A look back at what made headlines locally

By: Nick Mordowanec, Julie Snyder | Mount Clemens - Clinton - Harrison Journal | Published January 4, 2017

 Macomb County Sheriff Anthony Wickersham held a press conference on Sept. 19 to announce that investigators with the U.S. Department of Justice said there was no sufficient evidence to move forward in the death investigation of inmate David Stojcevski. Stojcevski was 32 in 2014 when he died from complications due to drug withdrawal while being housed at the Macomb County Jail. A civil suit is pending.

Macomb County Sheriff Anthony Wickersham held a press conference on Sept. 19 to announce that investigators with the U.S. Department of Justice said there was no sufficient evidence to move forward in the death investigation of inmate David Stojcevski. Stojcevski was 32 in 2014 when he died from complications due to drug withdrawal while being housed at the Macomb County Jail. A civil suit is pending.

File photo by Julie Snyder


MOUNT CLEMENS/HARRISON TOWNSHIP/CLINTON TOWNSHIP — The big news item of 2016 was undoubtedly the presidential election, the buildup to it, and local elections that are improving police, fire and school services.

It was announced at the start of the year that voters in Harrison Township would be asked during the March 8 presidential primary to support a two-year millage increase of 1.083 mills for police and fire services. The millage eventually passed with 59 percent of the supporting vote. The proposal will raise an estimated $7,144,488 in the first year. It also allowed the Fire Department to add additional fire fighters.

“Daily staffing matters, period,” said Local 1737 spokesperson Matthew Sahr of the eight on-duty firefighters the department is now  able to employ per shift. “Our residents deserve the same standards our neighbors enjoy.”

Affecting Harrison Township as well as parts of Clinton Township, the 10-year non-homestead millage proposal in the L’Anse Creuse Public Schools district passed with 75.5 percent of the vote. The non-homestead millage was a renewal of the existing 18 mills levied on second homes, vacation homes, rental homes, and commercial and agricultural property, and is essential if the school district is to receive its per-pupil foundation allowance. The millage funds 13 percent of the district’s operating budget each year and helps the district pay for supplies, educational materials and salaries for all district employees.

The August primary narrowed the field of candidates in the Harrison Township Board of Trustees race, and in Mount Clemens, Bill Ford won a partial position on the City Commission by just two votes over contender Laura Fournier.

There were a multitude of races that affected the Journal’s coverage area, but there was one race in particular that got heated. The Macomb County public works commissioner race pitted longtime incumbent Anthony Marrocco against challenger Congresswoman Candice Miller. In the weeks leading up to the Nov. 8 presidential election, both would claim that the other failed to fulfill past campaign promises. Miller ultimately won the race, taking 54 percent of the vote.

On the presidential end of the election, Macomb County, Michigan’s third-largest county that has traditionally voted Democrat, played a large role in Republican Donald Trump’s win with 53.6 percent of the vote.

Selfridge soars
U.S. Air Force officials announced in January that they were freezing all plans to retire the A-10 Thunderbolt II. There are 21 A-10s assigned to Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Harrison Township. They are flown by the 107th Fighter Squadron and maintained by the 127th Maintenance Group; both units are components of the 127th Wing of the Michigan Air National Guard.

The delay, officials said, was because the A-10 Thunderbolt attack plane, also known by its nickname “Warthog,” proved very useful in the campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Fast-forward to December: The U.S. Air Force announced that it was considering Selfridge as the permanent home for its newest fighter aircraft, the F-35 Lightning II. Officials said that if Selfridge is chosen, the F-35 would replace the A-10.

There was no word at press time if the Air Force had made a final decision.

Proud promotion
Longtime Macomb County Sheriff’s Capt. Elizabeth Darga made news after she was appointed as undersheriff, becoming the office’s highest-ranking woman and first woman to hold the position.

“I never would have imagined getting this far in my career,” Darga said.

Her career began in 1987, when Darga, who earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Wayne State University, started working as a corrections officer at the Macomb County Jail. After 3 1/2 years and completing training at the police academy, Darga was promoted to deputy and worked in patrol, traffic enforcement, as an evidence technician and as a fire inspector.

She earned a master’s degree in administration from Central Michigan University in 1995, and was promoted to sergeant in the sheriff’s Detective Bureau. Darga left for a year to work as an evidence technician with the Macomb Auto Theft Squad, and later became a uniform services lieutenant in 2002, working as a supervisor on the day shift. Darga returned to the Detective Bureau in 2003 as a detective lieutenant, and held that position for eight years before being promoted to captain in 2011. Darga is also a graduate of the FBI Academy and attended the Northwestern University Center for Public Safety’s School of Police Staff and Command.

Sculpture city
Members of the Harrison Township Beautification Commission revved up their Sculpture Donation Program last year and installed two massive stainless steel pieces at two central points in the area.

The innovative plan allows the business and residential communities to be part of beautifying their community by donating money.

Member Sue Keehn said she was pleasantly surprised by how well the program was received.

“We have been blessed to have been able to raise the money,” she said. “We have a lot of folks in our township who are dedicated to beautifying their community.”

A private donor paid for the first sculpture near the bike and walking path on Metropolitan Parkway, between Jefferson Avenue and Crocker Boulevard, and the second sculpture at the corner of Metropolitan Parkway and Crocker Boulevard was made possible through generous donations, including from the township’s Economic Development Corporation.

The sculptures were designed and created by brothers Erik and Israel Nordin, of the Detroit Design Center. Keehn said a third sculpture is planned at Waterfront Park on Jefferson Avenue, near Shook Road. She said that once enough donations come in, it will be created and then erected at the butterfly garden.

The Emerald returns
A former downtown Mount Clemens hot spot reopened on Dec. 15, and proceeds benefited Children’s Miracle Network and Beaumont Children’s Hospital.

The Emerald Theatre, a historic vaudeville and movie theater on North Walnut Street, is back as a concert hall and banquet center. Owner John Hanna, of Hanna Development and Management in Royal Oak, said his plans for the Emerald will be more than what had been in the past. Specifically, there will be more concerts, comedy nights, movies and children’s activities. It will also be a place to hold private events like wedding receptions.

Hanna is also opening a restaurant in the former Johnny G’s building.

“We couldn’t be happier to be in Mount Clemens,” said Hanna. “(A) great city and people.”

The exterior of the building is also attracting a lot of attention with a new marquee and mural art created by Detroit’s Fel3000ft.

Corruption looms
Longtime Clinton Township Trustee Dean Reynolds, who was elected in 2004 and served until this past November, challenged Bob Cannon for the supervisor role. But less than a month before the election, Reynolds became wrapped up in a countywide controversy when he was arrested Oct. 13 by the FBI for allegedly demanding and taking bribes in exchange for votes on municipal contracts.

The investigation was conducted by the FBI Detroit Area Corruption Task Force — a multiagency task force led by the FBI Detroit Division and comprised of the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigation Division — as well as the Michigan State Police, the Michigan Attorney General’s Office, and many other local and federal law enforcement agencies.

The announcement was made by Barbara McQuade, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan. She was joined in her announcement by FBI Special Agent in Charge David P. Gelios and Manny J. Muriel, special agent in charge of the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigation Division, of the Detroit Field Office.

Reynolds’ arrest opened the floodgates, and his fate was later shared by public officials in other Macomb County communities. The FBI reportedly utilized telephone wiretaps, consensual audio and video recordings, undercover operations, physical surveillance, telephone tracking warrants and financial record subpoenas to investigate “systematic corruption.”

“Corruption undermines the very nature of representative government,” McQuade stated in a press release after the arrest.  “Law enforcement is committed to seeking out and prosecuting corrupt public officials in all areas of the Eastern District, including suburban communities.”

The document of complaint states that Reynolds’ alleged corruption took place on or about the dates of July 2015 to May 2016. It alludes to “a pattern of corrupt activity, including demanding and accepting money and other things of value in exchange for official acts as a trustee.”

The FBI complaint alleges that Reynolds accepted multiple bribes from a representative of a company that was seeking, and ultimately secured, a significant contract within Clinton Township. The report states that Reynolds collected between $50,000 and $70,000 in cash from that individual. In exchange for the money, Reynolds reportedly sold his vote as a member of the Board of Trustees. He also provided voting information related to other board members.

In addition, Reynolds allegedly collected $17,000 in cash from an undercover FBI agent — a transaction that was reportedly video-recorded.

A vendor, documented as “Company A,” was later suggested to be Rizzo Environmental Services. The company, which provides refuse pickup for Clinton Township and numerous other communities, is alleged to have received $18 million in exchange for the township contract.

Reynolds has kept quiet since his arrest. His case is still pending in U.S. District Court.

Political carousel
A year of high-flying rhetoric, campaigning and public outcry resulted in a busy Election Day. The presidential race raised the stakes for local officials too, as change was imminent one way or another.

A near 20-point margin of victory for Cannon Nov. 8 was arguably the least surprising outcome this year, politically, in the township.

“It was a different kind of election, back from the beginning,” Cannon said following the election. “I think yesterday was a culmination of all the things that have happened. It was different. … I’m glad it’s over. The division at both the top of the ticket, down to local and county levels — it’s been a draining experience on all of us involved.”

Clerk Kim Meltzer, an incumbent, defeated challenger George Sobah by a narrow margin of less than 3 percent. She attributed her victory to experience, as well as her ability to overcome straight-ticket voting and negative campaign ads.

Former Treasurer Bill Sowerby, who won his own race as state representative for District 31, stepped down from his longtime position on his own accord. Paul Gieleghem, a trustee, decided to forfeit his position and replace Sowerby.

The decision proved to be quite beneficial, as Gieleghem defeated Republican challenger Phil Rode by a double-digit vote margin. He vacated his prior position within the Macomb County Treasurer’s Office.

“Certainly, Bill (Sowerby) has demonstrated a commitment to Clinton Township and always working hard to make the right decisions, and to put advocacy of doing the right things over political expediency,” Gieleghem said following his victory. “I’m always proud to follow in his footsteps.”

The current edition of the Board of Trustees has some new faces, too.

Democrat Mike Keys, 24, received 22,427 votes — the most of any candidate — and 250 more than the second-place finisher, incumbent Ken Pearl.

Republican Joe Aragona, 28, finished with 20,984 votes, defeating opponent Catherine Kirk by about 50 votes for the fourth and final spot. Incumbent Jenifer “Joie” West, who was first elected in 2004, retained her position with a third-place finish of 22,120 votes.

After months of door-to-door campaigning and running on a platform of government transparency, the results were not all that astounding for Keys.

“I talked to a lot of people,” Keys said after his victory, Nov. 8. “I sensed that the national election was at the front of their mindset. … People hesitate with government. They have this inclination to not trust government, so government has to go above and beyond to show they’re transparent.”

It was a hectic campaign for Aragona, who fought on despite the deaths of family members.

“I hope to bring fresh and new ideas, but at the same time those guys have been there for a reason, and I hope to gain wisdom from their experiences,” Aragona said. “They know their way around the block.”

Pearl, who was elected to the Fraser City Council at age 30, welcomed the younger officials with open arms. So did West, who called her 2016 bid the hardest election she had to personally endure.

“The one thing I’ve always been is very upfront, honest. I treat people with respect, I care about what I do, when I start something I finish it — and I think that’s been a huge thing,” West said post-election. “I think people can tell.”

All Board of Trustees terms last for four years.