Looking back

By: Maria Allard, April Lehmbeck, Nico Rubello, Robert Guttersohn | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published January 2, 2013

 From left, Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel, Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson and Wayne County Executive Robert A. Ficano gather after Hackel’s State of the 
County address on Dec. 5 at the Macomb Center for the Performing Arts in Clinton Township.

From left, Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel, Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson and Wayne County Executive Robert A. Ficano gather after Hackel’s State of the County address on Dec. 5 at the Macomb Center for the Performing Arts in Clinton Township.

File photo by Donna Agusti

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The year 2012 was one to remember. It was a year marked by elections at the local, state and, of course, national levels. There were forecasts of continued economic struggles, but also signs that the tide might be about to turn. Scandals and criminal allegations stoked local controversies. And community events and volunteer-led initiatives showed the best of what Clinton Township and Fraser had to offer.


January
• 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 monetary 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  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.

• Chippewa Valley Schools Board of Education voted unanimously Jan. 23 to begin offering all-day kindergarten in the 2012-13 school year.


February
• The Fraser community rallied in mourning and memory of Sharon Arwood, 13, of Fraser, after the Richards Middle School eighth-grader passed away suddenly Feb. 2.

• The Fraser City Council unanimously passed ordinances placing more regulations on the licensing and operations of pawnbrokers and secondhand, junk, precious metal and gem dealers. The ordinances reiterated state mandates that were already in place, but also required affected businesses within the city to regularly submit to the Fraser Department of Public Safety electronic reports of all merchandise received into the store to be sold or pawned.

• 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.

• Students in the Chippewa Valley Schools scored on par with or higher than statewide scores for proficiency on the 2011 Michigan Education Assessment Program test under the state’s rigorous new “cut scores” system.


March
• 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.

• After years of deficits, the City of Fraser was able to bring its water and sewer fund back into the black, thanks to the receipt of a $1.79 million loan disbursement from the state for the city’s gravity sewer project.

• Paul Sibley began his career at Chippewa Valley Schools as a kindergartener at Miami Elementary more than two decades ago. On March 5, the CVS Board of Education named Sibley as the new principal of Dakota High School.

• Clinton Township adopted a budget for the fiscal year beginning April 1, 2012, projecting further reductions in the township’s major revenue streams.


April
• 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 behind the effort earned approval from a state board to begin circulating signature petitions. The effort, however, would never make it to a public ballot, later getting struck down by the Michigan Supreme Court.

• In Clinton Township and Fraser, the number of property owners appealing their assessment dropped dramatically in 2012. The drop-off seemed to be connected to decreases in property assessments and, as a result, property taxes, said Clinton Township Assessor Jim Elrod.

• 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 helps them track down stolen property more efficiently than under the former, paper-based system.

• Five Clintondale Community Schools teachers were each recently honored by the Board of Education as Teacher of the Year. Clintondale High School teacher Michael Jones, Clintondale Middle School teacher Sara Schymick, McGlinnen Elementary teacher Kimberly Griffiths, Parker Elementary teacher Michelle Pachla and Rainbow Elementary teacher Sheila Aymen were recognized at a school board meeting.

• The National Association of Music Merchants, NAMM, gave Fraser Public Schools its Best Community for Music Education designation.

• At a Macomb Community College Board of Trustees meeting April 17, the board authorized, by a 5-0 vote, an approximate 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
• The Chippewa Valley Schools Board of Education honored, at their May 21 meeting, Cassie Kennedy, a 15-year-old student at Chippewa Valley High School who died May 15 after losing a two-year battle with brain cancer. “You think of the things we quarrel over,” said Superintendent Ronald Roberts, who attended her funeral. “And then you go to something like this, and you really see what’s important.”

• Hundreds of people turned out for the Relay for Life event 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.

• After debating millages and multi-year budgets to deal with a projected shortfall, the Fraser City Council approved a one-year budget without Mayor Doug Hagerty’s proposed 3.75-mill increase. Council members agreed that the city should maintain public services, but they debated whether a multi-year budget and millage hike were necessary to address forecasted fund balance shortfalls.

• Former Fraser Public Schools teacher Gregory Francis Austin was charged with possessing child pornography. Austin had not been working for the district since he was arrested on charges of a drug offense in March. According to an FBI press release, authorities found “numerous images of suspected child pornography,” along with “inappropriate non-pornographic images of suspected minors, text messages that were sexual in nature that appeared to involve minors, and two pornographic videos, one of which depicted a minor.”


June
• 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 township board also voted to ask Gov. Rick Snyder to remove Fitzgerald.

• The Fraser City Council voted to halt payments to a dozen Fraser Public Safety officers for purchased, online “life experience degrees.” City Council members also voted to sue the Caribbean-based company, Almeda University, that had issued almost all of them. A Michigan State Police investigation, initiated by Mayor Doug Hagerty, later concluded that there was “no criminal element” to the use of the degrees.

• Clinton Township trustees took the next step and 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. The facility owner, Uni-Dig Inc., replied by pointing to the fact that they had hired a third-party company to abate the odor under court order, and that they were doing everything possible to reduce the smell. The township board decided at a later date to stop doing business with Uni-Dig.

• A 3-year-old boy survived a fire at the manufactured home where he was sleeping, thanks to a Clinton Township firefighter. Acting Lt. Paul Brouwer Jr. Brouwer reportedly located the boy in the smoke-filled bedroom and passed him out the window to police officers on the scene.

• On June 11, the Clintondale Community Schools Board of Education voted to approve a “general appropriations of Clintondale Community Schools” for the incoming school year. Revenues — which include local, state and federal dollars — were predicted at $32.7 million. Expenditures — retirements, salaries, benefits, utility costs, and supply and purchase services — were projected at $31.5 million.

• At a school board meeting June 25, the Fraser Public Schools Board of Education voted 7-0 to approve the operating budget for the 2012-13 school year. Revenues were totaled at $49.4 million. Expenditures were somewhat higher at $50.9 million. The district used fund balance dollars to make up the approximate $1.5 million shortfall.


July
• 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.

• A dozen visitors from Clinton Township’s sister city, Yasu, Japan, visited the township as part of a cultural-exchange program. Their visit concluded with a festival celebrating Japanese culture in the Clinton-Macomb Public Library.

• The fireworks were flying, both figuratively and literally, after the state of Michigan legalized consumer-grade fireworks. Municipal officials in both Clinton Township and Fraser criticized the state law, lamenting the size of some of the neighborhood displays.

• Fraser celebrated its 33rd annual city picnic July 19-22, complete with a parade, craft show, fireworks and the Fraser Lions’ carnival.

• A jury found two people, Larry Stewart, 22, and Renyatta Hamilton, 21, guilty of the felony murder of a Highland Park man after the prosecution successfully made the case that the two had committed a robbery-turned-murder in December 2011 at a Clinton Township apartment building.


August
• Car cruisers of all ages again took 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 you won’t find 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.

• Faurecia Interior Systems marked the opening of its second plant with a ceremony that featured appearances from Gov. Rick Snyder, Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel, and a bipartisan collection of state and city officials. The Faurecia plant is located on Masonic, east of Utica, employing more than 100 workers to make automotive components for the interiors of Cadillac and Big Three cars. The building previously had sat vacant for 18 months.

• 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.

• Fraser Public Schools officials and the Fraser Education Association disagreed about the official start of first day of school for 2012-13. Because of the disparity of the start date of this year’s school year, a complaint was filed Aug. 28 on behalf of the teachers union with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission in Detroit. District officials and the FEA are trying to resolve the issue through arbitration.


September
• 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 were 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, state to state.

• Fraser High School students can earn college credit to attend Rochester College, thanks to a new partnership the two schools formed. Students in the FHS Advanced Placement 11th-grade English and Advanced Placement 12th-grade English can earn credits that would transfer to Rochester College, located in Rochester Hills. A little more than 100 FHS students enrolled in one of the AP classes taught by John Hanley and Mary Thompson.

• The Fraser Public Schools annual fundraiser “Fraser vs. Cancer” was held the week of Sept. 24 and raised approximately $20,000 to fight cancer.

• As part of the district’s $19.9 million bond issue that passed in February 2011, Fraser Public Schools educators will distribute the new iPads to all their students throughout the course of the year.

• After Fraser Public Schools parent Bob Chapp spoke up, school officials revamped — for the second time in a few short months — the district’s Latchkey rates. Cost to use the morning session is a $5 flat rate per child. The first hour of the afternoon session will be offered at a flat rate of $4 per child. If the afternoon session is used beyond one hour, the fee will be a flat rate of $7 per child.


October
• Water-and-sewer bills increased in both Clinton Township and Fraser, with officials saying the overall rate increases were needed to keep up with hikes being passed to the township by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department. Actual bills are based on water consumption.

• Fans went online to bemoan the elimination of local musician Jeffrey Adam Gutt after he was eliminated from FOX’s singer competition, “The X Factor.” Gutt, 36, of Clinton Township, earned national fandom from his performances on the show, most famously for his lauded version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”

• 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.

• McGlinnen Elementary School held its annual Panther Prowl-a-thon Oct. 4. The annual event — in which students walk or skip laps for 30 minutes outside on the school grounds — raises money for school activities including assemblies, playground enhancements, pizza parties, learning materials and more. McGlinnen is part of Clintondale Community Schools.

• 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.

• 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.

• After hearing rumors that secretarial positions throughout Clintondale Community Schools would be eliminated, about 100 Clintondale High School students staged a brief demonstration Oct. 31. They left the school and walked to the district’s administration building, located on the same block, in an effort to support the secretaries.


November
• Voters elected former state representative Kim Meltzer as the township’s new clerk. Voters also 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, Fred Miller and Kathy Tocco were re-elected, as well.

• Road crews wrapped renovations 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.

• A resurfacing project along Utica, between 14 Mile in Fraser and Gratiot in Roseville, came to an end. The project also entailed patching cracks and holes in Utica’s underlying road base and repairing cracked curbs and gutters.

• 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.

• Fraser launched its new city website, complete with a host of new features, including live video streaming of City Council meetings.

• The Chippewa Valley Schools Board of Education declined Nov. 5 to vote on reinstating busing to St. Thecla and St. Luke schools, reaffirming its decision to end transportation to the private schools two years ago. For more than 40 years, CVS bused students living within its boundaries to the two schools, which are located just outside the district. In 1966, residents of the district voted to mandate that CVS bus the private schools’ students. But citing budgetary shortfalls, the board voted to end transportation to the schools in 2010 — a decision parents and parishioners of St. Thecla have called illegal because of the vote.

• 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.


December
• 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 state board recommended Fraser’s proposed barrier-free park project for a $300,000 state grant. The grant will go to reimburse a major portion of the infrastructure costs, associated with equipping Fraser’s McKinley Park to accommodate people with and without physical and sensory challenges.

• 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.

• 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.

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