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 Both eastbound and westbound traffic is diverted along 14 Mile Road under the Interstate 75 bridge for bridge demolition April 6.

Both eastbound and westbound traffic is diverted along 14 Mile Road under the Interstate 75 bridge for bridge demolition April 6.

File photo by Patricia O’Blenes


Fallout at City Hall, redevelopment and roadwork shape 2019

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published December 30, 2019

 Schroeder Elementary School fifth grader Carly Higginbotham leads her fifth grade class through the halls on her last day of elementary school June 13 during the clap out, for which parents and lower grade students line the hallways as students walk through for the last time.

Schroeder Elementary School fifth grader Carly Higginbotham leads her fifth grade class through the halls on her last day of elementary school June 13 during the clap out, for which parents and lower grade students line the hallways as students walk through for the last time.

File photo by Deb Jacques

 Chrome was king at the Troy Traffic Jam at the Columbia Center, on Big Beaver Road, Aug. 4.

Chrome was king at the Troy Traffic Jam at the Columbia Center, on Big Beaver Road, Aug. 4.

File photo by Donna Dalziel

 Bridget and Jon Roberts, who met each other on the stage of Troy High School, attend a candlelight gathering in memory of Troy High School English and theater teacher Rick Bodick at Troy High School the evening of Aug. 14.

Bridget and Jon Roberts, who met each other on the stage of Troy High School, attend a candlelight gathering in memory of Troy High School English and theater teacher Rick Bodick at Troy High School the evening of Aug. 14.

File photo by Donna Dalziel

 Athens High School math and computer science teacher Josh Pudaloff was surprised in his classroom Feb. 14 with the Troy School District Teacher of the Year award.

Athens High School math and computer science teacher Josh Pudaloff was surprised in his classroom Feb. 14 with the Troy School District Teacher of the Year award.

File photo by Deb Jacques

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TROY — Development starts and stops, the sentencing of former City Manager Brian Kischnick, and construction work on Interstate 75 made headlines in Troy in 2019.

 

Forensic audit reveals intimidation and entitlement
On Jan. 24, U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Edmunds sentenced former Troy City Manager Brian Kischnick to serve 30 months in prison and two years of probation after he pleaded guilty to bribery in August 2018.

A Jan. 18 sentencing memorandum called Kischnick “a poster child for abuse of power and the public trust.”

Troy City Manager Mark Miller signed a five-year contract, which includes a $167,750 base salary and a $425 monthly car allowance, with the city, and the City Council unanimously approved it Jan. 28.

A forensic audit of the financial workings of the city under Kischnick did not uncover major fraud.

However, it did reveal an altered memo from Kischnick to the Troy City Council regarding the purchase of a Jeep Grand Cherokee for his personal use, extravagant tips on numerous food purchases Kischnick made at upscale restaurants, and a management culture that fostered a sense of entitlement and discouraged city employees from reporting potential violations.

At a special meeting called July 17, Michele McHale and Eric Conforti, of Plante Moran, presented the findings of the $68,000 forensic audit that the City Council had requested in December 2018 in a 6-0 vote; Mayor Dane Slater was absent.

As part of the forensic audit, Plante Moran staff interviewed 16 city employees, mostly department  heads. They looked into petty cash transactions, disbursements and credit cards Kischnick used.

The audit revealed that Kischnick:

• Left tips over 25% on food purchases.

• Reported $28,937 on meal purchases in 2015, for a total of $75,350 in meals from 2012 to 2018 — in excess of what is stipulated in city guidelines.

• Expensed meal purchases on weekends.

• Turned in altered and nonitemized receipts.

• Failed to turn in a number of receipts.

• Purchased personal items, such as phone accessories.

The interviews revealed Kischnick’s aggressive behavior toward city employees — such as yelling that could be heard through a wall, according to the audit.

Conforti said the belief among the city employees was that if they reported Kischnick’s wrongdoing, “He can get away with whatever he wants. … I’m just going to get in trouble.”

A divided City Council voted 4-3 against a proposed severance agreement with Tom Darling, the former financial services manager, July 22, after he was fired.

Slater and Councilmen Dave Henderson and Ed Pennington voted to approve the severance agreement. Mayor Pro Tem Ethan Baker, Councilwomen Edna Abrahim and Ellen Hodorek, and Councilman David Hamilton voted against it.

According to Darling’s interview with Plante Moran, Darling said, “In my mind, I’m pretty assured that certain council members knew of this stuff going on. … They didn’t have a problem with it. … The tone from the top … it’s part of doing business.”

The council voted 4-3 to waive the competitive bid process and retain Plant Moran at an hourly rate of $275 to interview current Troy City Council members to determine what knowledge, if any, they had on the wrongdoings after Baker and Hodorek brought the matter forward at an Oct. 7 meeting.

Baker, Hodorek, Abrahim and Hamilton voted yes. Slater, Pennington and Henderson voted no.

 

Plans for nature conservancy stall
Plans for the Turtle Woods Nature Preserve derailed when the developer pulled out of the deal.

Saying the delay in securing needed permits from the state threw off the timing for getting shovels in the ground, affecting the profit margin, Mondrian Properties, which has completed a number of high-end projects in Troy, pulled out of a $1.9 million land deal with the Troy School District.

Troy School District officials said they received an email Sept. 24 from Mondrian Properties — on the 274th day of a 275-day due diligence period — that the company could no longer honor its offer of $1.9 million for the purchase of 7.69 acres of school-owned property along Square Lake Road, just west of Dequindre Road.

The deal also included the conservation of 75 acres as a nature preserve. Kerry Birmingham, the director of communications and strategic initiatives for the district, said Mondrian Properties emailed the district to express its intention to put a halt to the purchase unless the district accepted a significant price reduction, $500,000, citing Mondrian’s increased costs for the development.

Proceeds from the sale were earmarked for the construction of the new Troy School District preschool. The $23 million, 72,276-square-foot, 26-classroom facility opened in the fall.

The Troy Board of Education and district administrators will now explore other options to continue the sale of the property with a new buyer, Birmingham said.

“Though we are disappointed that this deal did not close,” Troy School District Superintendent Rich Machesky said in a prepared statement, “we are confident that a sale will be successfully completed in the not-too-distant future.”

“We waited as long as possible,” said Sahir Fakhouri, the sales manager for Mondrian, referring to the permits needed from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy and the Federal Emergency Management Agency on floodplain issues in order to move forward.

“We hoped for August,” she said, explaining that the delay pushed them into 2020. “We were planning on going into the ground this year.” She noted that the deal was contingent on receiving the permits.

“We purchased three other sites from the Troy School District,” Fakhouri said. “We ran into a lot of snags with the natural characteristics of this property.” She added that the delays increased overhead costs and would have forced them to wait two or three years to complete the project.

“This project took a lot of my personal energy,” Mondrian Properties owner Joe Maniaci said. “It was with a heavy heart we had to drop this. It just didn’t come together at the end. We’ve done some phenomenal projects in Troy,” he said, adding that of the other three sites they purchased from the Troy School District, development on one is almost done, the second is in the middle stage, and “they are in the ground” with the third one.

The Troy preschool facility centralized all of the early childhood programs available through the Troy School District for students ages 3-5, programs that formerly had been held at different schools throughout the district.

Phase two of I-75 work begins

Road construction on Interstate 75 caused delays and headaches for motorists.

From 13 Mile Road to Coolidge Highway, I-75 had two lanes open, separated by a temporary concrete barrier, since late March.

This shift was planned to be in place until late December, when work on the 8-mile, $224 million segment of the roadway — which includes 18 bridges — was scheduled to be complete.

Both sides of the freeway are scheduled to be open during the winter months of 2020 until work begins on the southbound lanes and traffic is diverted to the newly constructed northbound lanes in the spring of 2020.

All three northbound lanes of I-75, except for a 1-mile stretch between Big Beaver and Wattles roads — which will be two lanes due to the construction of a sound wall — were scheduled to open on the newly constructed freeway the evening of Dec. 31.

The $127 million first phase of the project — the addition of one lane to northbound and southbound I-75 — covered 3 miles of the freeway, between South Boulevard and Coolidge Highway in Bloomfield Township, Auburn Hills and Troy. That began in August 2016. The project’s first phase of construction also replaced five bridges, reconfigured the interchange at Square Lake Road and made improvements to the Adams Road carpool lot.

That work was completed in 2017.

Federal funding covers about 80 percent of the total project costs. That stretch of freeway carries up to 174,000 vehicles per day.

Prep work on the third and final phase — from 13 Mile Road to Eight Mile Road — started in the fall. The anticipated completion for that is in fall 2023.

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