A banner year

No doubt about it — 2012 was unforgettable

By: Julie Snyder, Nico Rubello | Mount Clemens - Clinton - Harrison Journal | Published January 2, 2013

 Military personnel, local firefighters, city and county dignitaries, and residents gathered at Resurrection Cemetery’s veterans memorial in Clinton Township for an annual Patriot Day observance on Sept. 11.

Military personnel, local firefighters, city and county dignitaries, and residents gathered at Resurrection Cemetery’s veterans memorial in Clinton Township for an annual Patriot Day observance on Sept. 11.

File photo by Deb Jacques


It was a year filled with activity in the Journal’s coverage area — from the election to the announcement of a few entertainment changes in Mount Clemens, to big funding announcements that are paving the way to improvements in cities and townships across Macomb County.

Here is a breakdown of some of those biggest local headlines in 2012:

• Eight family pets, including three dogs, two cats and three ferrets, perished in a Jan. 8 trailer home fire on Woodmont Lane in Harrison Township. The blaze started because of an overloaded circuit in the rear bedroom of the home, where the residents grew medical marijuana. No charges were filed against the couple, who had proper medical marijuana cards.

• A Clinton Township man was beaten and found in critical condition on Detroit’s east side. After four days on life support at a Detroit hospital, Casey Long succumbed to his injuries.  Crime Stoppers issued a reward for information leading to an arrest.

• The Macomb Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped opened at its new home, the Clinton-Macomb Public Library on Romeo Plank Road in Clinton Township. For hundreds of Macomb County residents with a visual handicap, the library offers large-print books, digital audio books and audio players, narrated movies and equipment for enlarging text, and printing Braille materials.

• Acting on a motion brought up by then Clerk George Fitzgerald, the township board debated about a Freedom of Information Act request for written complaints made against the clerk. Three Clinton Township board members ultimately decided that Township Supervisor Robert Cannon, who said he had the letters, must honor the request. But Cannon denied the FOIA request, saying he feared that giving the complaints to Fitzgerald would lead to retaliation against the employees who made them.

• Clintondale High School garnered national attention for its innovative decision to flip its teaching model. School officials reported success in lowering student failure rates after implementing the flipped-school model.

• One Clinton Township resident’s recounting of how her 22-pound Cavalier King Charles spaniel was attacked and killed by a coyote outside her home made news headlines, spurring local awareness about coyotes’ presence within the community.

• Mount Clemens Regional Medical Center officially became known as McLaren Medical Center-Macomb, following a rebranding initiative to help the Flint-based health care company become “more competitive and more recognizable,” according to McLaren officials. The facility, the services and the employees remained, following the change. Mount Clemens Regional Medical Center had been part of the McLaren group since 2006.

• The U.S. Air Force announced on Feb. 3 that, in addition to many military bases across the country, Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Harrison Township would lose some of its most vital resources in a sweep of unexpected changes, as a result of a shift in resources toward the Asia-Pacific Rim from other regions, as well as U.S. fiscal constraints. The base is slated to lose all of its A-10 fighter planes as part of the fiscal 2013 federal budget, which is expected to generate $8.7 billion in savings next year.

• After an extensive search and multiple rounds of interviews with 60 candidates, the L’Anse Creuse Board of Education voted on Feb. 13 to hire Jacqueline Johnston as its new superintendent of schools, taking the reins from beloved superintendent DiAnne Pellerin, who announced her impending retirement in 2011. Johnston had been working for many years as superintendent of Huron Valley in Oakland County when she applied for the position in Macomb County. She started her duties as the district’s leader when school commenced in September.

• In a surprise move to everyone in the courtroom that day, including her own defense attorney, a Clinton Township woman accused of drowning her 4-year-old grandson in January 2010 pleaded no contest to the charges, just as jury selection was about to begin. The plea, while not an admission of guilt, effectively meant Terry Rita Borgia, then 62, was accepting a life sentence behind bars. But Borgia withdrew the plea a few weeks later and, 10 months and two mistrials later, a verdict still has not been reached in the case.

• A report released by the National Transportation Safety Board this month revealed that Ann Arbor stuntman Todd Green moved too quickly and was unable to correct himself during an aerial stunt, causing him to fall 150 feet to his death in front of 75,000 spectators during the Selfridge Air Show on Aug. 21, 2011. NTSB investigators say the helicopter that Green, who was 48 at the time of his death, was moving onto wasn’t in position when he reached for it. Green had been performing air stunts for more than 25 years.

• A high-ranking Catholic cardinal made a rare visit to Resurrection Cemetery in Clinton Township. Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke, the Roman Catholic Church’s highest judicial authority apart from the pope, blessed a section of the cemetery reserved for members of the Holy Trinity Apostolate, a local nonprofit group that educates people about the Catholic Church. Burke also spoke at a Catholic symposium in Sterling Heights.

• Clinton Township’s 13th annual blood drive, in partnership with the American Red Cross, collected 365 pints from 447 donors on March 13-14.

• Tragedy struck the family of 39-year-old Michael W. Martin of Mount Clemens April 14 after Macomb County Sheriff’s Office say he was murdered by 17-year-old Mount Clemens resident Sean David Lawrence Bozich during a fight between the two outside Martin’s home. Martin died from injuries he sustained when he fell and struck his head on the bumper of a vehicle. Macomb County Sheriff Anthony Wickersham said Bozich is still facing a charge of felony manslaughter, which carries a maximum penalty of up to 15 years in prison. At press time, he was slated to be back in court on Dec. 27.

• A coalition-led initiative to amend the state constitution to allow eight new Michigan casinos, including one on Hall Road in Clinton Township, picked up steam when the group earned approval from a state board to begin circulating signature petitions. The effort, however, would never make it onto a public ballot, getting struck down by the Michigan Supreme Court.

• In Clinton Township, about half as many property owners appealed their assessments in 2012 as did the previous year. Township Assessor Jim Elrod said that, like the rest of southeast Michigan, the drop-off seemed to be connected to a severe decrease in property assessments and, as a result, property taxes. The township assessing department reported that Clinton Township property assessments decreased by an average 6.9 percent from 2011 to 2012. But that was still less than the year-to-year declines seen in previous years, showing that the trend of falling property values was slowing down.

• Clinton Township joined Fraser in requiring its pawnshops, secondhand shops and junk dealers to electronically report their merchandise to police. Police say having a computerized database of these transactions would help them track down stolen property more efficiently than under the former, paper-based system.

• During their regular meeting on April 16, the L’Anse Creuse Board of Education approved implementing a pay-to-participate sports program, which became effective during the 2012-13 school year as a way to generate additional funds during the state’s tough economic times. The program affects middle and high school students who are selected to participate on a school-based sports team. However, the pay-to-participate sports program will be examined again next year, and the Board of Education will decide whether to continue or end the program.

• Hundreds of people turned out for the Relay for Life event, held around the track at the Chippewa Valley Ninth Grade Center. The 24-hour fundraiser raised more than $185,000, as of last count,  and featured 54 teams, making it one of the largest Relay for Life events in southeastern Michigan.

• Resurrection Cemetery recognized Memorial Day with an open-tent Mass and ceremony at the cemetery’s veterans pavilion. About 1,800 people were in attendance, including the honor guard of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 154.

• Former Harrison Township Supervisor and current state Rep. Anthony Forlini, R-Harrison Township, announced that he would be urging state officials to free funding that rightfully belongs to the township for library enhancements. More than $71,000 had been held in escrow since 2008 following the closure of the Macomb County Library. Michigan law limits the ability of a charter township to receive penal fines based on the population size of the county, but amendments to that provision, plus Gov. Rick Snyder’s approval on June 20, finally released those funds to the township to add more current books to their collection and purchase computers.

• A 21-year-old Harrison Township man was killed in a single-vehicle collision that occurred early in the morning of June 22. The crash that occurred at the entrance ramp to eastbound Interstate 94 and westbound 16 Mile resulted following a traffic pursuit by Macomb County Sheriff’s deputies at 3 a.m. Donald Larrel Smelser-Emerson died from his injuries, while the driver of the 1999 GMC Yuken, 18-year-old Gavin Matthew Enright of Clinton Township, sustained only minor injuries. He pleaded guilty to in Macomb County Circuit Court Nov. 20 on a charge of fleeing police and operating a vehicle under the influence, causing death. He will be sentenced on Jan. 3. Wickersham said Enright was under the influence of marijuana at the time of the crash.

• Clinton Township trustees voted to sue a Clinton Township composting facility in circuit court. Nearby residents and business owners have complained for years of noxious odors emanating from the site but said the stench became unbearable this spring. Uni-Dig replied by pointing to the fact that they had hired under court order a third-party company to abate the odor and that they were doing everything possible to reduce the smell. The township board decided at a later date to halt doing business with Uni-Dig.

• The Macomb County Sheriff’s Office in June began using the growing online law enforcement mapping system Crimedar, which allows all residents in the county the ability to track down details on crimes happening in their neighborhoods. The information becomes available on the Crimedar website within 24 hours of an occurrence, including thefts, burglary, robbery, assaults, narcotics, vandalism, traffic-related incidents and gun crimes.

• A 17-year-old Harrison Township woman is still recovering from injuries she sustained after being hit by a car on Jefferson Avenue the night of June 16.  Kara Duquet, a recent L’Anse Creuse High School graduate, was struck while riding her bike home from work at Terry’s Terrace. The driver of the vehicle, Margaret Mary Fronczak, of Milford, fled the scene, but witnesses to the incident provided investigators a vehicle description, which helped them track her down six days later. Fronczak pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of a serious-injury accident, though she maintains that she does not recall what happened. She faces up to five years in prison. She is free on bond and will be sentenced Jan. 8. Duquet, who was in a wheelchair after the accident, now walks with a cane, as she continues physical therapy.

• The Clinton Township Board of Trustees voted to censure and request the resignation of elected township Clerk George Fitzgerald amid accusations that he was bullying his subordinates. Fitzgerald, as an elected official who was not required to oblige the board, declined to step down and denied the accusations that he had threatened his employees, as reported in an internal investigation conducted by the township’s human resources department. The board subsequently sent a request to the governor to remove Fitzgerald.

• July 1 marked the official last day of the Stars and Stripes Festival in Mount Clemens. Organizers later announced that they would not be bringing the three-day party, and what had become an Independence Day holiday tradition in Mount Clemens, back to the city. That’s not because Mount Clemens hadn’t been a gracious host for the event, but rather because of the announced re-opening of Freedom Hill, a longstanding but recently shuttered concert spot located in Sterling Heights. So Stars and Stripes remains, but it will likely be much bigger, and louder, at its new home in 2013.

• A house fire in the 39000 block of Cloverleaf Street, located between 16 Mile and South River Road, destroyed a home and killed the male resident’s cat on July 8. The homeowner awoke to the blaze at around 8 a.m. and was able to escape the home unharmed. A fire investigator reported that the blaze started as a result of a cigarette that hadn’t been extinguished properly. The home was razed earlier this month.

• Popular live music venue, The Emerald Theatre, closed its doors this month after being foreclosed upon and bought out by Talmer Bank and Trust for just more than $600,000 — sparking the Aug. 4 Million Musician March, an effort to showcase local musical talent in light of its apparent demise in a once musically thriving Mount Clemens. The event attracted hundreds of musicians but was cut short earlier than expected because of interference with downtown business. In November, two Michigan businessmen, Waleed Mona, owner of Lucky’s Pub & Grille and his business partner Marc Beginin, a local entertainment attorney, announced plans to invest $2 million in bringing the theater back to life, hosting rock, hip-hop, country and R&B acts in time for the summer of 2013.

• Clinton Township held its fifth annual fireworks show July 11, preceded by a large-as-ever, family-friendly carnival outside the Clinton Township Civic Center.

• Daniel Villaire, Harrison Township’s labor attorney for American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME)  Local 1103, announced during a regular Board of Trustees meeting this month that a complaint filed by an ex-employee against township Treasurer Darrin York could not be proven and thus should be dismissed. Former Water and Sewer Department employee Doreen Glappa accused York of discrimination and harassment in the months leading up to the August primary election, in which she was seeking to replace him as treasurer. Glappa, who was fired in June for “gross negligence and fraud,” said York used information in her personnel file and made comments to another individual regarding her run for treasurer. York won the primary election.

• The second-biggest news event in Harrison Township came in August with the results of the primary election on Aug. 7. The one-year millage to continue the 6.67-mills for fire and sheriff’s services passed with a whopping 77 percent of the vote. Supervisor Kenneth Verkest beat his opponent, Bill Servial, to retain his seat, while Deputy Supervisor Adam Wit became City Clerk, and York remained at his post as treasurer, besting Glappa with 66 percent of the vote.

• Tensions rose in August as residents living around the vacant St. John North Hospital on Ballard became concerned that local businessman, Earl Stilson, had been operating one of the adjacent buildings that he owns as a homeless shelter. The accusations were unfounded, and Stilson vehemently denied the claim, saying his hired help, there to restore his building at the rear of the hospital, were working nights and some worked as night watchmen, as a result of recent vandalisms and trespassing. The township has kept a close eye on the building, and Verkest said last week there still is no evidence that the building is being used as a homeless shelter.

• A jury found two people, Larry Stewart, 22, and Renyatta Hamilton, 21, guilty of the felony murder of a Highland Park man, Kevin Brown. Prosecutors were ultimately able to make the case that Hamilton had lured Brown to the Clinton Township apartment where Hamilton was staying. The plan was for Stewart to rob him at gunpoint when he arrived, but the robbery turned to a scuffle for the gun, in which bullets were shot; Brown was shot at least four times and died. Stewart and Hamilton later received a mandatory life sentence.

• Car cruisers of all ages again took to the Gratiot strip for the 10th annual Clinton Township Gratiot Cruise. The event attracted a wide range of vehicles, from muscle cars and hot rods to race cars and unique vehicles not found together anywhere else. The business-sponsored cruise kicked off with a car show and pedal car race for children. Cruisers circled along the stretch from 14 Mile to Wellington Crescent. Township, county and state dignitaries were in attendance.

• Harrison Township officials are still waiting to appeal Macomb County Circuit Court Judge John Foster’s September decision to deny two arbitrators’ opinions that a township employee should continue to receive pension credit, regardless of why or for how long the employee had not been working. Two arbitrators had earlier decided that a fired employee, who was later re-hired following an unassociated ruling, and an employee who left on maternity leave and later decided not to return to work, but changed her mind and returned, should not receive pension credit during the time when each was not working with the township. Judge Foster overruled those decisions after the issue was brought to him by members of AFSCME Local 1103.14. Township Supervisor Kenneth Verkest said they are still awaiting a hearing with the Court of Appeals on the matter.

• The Clinton Township Board of Trustees’ request that Gov. Rick Snyder remove elected township Clerk George Fitzgerald from office was rejected on the basis that the affidavit submitted did not meet requirements to warrant consideration. Township Supervisor Robert Cannon resubmitted the request, which was ultimately rendered moot in November, when Fitzgerald lost a re-election bid.

• The Festival of the Senses returned for its sixth year on Sept. 22-23, bringing in 110 artists, selling a wide variety of wares in a variety of artistic mediums, to the Clinton Township Civic Center grounds. This year’s festival featured its first-ever dog parade and dog show.

• Clinton Township police were warning residents to beware after receiving tips that a ring of scammers was going door-to-door, claiming to be selling magazine subscriptions to benefit wounded veterans. Police said the scammers were believed to be part of a larger scamming operation that travels in packs, going from community to community and state to state.

• The Mount Clemens City Commission and the Mount Clemens Community School Board on Oct. 24 held their first joint meeting in more than a decade Oct. 24, in an attempt to bring the two governmental bodies together for active communication for the better of the entire community. The re-birth of the joint meeting came about at the urging of former school board member and current City Commissioner Joe Rheker, who said just before the meeting, “I think it is absolutely imperative for the school and the city to work together.” The next joint meeting has yet to be announced.

• Once again, the City of Mount Clemens was honored for its water improvement efforts and received the title of Best Tasting Water in the state. It was the second time the city received this award since 2003, and it was the sixth award for general water quality since the city received loans and began water improvements.

• Clinton Township increased water and sewer rates, with officials saying the rate increases were needed to keep up with hikes being passed to the township by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department. Clinton Township trustees approved a 7.5-percent increase. The township also imposed a five-unit minimum.

• A gas station attendant survived being shot multiple times, including once in the eye socket, during an early-morning robbery attempt at a gas station at Harper Avenue and Denton Street, north of Metropolitan Parkway. The robber couldn’t open the cash register. The attendant later began undergoing physical therapy for his injuries.

• Incumbents John Swiatkowski, Larry Tomenello, David Bratto and Frank Kapral were all re-elected to the Harrison Township Board of Trustees.

• Voters elected former state representative Kim Meltzer as Clinton Township’s new clerk, and re-elected three incumbent township trustees — Jenifer “Joie” West, Kenneth Pearl and Dean Reynolds — and one new trustee, former Macomb County commissioner Paul Gieleghem, who replaced 18-year Trustee Ernest Hornung. Board members began their four-year terms after swearing in to office on Nov. 20.

• Voters also returned incumbents in county and state races, as well. State Rep. Marilyn Lane, D-Fraser, was re-elected by a sizeable margin to a second term. Incumbent Macomb County Commissioners Bob Smith and Fred Miller were re-elected, as well.

• Road crews finished repair work along Gratiot, between Remick Drive and Sandpiper Drive. All told, the project included resurfacing portions of the avenue in 2010 and 2011. This year they finished replacing the southbound bridge over the Clinton River and rehabbing the northbound bridge.

• Henry Ford Health System and Beaumont Health System announced that the two systems had signed a letter of intent to merge operations into a $6.4 billion organization. If the merger occurs, both systems would keep their respective brand names, medical staffs would be separate and the hospital foundations would combine into a single foundation.

• A 41-year-old Grosse Pointe Farms man is still facing a charge of reckless driving, and likely more charges, after he drove his car into Lake St. Clair in the early morning hours after Thanksgiving Day. Macomb County Sheriff’s officials said the man, who has yet to be formally arraigned at press time, was “doing doughnuts” in the parking lot of Harbor Club North just after midnight Nov. 23 when he lost control, went off a boat ramp and landed in the lake. He and his 58-year-old female passenger, who lives at the condo complex off of Jefferson, were retrieved from the icy water unharmed. 

• Everyone in Mount Clemens, and regular commuters to the city, rejoiced on Nov. 19 when Cass Avenue officials opened after more than four months of pavement reconstruction work. The work, at the time, shut down the road entirely, but most of the time, it was a one-way street requiring drivers to take long detours to get to their destinations. The $2.2 million project that started on July 5 was completed by the Macomb County Department of Roads, and completed to transform the troublesome thoroughfare into a “fresh example of transportation efficiency and safety.”

• L’Anse Creuse Public Schools was honored by the College Board in December with placement on their third annual AP District Honor Roll for their continued achievements in their Advanced Placement (AP) programs. Since 2010, LCPS has increased the number of students participating in AP from 290 to 395, while improving the percentage of students earning AP exam scores of 3 or higher — from 48 percent to 54 percent. AP courses are offered at L’Anse Creuse High School in Harrison Township and L’Anse Creuse High School-North in Macomb. There are also a few AP courses offered at the Frederick V. Pankow Center located in Clinton Township

• In early December, educators at L’Anse Creuse High School-North announced that 20 male teachers raised nearly $5,000 during No-Shave November, a month-long fundraising event to aid the school’s Link Crew freshman orientation program and the L’Anse Creuse Education Foundation. The teachers stopped shaving on Nov. 1, and the winner, Jay Seletsky, got rid of his facial hair after he was announced the winner on Dec. 5. The foundation later gave away $16,000 in teacher grants and will give $10,000 in scholarships this year.

• Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel stressed the importance of marketing and regionalism during his second State of the County address Dec. 5 at the Macomb Center for the Performing Arts in Clinton Township.

• A hung jury marked the third time this year that a trial for Terry Borgia, who is accused of drowning her grandson, began but ended without a verdict.

• The Clinton Township Board of Trustees voted 4-2 to merge its dispatch operations to Macomb County, becoming the second municipality after Sterling Heights to decide to do so. Under the terms of the agreement, the township will halt its own dispatching and begin contracting the county to take 911 calls around April 1, 2013. Police dispatchers were opposed to dispatch consolidation, but the 11 full-time dispatchers were expected to be offered positions within the county dispatch. Dispatching operations will move to the county’s state-of-the-art communications center after the facility is operational next year. Fire dispatch would be moved sometime in 2014.