January 04, 2012 - By Gabriel Ouzounian
The 2011 Dragon on the Lake festival was bigger and better than ever. A crowd of 20,000 people visited Lake Orion that weekend. Dragon boat races highlighted the event. Photo by G. Ouzounian (click for larger version)
Review Staff Writer
The Review's look back at the big events and intriguing personalities that shaped Lake Orion during 2011 concludes with the final six months.
July fireworks postponed – Lake Orion's annual firework show at Green's Park was cut way short when high winds and heavy rain caused damage to the ignition system and barge. After two volleys, a small but bright orange light could be seen far out in the lake; a fire had broke out on the barge. No one was hurt, but the show had to be postponed. To add insult to injury, the high winds caused a power outage in Lake Orion that lasted well into the night. The LOPD had their hands full directing traffic at Flint and M-24 as the normally orderly walkway was now dangerous for pedestrians.
Concerns nearly kill new business - With StreetScape essentially finished, the introduction of new businesses seemed natural with the rebirth of Lake Orion's downtown. On June 27, one such business was almost denied entry. Don Gindhart, who is now preparing 51 N. Broadway for his new brewery - the 51 North Brewing Company - was nearly turned down by the Lake Orion Village Council. Its concerns focused on the pub's proximity to the Keep Coming Back Club (a center for alcoholics anonymous), heavy traffic and loud music. The vote was postponed to a later meeting where the business was eventually approved.
Wildwood operations finalized - The Wildwood amphitheater was officially named and other important issues on its operation were further addressed at the July 5 Township Board meeting. These included fencing, bathrooms, concession stands and admissions.
Healthcare hard cap - State legislation would help the school district save, rather than bleed, a lot of money. Lake Orion Community Schools administrators projected the district could save up to $3.5 million annually if the statewide hard cap on the amount districts could spend on healthcare insurance per employee, proposed by the Michigan House of Representatives, was approved by the senate. The version proposed by the Senate called for schools to pay no more than 80 percent of a public employee's healthcare premiums. This would save Lake Orion's district roughly $2.3 million per year.
Lapeer Road gas war - The new Kroger gas station at M-24 and Heights prompted a price war between local gas stations, plus traffic jams. Varying prices of gas on M-24 sparked crowds and competition. Kroger seemed to ignite the war with prices well below the average for the area. Although Speedway at Clarkston, Admiral on M-24 and Kroger fought with low prices, the other four stations along the three mile stretch kept their prices higher. Low prices at the time were $3.79 a gallon.
Lake Orion schools continue to outpace neighboring districts – Student scores for the ACT and Michigan Merit Exams were released and Lake Orion juniors continued to achieve high standards. There are four levels students can place on the MME: level one advanced, level two proficient, level three partially proficient and level four not proficient. Students in the level one and two categories exceeded expectations and Lake Orion had scores above those from 2010 in math, science and writing. Scores in reading and social studies, while below the previous year's standards, were still classified in level one and two.
Township tickets church - The New Beginnings Baptist Church had given away 28 tons of free food to area families in need. And, while they were not looking for anything in return, they received two tickets from Orion Township. At issue was the temporary sign the church displayed on its property on M-24 when food is available. Pastor Tim Chappell received notice the church violated two township ordinances and gave a deadline for removing the sign. The letter had a metered postage mark from the township dated July 18, while the deadline was July 15. Township Supervisor JoAnn Van Tassel intervened.
Vandals strike- The historic Angel (Ehman) Center became the target of vandals in July, with break-ins and de-facings becoming commonplace inside and outside the old building. Lake Orion Police were doing everything in their power to stymie the crime and in late July those efforts paid off when two juveniles were caught breaking in. The kids would later be released to parents.
Lake Orion couple provides hope for Elisyn- Lake Orion resident Jeff Kinser would be flying to China in early August, returning with with a special overseas present to his wife and kids: a new addition to the family. Four-year old Elisyn was the couple's third adopted child from China, joining Sawyer and Vaughn. Combined with raising their three biological kids - Raven, Chase and Maddie - every day provided a new challenge with the special-needs kids.
Oxford manhunt ends in Orion - An alleged armed robbery shattered the peace of normally tranquil Oxford on August 3. Soon after, neighboring Orion Township was the scene of a manhunt that closed off roads and locked down nearby schools and neighborhoods. The sound of a gunshot in the 1700 block of Twin Lakes Blvd., in Oxford Township, signaled a firearm sale gone bad. The suspects escaped to their vehicle and sped down M-24, where they were eventually captured in a Lake Orion neighborhood. Two Pontiac residents faced multiple criminal charges while a third 17-year-old Pontiac resident and former Oxford High School student was still under investigation.
'Sonic' boom hits Orion - The massive GM Orion Assembly Plant on Brown Road, idle for more than a year, was completely remodeled for new production. To the delight of Orion Township, the future of GM would include the plant, set to build the fuel-sipping Chevrolet Sonic and Buick Verano small cars at the 4.3 million square-foot production facility. There was a price, however. Significant tax incentives from Oakland County and Orion Township closed the deal to reopen the plant.
DEQ completes landfill analysis - Nearly everything was in place for the expansion of the Eagle Valley Landfill in Orion Township, with the exception of a permit to increase its capacity from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). According to the DEQ, Waste Management had not filed for the final permission process, despite being cleared to do so on June 14.
Landfill expansion vote rescinded - By a count of 6-1, the Orion Township Board on August 29 elected to rescind it's April 18 approval of Waste Management's request to begin the process for expanding the Eagle Valley landfill. Prior to the vote, a confusing and sometimes contentious debate took place between the board members and 70-plus township residents in attendance. Many in the audience shared their deep concerns about the expansion. A few members of the board and many of the residents thought this decision was hastily made.
Armed robbery attempt - An armed robbery attempt was thwarted early Monday morning at the CVS Pharmacy on S. Broadway St. Lake Orion Police reported a lone female entered the store and asked an employee where specific items could be found. When the employee walked away, the female told the person she "had a gun" and other armed accomplices were outside and would join her if the CVS employees did not comply with her demands. As one employee met her demands, another fearing for their safety took physical control of the suspect and wrestled her to the ground. LOPD was called shortly after. The woman had neither a gun or accomplices.
Orion landfill motion delayed - Rather than make a hasty decision, the Orion Township Board last week decided to delay requesting a court motion to set aside the amended consent agreement on the expansion of the Eagle Valley landfill until it could obtain a second legal opinion on the situation. Township Supervisor JoAnn Van Tassel said the move effectively nullified the board's Aug. 29 decision to rescind last spring's agreement that currently allowed Waste Management to proceed with its 50-acre expansion.
U.S. Senior Open coming to Orion – Course upgrades and other enhancements to Indianwood Golf and Country Club's were underway in preparation for hosting the sport's best senior players next summer. They will be converging on Lake Orion next July to play in the thirty-third U.S. Senior Open Championship. This will be the fourth major championship held at Indianwood. The club also hosted the 1930 Western Open and the 1989 and 1994 Women's U.S. Open tournaments.
New council member nearly takes presidency - In a surprise vote at the Sept. 26 Village Council meeting, incumbent Ken Van Portliet nearly lost out to new member Shauna Brown for the presidency. Council members David Churchill, Brown and John Ranville voted for Brown while Micheal Toth, Douglass Hobbs and Van Portfliet voted for Van Portfliet. The decision was postponed until the following meeting. Brown replaced long-time council-member Douglass Dendel.
Orion activists make impression - A local group of citizens continued to make noise in Lansing when members of the Lake Orion-based Michigan Citizens Advocating for Public Education (MI-CAPE) testified before the state's Senate Education Committee. They discussed the proposed mandatory open enrollment law that was part of a package of seven bills on "parental empowerment" that was then being debated by Michigan lawmakers.
Obama visits Orion - President Obama and South Korea's president Lee visited the GM Orion Assembly plant last Friday to tout the new free trade agreement between the two countries. The new Chevrolet Sonic subcompact that is built at the plant is a collaborative effort between GM's operations here and in South Korea. Plans are to sell the car in both countries. Obama also reiterated how his administration's 2009 bailout of GM and Chrysler played a key role in saving the U.S. auto industry and preserved thousands of jobs, including those at the recently opened assembly plant.
Van Portfliet maintains village presidency - The revote for the village president position was unanimously in favor of incumbent Ken Van Portfliet, a sharp turnaround from the previous meeting's tie vote. Councilmember John Ranville was absent. As one explanation for switching his vote, Councilmember David Churchill said he did not know Van Portfliet wanted to run as president again and, upon discovering this, switched his vote.
Township faces sheriff cuts - There most likely would be cuts to the team of Oakland County sheriff's deputies that patrol Orion Township in 2012 due to budget shortfalls. Township Supervisor JoAnn Van Tassel said the police fund is one of the most pressing issues to address as the Orion Township Board prepares the township's budget for next year. Township Treasurer Alice Young agreed with the supervisor's assessment and explained that the township's three main sources of revenue sharing and accrued interest have all "taken significant hits" over the past couple of years.
Village takes steps to attract new businesses - A metamorphosis has taken place in the Village of Lake Orion, with its new StreetScape, council and a new outlook on business development. Spearheaded by Council President Ken Van Portfliet and Downtown Development Authority Executive Director Suzanne Perreault, the new process involves presenting incentives and streamlined application work to attract more business opportunities to the downtown area. Another big incentive was Lake Orion's ability to offer cheap liquor licenses, Perreault said.
Teaching with cell phones – The relationship between cell phones and schools continued to evolve. In the past, the district's teachers may have viewed cell phones in class with a wary eye. Today, however, a number of educators here treat them differently, recognizing smart phones can be used as tools to enhance their instructional activities, teachers and administrators said. This prompted the Lake Orion School Board to approve revisions to the district's policy regarding cell phone usage in school.
New contract for schools' support workers - Lake Orion's Board of Education approved a new contract with AFSCME Local 1472 in late October. Covering a total of 250 para-professionals, staff associates, bus drivers, custodial/maintenance personnel and cafeteria workers, the three-year agreement is retroactive to July 1, 2010 and runs through June 30, 2013. Mary Cottrill, AFSCME Local 1472 chairperson, agreed that both sides worked collaboratively to develop the contract and it "worked well" in the end.
Embezzlement in Hi Hill - The treasurer of an Orion area homeowner's association had been charged with embezzling $6,000 of his neighbors' money, reportedly to purchase golf equipment. He posted bond after being charged with embezzling more then $1,000 but less than $20,000. His attorney was unavailable for comment but the president of the association said suspicions began when it became clear the treasurer was not doing his job.
Lake Orion makes volleyball history - It had been 22 years since Lake Orion's girls volleyball team captured a regional championship. That streak happily ended when the 2011 Lady Dragons upset two-time defending state champ Birmingham Marian, then ousted Troy, continuing an exciting postseason run that vaulted Lake Orion into the Class A state quarter-finals. The girls would go on to the finals by beating rival Clarkston. They lost in the state title match to the Rockford Rams, but still finished with the best record in Lake Orion High School history.
Art Center director moving on, leaving a fine legacy – Reggie Harrison, motivator and inspiration to countless people young and old to pursue their artistic passions, decided to leave her position. Colleagues and friends said the director of the facility has been one of the community's greatest champions of the arts over the past decade.
LO marching band competes at Grand Nationals - High school marching bands from across the region, including the Lake Orion Dragons, replaced football players at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The band competed in the prestigious Grand Nationals competition there on Nov. 10-12, showcasing the season's program - Femme Fatale. While the band did not place in the event, members and staff insisted the experience was still well worth the trip. The intense competition drew 90 bands.
Elements of Orion closing its doors - The economy may be on a steady incline, but the hard times are not over yet and Lake Orion's businesses have felt the pressure. After six years in business and becoming a staple of the downtown area, Elements announced it will be closing its doors at the end of the year. Owners blamed the economy and StreetScape construction.
Suicide forum set - Lake Orion learned it may indeed take a village, or the entire township, to raise their children safely and convince them how precious life is. Community organizations joined forces with county health professionals, local school officials and others in an unprecedented effort to help at-risk youth and other persons who may be contemplating suicide. They invited residents of Lake Orion to attend a special community forum on the tragedies in mid-December. More than 600 people showed up, with most thinking the forum was a great first step.
Lafayette resigns as principal, named tech director – Lake Orion High School Principal Sophia Lafayette decided to follow her passion and leave the principal position after nearly two years to become the district's Director of Technology and Media Services. It also was announced Tom Tobe would serve as interim principal until a permanent replacement is found, ideally by June 30, according to Superintendent Marion Ginopolis.
Township's 2012 budget finalized - Members of the Orion Township Board, approaching a state-mandated year-end deadline, approved the community's 2012 budget on Dec. 19. Faced with continued revenue declines, the board allocated money from the township's general fund to provide a balanced budget - at this point about $835,500 to cover a projected shortfall. Going into 2012, the general fund balance stood at $4.8 million. Treasurer Alice Young said the township cannot continue to tap into the general fund, instead pushing for further budget cuts next year.
Deputies retain sole police authority in schools - A heated debate over protecting and educating kids in school dominated the final Orion Township board meeting of the year on Dec. 19. At issue was the school district's desire to work with both the sheriff's deputies and Lake Orion Police Department to expand the law enforcement presence and proactive education activities in all of its schools. While everyone agreed this was a good idea, there were mixed opinions on how it could be accomplished. In the end, the sheriff's department retained sole authority, although both police agencies will work together on proactive programs throughout the district.