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2013-01-03 / Front Page

LOOKING BACK AT 2012


Susan Soderstrom, the first woman elected mayor of Grand Blanc, says changes made in 2012 were largely a success. 
File photo Susan Soderstrom, the first woman elected mayor of Grand Blanc, says changes made in 2012 were largely a success. File photo GRAND BLANC — The new year is just around the corner and as The Grand Blanc View looks back on 2012, it was a year of deficits, dogs and detachments, but Grand Blanc, Goodrich and Atlas hung in there and continue to work on the issues everyone faces as revenues get shorter and belts get tighter.

For a complete review, here is a list of highlighted stories from 2012.

January

Susan Soderstrom, the first woman elected as mayor in Grand Blanc city history got a full year under her belt.

Although not a popular decision, she moved members around from committees they had worked with for years to other committees.

“Sometimes I think it is a really good thing to have different eyes looking in different ways,” said Soderstrom. At of the end of the year, she felt the change was a success.

“Everybody has moved on and we are all working together,” she said recently. “I think it has done well for all of us.”

Shortly afterward, the City of Grand Blanc hosted selected Bryan Bender to fill the open council seat left by the resignation of Councilwoman Connie Lesley.

In business news for the year, we could hardly fail to mention Al Serra. In January, the dealership added Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram franchises to the Serra flagship location, the Al Serra Auto Plaza on South Saginaw in Grand Blanc. A one of kind dealership for Michigan followed later in the year with the addition of Volkswagen to the Serra line-up and before the end of the year was followed by Subaru of Grand Blanc.

Like other Michigan communities, Goodrich took aim at blighted structures during 2012, including the property known as the old hotel. Built in 1846, it was previously a tavern, hotel and apartment building but was destroyed in a fire Sept. 27, 2009. In January, the Village of Goodrich took legal action to get the building cleaned up. A bid proposal was accepted in August for the demolition which was funded through the general fund and recouped through property taxes on the real estate.

February

In February, officials of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s (MEDC) approved an agreement for the I-69 International Trade Corridor to become the state’s largest Next Michigan Development Corporation (NMDC). The I-69 NMDC covers four counties — Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair and Shiawassee — over 30 municipalities, major transportation assets such as Bishop International Airport, Canadian National and CSX railways, the Blue Water Bridge and a number of major highways along the corridor such as I-69, I-75, I-94 and U.S. 23. Officials expect this to expand opportunities to grow the region and create jobs.

Goodrich High School started a year of both local and national school threats with a bomb threat on Feb. 7 which initiated a “soft” lockdown. A full search of the building was conducted with the use of K-9 units, but police did not find any evidence of a bomb being located in the school.

As if bomb threats were not enough, Goodrich School Board instigated almost a full year of controversy by placing Coach Gary Barns on an unspecified leave in February. Barns' son David, was battling cancer but the leave was rumored to be related to accusations of misconduct by Barns. The debate wrangled for months with high feelings on both sides of the issue.

Then-District Superintendent John Fazer declined comment on allegations made in early meetings, but said Barns has not been fired from his position as head coach. A silence of months followed and in September, Barns’ attorney George Hamo admonished school officials regarding their lack of cooperation in releasing information to him.

At the regular meeting on Oct. 22, new Superintendent Scott Bogner issued a statement in response to Hamo. He told the audience his goal is to “...ensure that both excellence and accountability are occurring within the basketball program” with an ongoing investigation into allegations against Coach Barns.

“This is clearly not a case involving any criminal behavior whatsoever,” said Bogner. Unfortunately in early November, both Barns’ job with the district and his son David's battle with cancer were concluded in the same week, It may have been good news for the coach to retain his job for the upcoming year, but coupled with the loss of his son, it would seem at best a hollow victory.

The only allegations to have had merit, as Barns admits, were likely due to the personal stress he was under at the time which led him to sometimes using profanity toward players. Barns also stated he regretted this and took responsibility for the actions of his staff during that time.

March

The city worked on planning downtown by subscribing to the Michigan Main Street (MMS) program. MMS is a three-tier training program aimed at encouraging economic development and downtown revitalization. As part of the work Saginaw Street was upgraded at the end of April.

In addition to the milling and resurfacing of the street, the plan is to remove and replace sections of curb, gutter and sidewalk along the stretch of road. Sidewalk ramps will also be made to meet the standards of the Americans with Disability Act.

The Grand Blanc Township Board of Trustees also “got into the act” by adopting the “Complete Streets” program to improve roadways to make them safer for all residents. In March, the city adopted that also, complementing the Main Street program by looking to make it more accessible for pedestrian and bicycle traffic.

Although short-staffed, March saw the Grand Blanc Fire Department jumping into action with a major fire at the Fairways at Woodfield apartment complex on March 13.

Harmes’ staff did not stay short for long as the township board voted to expand the department to offer residents 24/7 coverage and added three new firefighters to the rolls as promised through the 0.5 mill, 10- year levy passed in November (2010). A fourth firefighter, Jeremy Oxford was added in May.

April

The township "went to the dogs" during this year, adding two new K-9 officers due to the support of residents who wanted the dogs on the force. In May, a Cuffs and Clubs golf outing raised funds, as well as a race later in year. In October, officers Matt Simpson and Paul Connelly reported they would soon start training with both dogs as handlers, and Simpson indicated his training should wrap up just before the Thanksgiving holiday, with Connelly’s to follow shortly thereafter.

As of December, Max (Maximus) and Arco have already assisted in multiple arrests and were recently very well received by the audience at a recent board meeting .

May

Along with April showers the Village of Goodrich received news of a petition of detachment which was filed with the Genesee County Clerk’s office byPatricia Wartella, former village council member. Village residents had previously explored the idea of detachment back in 2007.

The latest proposal was to detach Millpointe Shores, Fairview Estates and Shuman Drive in order to eliminate supposed duplication of services and tax payments to both Goodrich and Atlas.

The proposal was hotly debated even after the county approved the issue being placed on the November ballot. In the end, residents had their say, voted a resounding “no” with 3275 to 967 votes.

Spring rains brought other woes to residents across the county, featuring record flooding in several areas, prompting evacuation of residents from the Knollwood apartment complex on Hill Road. Grand Blanc Fire Commission helped evacuate residents living in the flooded complex by boating them to dry land.

In total, 50 units were affected by the flood. Other areas affected include Ed and Shelly Lorenz’s home off Cook Road, near the location of two main drains. Residents of the township for 23 years, the Lorenz’s say they had not experienced significant flooding until 2011, and then again in May.

If the residents started the petition and a Board of Determination decides drains should be improved, there's still the possibility that the township would be pulled in financially along with the county and the residents. “At what point do we stand up to the county and fight for our residents,” Trustee Ryan Thompson asked. “This drainage systems falls in a gray area and the county is not going to take the blame for it.”

As with Grand Blanc Township, the Village of Goodrich had flooding issues too, exacerbated by drain problems which have plagued the area for some time. For more than a year, village residents have been asking for the council’s help in improving the Wheelock and Watkins Drain — which is owned by the county with a portion privately owned.

In June, council was presented a report detailing the history of the drains which indicated that officials never followed through on a 1996 resolution to start the process of a drain improvements. Council has yet to make a decision as to whether or not it will pass a new resolution to start the possible drain improvement project. Village resident Terese Allen, said she is confused as to why the council will not pass another resolution.

Allen has been appearing before the council on a monthly basis pleading for the village to take responsibility for the Wheelock and Watkins Drain. Like Grand Blanc township, without a resolution from the council, residents would need to file a petition to establish a board of determination which would then schedule a public hearing to evaluate if there is support and probable cause for the improvement.

Even if a resolution was passed or a petition filed, it could take three to five years for improvements to get started if it is determined to be needed. The county, village and homeowners in the district would share the costs. As of December, there has been no formal action taken by the village on the flooding issues, but they and affected residents continue to work with the county drain commission and other professionals to try and resolve the issue.

Also in May, owners of the Grand Mall on South Saginaw Street stated construction for a new sign will begin soon. with no progress being shown by the end of August, Councilman John Freel said he would ask council to take action on the sign if nothing was started within the month. Work soon began, and is not yet completed; although it looks much better.

June

The city of Grand Blanc added a new patrol officer, at public request, but the position was paid for out of the fund balance, as opposed to being budgeted, which worried officials.

Woofs of joy were heard in June when The Friends of the Grand Blanc Dog Park received approval for planned ground breaking in August. Vanessa Ferguson and her husband, Kris Johns, initiated the idea of bring a dog park to the area about three years ago.

The park, estimated to cost $100,000, is being funded by grants and donations of cash and materials. In September, Ferguson and Johns spoke to the township board which approved the three acre project at Creasey Bicentennial Park.

June saw the loss of a local business by fire when Judy Kitson’s adult care facility was destroyed. Four residents were rescued after the Grand Blanc Fire Department received a call June 24 for a fire at the East Maple location. One of the residents, a bed-ridden 82-year old woman, was carried out by one of the staff and police officer David Clark through a window in order to reach safety.

July

Safety being a high priority everywhere, Atlas Township officials spent a good part of the year trying to resolve revenue shortfalls in police funding. A committee reported three proposals to the board in June but board members scheduled a public hearing to get additional input from residents.

Police services are currently contracted through the sheriff's department but officials were notified that part of that funding, in the form of a special assessment, was illegally based on a flat rate parcel fee versus the parcels taxable value. The board was then left with three options, but had not yet made a decision regarding this as of December.

The end of July brought a difficult decision to the Goodrich Board of Education when final inspections for the upgrade of the Goodrich stadium revealed that a contractor oversight placed the bleachers closer to the field than was planned.

The board voted 5-2 to leave the stadium bleachers where they currently sit in exchange for $30,000 in compensation from Southern Bleacher Company and Wolgast Corporation to be placed in the bond project’s contingency fund. The error was felt deeply by the fact that the project was paid for with public tax money but the board felt they got the best resolution they could. Board member Tim Zirnhelt said no one was able to tell him why the mistake was made. “We let the community down,” he said. August

The month of August in an election year tends to throw everything on the back burner and this year was no exception. Fortunately for Goodrich Fire Department, residents gave a thumbs up to the department when they overwhelmingly approved a renewal in the fire millage.

Although the revenue was less than it could have been, due to declining property values, Fire Chief Fred Forys was very happy to have the funding. September

A bomb threat initiated the new school year in Grand Blanc. It was received by email to the district Aug. 28, and complicated the 2012 start for police agencies and school officials.

Grand Blanc City police conducted an immediate investigation into the source of the e-mail. Within weeks, a Grand Blanc man was charged, 27-year-old Jeffery D. Cox, but police found no evidence of bombs or bomb making material at his home. Charges were pursued.

October also brought Michigan national recognition when they ranked second in number of cases when 15 states were hit by an outbreak of Fungal Meningitis, caused by tainted steroids from the New England Compounding Center (NECC). It was estimated that roughly 1,900 individuals received the product between May and early October when NECC recalled the product. Michigan ended up with 232 cases, 10 of which resulted in death.

November brought minds back around to the election again and one of the biggest things on people’s mind was the Goodrich Detachment which was very soundly defeated, but also saw the loss of long time Grand Blanc township clerk Cathy Lane.

Blight was once again a hot topic though, especially regarding the site of 11341 S. Saginaw St., the long-blighted Citgo property. City officials voted to move forward on development of the site under The Brownfield Redevelopment Act, legislation designed to provide economic incentives for dealing with tax reverted, blighted, or functionally obsolete properties.

Depending on weather and the approval process, all approvals could be in place for ground breaking in early spring. These efforts and more should make an encouraging business climate, as evident by the recent interest of Culver's Restaurant. Although their bid to become a part of downtown failed, the city feels confident that downtown will be acceptable to other businesses in the coming year.

November brought sad news in the loss of long time school board president and community leader and volunteer Larry (Arthur) Polzin who lost a long battle with pancreatic cancer. Polzin served with the Board of Education for many years and was very involved with the Old News Boys, the Make- A-Wish Foundation, the Buick Open and many other projects in the Grand Blanc community. December

Just when people were moving on from the controversial detachment, residents were surprised when Councilman Richard Saroli, suggested the council look into the possibility of Goodrich becoming a city.

Some residents feel Saroli is just taking up where the Detachment committee left off. Resident Diane Fredrickson indicated she hoped whatever was decided, it would be brought to a vote of the people, which council indicated would be the case. Nothing is expected to happen until council members attend an April seminar on the matter.

Unfortunately, the school year in Grand Blanc, ended similarly to how it began. Safety concerns after a school shooting in Connecticut, combined with the nearness of winter break, prompted students who created near panic with rumors of active or intended shootings at Grand Blanc High School.

Students texted parents they were hiding in a closet and there had been shots fired. The parents called 911 which dispatched officers from the city, township, county sheriff and the state police. Rumors spread virally across the county, with the story even hitting some national news stations. Based on the rumors, a meeting of county superintendents at the GISD, issued a statement cancelling school and all school activities for Dec. 20-21.

They stated, “Our conclusion is that canceling school is the appropriate thing to do.”

Last but not least, the Atlas Township board heard from Consumer's Energy regarding their interest in transforming more than 1,000 propane and fuel oil customers to natural gas over the next 2-3 years.

Consumer's plans to hold public hearings starting in January. Applications of interest will be taken but resident will not be committed to anything financial until the work is completed. — Compiled by Paula Barbee

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