Category Archives: Government

Schoolcraft Village Council Declines to Reappoint Tim Brown to the Planning Commission

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Tim Brown, former chair of the Schoolcraft Planning Commission.

By Sue Moore

Tim Brown, a 26-year veteran of the Schoolcraft Planning Commission, its chair for the last 22 years and a descendant of a venerable Village founding father, E. Laken Brown, was passed over for reappointment by the Village Council at its last meeting in December.

Brown, who has made those years on the planning commission his community service project, said he didn’t understand the decision and was “blindsided” by it.

“Nobody talked to me in advance, but it seems that some people in the community took offense to my standing of not making exceptions to the zoning ordinances and the deadlines that are entailed in it,” Brown said.

“In the future, the village will need to offer more training to understand more clearly what the job is of the members of the Planning Commission and even the Village Council. I am concerned about the direction of the visioning sessions that have taken place over the past year, especially the guidance of the consultants,” he implied. “They are very creative but some solutions they offered don’t make sense. Now we are in the process of rewriting the master plan and the village ordinances, so I’m retiring from the effort.”

During his 22 years as chair of the planning commission, Brown believes the board has done a good job in protecting the residential neighborhoods while encouraging business growth and development. “It’s always been a challenge and we need to broaden and encourage new kinds of businesses to the downtown. We should pull together business people to start to get this going. They just aren’t scared [enough] yet but this needs to be solved,” Brown said.

Brown was born in Schoolcraft but his family moved to Indiana after he was in first grade. He graduated from Indiana University with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in political science, expecting to teach in college. He and his wife, Dana, decided to take a look at the possibilities in the Kalamazoo area so he could return to his home town. She found a job right away as the first nurse hired into the Bronson Hospital neonatal unit that was being formed at that time. Brown sort of fell into real estate and has been with Re-Max for many years.

“It has been a pleasure working with Tim and the Planning Commission issues over the last 14 years that I’ve been village manager,” Cheri Lutz said. “He has been a great asset to the commission during the years, especially with the rewriting of the village ordinances in 1991.”

Mike Rochholz, a member of the Village Council, complimented Brown on his years of service and his wealth of knowledge.

Confusion Highlights the Fire Authority Board Meeting

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Fire Authority board members Colin Bailey a representative from the village of Vicksburg and Randy Smith a representative of Brady Township, shake hands during an earlier meeting.

By Sue Moore

South Kalamazoo County Fire Authority (SKCFA) members balked at a request for quick bylaws changes from Trustee Randy Smith after he announced he was leaving his post as Brady Township Supervisor in May and with it, his post on the Authority as of December 31.

By the end of a contentious December meeting, the board members insisted they’ll take a couple of months to discuss the changes with their respective village and township elected officials.

Brady said he expects to be replaced on the township board by Tracy Locey, who holds a paid position as treasurer of the fire authority. Serving on both the governing board and as a paid employee appeared to some other delegates to pose a potential conflict.

Smith presented a draft of bylaws to deal with that issue prepared by Craig Rolfe, the authority’s attorney. The draft was not made public at the meeting.

His announcement that Locey would fill his position appeared to blindside other authority members when Smith presented the bylaws changes he said would enable the transition to take place. Smith asked board members to flesh out the proposed changes and bring them to their respective township boards and village councils.

The bylaws changes would provide for hiring a recording secretary, a person who would also serve in a paid position as treasurer and retain a seat on the authority board – in the expectation that Locey would fill the post.

Some authority members complained about short notice. Smith said he had told board members in a closed meeting a year ago that he would retire in May and that the authority had done nothing in the meantime to prepare for the proposed changes.

Smith appeared to be asking other members for a vote at the December meeting, or at least to take the new wording back to their respective boards. But others said it isn’t clear if they had the power to make a change to bylaws without consulting their fellow elected officials.

Colin Bailey, representing Vicksburg, said Locey succeeding Smith on the authority board wasn’t the issue: The issue was the way Smith handled the matter. Locey, he indicated, is very qualified to fill a position on the board. She has served as administrator and treasurer for many years and has met and exceeded expectations in those posts.

No officers of the authority board are paid. Todd Carlin, Schoolcraft village’s representative, said the issue should have gone to the human resources committee and then to each unit’s board for discussion as it has the potential to change the budget numbers.

Locey said she would only be paid as treasurer since only five percent of her time is allotted as administrator. Locey said there are ways to work around this issue.

Although Smith had said he would leave the fire Authority as of Dec. 31, he later indicated that Brady Township’s board would choose to keep him on the authority’s board for now. The township did so.

Vicksburg Village Council Member Puts Angels Crossing and Creekside Grille Under Scrutiny

By Sue Moore

Asserting that Angels Crossing Golf Club and its separately-managed Creekside Grille are underperforming, Vicksburg Village Trustee James Earl asked Village Manager James Mallery for a list of options to improve profitability at both.

The request was somewhat of a bombshell. The issue, not on the council agenda, was raised at the end of the meeting. Mallery and other council members did not respond.

“Both business units the village owns have continued to underperform in ways that are measurable and perhaps just as importantly, in ways that are unmeasurable,” Earl said.

“I request a report from the village manager that provides a list of options to strategically accelerate performance and profitability of both business units. All we can do is attempt to protect the taxpayers moving forward by making this entity a profitable one. Both the Golf Club and the Grille have made some improvements. I see signs that indicate it is time to review our strategy for both.”

He specified that the report should include all golf operations including the pro shop. “Plus, all Creekside Grille operations which includes how we serve our dining room guests and our golf patrons before, during and after golf rounds.” He specified a deadline of 45-60 days for the report with the possibility of using outside resources if needed.

A detailed job description for each position should be part of the package, Earl said. It should include a list of needed policies in order of priority that the unit needs to succeed under this new model.

Earl ended with the caveat that “We must be willing to change when necessary to be successful. We will not maintain the status quo and expect different results.”

In other business, the Council approved a three-year contract with the Vicksburg Police Officers Association. It includes a one percent pay raise each year on base pay wages and a one percent signing bonus each year that would not be used for purposes of pension calculations or compound future base pay.

A Water Asset Management plan and program as outlined by Prein and Newhof was also approved. It was largely a generic document according to Trustee Ron Smith when he wondered aloud if the village actually had a water reliability study. The answer from Mallery was yes.

Mallery also recommended an extension of the treasurer’s hours from 20 to 30-32 a week. Michelle Morgan has been working part time as treasurer, but her work load has been increasing since she came on board in July, Mallery told the council. She will receive benefits with a total cost not to exceed $20,000 in the six months of the current budget cycle.

Pat White Retires as Pavilion Township Supervisor

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Pat White is ready to hand the Pavilion Township Supervisor job to John Streeter in December.

By Sue Moore

“I don’t always agree with you but at least you listen,” said a resident of Pavilion Township to township Supervisor Pat White at a meeting some time ago. After 36 years, White is handing the mantle of supervisor to John Streeter, who takes over full time December 1 who was appointed to fill out White’s term.

Pavilion Township has over 6,000 residents, with 1,000 or more at the northwest corner in a trailer park on Sprinkle Road next to the airport. Its south boundary touches Brady Township at the northeast corner of Long Lake. It contains parts of five school districts: Vicksburg, Climax-Scotts, Portage, Comstock and Galesburg-Augusta, all complicating taxation for the township treasurer and supervisor.

White cautions that the public needs to get involved at the township level before decisions are made. “Township government is as local as you can get, so it is easy to call or walk into the township hall on 33rd Street to make your views known,” Streeter said.

The five members of the township board make decisions that impact over 6,000 people. White is proudest of the township’s sound financial position upon his leaving. “We have a half million dollar fund balance, a full-time fire department, sewer systems around the three big lakes in the township, Long, Pickerel and Indian Lake.” They’re run by the South County Sewer and Water Authority, which is housed in the Pavilion Township hall.

Zoning ordinance compliance can cause the biggest headaches next to taxation questions, White said. “It’s not a fun thing. Probably the worst part of the job,” White acknowledged. “We try to keep the township looking good and pristine. Junk cars, chickens, barking dogs, litter and neighbor complaints all get to the township supervisor eventually. Zoning is necessary to protect each individual’s property,” Streeter said as he is learning on the job. He has been shadowing White and taking over some of the responsibilities to prepare for the handover.

White came on the township board as a trustee in 1981 to finish out a term, and quickly was appointed to fill Roger Overmeyer’s supervisor’s position when Overmeyer moved from the township. At that time, the supervisor had to be a certified assessor. White had three weeks to study for the exam and passed it with a lot of hard work. He had a slight edge because of his career as a life insurance salesman. But it is highly unusual to have that kind of success, according to Kevin O’Toole, the current property assessor. “My wife Marlene has been my sounding board. She is a calm influence on our family. I met her in high school in Shelby, Michigan where my dad had a restaurant, a motel and a fruit stand,” White said.

White has been active in the Michigan Townships Association, serving for a time as its president, and in the Kalamazoo County township association. “This is hands-on government where citizens can get their questions answered rather than having to go downtown and work within the bureaucracy. The community has done far more for me than I’ve done for it. If you are truthful and honest the rest will take care of itself.”

Streeter will have a hard act to follow, but his experience as president of the Long Lake Association for many years, pharmaceutical sales, marketing and public relations for a managed care agency will help him relate.

He has racked up 15 years with the number one blue grass band in West Michigan, Schlitz Creek, as a mandolin, banjo and guitar player and singer. Streeter played for 15 years in the Vicksburg Rotary Club Showboat. White took part as a dancing girl in several shows while a member of Rotary.

Schoolcraft Planning Commission Debates Wind & James

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Jamie Clark was quizzed by the Schoolcraft Planning Commission about meeting deadlines for parking spaces to be constructed on the property at 555 W. Eliza Street.

By Sue Moore

Schoolcraft’s Planning Commission asked Jamie Clark for more information about a fire suppression system in his proposed Wind & James event center at 555 W. Eliza Street and gave him another 30 days before he can secure an occupancy permit for the building.

But planning commissioners were equally interested in his plans for the early elementary building he and his wife, Windy, have purchased on nearby Cass Street.

Clark asked to postpone that update, saying his wife was unable to attend; the project is near and dear to her heart. But he indicated the building would be converted into a multiple-family and that the building’s south wing could become an auxiliary to the Wind & James project.

Clark was asking the commission for an occupancy permit for that project although not all of the required spaces are complete. The parking will be needed because the couple is expecting to enlarge the developed space from 13,000 square feet with 10,000 more for local businesses to occupy. To accomplish this, the building inspector is requiring a sprinkler system for the entire building, an added cost but one which will enable the building to be fully leased. “We have replaced the electrical system, put LED lighting throughout along with the sprinkling plans. It was painful, requiring a six-figure investment, but over the long-term it is the right thing to do,” Clark told the commission.

Trustee Mae Pfost congratulated Clark on the gorgeous building and the art center and event space. However, the parking lot on the south side of the building has not been completed as required by the board and it was the major reason members were reticent to issue the occupancy permit. Wet weather has been a hindrance to pouring concrete, Clark said. Still, he added, the couple had been successful in getting the parking areas on the north and east finished by the deadline the commission had imposed in the spring. There are currently 122 parking slots prepared, 13 less than the desired number.

Cheri Lutz, village manager recommended the 30-day extension for obtaining the occupancy permit so Clark could return to the body in December with more information on the fire suppression system. Tim Brown, chair of the board, settled on waiting until next spring for the parking lot, acknowledging that concrete can’t be poured during the winter.

In other business, the commission reviewed the “Reroute” long-range planning for US-131 through the village over the last year with Wightman & Associate’s Jordan Parker. The next step is to re-visit the comprehensive land-use plan, the parks and recreation plan and prepare new zoning documents to accompany the master plan. This will enable the serious work to commence on the vision plan, according to Natalie Dean, the Wightman planner who will be consulting on the hard work ahead for the Planning Commission.

Brown alerted the board to the proposal to locate a Casey’s General Store on the corner of Eliza and Grand Street. That will be on the agenda for the December meeting. He cautioned that gas stations and convenience stores are not allowed in the central business district. The proposal would need a text amendment to locate on that corner, he said.

South County EMS Appoints New Board Members

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The new South County EMS board standing from left to right: Jeff DeLeeuw, treasurer; Trevor McLeod, trustee; Wes Schmitt, president; Vicki White, administrative assistant. Seated: Ann Balow on the left and Deb Smittendorf on the right, both trustees.

By Sue Moore

“We will move mountains to make sure the staff of South County Emergency Medical Services (SCEMS) is taken care of,” said Brian Balow, a consultant from Pride Care Ambulance who has overseen the service since it was on life support last summer.

“There are 16,000 residents of south Kalamazoo County who need ambulance service,” said Wes Schmitt, re-appointed as president of the newly created board of directors. “By forming a new board of directors sponsored by Pride Care, we are bringing in a fresh perspective. It means we can leverage the assets that Pride Care has to get South County EMS back on its feet. Their economies of scale have already been helpful along with the knowledge they bring from many years of successful operations.”

New members on the board include Deb Smittendorf, who is project manager in Balow’s company. She lives in Vicksburg and has children in the school system. Her ability to understand the clearing houses for Medicaid and Medicare is essential, Schmitt acknowledged.

Trevor McLeod is serving on the new board as the technology expert. The web site for the service will be reconstituted with his expertise, along with the Facebook page that Amber Louis now maintains.

Another game changer has been an agreement from Kalamazoo County State Bank to refinance the mortgage from 15 years to 25 at prime plus one percent adjustable. This results in a considerable reduction in per month payments, according to Jeff DeLeeuw, chief financial officer of the newly constituted board. “With the changes Pride Care has made financially, we believe the ambulance service will survive and thrive in South County,” Schmitt said.

Ann Balow, the wife of Brian Balow, was also appointed to the board. It meets the first and third Monday of each month either in Portage or Vicksburg.

Pride Care just landed the contract with the city of Portage to provide ambulance service, giving the company the responsibility of providing service to half of the county. The CEO of Pride is Bill Mears who has been attending the South Kalamazoo County Fire Authority board meetings for several months. He has assured that board of the progress Pride Care is making in operating the two services. The authority contracts with SCEMS for services and is keenly interested in its survival.

Vicksburg Village Introduces New Employees

By Sue Moore

New and old faces were introduced by Village Manager Jim Mallery at the Oct. 16 village Vicksburg Council meeting with Mallery introducing each of the new hires.

Scott Sanderson, the new police chief, experienced his first day on the job before he was given a chance to speak about his vision for policing in the village. “We want to put Vicksburg policing on the map, to be positively recognized in the community, to be accessible on a door to door basis, to do problem solving and have a good time doing it.”

Bobby Durkee, a 20-hour-per-month planning and zoning administrator, will work from home after his regular job in the zoning department for the city of Kalamazoo. Durkee, chair of the village’s Planning Commission for several years, gave up that position to take the part-time job. He will assist with redevelopment management, codification of zoning ordinances and updating the master plan.

Michelle Morgan, village treasurer, comes from 25 years of accounting work along with a deep commitment to community volunteerism. She has led the Project Graduation craft show’s fundraiser for several years while living on the outskirts of Fulton.

Tracy Speelman, customer service, lives outside the village with six children and their horses on 32nd street. She has been on board since early summer.

Matt Hines, department of public works, was hired in a month ago. He has been a volunteer with the fire authority.

Michelle Crawford, secretary, is full time and takes care of just about everything, according to Mallery. She is also a Brady Township trustee.

Other village employees introduced besides those in the police department included Mike Tichvon, golf course superintendent; Jeff Rohrstaff, golf course professional; Randy Schippers, DPW head; Chad Schippers, DPW; Steve Swiegart, zoning enforcement and Tracy Locey, village clerk.

Mallery reported on the critical needs for upgraded infrastructure in the village. The last time much was done to sewer and water lines was in the 1970s. An engineering study by Prien & Neuhof listed critical needs in the next 20 years. The firm has recommended an initial $5 million to be spent through 2022 and $22 million overall. Mallery said he is exploring various funding sources, including a possible loan-grant application to the USDA.

Approval of expansion in the Allen-Edwin subdivision was granted by the Planning Commission, then the Village Council at its earlier meeting in October. Developers are opening up a residential plat that will exit onto U Avenue off 22nd street.

In other business, Mallery reported that chlorine has been flushed out of the water tower, hydrants opened at both ends of the village system and successful tests of the water have been returned following the contamination scare in September.

Harold and Pamela Morgan, who live on Wayland street near the Shell station at the corner of W Avenue and Silver Street, expressed their concern about screeching trucks coming to a halt at the stop light, barking dogs in the neighborhood and other loud noises and asked the village to develop an ordinance to put a stop to excessive noise. “It’s like a drag strip and we like nature sounds,” Pamela Morgan said.