin-based group of atheists, resident John Satawa once again assembled his family’s nativity scene, depicting the birth of Jesus Christ, in the median of Mound on the south side of Chicago Road on Dec. 15. Satawa’s father and another man built the display in 1945.

• Firefighters spent hours battling flames and pouring water on hot spots Dec. 6 after a fire destroyed a former Farmer Jack store that was more recently home to a resale warehouse at 10 Mile and Ryan. The cause of the fire was later ruled “undetermined.”

• WCS Superintendent Robert Livernois and FPS Superintendent canceled school Dec. 11 when approximately 750 staff members, mostly teachers, said they would be absent.

WCS Spokesperson Robert Freehan would not comment on why the staff members took the day off, although WCS board member Ben Lazarus said it was to go to Lansing to protest the right-to-work legislation Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law on the same day.

• Local superintendents began disclosing information in parent letters and at school board meetings about House Bill No. 6004 and Senate Bill No. 1358. Local educators said that, if passed, the bills would dramatically alter Michigan’s public education system and would create an Education Achievement Authority/Chancellor that would exceed its single purpose.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Brian Louwers at brianlouwers@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1089.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Cortney Casey at ccasey@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1046.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Maria Allard at allard@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1045.