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WHMI 93.5 FM Radio Station for Livingston County Michigan with News, Traffic, and Weather Service for Howell and Brighton

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    53rd District Court Judge Suzanne Geddis is being accused of violating Michigan law by misrepresenting herself on campaign materials. Local activist Vicki Fyke alleges Geddis, who is running for the 44th Circuit Court bench in November, misrepresented herself on campaign literature, signs and online. Fyke maintains Geddis violated MCL 168.944 by including the word “judge”, making it appear as though she was an incumbent. Geddis later allegedly started putting stickers that read “District” in from of the word judge on some signs. Fyke said it’s very disturbing that a sitting judge would have such blatant disregard for the law at a time when people are trying to restore the integrity of the judicial system in the county. Fyke recently requested Livingston County Prosecutor Bill Vailliencourt investigate the matter, which was actually done two months ago when he received a separate complaint. Vailliencourt told WHMI he immediately referred the matter to the Michigan Attorney General’s Office due to different conflicts of interest, which referred it to the Ingham County Prosecutor’s Office. His disqualification with the Attorney General is dated July 18th and the Ingham County Prosecutor was appointed by the Attorney General on August 13th. That office will handle the review and determine if charges are appropriate or not. As for the conflicts, Vailliencourt supported a different candidate in the judicial race so he says any potential decision from him could be misconstrued. Further if he was involved in the review, Vailliencourt says Geddis would have to disqualify herself from hearing all cases in Livingston County, which Vailliencourt says would create chaos for the court and other judges. Judge Geddis has not responded to requests for comment. (JM)

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    A federal plea has been withdrawn by a Howell man in connection with three bank robberies. 35-year-old Kenneth Kniivila had been set to enter a plea today in U.S. District Court in Detroit to a single count of bank robbery after reaching a deal earlier this year to drop a second count in exchange for a plea. But court records indicate he withdrew his plea in court instead. Authorities say Kniivila admitted that he robbed the Bank of America on Grand River in Genoa Township on January 11th, followed by two more bank robberies on January 16th in Toledo and Monroe. After surveillance photos went public, law enforcement was able to identify Kniivila as the primary suspect. The Livingston County Sheriff’s Office took him into custody without incident and a vehicle search turned up various items including four grams of suspected cocaine, two black semi-automatic pellet guns, money and green canvas bags. The Sheriff’s Office and the FBI interviewed Kniivila, who waived his Miranda rights and admitted to the three robberies. He told authorities he “lost his marbles” on the 16th and drove around Toledo looking for a bank to rob. Under the plea deal, Kniivila had faced a maximum of just under six years in prison and restitution of $6,799, the total amount he made from the robberies. Without a plea deal, he could face up to 25 years in prison. New court dates have yet to be set. (JK)

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    An out-of-county judge has denied a motion to disqualify himself from presiding over the case involving 53rd District Court Judge Theresa Brennan. Eaton County Circuit Judge John Maurer presided over a hearing in regard to an appeal filed by former 44th Circuit Court Judge Daniel Burress, earlier today. Burress sought to have Maurer disqualify himself from the Brennan case, as he believes Chief Judge Miriam Cavanaugh acted improperly by asking the State Court Administrative Office to appoint a justice from outside the county before giving the local judges the opportunity to accept it. Burress said his issues were largely jurisdictional, and that Maurer should never have been put in this spot. Burress said of Maurer, that by disqualifying himself, the case could come back to Judge Cavanaugh for the opportunity to do the right thing. Failing to do so could create what he called repeated a “golden parachute” that allows those who did wrong here to just walk away. Burress and Howell attorney Tom Kizer, who was previously appointed Special Prosecutor for the grand jury, accused Cavanaugh and the state of trying to “protect the bench” and not the citizens of Livingston County. Judge Maurer said he was assigned to this case by a blind draw and that he knew very little about it. He argued that while Burress presented some interesting arguments on jurisdiction, his case should really be with the Court of Appeals or Michigan Supreme Court. Having been assigned the bench by the Supreme Court, Judge Maurer said he would deny the motion to disqualify himself. He offered Burress a stay if the former judge would like to appeal. Burress accepted that offer. (MK)

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    Six area college students have been named recipients of the Margaret Starkey Scholarship Award. The Howell Area Chamber of Commerce Foundation announced the winners of the $1,500 scholarship this week. Recipients attending Cleary University receive a scholarship match up to $1,000 for tuition re-imbursement from the university. The scholarship honors the memory of Margaret Starkey who served as executive assistant at the chamber for 31 years, from 1956 to 1987. Starkey was known for being a dedicated and enthusiastic woman who had a great attention to detail and love for serving the community. Nominations for the award are made by employers for non-traditional students that work for them. This year, the Howell Area Chamber Foundation committee received over 25 qualified submissions. Winners of the 2018 awards are: Brittany Bannow (pictured) who attends and works at Cleary University. Rachael Ferraiuolo of Chem-Trend Limited Partnership. She attends Lansing Community College. Jenna Niemi of LOC Credit Union. Neimi is also a student at LCC. Kelsey St. Charles of Vista Springs. St. Charles is a student at Madonna University. Erin Miller (pictured) of Hanover Insurance. Miller attends Cleary University. Indigo Lee of Moo to You Dairy. Lee is a student of Eastern Michigan University. (MK)

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    A woman who threatened acts of violence against a local family has entered a plea. 20-year-old Karen Lockwood of Richmond, Michigan is charged in two separate cases, each of which is connected to threats she made earlier this year against a family from the Hartland area. Lockwood appeared in 53rd District Court in Howell Thursday for what was originally scheduled to be a competency hearing. However Lockwood’s attorney, Steven Heisler, informed the court Lockwood had already had an independent competency evaluation and was prepared to enter a plea. Lockwood pleaded guilty as charged to both cases, which includes counts of false report or threat of terrorism, using a computer to commit a felony and communicating with another via computer/internet to commit a crime. Lockwood waived her preliminary exam and was bound over to Livingston County Circuit Court for sentencing. At the hearing, Heisler requested placement of his client in an in-house facility to begin mental health treatment. Judge Michael P. Hatty denied the request, suggesting instead that it be brought before the judge at Lockwood’s sentencing on November 8th. She is seeking sentencing under the Holmes Youthful Trainee Act, which will expunge her record if she successfully completes probation. Lockwood was charged this past March in connection with the February 12th and February 25th incidents. The Livingston County Sheriff’s Office responded to a social media threats complaint that involved Village Elementary School in Hartland Township. The initial report revealed a suspect was threatening a family from the Hartland area through Facebook messenger and by sending text messages to a family member's phone. Lockwood reportedly threatened “shooting up the school" where members of the family were students and burning the family's house down. During the investigation, detectives learned that Lockwood had established numerous fictitious social media accounts, email accounts and internet based phone numbers to communicate the threats and conceal her identity. It was later determined Lockwood had no means to carry out the threats.

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    Green Oak Township has received a glowing audit report, earning the highest opinion that can be issued. The township’s Board of Trustees on Wednesday heard the results of the audit, which was conducted by the Pfeffer, Hanniford and Palka consulting firm. The township received an unmodified opinion, which is the highest opinion an independent auditor can issue. The opinion is important in order to keep state-shared revenues coming and assists in achieving a high rating for bonding. CPA John Pfeffer says the township stayed within budget while still making contributions to a significant community project, this being the new Green Oak Township police station, and still was able to maintain a healthy fund balance. Township Supervisor Mark St. Charles says he’s proud that they were able to put about $1.5 million toward the beginning of the police station project and keep a $4 million fund balance. St. Charles says maintaining a healthy fund balance gives officials the opportunity to put the money toward community benefit projects, like building trails, pathways and sidewalks, and continuation of the police station. Pfeffer reported the fire and police department funds both stayed within budget, while the township was still able to contribute to those as well. St. Charles says the latest audit and those from the past are proof that township officials are good fiscal managers of the funds, having built the fund balance up every single year, even during the recession. St. Charles credits the successful audit to the whole board, department heads and individual employees, stating that they all "took part in making sure the township had a good audit and fiscal policy." (DK)

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    The Secretary of State office in Genoa Township is gaining an additional staff member as the branch and others prepare for a large increase in customer volume when tens of thousands of people become eligible to get their driver’s license back. There are more than 300,000 motorists that have their license suspended due to outstanding state driver "responsibility" fees for certain traffic infractions. They will see their debt forgiven under bipartisan bills approved by the Legislature this year. Beginning October 1st, Michigan residents who had the driver responsibility fee debt will have that wiped away. Secretary of State Spokesman Fred Woodhams says it’s great news and they’re pleased that after years of work, the fees are finally going away and will be fully repealed as of October 1st. Woodhams referred to the fees as burdensome and an unfair double penalty to hardworking families and people who already have to pay the normal tickets and court fines and fees. Woodhams says the fees were a double penalty because judges could not set them aside or work with a person to create a payment plan for them. Woodhams says they are hiring dozens of additional staff across the state to help alleviate expected lines and wait times due to the anticipated increase in customer volume and the wave of applicants who have had suspensions lifted. One staff person will be added at the Genoa Township branch. Woodhams tells WHMI this summer was already very busy at Secretary of State offices, which he attributed to an improving economy and increased sales of not only vehicles but watercraft and ORV’s resulting in increased transactions. He says they’ll be sending letters out to people to let them know if they have other issues to take care of. While the driver responsibility debt is wiped clean, he notes individuals with other issues such as outstanding tickets to pay off or licensing sanctions need to take care of those before they can get their license back. People can call 1-888-767-6424 to check their driving record and determine if they’re eligible to get their license back. Those who are eligible will not have to pay the license reinstatement fee before December 31st. Full details are provided in the link. (JM)

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    A middle school student has entered a plea to a felony charge after threatening to shoot up his school. The 12-year-old South Lyon resident attends classes at Centennial Middle School and reportedly threatened to shoot up the school with an AK-47 on Tuesday. The threat was said to be made during a fifth-hour class, and two students reported it to a teacher. The student was arrested on Monday and entered a guilty plea to a felony charge of false report of terrorism the following day. The South Lyon Herald reports the Lyon Township school resource officer responded to the school and interviewed those involved. A referee from Oakland County Juvenile intake was contacted and authorized detention of the student at Oakland County Children's Village. The student entered a guilty plea before an Oakland County judge. A disposition hearing is expected to take place in October. (JM)

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    According to the Brighton Police Department officer who worked tirelessly to create the program, the first-ever Police Youth Leadership Academy this summer was an unqualified success. Officer Chris Park, who was in charge of the academy, told the Brighton City Council Thursday that everything went off without a hitch, including the landing and static display of a US Army Chinook helicopter at Brighton High School. Slightly over 20 youths in the 7th and 8th grades of the Brighton Area Schools were selected for the academy, which took place during the month of July. Officer Park told council the goal of the enrollees becoming more self-confident, while learning leadership and team building skills, was met. The students also gained knowledge into how police officers train. The students came away with certifications in first aid/CPR and the use of an automated external defibrillator, boater’s safety, hunter’s safety, and an introduction into scuba diving. Other presentations the youth were afforded an opportunity to hear were by the US Coast Guard, the National Guard, MSP Bomb Squad and Brighton Department’s own K-9 dog, Danko. The youths were taken on tours of the 53rd District Court in Howell and other locations. The academy was offered at no cost to the students and a free lunch was provided. Park said that many local stores and local companies donated food and other items to make the Police Youth Leadership Academy the unqualified success it was. As a result, Park says he plans to make the academy an annual event. (TT) Photo credit: Deb Utter, Brighton Police Dept.

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    A new officer has been sworn in for the Brighton Police Department. Mark Reckling was sworn in Thursday night at the Brighton City Council meeting by City Clerk Tara Brown. Reckling is from Mason, near Lansing, where he was a police officer for two years. He is married and has two children, ages 1 and 4. Reckling, who will be a patrol officer, told council he was, in his words, “very happy to be a part of the Brighton community now.” His hiring makes a total of 19 officers on the force, including Police Chief Rob Bradford, Deputy Chief Craig Flood, four sergeants, nine patrol officers, school liaison officer Chris Parks and two reserve officers. Reckling is the second officer hired in the last seven months: Officer John D’Amico of Brighton Twp. was hired in February. Reckling is pictured right, next to Police Chief Rob Bradford. (TT) Photo credit: Deb Utter, Brighton Police Dept.

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    Some road work will be starting up Monday in Northfield Township. Two projects that start Monday are expected to be completed sometime next week. Kearney Road west of Whitmore Lake Road and Northfield Church Road from Joy Road to Nollar Road are both scheduled for limestone resurfacing. Officials advise that tere will be some daytime closures required for the work. Dixboro Road from Five Mile Road to Six Mile Road will also have limestone resurfacing done with some daytime closures, although that project is anticipated to be completed by October 5th. All of the dates are tentative and subject to change due to weather conditions. Finally, the township advises that Main Street will be closed from Barker Road to the Public Safety Building at 8350 Main Street next Friday, from 3:45pm until approximately 4:45pm for the Whitmore Lake Homecoming Parade. (JM)

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    The assistant to the city manager’s position in Brighton seems to be a stepping stone to advancement. Brighton has lost its second assistant to the city manager in the last six months. Jessica Lienhardt, who held the position for two years, left in March to become the public affairs officer for the Canadian Consulate in Detroit. Brandon Skopek followed in Lienhardt’s footsteps as assistant to the city manager, and has also been Downtown Development Authority coordinator. Skopek told City Council Thursday night he is leaving to become the executive director of the Downtown Development Authority for the city of Auburn Hills. Skopek tells WHMI he has been blessed with excellent co-workers during his 2-year stay in Brighton. Skopek will also be also the director of Auburn Hills’ Brownfield Redevelopment Authority and manager of its three Tax Increment Finance Authorities, or TIFAs. It will be a step up in Skopek’s career, as Auburn Hills is the home of the American headquarters of Fiat-Chrysler, the Palace of Auburn Hills and Oakland University. Skopek says he will be back in Brighton in a couple of weeks for the dedication of the new bandshell and amphitheater at the Mill Pond. City Manager Nate Geinzer says that Skopek has a “bright future in front of him,” and while he hates to see hi leave, he wishes him well. Geinzer says some of Skopek’s biggest accomplishments were overseeing the Millpond Bandshell project, managing the city’s Comprehensive Master Plan Update, and working with the DDA on the redevelopment of the Second Street Flats condominium project. Skopek, whose last day in Brighton was Friday, starts in his new position on Oct. 1st. (TT)

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    A Deerfield Township pilot and his passenger are uninjured after the float plane they were in flipped over Friday night. Deputies from the Livingston County Sheriff’s Office were dispatched to Lake Shannon at about 6:47pm on the report of an airplane crash. Upon their arrival it was determined that a single engine float plane, owned and piloted by 57-year-old Harmon Pierce, had successfully landed and was taxiing to the owners dock when a strong wind gust flipped the plane upside down in the water. Pierce and an 18-year-old male passenger were able to escape the plane unharmed and were rescued by a boater on the lake. Deputies on the scene were assisted by members of the Hartland Area Fire Authority and Livingston County EMS. A report was made to the Federal Aviation Administration and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. (JK)

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    Brighton Township has adopted Livingston County’s Hazard Mitigation Plan, making it the last local unit of government to do so. The township’s Board of Trustees on Monday unanimously approved a resolution adopting the plan, which identifies actions that must be taken to reduce the effect of potential hazards that threaten the county. The plan coordinates the actions for all 20 local units of government so that all persons involved in emergency management functions are directing their actions from the same base of understanding. The formal approval of the plan by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is contingent on the adoption of the plan by all participating jurisdictions, making Brighton Township’s recent adoption as the last community to do so a necessary part in moving forward. Eligibility for hazard mitigation grants is also reportedly contingent upon local jurisdictions’ adoption of a supporting resolution. The Hazard Mitigation Plan identifies various types of hazards, including those caused by the natural environment, technology and humans, and analyzes them to determine the degree of threat or vulnerability each poses. Also listed are goals, objectives and strategies for hazard mitigation in each community, taking their resources, assets and other relevant factors into consideration. In addition to reducing the community’s vulnerability to disasters, creators say the document can help speed up the return to normalcy for affected areas and increases credibility for hazard mitigation programs and projects. The county’s Hazard Mitigation Plan can be viewed at the link below. (DK)

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    Another well-traveled intersection in Hamburg Township is getting a new traffic signal. Beginning October 3rd, the intersection of Merrill Road and Strawberry Lake Road will become a 4-way stop. The intersection will be controlled by flashing red traffic signals and stop signs. Motorists are urged to use caution when approaching the intersection as everyone gets accustomed to the new traffic signal. Just recently, the Chilson and Swarthout Road intersection became a three-way stop controlled by flashing red traffic signals. The changes to the intersections were deemed necessary by the Livingston County Road Commission to help boost safety and improve traffic flow at the busy intersections. Hamburg Police Chief Richard Duffany told WHMI the department is supportive of the changes and believe they will reduce the number of traffic crashes, reduce the severity of any crashes and reduce traffic backups during peak travel times. He noted that so far, things appear to be going well at the Chilson/Swarthout intersection. Facebook photo. (JM)

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    Budget cuts and a limited number of Livingston County Sheriff’s deputies have led to discussion on alternative options for local communities wanting additional police protection. The Sheriff Department’s budget for road patrol has seen significant cuts in the last 10 to 15 years and the trend is expected to continue. The Sheriff’s Department and Michigan State Police both provide police protection to residents, with the Sheriff’s Department responding to approximately 93% of calls in Hartland Township and MSP responding to about 7%. The number of law enforcement officers per capita and per square mile is low in relation to other communities similar to Hartland, which equates to a minimal level of service provided. One option to increase the level of service would be to contract the Sheriff’s Department to provide additional road patrol, as MSP does not contract for dedicated road patrol. Livingston County Sheriff Mike Murphy says the department has met with a number of communities over the last few years to discuss that option, should the community and its residents initiate it. While the county statute requires the Sheriff’s Department to monitor and respond to crime in an unincorporated area, it does not detail to what degree. That means the degree of services provided relies on what’s available in the budget. Murphy declined to say just what that number was, but did agree that the budget is pretty tight. Murphy says the county’s Board of Commissioners has already established the funding and number of deputies they’re committed to, with no inclination to sway from that anytime soon. Murphy and Undersheriff Jeff Warder met with Hartland Township’s Board of Trustees last week to keep the discussion open and hear officials’ thoughts. While the board is not expected to pursue a contract or other options for additional services at this time, it was noted that it’s a conversation that may happen sooner or later. (DK)

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    The untold stories of refugees is one that is being shared in Livingston County, as a nonprofit organization works to raise awareness about the need for refugee foster care families in the area. The common “expectations” surrounding refugees that flee to America don’t always cover the full scope of the crisis, according to Kayla Park, Refugee Capacity Builder for the Samaritas Refugee Foster Care Program. Park says while children being separated from their families at the Mexico border and the Syrian refugee crisis are tragedies, there are even more stories that aren’t making headlines. Park says the Samaritas Refugee Foster Care Program works with youth from all over the world that have fled their home country, but that many of the refugees they serve are teenagers fleeing gang violence in Central America and the horn of Africa. The refugees have either lost or have been permanently separated from their families, sometimes orphaned, or cannot return home for their own personal safety. The Refugee Foster Care Program helps to resettle the youth in the United States with families that can provide a safe place and personal connection, while the individual works to develop independent living skills until they can no longer be in foster care at the age of 21. Park says the nation’s capacity to bring the minors out of refugee camps and shelters is really dependent on the families that step up to foster. Families who want to foster become licensed through the state, while the program provides services to the individual. Park says there’s been an increased interest in Livingston County, adding it's a great location for potential refugee foster care families because it’s located between the program’s two main areas of service- Ann Arbor and Lansing. Park says the program is always willing to hold informational sessions for groups, and is open to doing one-on-one sessions as well. She encourages interested parties to email her at kpark@samaritas.org. In addition to fostering, Park says the program offers other opportunities to help, like serving as a host family, mentor or tutor. You can find more information about the program at the link below. (DK)

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    Several community groups have again come together to host a candidate forum in Hartland, this one focusing on General Election races. The forum is being held in advance of the November 6th election and will take place on Thursday, October 18th at 6:30pm in the auditorium of the Hartland Educational Support Services Center on M-59. It is being sponsored in part by Voter’s Voice, the League of Women Voters Brighton/Howell area unit and the Howell, Brighton and Hartland chambers of commerce along with The Livingston Post and WHMI. Among the races set to be featured is that for 8th Congressional District, with Republican incumbent Mike Bishop and his challengers; Democrat Elissa Slotkin and Libertarian Brian Ellison. Also featured will be candidates for the 42nd District State House seat, Democrat Mona Shand and Republican Ann Bollin; the 47th State House seat, where Republican Incumbent Hank Vaupel is being challenged by Democrat Colleen Turk and 22nd State Senate candidates, Republican Lana Theis and Democrat Adam Dreher. The evening will conclude with the two candidates running for the newly created 44th Circuit Court seat; Dennis Brewer and Suzanne Geddis. Members of the public wishing to submit questions for the candidates can do so by Friday, October 5th. Emails should be submitted to the Brighton Area Chamber of Commerce: pamm@brightoncoc.org

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    A Howell man charged with robbing three banks has entered a new plea deal after withdrawing the previous one in federal court. 35-year-old Kenneth Kniivila had been set to enter a plea Friday in U.S. District Court in Detroit to a single count of bank robbery after reaching a deal earlier this year to drop a second count in exchange for a plea. But court records indicated he withdrew that plea. Those have since been updated to show that he has now entered a new plea deal that incorporates the case in Detroit federal court and another one from Ohio. Authorities say Kniivila admitted that he robbed the Bank of America on Grand River in Genoa Township on January 11th, followed by two more bank robberies on January 16th in Toledo and Monroe. After surveillance photos went public, law enforcement was able to identify Kniivila as the primary suspect. The Livingston County Sheriff’s Office took him into custody without incident and a vehicle search turned up various items including four grams of suspected cocaine, two black semi-automatic pellet guns, money and green canvas bags. The Sheriff’s Office and the FBI interviewed Kniivila, who waived his Miranda rights and admitted to the three robberies. He told authorities he “lost his marbles” when he drove around Toledo looking for a bank to rob. Under the new plea deal, Kniivila will plead guilty to single bank robbery count from Michigan and another from Ohio, consolidating those two cases. He will face between 57 and 71 months in prison and restitution of $6,799, the total amount he made from the robberies, when he is sentenced October 12th. Without a plea deal, he would have faced up to 25 years in prison. (JK)

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    The deadline for interested residents to apply for a Howell City Council vacancy is approaching this Friday. The City of Howell is seeking qualified applicants for to fill a term expiring November 2021. The vacancy resulted from the resignation of member Andrew Yost, who is facing criminal charges related to an incident involving a family member. Yost pleaded guilty to one reduced count of attempted interference with electronic communications, a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and domestic violence, a 93 day misdemeanor. He’ll be sentenced October 2nd. The resignation was accepted at a recent meeting of Council and interested candidates are being sought. Pursuant to city charter, that started a 30-day period to accept applications, which are available on the city website. The application is also attached. Council will hold interviews at the October 8th meeting and are expected to make an appointment at that time. Applicants must be a city resident and registered voter, and cannot be in default to the City of Howell. The deadline for applications is 3pm this Friday. (JM)

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