A look back at 2011: January through June

Photo by Andrea Poteet

Firefighter Grant Peace prepares to put on an air mask at the Allen Park Fire Department in February, days after the city announced plans to issue 30-day layoff notices to its entire fire department. The notices were later rescinded.

Sunday Times Newspapers

Allen Park fell $1.3 million behind in collecting revenue to make payments on bonds for the Allen Park Studio Center.

The $25 million studio project, built in 2008, drew controversy after two of its biggest tenants, Unity Studios and the Lifton Institute for Media Skills, left in the fall of 2010.

Melvindale High School student Trevon Hampton, 17, was sentenced to 90 days in jail and two years of probation after pleading guilty to third degree criminal sexual conduct in the rape of a 14-year-old Melvindale girl after a post-Homecoming party in October of 2010.

The Allen Park Studio property on Southfield road was found in an audit to be overvalued by more than $4 million.

Former Riverivew Community High School varsity football booster club treasurer Shelie Anne Gendron was charged with embezzling $10,000 to $20,000 from the club between April and November 2010.

A Taylor police officer was cleared for return to duty pending a report from the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office on a fatal Dec. 23, 2010 shooting of an Eastpointe man. The Taylor officer shot and killed the 56-year-old man while investigating thefts, and the shooting at the scene was declared to be self-defense.

Officials in Lincoln Park and Wyandotte reached an agreement to share costs for the design, construction and repairs to the Harrison Street bridge over the south branch of the Ecorse Creek. The bridge was closed in January 2010 due to structural deterioration. Originally scheduled for 2013, the project was rescheduled for 2012 completion.

A City-sponsored town hall meeting was held in Allen Park to address residents’ concerns about the troubled Studio Center property.

Many who attended the meeting took issue with the delay in answering many pre-submitted resident questions. Financial Director Timothy McCurley was out of town and did not attend the meeting.

Wyandotte approved a 15-year land lease for a gasification plant with Environmental Generation Technology Advisor LLC.

Residents raised concerns at a public hearing Feb. 13 that the plant, which was to use refuse-derived fuel, could cause harm to the environment.

Two 16-year-old Detroit boys pleaded guilty to one count each of gross indecency for their part in the rape of a 14-year-old Melvindale High School freshman at a post-Homecoming party in October of 2010.

In Wyandotte, Carla Harting was named the new superintendent of Wayndotte Public Schools after the retirement of Patricia Cole. The same week, two Catholic schools – Our Lady of Mount Carmel Elementary School and Wyandotte Catholic Consolidated Schools announced plans to consolidate with Lincoln Park’s Good Shepherd School due to declining enrollment.

Allen Park issued layoff notices to its entire fire department as a way to address its nearly $7 million budget deficit. The same week, it announced a five-year deficit elimination plan, consisting of a $3 million annual contribution from its Downtown Development Authority, to counter the $1.2 million it owes to the studio property each year.

A 20-year-old Lincoln Park man faced two counts of felony murder in the Feb. 10 killing of 17-year-old Brittany Burrell and Dwight Osborn, 55, who was shot three days earlier. Joseph Alan Bigelow was charged with both murders and held in custody pending a trial.

During a Feb. 7 State of the City address, Trenton Mayor Gerald Brown said the city was “ahead of the curve” when facing the growing number of fiscal challenges to Downriver communities. Brown said that union concessions during recent contract negotiations allowed the city to address an expected $1 million budget shortfall without staff reductions.

First-term Southgate Mayor Joseph Kuspa announced his intention to seek another two years in office, in spite of having faced some of the most serious financial issues in city history.

The man who struck and killed Taylor Auxiliary Police Lt. Daniel Kromer in September 2010 was sentenced by Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Linda Parker to up to 67 and a half years in prison. Nino Delpiano, 40, was found guilty of second-degree murder for the hit-and-run accident that took Kromer’s life while he was assisting a lost couple on the side of I-94.

Allen Park received a letter from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission with questions regarding the failed deal between the city and Unity Studios owner Jimmy Lifton. Questions in the letter included whether the city gave money to Lifton to influence the deal, whether it overpaid for the property, and whether it misled investors in a bond measure to pay for it. The same week. City Administrator Eric Waidelich announced plans to step down, amid controversy stemming from the failed studio property. Waidelich cited his desire to not “inhibit the undivided attention” the city’s challenges required.

At a special meeting March 15, Allen Park Councilman Kyle Tertzag and Finance Director Timothy McCurley announced their resignations. Tertzag cited a hectic schedule and the desire to spend more time with his 14-year-old son and McCurley did not respond to requests for comment.

It was a big season for Wyandotte’s Theodore Roosevelt High School Bears, who won the Michigan High School Athletic Association Division 2 state hockey championship, the first such title in any sport in the school’s history.

As the month neared its end, Allen Park rescinded layoff notices given to its entire Fire Department and former City Attorney David Tamsen was sworn in as City Administrator.

In spite of uncertain economic times and outlook, Lincoln Park Mayor Frank Vaslo delivered an optimistic report to 120 business people and officials. Citing past planning decisions for creating problems for Lincoln Park and its neighboring communities, Vaslo said that an unfavorable audit in 2003 boosted city efforts to right its financial ship. After bringing in city and financial management, Vaslo reported a fund balance of $4.1 million at the end of Fiscal Year 2009-10.

Downriver communities confirmed a declining population with the release of the 2010 U.S. Census report. “It was expected,” Trenton Mayor Gerald Brown said of the city’s decline from 19,584 in 2000 to 18,853. “It’s just the way things are happening in Michigan right now.” Southgate remained nearly stable with a decline of 0.3 percent (from 30,136 to 30,047); Taylor lost 4.2 percent (65,868 to 63,131); and Lincoln Park posted a similar decline of 4.7 percent (40,008 to 38,144).

Wyandotte announced a possible $1.8 million budget deficit, found in a Plante & Moran audit, which Mayor Joseph Peterson attributed to declining property values and revenue sharing cuts.

After years of unofficially handling the duties, Wyandotte City officials made Finance and Administration Director Todd Drysdale the city’s highest ranking appointee when they created the City Administrator position for him.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit has ruled that a group of four Southgate police officers are ineligible for immunity for their 2003 arrest of a man, his wife and a woman who was a guest at the couple’s house.

The denial opens the door for a possible trial for the officers. On Sept. 2 of that year Kendra Huckaby, who had been staying with the Rev. Joseph Barton and his wife, Faith Piece, was packing up her Ford Taurus in front of the couple’s house. A neighbor called police to report what she believed was a home invasion.

Officers responded, and conflicting stories were told regarding the subsequent arrest. Lawsuits were filed in 2005 and 2006 against the Southgate Police Department and officers; a ruling granted in favor of the defendant officers was appealed.

Allen Park resident Steven Lyn Nicholson, 27, was found guilty of one count first degree murder and one count second degree murder in the drowning deaths of his two children, 15-month-old Ella Stafford and 13-month-old Jonathan Sanderlin. Later that month, Nicholson was sentenced to life for the deaths.

An Allen Park resident sent a letter to the Michigan Department of Treasury calling for a financial review – the first step in appointing an emergency financial manager.

Allen Park mayor Gary Burtka resigned citing battles with an unspecified cancer, while an ethics complaint was launched by a resident against Councilwoman Beverly Kelley, after vulgar comments she made about a resident at a council meeting were broadcast on the city’s cable access channel.

Wyandotte and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reached a settlement stemming from the city’s power plant’s violations of the Clean Air Act.

The decree called for a fine of $112,000 and the installation of a fabric filter for one of the plant’s boilers for about $10 million.

Allen Park Councilman Felice Lalli, who served as Mayor Pro Tem, was sworn in as mayor in the wake of Gary Burtka’s resignation. A resident-requested financial review of the city, the first step in the appointment of an emergency financial manager, was denied by the state.

Taylor city officials announced an expected layoff of 48 city employees, including 19 firefighters and paramedics, due to a budget that shrank from $54 million in 2010 to $42 million for the 2011-12 fiscal year.

Fire officials said that emergency medical services were hit hardest; the current 59-member dire department will be reduced to 40 if the layoffs hold.

Allegations of sexual misconduct by a Southgate Police officer were heard during a June 1 arraignment in 27th District Court.

Emmauel Paravas, 42, was charged with sexually assaulting a woman he was charged with protecting from alleged domestic abuse.

A competency hearing declared a man fit to stand trial for the shooting and killing of Taylor Police Cpl. Matthew Edwards. Tyress Thearndos Mathews, 36, stood accused of killing Edwards on July 23, 2010 when police responded to a domestic call from the Coppertree Apartments in the 1200 block of Pine.

A multi-agency investigation resulted in the June 7 arrest of John Robert Kennedy on weapons and explosives charges related to a pair of devices left in Trenton and a bomb threat made to Trenton High School. Kennedy was arraigned in U.S. District Court after an arrest made in Flat Rock by agents from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, U.S. Marshals, Michigan State and Trenton Police.

Budget battles and the threat of state takeover resulted in Southgate Community Schools recommending the elimination of general education bus service, closing the Anderson High School swimming pool and outsourcing custodial services. School board members voted to make more than $5 million worth of reductions for the 2011-12 school year.

Bus service was suspended for 2011-12 by Trenton Public School’s Board of Education, a decision met with opposition due to the district’s decision to approve the demolition of William C. Taylor Elementary School at a cost of $250,000. Board members cited safety concerns for the demolition, and made additional cuts
to provide a balanced budget by July 1.

First-degree murder charges continued for 34-year-old Shannon Maurice Henderson, accused in the April shooting of another man in a Fort Street parking lot in Lincoln Park. Henderson was arraigned on multiple charges after a lengthy district court hearing.

Bob Tompos was sworn in as Taylor Fire Chief, replacing Steven Portis who was fired by Mayor Jeffrey Lamarand on June 17. Portis disagreed with Lamarand and City Council decisions that included extensive layoffs, and 19 firefighters were among 48 laid-off city employees whose last day was June 30.

The Taylor City Council accepted the resignation of Treasurer Wayne Avery, 71, who spent more than 16 years on the job. Council invited interested residents to submit applications for the position, which the city charter mandates be replaced by appointment or special election.