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In the news 2011

January 04, 2012

Josh Bommarito, Joe Bommarito (owner of Wireless Zone of Ortonville) and Steve Bloom helped in Joplin, Mo. after a devastating tornado in May 2011.
Good Times in Goodrich pie eating contest, August 2011.
Editor's Note: The Citizen concludes the 2011 Year in Review. Last week covered January through May.

June

Relay for Life of Brandon/Ortonville

Ortonville- Thirty-six teams. Ninety-five survivors. More than 500 participants total, too many visitors to count and $78,144 raised in the battle against cancer.

These were the numbers tallied in the fourth annual Relay for Life of Brandon/Ortonville. The 24-hour event, which took place from 10 a.m. June 11 to 10 a.m.-June 12 at the track and football field near Harvey Swanson Elementary on Varsity Drive, was more than just the American's Cancer Society's signature fundraising event. It was, as it billed itself, a time to celebrate, remember, and fight back.

"This is a wonderful feeling of hope for everyone," said Dave Peplinski, a cancer survivor and relay team member, of the Relay for Life. "You share with everyone a common goal."

Brandon teacher contract

Brandon Twp.- Teachers agreed to pay more of their health costs and accept a wage freeze under the terms of an 18-month contract approved by the district and the Brandon Education Association.

According to a joint statement from the BEA and the district, the 18-month settlement with the teachers included: a pay and step freeze until the end of the contract in June 2012; increased insurance deductibles of $500 for an individual (previously $100) and $1,000 for a family (previously $200); a new prescription drug plan and higher office visit costs; and employees will pay 15 percent of their insurance premiums.

Employees also received a one-time off-schedule payment in the fall after the audited fund balance exceeded expectations.

Superintendent Lorrie McMahon said the contract would save the district a little over $1 million, the majority of the savings coming from the insurance changes.

Bald eagle shooter gets plea deal

James Nelson, 65, pleaded guilty to the reckless use of a firearm, a misdemeanor punishable with a $100 fine, for allegedly shooting a 5-year-old bald eagle with a 12-gauge shotgun. The case was before 67th District Judge John Conover in Davison.

On Feb. 14, a law enforcement investigation by the MDNR led them to Nelson after an injured bald eagle was reported in woods near Gaines Township west of Groveland Township. DNR officials and volunteers captured the eagle and determined the bird had suffered from gunshot wounds. The eagle recovered from his wounds and was later released.

Mark Papineau, Michigan Department of Conservation officer from Genesee County, said Nelson admitted to shooting hawks and even an owl that may have been pestering some of his chickens.

"He has about 20 chickens that are let out of the coop each day," he said. "We had a strong case against him. But he's living on a limited income and I think he's learned his lesson."

Locals assist Joplin tornado victims

A local business owner, and members of a local church traveled to Joplin, Missouri to help survivors of the May 22 tornado that ripped through the town of about 50,000 located in southwestern Missouri. The twister left in its path 139 known dead, and destroyed at least 8,000 houses and apartment buildings.

Joe Bommarito, owner of Wireless Zone Ortonville, described the hours just after dark as "eerie" when he went to help shortly after the disaster occurred.

"In the distance you could hear people whistling or calling for their pets," said Bommarito."There was no lights and thousands of homes are just in rubble—there's no home for the dogs or cats to come back to, they're just roaming around."

Pat Rourke, husband of Seymour Lake United Methodist Church Pastor LuAnn Rourke, traveled with church member Scott Clark to Joplin to assist with the clean-up.

"It looked like a bomb went off," said Rourke at the time. "Most of the survivors are now taken care of, but the devastation to their property is unreal. Still, there's a great amount of volunteerism in America— it's amazing—people are on the street corners passing out water and food."

Students save swimmer

Brandon Twp.- A fun school day at the pool nearly turned tragic, but two Brandon High School students became heroes when they rescued a classmate.

Allen Goeb and Tony Miettinen were honored June 9 for their actions in saving a female classmate from drowning after she suffered a seizure and fell in the pool. During a surprise presentation at the Brandon High School cafeteria, the sophomores were given certificates of recognition as their families, teachers, school officials, and classmates applauded.

During the original incident, Goeb and Miettinen jumped in to the pool to help the lifeguard, who was struggling to turn the girl over. The boys helped get her to the edge of the pool and out. The girl was not breathing, but responding firefighters successfully performed CPR and the girl made a complete recovery.

Brandon Schools ekes out budget

Brandon Twp.- The school board approved by a 6-0 vote a budget for the 2011-2012 school year on June 30, squeaking in just hours under the state deadline of July 1 and avoiding a shutdown of the district.

The vote, while unanimous, did not come easily or without dissatisfaction. Steve Lenar, executive director of fiscal affairs, brought before the board a budget revised from the evening before when the budget failed, with general fund revenues of $29,126,406 and expenses of $29,861,478. The operating deficit of $735,072 will be made up from the district's fund balance, drawing it down to an estimated 6.51 percent by the end of the 2012 fiscal year.

Village attorneys fired

Goodrich- In a special village council meeting on June 30, councilmembers Pete Morey, Rick Horton and Richard Saroli voted 3-0 to terminate the services of both village attorneys Jack Belzer and Allen Robb, both of Flint. Council members Doug McAbee and Phil Jackson were not at the meeting.

Morey said the attorneys were released due to some excessive bills to the village.

"These bills are out of sight," he said. "From Dec. 6 until March 24, the attorneys billed the village for $14,335. At one time Patty Wartella talked to Belzer for six hours straight. She called him on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve."



July

Lyon named village manager

Ortonville- The village council unanimously agreed to approve the hiring of John Lyon as the village manager.

The council received 20 applications for the position after current Village Manager Larry Brown announced his decision to retire.

Lyon was to work 40 hours per week, at a salary of $40,000 per year, with vacation time, a cell phone, and gasoline allowance. He will not receive medical or retirement benefits from the village. Lyon retired from the City of Lapeer after 17 years as their Department of Public Works director.

"I was not really ready for full retirement," he said. "I'm thankful for this opportunity and challenge until I am ready to retire. My expertise is in water and sewer and I want to take that on and see what we can do with it."

Library woes

Brandon Twp.- The library announced plans to reduce library hours. Starting in January 2012, the library will be open to patrons only five days a week, closing on Fridays and Sundays.

Faced with cutting $52,000 from the budget, Library Director Paula Gauthier said the reduction in days of service is necessary, because to achieve a balanced budget, staffing will be reduced.

"I don't feel good about it at all," Gauthier said. "I am dedicated to this community, I want the library to offer services as often as we can, but we can't offer quality services if there are only three or four staff in the building and I always want patrons to have a quality service experience. We have to reduce hours so they have a quality experience when they are in the building or online."

Cemetery cell tower

Hadley Twp.- By a 33-27 secret ballot, the voting members of the Christ Lutheran Church rejected a proposal by the Lapeer County 9-1-1 to construct a tower on a section of church cemetery.

The decision came after the Hadley Township Planning Commission approved an application by a 6-0 vote on July 5 giving Lapeer County Emergency Management Services permission to construct a 250-foot self-supported 9-1-1 tower, concrete shelter, 60-by-60 foot fenced compound and access road on the northwest corner of Fox Lake and Hadley roads. The tower was to be constructed on a portion of the Christ Lutheran Church Cemetery property.

The proposal stirred church members and area residents.

A deal was later reached with the Village of Metamora to construct a 450-foot tower on donated property.

Goodrich AD Al Martus dies

For more than two decades, Athletic Director Al Martus guided Goodrich Martians on the field.

On July 18, the stellar leader, who had a career highlighted by eight state championships, lost his battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 66.

Martus came to Goodrich High School in 1986 as athletic director and assistant principal. His retirement in 2010 from Goodrich came after his diagnosis of cancer.

Goodrich Varsity Football Coach Tom Alward worked with Martus for more than 18 years.

"Al was a good friend, a mentor and always there for us," said Alward. "Al would do what he could to help or would have no problem asking help from us—that's the main reason Goodrich was so successful."

Martus was recognized in 2004 by the Michigan Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association for completing 30 years of service as an athletic director. In April 2007 Martus was admitted to Genesys Regional Medical Center after suffering a heart attack. He returned to work later that year.

In September, the Goodrich High School gymnasium was renamed the Al Martus Gymnasium in honor of the late athletic director.

Tripp resigns

Goodrich- Less than a week after Mike Tripp was replaced as school board president, he announced his resignation from the school board effective July 31 after serving more than 16 years.

"The time has come for me to focus my time and attention on more personal matters and move forward with other interests in my life," said Tripp, 55, in a prepared statement. "I wanted to take this opportunity to thank the community for allowing me to serve in this capacity for so many years. Over this time I have always tried to make decisions with the welfare of the district as a whole in mind."

Tripp was first elected in 1995 and had served five years as president.

Road work

During their July 25 meeting, the village council unanimously approved the Florence Cement Company of Shelby Township to do road improvements on Pond Street, Varsity Drive, and a portion of James Street.

Florence, based in Shelby Township, agreed to do the work for $203,819.

On Pond Street and Varsity Drive, the existing road was crushed and shaped, and a new overlay of asphalt was put down. Pond Street also included some slight elevation changes for better drainage. On James Street, between Mill and Myron streets, an overlay of new asphalt was placed over the old asphalt.

The road improvements were paid for from the village's sizable fund balance. After the road improvements were paid for, the general fund balance was expected to be about $360,000, or 64 percent of the total budget.

In 2012, the council plans to replace the bridge on Ball Street, using a grant that will pay for 95 percent of the work. However, the village expects to shell out about $100,000 for the remaining 5 percent, as well as for all engineering costs.

August

Earthquake

Colleen Heath said the ground shook like a heavy truck was passing by.

"It was a sudden movement or jolt," said Heath, a Brandon Township resident who works at the five-story Riverside Center in Southfield about 36 miles south of Ortonville. "It was a weird feeling— like a sense of dizziness—it lasted only a few seconds."

On Aug. 23, Heath was one of many Michigan residents that felt the aftermath of a 5.9 earthquake that rocked Virginia and parts of Eastern United States at about 2 p.m. E.S.T. Reports of the quake were felt as far north as Traverse City according to news sources.

While not common for Michigan, such quakes do occur.

Kazuya Fujita, professor of geology at Michigan State University who has studied the historical seismicity of Michigan and northern Illinois said earthquakes in central Michigan are possible and do occur but would not likely be devastating. The quake in Michigan was the fifth in the last five years.

September

Heidi Fluck: Citizen of the Year

Nearly 20 nominations and a plethora of volunteer activities in the community made Heidi Fluck the clear choice for the 2011 Citizen of the Year.

Heidi, a Brandon High School senior, is the youngest ever Citizen of the Year, but at just 17-years-old, she has dedicated more hours to volunteer work than many people do in a lifetime.

The Ortonville Community Emergency Fund and the St. Anne Youth Group are just two of the organizations for which Heidi volunteers.

For many years, she has participated in "Teens and Seniors Rockin' and Rakin'," doing minor home improvements and general yardwork for senior citizens here. She has also visited adult foster care residents in the area and participated in the 24-Hour Fast for Famine.

20 years of Papa Bella's

Ortonville- Papa Bella's Pizza, 425 Mill St., celebrated 20 years in business in the village.

Mark Bell and Joe D'Anna opened their pizzeria Oct. 1, 1991, and estimated they had since sold three-quarter of a million pizzas, averaging about 750 pies per week.

"We've been around 20 years because people like our food and you try to maintain that consistency," said D'Anna. "Our focus has always been on customer service and making great pizza."

Pepperoni and cheese pizzas are still the best sellers, followed by their BLT pizza and the special, which is topped with pepperoni, ham, mushrooms, onions, green peppers and bacon. Papa Bella's toppings selection has increased in recent years to include chicken, feta, spinach, sliced tomatoes, and red onions.

October

Sidge back in the saddle

At the Oct. 10 village meeting the Goodrich Village Council voted 3-2 to bring Jakki Sidge back as village manager. Councilmembers Pete Morey, Rick Horton and Richard Saroli voted yes to hire Sidge. Councilmembers Doug McAbee and Phil Jackson voted no.

Sidge had vacated the office about eight months earlier after the village council voted 3-2 to request her resignation.

Sidge was one of four candidates considered by the council after a field of 17 had applied. None of the other three were discussed or considered at the October meeting.

Village Council President Rick Horton made the motion to hire Sidge.

McAbee questioned the separation from the village agreement Sidge signed when she left in March.

Occupy movement

Frustration with politicians, banks, corporations and the growing disparity in incomes that drove Ortonville resident Heidi Barckholtz and her friend and Brandon Township resident Pam Belding to join others at Occupy Detroit.

The Occupy movement has been growing around the country, with large groups of people gathering in cities around the country, after Occupy Wall Street debuted in September.

Barckholtz originally wanted to travel to New York City to join the Occupy movement, but when she learned there would be a general assembly in Detroit, the beginning of the Occupy movement in Michigan, she invited Belding to go.

"I got involved by being part of the 99 percent and being appalled at the lack of equality in our country and that the corporate titans make 200 percent more than the people who work for them," said Belding. "I'm not against people making money or being rich, I'm against people hoarding money to the detriment of our country."

She and Barckholtz drove down to Detroit, where a march had taken place from Cobo Center to Grand Circus Park in Detroit. There, they joined what Belding estimates were a thousand people gathered to vent their frustrations and express a variety of ideas.

"I'm not necessarily a protesting kind of girl, but I could not sit at home and let my son see me ignore this chance to make a difference," said Belding.

November

Sheriff's contract

The township board of trustees voted 5-0 to accept a two-year contract with the Genesee County Sheriff's Office.

The new sheriff's contract, which will cost taxpayers $538,653 for 12 months, will include four deputies, same as in prior years, along with funding for a part-time detective-sergeant split between Fenton and Atlas townships. The residents of Vienna Township, who also have a contract with the sheriff's office for police coverage, is currently charged for the service.

Last year, the one-year contract cost $553,376. The new contract starts Jan. 1, 2012.

Clerk Tere Onica said the drop in cost to township taxpayers is due to several factors, including a cut in deputy retirement pay by 16.5 percent, a 100 percent cut in overtime holiday pay and a decline in salaries by 4.6 percent.

December

Pearl Harbor remembered

Goodrich-Village resident and World War II veteran Ralph McMahon shared his memories on the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

"When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941—I was ready to go," said McMahon, now 88. "I joined the Navy less than three months later in March 1942. I figured I'd go fast— either my ship would get blown up or the sharks would get me."

The attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor pulled the U.S. into World War II, and for veterans like McMahon the anniversary is a time to remember those that did not make it home.

"I was lucky," he added. "Almost ten years in the Navy during both World War II and Korea—I was lucky to make it home."

Brandon Twp. fund balance grows, wages restored

Brandon Twp.- At their Dec. 5 meeting, the township board unanimously approved a motion to reinstate full-time employees' wages to the levels they were in 2008, prior to a 5 percent wage cut. The cut was reversed effective Jan. 1.

The decision was made after a review of the general fund budget showed the township is in better financial shape than anticipated. The board approved at their meeting a 2012 general fund budget with total revenues and expenditures of $1,779,972.72.

Township officials are expecting to have a fund balance of at least $500,000, or 30 percent of the budget, in 2012.

Baldwin appointed

Goodrich-By a 4-0 vote the village council appointed Mark Baldwin to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of councilman Phil Jackson.