Benton Harbor

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Two weeks after voters in Benton Harbor rejected a millage renewal that represents about 20-percent of the city’s revenue, the city’s emergency financial manager is laying out a few grim options.

EFM Joe Harris says one option is eliminating the police force and contracting public safety through the Berrien County Sheriff's Department; similar to what the City of Pontiac did recently.

User: Brother O'Mara / flickr

Schuette says Blues overhaul not enough to protect seniors

State Attourney General says the overhaul of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan needs more safeguards in order to protect seniors. The Detroit news reports,

Under legislation sought by Gov. Rick Snyder, the Blues could dramatically reduce its $200 million annual subsidy of the Medicare supplemental insurance by 2016, when a rate freeze Schuette negotiated expires.

After that, the Blues would contribute as little as $15 million annually to a new state-run nonprofit health care foundation for Medigap coverage made available only to Medicare recipients who prove a financial need, Schuette said.

Blue Cross says 70 percent of the 210,000 seniors receiving Medigap insurance would fail a means test to show a financial need for the subsidy, Michigan Insurance Commissioner Kevin Clinton said.

Benton Harbor considers eliminating police force to cut costs

"Two weeks after voters in Benton Harbor rejected a millage renewal, the city’s emergency financial manager is laying out a few grim options. Joe Harris told reporters Monday afternoon one option is eliminating the police force. The millage would’ve raised a little more than a million dollars this year alone. That represents twenty-percent of Benton Harbor’s yearly revenue," Lindsey Smith reports.

University of Maryland added to "Big Ten"

"The Big Ten athletic conference added the University of Maryland to its roster Monday. Rutgers University is expected to announce its plans to join the conference today. That will bring the total number of schools in the conference to 14, and is likely to mean big increases in revenues for the universities as well as the conference," Chris Zollars reports.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The City of Benton Harbor could face major staffing cuts after voters rejected a millage renewal this week. The cash-strapped city has been under the control of a state-appointed emergency financial manager for two years.

“When I heard the news my heart just sank. I didn’t believe it,” Benton Harbor Mayor James Hightower said, calling the rejection “unreal”. The millage helps pay for basic city operations.

Benton Harbor Mayor James Hightower believes voters were misled in part by some elected officials who are against the emergency financial manager.

Tonight the Environmental Protection Agency will host a public meeting in Benton Harbor. The federal agency wants to update the community on its efforts to clean up a 17 acre site that’s now part of the Harbor Shores golf course.

Nefertiti DiCosmo is the remedial project manager of the site, known as the former Aircraft Components site, for the EPA. She says they want to get public feedback and provide an update on the EPA’s work.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

A state appointee has run the cash-strapped city for more than two years. Former Governor Jennifer Granholm appointed Joe Harris the city’s emergency financial manager in March 2010.

Now elected leaders have set a goal for him to leave by December 2013. They hope to get a $7 million emergency loan from the state to help get Benton Harbor out of its “financial emergency”.

Mayor James Hightower says the loan would be “a game changer”.

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

Dawn Yarbrough is from Benton Harbor. These days she lives part time in Milan, Italy. But, she has been spending more time in her hometown lately to start a new public television show called Harbor Lights. It will focus on positive things happening in Benton Harbor. Some of the programs  Dawn highlights include the local boys and girls club, a group that teaches teens how to make and allows them to sell their work at an art fair and a school program that brings students from St. Joseph and Benton Harbor together to discuss issues of race.


The ACLU is asking a Berrien County judge to dismiss charges against three protestors who were ticketed for being too noisy during the Senior PGA Championship in Benton Harbor last May.

The three were taking part in a larger protest against the golf championship, the development of a city park, and the city’s emergency manager.

Whirlpool Corp. is planning to shut down the last of its operations in a southern Indiana city where it had more than 1,500 workers a few years ago by moving refrigerator development work to Michigan.

Julie Weiss

Updated 12:30p.m. - Scott Geerlings with Zeeland, Michigan based Geerlings Development Company says the company bought the parcel for around $102,000.

Benton Harbor’s emergency manager has sold a piece of land that was supposed to be open for public recreation. lot Now a dialysis center is being built on the undeveloped parkland instead.

Harbor Shores Clubhouse
Harbor Shores /

St. Joseph-based developer Edgewater Resources is reportedly in the process of raising $70 million for a new resort on the city's river.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

When Benton Harbor Emergency Manager Joe Harris took over the City of Benton Harbor two years ago, the city owed money to a bunch of different agencies; the library, the public schools, and the IRS, for example. Harris has made huge progress in paying off that old debt.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The Senior PGA Championship is underway today in Benton Harbor.

The city is home to the Whirlpool Corporation, the largest appliance manufacturer in the world; and it's also the poorest city in Michigan. In 2010 the average household in Benton Harbor earned just $17,000 a year.

Whirlpool's plan to turn Benton Harbor into a tourist destination

Recently, a steady stream of tour busses and a fleet of silver Mercedes with the PGA logo cruised through town.

At times you could see people inside the cars point at boarded up buildings as they drove by.

The Harbor Shores golf course sits in sharp contrast to the city’s poverty. But near the golf course there are plans for condos, two luxury hotels (to be completed by 2014), and a marina.

Whirlpool executives came up with this concept in the 1980s. They wanted to turn more than three million square feet of old manufacturing space near the Lake Michigan shore into a destination for golfers.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The Senior PGA tournament for professional golfers is in Benton Harbor this week.

Famous golfers began practicing on the course Monday afternoon. Harbor Shore golf course was partially built on city owned land. Elected city leaders agreed to lease the property with the hope of attracting jobs and tourists to the region.

Herb Caldwell is Vice President of the Consortium for Community Development. The non-profit group tries to improve the community’s workforce skills. He says the group has helped more than 260 people get temporary jobs for the tour.

But Caldwell says the tournament is also bringing a sense of excitement and pride to its residents.

“People will walk away from this – not only the people internally who live here – with a different perspective on their community but the people who will visit here will now have a different picture of Benton Harbor,” Caldwell said.

But not everyone is pleased.

Benton Harbor is the poorest city in Michigan with an average household income of $17,000 a year. The city government is under the control of an emergency manager.

Chicago Golf Report / Creative Commons

More than 300 people turned out to a job fair this week to get a temporary job when the Senior PGA tour comes to Benton Harbor next month.

Herb Caldwell is Vice President of the Consortium for Community Development. It’s a non-profit group focused on solving chronic poverty in northern Berrien County.

“We’re really surprised and really happy with the excitement and the eagerness of the folks in our area who want to get out an support the Senior PGA golf tournament,” Caldwell said. The job fair was Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday this week. 

PGA is a first for Benton Harbor

The Senior PGA tour will be at the new Harbor Shores golf course.

There’s been controversy over the golf course for two reasons; it was partially built on sand dunes near Lake Michigan, and elected city leaders agreed to lease portions of the beachfront park while the city was facing severe financial problems. The course has prompted a number of lawsuits, but most have been settled in favor of the golf course.

Benton Harbor's city government is now run by an emergency manager. The elected, but powerless, city commission voted earlier this month to withdraw its support of the Senior PGA coming to their city. 

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

In December Benton Harbor’s emergency manager said the city’s finances we’re looking good enough that he could probably leave sometime this year. But now, he’s not so sure.

The City of Benton Harbor was, for practical purposes, bankrupt. In 2010 former governor Jennifer Granholm appointed an emergency financial manger to clean up the books and prevent damage to state’s credit.

Thursday night, Michigan Deputy Treasurer Roger Fraser visited the city. State Treasurer Andy Dillion was supposed to be at the town hall meeting. But he’s in Detroit, trying to help the city avoid an emergency manager like Benton Harbor has.

Woodley Wonder Works / Flickr

The school board in Benton Harbor has voted to consolidate its schools as part of a five-year plan to eliminate the southwestern Michigan district's deficit.

WSJM-AM and WNDU-TV report the board voted Tuesday night to go forward with the reorganization, which faced opposition from some students and parents. Following the changes, the district will have four K-8 schools, a high school and a Pre-K program. The district's administrative offices also will move.

Superintendent Leonard Seawood says the district plans to complete the changes by 2016. He says the changes will be "historic for our students."

Officials say the consolidation is part of an effort to avoid the possible appointment of a state-appointed emergency financial manager because of the district's financial difficulties.

Updated 12:30p.m. 1/31/12

90-acres of land along the Lake Michigan shore were donated nearly a century ago to the City of Benton Harbor for public recreation. In 2008, city leaders agreed to lease 22 acres of Jean Klock Park to a non-profit developer known as Harbor Shores. The developer converted the land into 3 holes of a Jack Nicklaus golf course.

Michigan's Benton Harbor in the national media spotlight

Jan 26, 2012
Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

Benton Harbor isn’t very big.  It’s a city of about 11,000 residents in Michigan’s southwest corner.  But it has story lines that drive national media to pay attention.

One is the emergency manager law which has been in effect in Benton Harbor for about 2 years.

It transferred power from elected officials to a state appointee, Joseph Harris.

Rachel Maddow from MSNBC ran two long segments on the issue last summer and blasted the law.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

The city of Flint now has a plan to fix its ‘financial crisis’. But the plan has several major hurdles to overcome.   

Emergency Manager Mike Brown’s 10-page plan outlines Flint’s deteriorating financial condition: An $11 million  budget deficit this year, long term declines in population, and an eroding tax base. 

The plan also charts a course out of the ‘financial crisis’ the governor declared last year. It calls for restructuring collective bargaining agreements with city unions and merging or eliminating some city departments.   

The plan also calls for improving public safety in the city, which has seen four homicides this year and more than 120 murders during the last two years.   

Emergency Manager Mike Brown calls the plan ”a work in progress”.  He says implementing it will be a “most difficult challenge.”  

Mayor Dayne Walling called on residents to “do their part to address Flint's long-standing challenges."  

Flint is one of four Michigan cities being run by emergency managers.  The city of Detroit may soon be added to that list.  

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The State Treasurer’s office is reviewing an independent audit of Benton Harbor’s finances for the 2011 fiscal year. The audit shows the city still spent more money than it made during its first year under a state appointed emergency manager.

Still a lingering operating deficit

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The City of Benton Harbor’s mayor is trying to start 2012 on the right foot after two years of turmoil under a state-appointed emergency manager. Elected leaders have almost no authority under the state’s emergency manager law. But the new city commission is getting ready to take back local control.

Emergency manager expects to leave in 2012

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

In the last few weeks there’s been a flurry of activity under the state’s new emergency manager law.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Michigan schools superintendent Mike Flanagan says a review of the Benton Harbor schools finds evidence of "probable financial stress." But Flanagan is not recommending a deeper, 60-day review. He says that’s because the district has taken “several steps in recent days to correct the deficit including:”

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Teachers in Benton Harbor have agreed to an across-the-board cut of pay and benefits. Teachers ratified the contract with a vote of 85 yes and 65 no. Tuesday afternoon the school board voted 5 to 2 to approve a new contract that will reduce teachers’ pay by 10-percent beginning in February (the contract runs through August 2012). Teachers will pay 20-percent of their health care benefits.  In the past three weeks alone the school board has closed two schools and laid off 20 employees. They’ve also put buildings up for sale.

“That will help us with our cash flow and will allow us to continue our operation without a stoppage,” Superintendent Leonard Seawood said. “That’s a lot for this community to be proud of,” Seawood said, in terms of addressing the financial problems. Seawood has been with the district since August 2010. 

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Saab files for bankruptcy

Saab Automobile filed for bankruptcy in Sweden this morning. The announcement came after officials from General Motors rejected support for a proposal designed to save the company.

From a Saab press release:

After having received the recent position of GM on the contemplated transaction with Saab Automobile, Youngman informed Saab Automobile that the funding to continue and complete the reorganization of Saab Automobile could not be concluded. The Board of Saab Automobile subsequently decided that the company without further funding will be insolvent and that filing bankruptcy is in the best interests of its creditors.

Benton Harbor schools working to avoid an emergency manager

The Benton Harbor Area Schools are one of several entities in line for a possible state takeover by an emergency manager. State officials are expected to release findings of a preliminary review of the school system's finances this week.

Michigan Radio's Lindsey Smith reported on the cuts Benton Harbor Area Schools Superintendent Leonard Seawood, and members of the school board are proposing in hopes of avoiding a state-takeover:

He and the school board have agreed to close 2 schools and lay off 20 employees. Teachers have agreed to work for less money as the district and the union renegotiates a contract with concessions. Seawood is looking to get a 10-percent pay cut for teachers and increase their health care contributions to 20-percent.

The board agreed to demolish some old buildings and list others for sale. BHAS had already privatized bus drivers, custodians, grounds and maintenance and food service.

Protests at Lowe's in wake of "All-American Muslim" controversy

After Lowe's pulled its ad from TLC's reality show "All-American Muslim," protesters picketed outside a Lowe's store near Detroit this past Saturday.

From the Associated Press:

About 100 people gathered outside the store in Allen Park, a Detroit suburb adjacent to the city where "All-American Muslim" is filmed. Lowe's said this week that the TLC show had become a "lightning rod" for complaints, following an email campaign by a conservative Christian group.

Protesters including Christian clergy and lawmakers called for unity and held signs that read "Boycott Bigotry" and chanted "God Bless America, shame on Lowe's" during the rally, which was organized by a coalition of Christian, Muslim and civil rights groups.

Lowe's pulled the ads after it received pressure from the Florida Family Association. In a letter to advertisers, the group said the show was "attempting to manipulate Americans into ignoring the threat of jihad."

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Benton Harbor Area Schools will get results from the state’s preliminary review of the district’s finances this week. The school district blames cash flow problems on a lower-than-expected-student count this fall.

The 30-day preliminary review is the first step in a process to determine if a school district or municipality needs a state-appointed emergency manager. It does not mean one will be appointed for certain.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

City leaders in Benton Harbor are trying to come together after a turbulent couple of years under a state appointed emergency manager. The emergency manager was appointed to Benton Harbor in 2010 after ten years of deficit spending. 

Mayor-elect James Hightower hosted a workshop Friday to talk about the city’s plan for future.

“You can’t keep looking back, you have to look forward,” Hightower said. “The first step is to bring people together, get them on the mindset of thinking strategic planning, and hear some of the best practices that are happening around the state.”

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

A former long-time auditor for the City of Detroit says he’s not surprised the city is running out of cash. “I was a Detroiter, still am at heart, for 49 years,” Harris said. Joe Harris also served as Detroit’s auditor general from 1995 to 2005. He’s been the state-appointed emergency manager in Benton Harbor since March 2010.

The State of Michigan is reviewing Benton Harbor Area Schools’ finances. That’s the first step in a process to determine if the school district needs a state-appointed emergency manager. It does not mean one would be appointed for certain.

But the rumors are already flying in the community about a takeover.

The results of the November eighth election in Benton Harbor stand.

Incumbent Mayor Wilce Cooke lost the election by eight votes. That’s less than one percentage point.

During a recount this week, both Cooke and Mayor elect James Hightower picked up two votes. So the end result remains the same even though the vote count changed slightly.

“We’re not trying to say there’s any hanky-panky going on – although it could be,” Cooke said.

He’s concerned about the absentee voting process; mainly who processed the votes and who may have had access. “There’s some issues we’re pursuing that I’m not able to divulge to you; but that’ll come out eventually,” Cooke said.

The state appointed an emergency manger to take over Benton Harbor’s finances during Cooke’s second term as mayor. The emergency manager expects to have the city’s finances back on track soon. He expects to turn power back over to the new mayor and city commission within the next eight months.