Downriver 2013, January through June

Sunday Times file photo
Allen Park Emergency Manager Joyce Parker unveils her plan to erase the city’s extimated $4 million 2014 budget shortfall at a town hall meeting Feb 19. The plan called for the elimination of nine vacant police and fire positions and putting on the August primary balot a 3.5 mill proposal for the Police and Fire departments. Allen Park voters approved the proposal 5,114 to 2,164.

By James Mitchell and Gabriel Goodwin
Sunday Times Newspapers

Last year was full of interesting stories. Here’s a look back at the first half of 2013.

The city of Taylor resumed management of the Taylor Sportsplex after management firm JRV Consulting fell behind in rent and owed the city more than $84,000. It marked the first time the city ran the recreation facility.

Lincoln Park Fire Lt. Liam Carroll was promoted in January to fire chief, filling the office left vacant with the previous year’s resignation of Paul Murray. Interviews were held with applicants from among current department employees, according to union contract, and Carroll was one of four contenders for the position.

Changes continued at Lincoln Park City Hall with the decision not to reappoint City Manager Gregory Capote, who’d been at the job for less than a year. It was uncertain if the position would be replaced as the city continued to struggle with a budget deficit.

Southgate Mayor Joseph Kuspa offered an optimistic State of the City address sponsored by the Rotary Club of Southgate that described a community “renaissance” of development and progress. Kuspa said investments that included new businesses at the Southgate Shopping Center combined with infrastructure upgrades to position the city for rebirth.

Michigan Treasurer Roger Fraser put city officials in Lincoln Park on notice that state supervision of finances may be in order if a more than $2 million budget deficit was not addressed. Efforts to reduce the shortfall included a 20 percent salary reduction for elected officials and department heads.

Taylor School District officials approved a nick-of-time contract with the Federation of Teachers, preventing the loss of state funding had they continued without an agreement. The district was also required to submit a plan for eliminating a $19 million budget deficit.

The father of two children left standing in a bathtub filled of hot water was sentenced to up to a year in jail Jan. 30. Brandon Soules, 29, of Wyandotte was sentenced in Wayne County Circuit Court after pleading guilty to two counts of felony second-degree child abuse. His girlfriend and the children’s mother, 24-year-old Erica Bohn, also faced two counts of felony second-degree child abuse. She was found innocent of two counts of child abuse during a March 1 bench trial before Wayne County Circuit Judge Richard Skutt.

Bohn and Soules were arrested after a Nov. 7 incident, when it was reported their 4-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son were left in the bathtub full of scalding water. The parents allegedly were under the influence of prescription drugs during the incident. The children suffered severe burns to their feet and are in the custody of their grandparents.

Southgate Community School District officials approved a district reconfiguration that included the closing of three schools: Chormann and North Pointe elementary schools and Gerisch Middle School. Supt. William Grusecki had determined — not long after taking office in June 2011 — that the reported budget deficit of $750,000 was, in reality, more than four times that amount. The district launched an information-sharing effort to solicit input from parents, teachers and staff.

A serial rapist accused of home invasion and attempted rape was found guilty after a February bench trial. Elmore Nichols, 52, had been accused of breaking into an Electric Avenue home, and while in custody was determined to have been a registered sex offender with a criminal history dating back to 1981.

Taylor police identified six suspects in what Police Chief Mary Sclabassi called a “ring” of robbers responsible for up to a half-dozen thefts from cell phone stores in January and February. Charges were heard from throughout metropolitan Detroit, including Taylor, Melvindale and Westland.

On behalf of three Taylor schools educators, the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation filed a lawsuit seeking to nullify the requirement that teachers pay union dues for a mandatory 10-year period. That contractual obligation, Foundation lawyers said, was outside of the four-year contract reached in January by Taylor Federation of Teachers Local 1085 and Taylor School District.

A 52-year-old Melvindale man died in a morning fire Feb. 5 in his house in the 1700 block of Hanna. Fire Chief Steven Densmore said the department received a call about 4:30 a.m. that day about a house “explosion” in the block. When the fire was put out after about 30 minutes, they found its resident, William Kristian, dead in the bathtub in a bathroom in the back of the house. Kristian lived alone and was reportedly disabled.

A Feb. 7 fire at a city-owned property, in Wyandotte, was ruled arson. The vacant house was purchased so the city could demolish the property. Fire Chief Jeff Carley said the property, 144 Antione St., previously had been vandalized and broken into in the weeks before the fire was started inside the house. Carley said the department knew by the next day that the fire was the result of foul play.

“We were able to rule out any electrical cause. The electricity was disconnected and the gas was cut,” Carley said. “The investigation found the fire started through ordinary combustibles.”

A man who held Lincoln Park police at bay during a long, barricaded standoff was sentenced in February to two years in prison after pleading guilty to four of 10 counts he’d faced. John Joseph Christiner, 40, had assaulted his wife and son at their house in the 1500 block of Cleophus in September 2011, and retreated inside, armed, when police showed. Christiner surrendered after several hours of emotional standoff.

A jury in March found former Taylor police officer Andrew Voelkner, 42, guilty of felony firearms possession and receiving and concealing for having stolen a department shotgun. Police Chief Mary Sclabassi said that the weapon — a shotgun that had once been issued to Cpl. Matthew Edwards, who was killed in the line of duty in July 2010 — was discovered in Voelkner’s home when Farmington Hills police responded to a domestic disturbance call at that address.

Construction began in Lincoln Park in March on the long-awaited downtown lofts project, an $11 million renovation of the Lincoln Park Theatre and construction of retail and residential buildings at the site. The theater had long been subject to scrutiny and speculation, having hosted an adult theater for more than 20 years. The investment by Wayne County, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and other partners broke ground on what would become 1,200 feet of retail space and 36 rental units.

A community and school district mourned the loss of Tyler Nichols, 13, who in March killed himself at Davidson Middle School in Southgate. Nichols died from a single gunshot wound to the head and was discovered shortly after 8 a.m. by another student. Schools closed for several days as friends, family and classmates gathered in mourning.

Two boys, 14 and 15, were rescued from a house fire in the 300 block of Oak April 21. According to published reports, firefighters were called to the house about 9 a.m. after investigating an extinguished fire in the 90 block of Walnut. The 14-year-old was hanging out of a second story window when firefighters arrived and was rescued with a fire department ladder. The second boy and the family pets were rescued from the house fire.

Their father soon returned home to find that neither boy was harmed in the fire, believed to have started in the kitchen. The department believed the fire started while one of the boys was making breakfast.

Trenton welcomed its latest business owner when Mark Hayes purchased the former A&W restaurant downtown with hopes of turning the iconic building into a coffee shop. Mark and his wife, Debbie, reached an agreement with Signature Associates to purchase and renovate the building near the entrance to Elizabeth Park.

Taylor officials scrambled to pay the bills while adhering to a five-year debt elimination plan. In April the city approved an internal loan of $3 million from the water and sewer fund in order to ensure May and June payrolls would be met.

Joseph Merucci accepted the position of full time city manager for Lincoln Park, an office that sat vacant since city council declined to continue with Gregory Capote. The need for the full-time position remained a topic of debate among council members.

Taylor Mayor Jeffrey Lamarand terminated the employment of Fire Chief Bob Tompos. Lamarand called it a “personnel decision” that was not based on political considerations. Shortly before the termination Tompos had declared his intention to run for city council during the 2013 election.

Three veteran Taylor police officers “did not fight their discipline,” said Police Chief Mary Sclabassi, who suspended the officers for making illegal bets with public employees that had previously been convicted of running a gambling ring.

When the May filing deadline for primary election candidates ended, Taylor witnessed what city officials called a record number of candidates seeking office. More than two dozen candidates tossed their hats in the ring for the offices of mayor, treasurer, clerk and seven city council seats.

A man who was accused of shooting a pregnant Lincoln Park woman in the stomach and causing a miscarriage pleaded guilty to three of five charges including assault with intent to do great bodily arm less than murder. Originally 25th District Court Judge David Zelenak had arraigned Nathaniel Keith Thornton on charges that included assault with intent to murder, but Thornton was not bound over on the more serious charge. Thornton was sentenced to six to 30 years in prison.

A family dynasty came to an end in Southgate with the June retirement of Thomas Alexander from the clerk’s office. Alexander’s father, Robert, began serving in that capacity in 1967, and Thomas took over in 1985 after the passing of the elder Alexander.

Nearly a third of Melvindale’s residents were evacuated May 2 after a fire at the Marathon refinery in Detroit. No one was injured in the fire that began about 6 p.m. Authorities took to Facebook to order about 3,000 people to leave their homes. Nine blocks were evacuated that evening and about 40 residents were sheltered in the city’s civic center.

Four council members — Lawrence Stec, Leonard Sabuda, Sheri Sutherby-Fricke, Dan Galeski — were re-elected to their seats in the May 7 election, while Donald Schultz and Ted Micuira Jr. were elected to the two open seats. Thomas Woodruff beat out Jeffrey Kupser for city assessor, which was left open after Colleen Keehn announced in November 2012 she would step down from the position.

Mayor Joseph Peterson and City Clerk William Griggs retained their positions, running unopposed, and term-limited City Councilman Todd Browning ran unopposed for city treasurer.

Taylor officials once again debated the status of the city’s fire department and the previous year’s closing of two of three fire stations. Council meetings in May and June rejected a proposal by Mayor Jeffrey Lamarand for a lease agreement with HealthLink, which would have provided more than 70 percent of the costs needed to open the stations and provide EMS services. City council members again responded by taking Lamarand to court in an effort to re-open the stations.

The last day of school in Southgate was marked with special ceremonies as the final students walked out of Chormann and North Pointe elementary schools and Gerisch Middle School.

Wyandotte was the first of four cities to approve the Downriver Consolidated Assessing authority to enter into an agreement to consolidate assessing services June 3. This initial agreement included Wyandotte, Riverview, Southgate and Woodhaven. Wyandotte City Assessor Tom Woodruff said the proposal for the DCA came in December 2012 while Keehn was in office.

The city needed to address the consolidation, he said, because the two people who ran for the office — Woodruff and Kupser — did not have the necessary credentials to certify and sign the tax rolls. City officials said the consolidation would alleviate many issues within the four cities’ assessor’s Offices and save each city about $21,000 a year.

The Melvindale City Council voted 4-2 in support of a fire department merger with the Dearborn Fire Department June 19, just eight days after the Dearborn City Council voted unanimously in support of the merger.

Dearborn Firefighters IAFF Local 412 approved the potential merger Jan. 28 and Melvindale’s International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1728 members approved it during a second vote March 16. The agreement between the cities went into effect Sept. 1.

Dearborn Fire Chief Joseph Murray and Melvindale Fire Chief Steven Densmore said they began working together, before that date, so there would be no service interruptions to residents. As part of the agreement, the seven firefighters with the highest seniority would stay in Melvindale’s pension system, while the other six would be absorbed into Dearborn’s system.

Murray will be the head of the consolidated fire department, and Densmore will become Dearborn’s deputy fire chief. Densmore and Murray confirmed that all five fire stations will remain open and a closure, in either city, was never considered. The cities will continue with their current mutual aid agreements.

(Next week: Downriver year in review, July through December.)