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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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    Following a criminal investigation and months of allegations surrounding misappropriated donations, the embattled chair of a county veterans committee has withdrawn his name from consideration for reappointment. Livingston County Administrator Ken Hinton has confirmed for WHMI that Hansel Keene formally informed officials that he will no longer seek another term on the Livingston County Veterans Services Committee. The terms of both he and fellow member Joe Riker expire at the end of the month. The County Board of Commissioners is expected to decide on the two appointments at their meeting Monday. Also in the running are former County Commissioner Steve Williams, along with Michael Reeve and Jim Pratt. The board will now presumably fill the two spots from the four remaining candidates. Keene’s tenure as chair of the committee came into the spotlight beginning in August following a complaint filed by a donor who said she had been instructed by Keene to make out a $400 check in his name as well as that of Livingston County Veterans Services for a plaque to honor members of the county sheriff's department who had served in the military. The donor said she had also given Keene a vacuum cleaner, a floor cleaner and a riding lawnmower and had been assured by him that they had been given to local veterans in need. But after repeated attempts to obtain a receipt for the donations from Keene, she emailed the then-director of the veterans services department, Adam Smiddy. Smiddy says he immediately began to look into what happened to the cash and other donations, but was fired several days later by the committee, with Keene one of those voting to oust him. Smiddy has since filed a Whistleblower Protection lawsuit against Keene and the county alleging his firing was in retaliation for trying to get to the bottom of the donation dispute. A copy of the State Police report obtained by WHMI indicated that Keene admitted to the investigator that he was aware of the county's policy in which donations are supposed to be brought to the Treasurer's office for deposit into the proper account and then spent from that account. But he said that, "in his mind, a $400 donation was made for this plaque, he accepted the donation and the money was spent on its intended purpose, the plaque." While Livingston County Prosecutor Bill Vailliencourt determined earlier this month that there was "insufficient evidence to justify any criminal charges,” questions remained about Keene’s ability to lead a committee entrusted with handling more than a million dollars of taxpayer funds generated each year following the passage of a 2016 county-wide millage. (JK)

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    Brighton’s city manager is trying to clear up misunderstandings about a proposed civic event fee structure. In a contentious Brighton City Council meeting on Dec. 6th that included concerns by local event organizers over proposed fees, council ended up tabling action on a new fee schedule for civic events to reimburse the city for what it costs to host the events. Since then there has been criticism of the proposal from several groups that use the Mill Pond amphitheater concerned that the fees will prevent them from holding events in the coming year. But City Manager Nate Geinzer says emphatically that the city does not intend to make any changes for the coming year in the current fee schedule. The new fees are being reviewed as part of next year’s city budget, following August’s unsuccessful Headlee Override request. Given the fact that the fee schedule will remain the same for 2019, Geinzer says city staff will be sending out civic event applications in late January or early February. Several officials from local organizations, including Pam McConeghy of the Greater Brighton Area Chamber of Commerce, Rick Bailey of the Livingston County Concert Band and Dennis Dimoff of the Brighton Kiwanis Club, told council at the last meeting that they couldn’t afford the proposed fee increases. In addition they said they have to know what their costs will be months in advance. Dimoff said he starts booking the bands for the Kiwanis Mill Pond summer gazebo concerts in early January and has to know what his costs will be. Otherwise, he told council, there won't be any Sunday Mill Pond concerts in the coming season. Likewise, Bailey said what he called the “low budget” county concert band couldn’t afford a proposed fee of $300 for its Tuesday summer concerts. Geinzer said the $94,000 in city costs cited in a WHMI article on Dec. 7th, that were contained in the Dec 6th meeting packet, was an error due to a computation mistake by staff, and the actual costs of civic events borne by the city is about $73,000. The Civic events include Ladies’ Night Out, Flower Day, the Memorial Day Parade, St. Patrick’s 5-K Run, Optimists Club Fishing Derby, July 4th Parade and related events, Kiwanis Gazebo Concerts, A Taste of Brighton, the Fine Art and Acoustic Music Festival, Smokin’ Jazz & Barbecue Blues Festival, Harvest Fest, Alzheimer’s Walk, BHS Homecoming Parade, Veteran’s Day Parade, and Holiday Glow. Civic event costs to the City range anywhere from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars, depending on the event. Had the cost structure passed as proposed, the fee for use of the new Mill Pond amphitheater and adjacent new band shell would have been $300 per half-day and $500 for a full day. For a civic/special event performance series, it would have been $1,000 per 4, one-half days. The reimbursement costs for city DPW services would have been $31.36 per hour and $44.15 per hour for police dept. personnel, with 1.5 times the rate for overtime for both. Reimbursed electrician services would cost the organizer of the event $67.50 per hour. For 2019, the organizer would have paid 50% of all fees incurred for it plus 100% of supplies and contractor fees, as recommended by the City Council’s Fiscal Realities Task Force. Geinzer notes that civic event reimbursement fees are also common in other communities. He says the proposed civic event reimbursement fee is part of a larger recommendation by the Council Task Force to fill an annual $2 million funding gap for investments in streets and related infrastructure totaling $1.85 million and other costs amounting to $150,000. Geinzer said members of council will continue to discuss the recommendations of the Task Force in the coming months. (TT/JK)

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    The operator of a closed Livingston County pet cemetery is hoping to form a nonprofit group that could avoid a sale of the property. Heavenly Acres pet cemetery in Genoa Township closed after its lease expired Sept. 30. The 12-acre cemetery, which contains the remains of as many of 74,000 pets, had been operated by Linda Williams of First Pet Care Services, LLC which had attempted to renegotiate the lease with the property's owner but was denied. In a video posted over the weekend to Facebook, Williams tried to answer criticism about why a cemetery would be located on leased land. She said that she had originally owned the property but had to turn it over to her ex-husband as part of a 2000 divorce settlement. But by 2002, she says the bank had sold the property as part of an eviction proceeding against her ex, forcing her to step back in and assume a lease on the land. She insists that if she hadn’t, the cemetery would have closed back then. Williams says the property’s owner, Carol Street Park Ridge LLC, has since refused to negotiate with her on renewing the lease, forcing the closure and sparking concern among those with pets buried there that they would be forced to exhume the remains and move them or lose future access. The investment firm that owns the land, Carol Street Park Ridge LLC, says the company is "sensitive to the concerns" of those with pets buried at the property and is hoping to find a buyer "willing to continue to maintain the pet cemetery." But Williams says she is hoping that a group of cemetery patrons can come together and form a 501c3 nonprofit group that would assume control of the cemetery and that Carol Street Park Ridge LLC would then donate the land to the group. She says the property isn’t worth much more than $75,000, while it would cost about $55,000 to demolish the aging structures located there and another $20,000 to replace the roof on a still-functioning pole barn. Shari Pollesch, an attorney representing Carol Street Park Ridge LLC, previously said pet owners could retrieve grave markers or pet remains after making arrangements through her firm. But Williams says that process is much more difficult and dangerous than one might think, with the likelihood of remains being damaged or destroyed in the process along with concerns of air and blood-borne pathogens being released. (JK)

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    Christmas came a little early for a lucky Michigan Lottery player who bought a winning multi-million dollar ticket in Livingston County. The winning Lotto 47 ticket was bought at the Sunoco gas station at 763 South Michigan Avenue in Howell, and is worth $3.73 million jackpot. It matched all six numbers drawn Saturday: 01-02-07-08-11-26 and marks the seventh time the game’s jackpot has been won in 2018 for a total of more than $21 million. The lucky ticket holder from Saturday’s drawing is asked to contact the Lottery’s Public Relations Division at (517) 373-1237 to make an appointment to claim the prize at the Lottery headquarters in Lansing. Lotto 47 tickets are valid for one year from the drawing date. Lotto 47 drawings take place on Wednesday and Saturday evenings. (JK)

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    A weekend holdup of a Hartland store has Michigan State Police searching for three suspects. Troopers from the Brighton Post responded to a report of armed robbery at the Sprint Store on Highland Road, just west of US-23, at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday. A preliminary investigation indicates that three African American males, each wearing gloves and hooded sweatshirts which covered their heads and lower faces, entered the store and immediately threatened the employee, pointing a long gun at him. The trio took an undetermined amount of money and new cell phones and then left the store. The incident remains under investigation. State Police ask anyone who may information about this crime to contact the Brighton Post at 810-227-1051. (JK)

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    Arraignment has been set for a Livingston County judge facing a three-count indictment alleging she perjured herself and destroyed evidence. The Michigan Attorney General's Office filed charges last week against 53rd District Court Judge Theresa Brennan. Michigan State Police say she lied during a deposition about erasing data from her iPhone shortly after her ex-husband filed for divorce in 2016. Brennan will be arraigned tomorrow morning at 9am at the 53rd District Court in Howell. The Supreme Court Administrator has appointed Judge G. David Guinn of the 67th District Court to oversee the litigation. He will appear by polycom (speakerphone) tomorrow. Meanwhile, Brennan is accused of unethical acts that could lead to her removal from the bench. The Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission says Brennan used staff to perform personal services and failed to disclose a relationship with a police officer during a murder case. Former State Police Detective Sean Furlong was the chief prosecution witness in the 2013 murder trial of Jerome Kowalski, over which Brennan presided. Testimony and other evidence that came to light during Brennan’s divorce indicated the pair engaged in an affair before, during and after the trial. They have both denied that and said the affair began only after the trial was over. A special master heard evidence in the case in October and will write an opinion. The Judicial Tenure Commission will then make a recommendation to the Michigan Supreme Court, which could result in her removal from the bench. (JM)

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    A local middle school team is celebrating after their state championship in robotics over the weekend. The Charyl Stockwell Preparatory Academy Middle School Miners FIRST Tech Challenge team from Brighton won the FIRST TECH CHALLENGE State Championship at Kellogg Arena in Battle Creek on Saturday. The Miners (top picture) also set a world record, scoring 442 points during the playoffs. The team was 5-1 in their qualifying rounds during the competition. They were the first pick of the #1 alliance in the Edison Division finals and went on to defeat the winning alliance of the Franklin Division. Ninety-six teams from across the state competed in the State Championship, including Team KAOS from Howell (bottom picture), which finished in second place overall in the state. Michigan has a total of 608 FIRST Tech Challenge teams. The CSPA Miners Team has 12 members and is coached by CSPA teacher Elizabeth Holland and head technical mentor Steve Ambrose with mentorship from members of the CSPA High School Gems Robotics team and many parents. The major sponsors of the team are DTE Energy Foundation and Howell-based ASI Workholding. Thirteen teams from Michigan, including the CSPA Miners and Howell’s Team KAOS, will compete in the FIRST Tech Challenge World Championship in April at Cobo Center in Detroit. (JK)

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    Two appointments have been made the Livingston County Veterans Services Committee. Terms for committee members Hansel Keene and Joe Riker were set to expire at the end of the month, prompting the county’s Board of Commissioners to make two appointments at their Monday night meeting. Commissioner Dave Domas made a motion to reappoint Joe Riker and to appoint Commissioner Bob Bezotte to the committee. The motion passed unanimously. Chairman Don Parker and Commissioner Kate Lawrence both felt appointing Commissioner Bezotte to the committee would provide a level of oversight that some community members have called for, following controversy over donations made to the committee last year, but mishandled by Keene resulting in a criminal investigation. No charges were ultimately filed against Keene, who served as chair of the committee, but the controversy led to his decision to not seek another term. Despite that, Keene was honored for his service at the county’s meeting. Bezotte feels in Keene’s absence, he will have “big shoes to fill”. Bezotte, who served in the U.S. Army in a combat zone in Vietnam, says he is looking forward to bringing oversight to the committee. Riker, who has served on the committee for approximately a year and a half, says of his reappointment that he most looking forward to putting the situation involving the donation controversy behind the committee and moving forward. Riker says he is also looking forward to re-staffing the office and exploring how the committee will utilize funds generated by the veterans’ millage, one possibility being transitional housing. Michael Reeve, Jim Pratt and former County Commissioner Steve Williams had also been in the running for the appointments; however Williams withdrew his name prior to the board’s vote, saying there had been enough fighting going on regarding the committee. (DK)

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    On a split, 6-3 vote, the Brighton City Planning Commission has approved the preliminary site plan for the proposed $34 million senior housing development at the old Lindbom School site. Holly developer Pat Battaglia plans a 210-unit, 14,000-square-foot senior housing development that would involve both the renovation of the mothballed Lindbom School on State Street and construction of new senior housing. Brighton Village at the Mill Pond, as it is called, would encompass separate centers for independent living, assisted living, a memory care center and an activities center on the 10.5-acre site. Planning commissioners listened Monday to a large number of comments – the majority, but not all - opposed to the project. All live in the northwest city neighborhood where the complex would be located. Sandra Verhelle of Magnolia St., which is on the Genoa Township side of the property, tells WHMI she moved to the area for its peace and quiet, and the development would disrupt that tranquility. Although the preliminary site plan was approved, past planning commission chairman Steve Monet and Susan Gardner, who also sits on the City Council, voted against the development, saying it was out of scale with the neighborhood. However, Battaglia said the proposal was not cast in stone and he would be flexible if the city wanted modifications. Battaglia addressed the issue of the plume of toxic trichloroethylene gas, or TCE, which has contaminated the groundwater in the neighborhood, stemming from an old refrigeration plant on North 5th Street. Battaglia said he would employ mitigation procedures to vent the plume of gas by having vapor barriers installed. Under the name of American Classical Academy Brighton Holdings LLC, Battaglia’s former company initially purchased the school for $1.45 million from the Brighton Area Schools. He proposed a charter school called the Livingston Classical Academy for the site, but the school board turned down his request to be the sponsor. In 2015 he proposed a senior housing complex for the old Lindbom site, but says his financing fell through. His current proposal is virtually identical to the one which was approved by the Planning Commission in 2015. (TT)

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    A local talent consortium has been selected for grant funding centered on closing the state’s talent gap while encouraging partnership, innovation and investment. Leaders from the state’s Talent and Economic Development Department and Department of Education announced the first round of Marshall Plan for Talent Innovation Grant awardees. Nine talent consortia, representing 260 entities, were awarded a total of nearly $15 million in grants to start and grow innovative education models. Among the awardees is the Stockbridge High School InvenTeam TM Consortium, which will be focused on training for high-skill, high-demand and high-paying careers in information technology and computer science, manufacturing and professional trades. Skills to be included in training will be communication, collaboration, problem solving, critical thinking and creativity. The Stockbridge program also integrates financial, economic, business and entrepreneurial literacy into the day-to-day functions of the class. The curriculum is said to be suitable for engineering technicians who could be employed in a variety of fields that include factory automation and manufacturing, electrician, robotics, wind power/energy generation, Unmanned Aerial Systems and Unmanned Ground Vehicles as well as serve as an introduction to engineering for college bound students. State leaders explained that the investment is just the beginning in helping transform Michigan’s ever-changing education model. Interim State Superintendent Sheila Alles said the Marshall Plan is about building partnerships – it was a call for schools and businesses to innovate and rethink how we go about preparing our young people for the future. Leaders added they are eager to get round two kicked off in January and encouraged those who weren’t awarded today to revise their applications for consideration in the next round. The next round in the process starts Wednesday, January 16th. Michigan’s Departments of Education and Talent and Economic Development will hold a webinar to address questions and help consortia prepare for a successful second round on January 11th.

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    Tyrone Township’s Planning Commission met Tuesday and briefly discussed some suggestions by other township officials to adjust the ordinance. Planning Commission Chairman Mark Meisel says the most common noise complaints are barking dogs, fireworks and firearms. Meisel says one of the issues they are looking into is the Day/Night time table that defines the permitted time frame for certain types of noise, one example being fireworks. Meisel says officials want to clarify whether the time table applies to fireworks alone or all noise. The township also wants to be better define who exactly is the authorized representative for enforcing the ordinance and the process for residents looking to appeal, should they disagree with the representative’s interpretation and application of the rules. There are two kinds of noise that officials are interested in discussing as possibly being excluded from the ordinance; off-road vehicles, as long as they have the appropriate mufflers, and livestock and exotic animals making unamplified sound. Finally, Meisel says another issue that frequently comes up is firearms, specifically as they’re being used for target practice. The goal is to better understand what firearm-related noise can be legally opposed, if at all. Meisel says the Planning Commission may discuss the various items at their next meeting in January or hold a separate workshop. (DK)

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    The Howell City Council met Monday night and approved the purchase of what was referred to as a very important piece of equipment that will boost reliability for the City’s high-end network. Council approved the acquisition of a new network switch, which will replace an old one that is beyond its "end of life" cycle. The equipment is said to be vital to the current network infrastructure as it connects the City of Howell, the City of Brighton, Livingston County and recreation facilities back to the Howell City Hall server room. It provides access to file systems, emails, phones, archive information, data back-ups and the county law enforcement system. The new switch will replace a piece of equipment that is eleven years old. City Manager Shea Charles tells WHMI the typical life expectancy is usually five to six years, so they’ve been pushing it. The new piece of equipment has much greater capacity and Charles says the switch helps begin the transition to ten gigabit speeds in the future. The City is currently running a gigabit network between buildings and will be able to go to ten gigabits. Charles says the greater bandwidth offers enhanced capabilities with some new technologies such as GIS and others and allows for future expansion on IP components. The new machine will be under warranty. It was noted that in the unlikely event of some sort of failure, parts can be found much more easily than the current piece of equipment. Part of the cost is being allocated with the City of Brighton. The City of Howell will contribute $18,940, with Brighton expected to chip in $11,174. The two municipalities have had an IT partnership for the last several years and share an IT director as well as a shared data center, which Charles says allows them to host many servers on one set of equipment. He says the partnership has really helped both communities save quite a bit of money on IT infrastructure over the last several years, providing high quality services at a much lower price. The allocation of cost is determined based on the number of users, and since Howell has a higher number of users, it has a higher allocation. If the Brighton City Council approves the request at this Thursday’s meeting, then Charles says they’ll move forward with the acquisition. (JM)