Benton Harbor

Politics
4:25 pm
Tue April 19, 2011

First legal challenges to emergency manager law

Robert Bobb, Detroit Public Schools emergency financial manager, says the new emergency manager law has already helped him in his role.
Sarah Hulett Michigan Radio

The controversial emergency financial manager law gives broad powers to state-appointed officials who are brought in to help struggling cities and school districts.

It was signed into law last month by Governor Rick Snyder, now, as MPRN's Rick Pluta reports, two Detroit pension fund boards have filed a lawsuit challenging the state's emergency financial manager law. They say the law "illegally threatens contracts and collective bargaining agreements."

Under the law, emergency managers can strip power from locally elected officials and dissolve union contracts.

Pluta spoke with the emergency manager in charge of the Detroit Public Schools, Robert Bobb. He says these legal challenges won't help: 

"Because the legislation as it is is to kind of help escalate the resolution of problems and issues in localities and in school districts and any type of prolonged litigation does not really help advance what needs to be advanced to right the ship," says Bobb.

The Detroit News reports that the lawsuit was filed by Detroit's General Retirement System and the Police and Fire Retirement System:

The law "represents an imminent threat to the constitutional rights of plaintiffs and other members of the Detroit Retirement Systems," the funds' lawyer Ronald A. King wrote in the lawsuit.

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Politics
4:13 pm
Mon April 18, 2011

Officials receive training on new emergency financial manager law

More than 300 local officials and prospective emergency managers are in Lansing today and tomorrow to be trained in the state's new fiscal crisis law.

The law gives sweeping authority to emergency managers named to run school districts and local governments that can no longer pay their bills.

Terry Stanton of the Michigan Department of Treasury says the goal is for the state to intervene earlier to avoid the drastic step of a state takeover.

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Politics
11:00 am
Sat April 16, 2011

Benton Harbor EMF takes action

Benton Harbor appears to be the first city to come under a sweeping new Michigan law that allows emergency managers to take almost complete control of municipalities and school districts.

Benton Harbor emergency Manager Joseph Harris issued an order this week preventing city officials from doing anything more than calling meetings to order… adjourning them and approving minutes of meetings.

In other words, their decision-making powers have been suspended.

A financial emergency was declared in Benton Harbor in February 2010 by then-Governor Granholm after the city’s budget deficit grew by double digits.

A state board named former Detroit auditor general and chief financial officer Harris to run the city… with the power to control all spending and renegotiate union contracts.

Union leaders are critical of Harris’ move to take most powers away from city leaders. The AFL-CIO represents administrative workers and others in Benton Harbor.

Politics
10:42 am
Sat April 16, 2011

Emergency Manager of Benton Harbor strips power from elected officials

Main Street in Benton Harbor
Google Maps

Joseph Harris, the state-appointed Emergency Financial Manager of Benton Harbor, has stripped control from city officials.

It's the first time an emergency financial manager has used broad new powers granted to them by state legislators and Governor Rick Snyder.

Harris issued an order "prohibiting all action by all city boards, commissions and authorities, except as authorized by the emergency manager."

Here's the language from the order:

NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED AS FOLLOWS:
1. Absent prior express written authorization and approval by the Emergency Manager, no City Board, Commission or Authority shall take any action for or on behalf of the City whatsoever other than:

i) Call a meeting to order.
ii) Approve of meeting minutes.
iii) Adjourn a meeting.

2. That all prior resolutions, or acts of any kind of the City in conflict herewith are and the same shall be, to the extent of such conflict, rescinded.

3. This order shall be effective immediately.

The Detroit News reported that Harris issued the order because the city has been ineffective at governing:

Benton Harbor has struggled with a controversial trash hauling contract, lawsuits related to the contract, new competition for water services and city officials who sometimes clashed to the point that meetings dragged on for hours, Joseph said.

"I have seen for more than 30 years the mismanagement of funds and personnel in the city," Joseph said. "Infighting has been going on for decades."

It probably comes as no surprise that the relationship between Harris and government officials has been contentious.

In 2010, according to South Bend NBC affiliate WNDU , City Commissioner Duane Seats compared Harris to a disease within the city after Harris fired nine police officers, and worked to eliminate the city's fire department:

"Right now there's no cure for him, but I decree and declare that these city commissioners that we have now and with the citizens help we will find a cure. We will find a cure for this disease that we have here in the 49022 that's called Joe must go," said Seats.

In a statement published on the Daily Kos, Michigan's AFL-CIO president Mark Gaffney called the order from Harris "sad for democracy in Michigan": 

"It comes after the announcement of Robert Bobb in Detroit ordering layoff of every single public school teacher in the Detroit Public School system. With the stripping of all power of duly elected officials in Benton harbor and the attack on Detroit school teachers, we can now see the true nature of the Emergency Manager system."

One elected official in Benton Harbor wasn't bothered by Harris' order. City Commissioner Bryan Joseph was quoted in the Detroit News saying, "It doesn't bother me, I'm in favor of it." According to the News, state-appointed emergency financial managers are working in four places in Michigan:

Politics
4:48 pm
Thu March 31, 2011

Ballot proposal would put casinos in seven Michigan cities

Triin Q wikipedia commons

New casinos would open in seven Michigan cities, under a measure a group hopes to get onto the ballot in 2012.

Bill Thompson is a casino expert from Las Vegas who helped draft the proposed constitutional amendment, which calls for a 19% wagering tax for the casinos. He says it would raise about $400 million in tax revenues. More than half the money would fund college scholarships and a tourism ad campaign.

Thompson says much of the rest would go to the communities that host the casinos:

"This will bring money into Saginaw, Benton Harbor – two cities that are in desperate financial situations, also Lansing, Grand Rapids – two cities that need help."

The measure also calls for casinos in Mount Clemens, Detroit and Romulus, where Alan Lambert is the mayor:

"There’s so many people out of work. In my own community there’s a lot of people out of work. So to a city like Romulus this means revenue obviously, and it means a lot of jobs."

Detroit’s three existing casinos will likely put on a vigorous fight to block the measure. And since it’s a statewide vote, opponents say it takes away residents’ rights to decide whether they want a casino in their communities.

The group failed to get a similar measure onto the 2010 ballot.

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Michigan Supreme Court
10:52 am
Sat January 22, 2011

Is a golf course a public park?

Google's view of Jean Klock Park in Benton Harbor, MI
Google Maps

The Michigan Supreme Court heard arguments yesterday on the dispute around Jean Klock Park in Benton Harbor.

In 1917, some land along Lake Michigan was given to the city of Benton Harbor. The "Friends of Jean Klock Park" describe the gift this way:

In 1917, John and Carrie Klock deeded a half mile of lake Michigan frontage to the City of Benton Harbor Michigan in memory of their deceased daughter Jean. Their gift consisted of 90 acres of globally rare natural resources that included Great Lakes Dunes, a Great Lakes Marsh and interdunal wetlands. The donated land was named Jean Klock Park and was dedicated "FOR THE CHILDREN" - "in perpetuity" - "FOREVER."

Today, the city of Benton Harbor has leased part of the park to the Harbor Shores Community Redevelop Corporation. The Redevelop Corporation used the land, including sand dunes along the Lake Michigan shoreline for 3 holes of an 18 hole golf course.

Residents didn't like it and they filed a lawsuit. The case made it to the Michigan Supreme Court yesterday.

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Land use
5:36 pm
Thu January 20, 2011

MI Supreme Court to hear dispute over Benton Harbor golf course

A portion of Jean Klock Park before the golf course was developed
Vincent Duffy Michigan Radio

Attorneys will make their case before Michigan’s Supreme Court Friday over a disputed Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course in Benton Harbor. The course opened last summer.

Nearly a century ago, the Jean Klock Park was donated to the city of Benton Harbor for public recreation. The city leased part of the 90-acre park to non-profit developer Harbor Shores Community Redevelop Corporation, who used land including sand dunes along the Lake Michigan shoreline for 3 holes of an 18 hole golf course.

John Cameron represents the developers.

“We’re not focusing here on three golf holes, we’re focusing here on the entirety of a park and what its being used for, all the different uses; picnicking, hiking, kite-flying, volleyball, concerts, triathlons, and golf.”

Michigan’s Court of Appeals agreed with Cameron that designating part of it as a golf course is not against the restrictions. It also ruled that the city is allowed to lease the land.

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Politics
4:34 pm
Thu April 1, 2010

Emergency Financial Manager appointed in Benton Harbor

A state panel has named an emergency financial manager to run the city of Benton Harbor. Governor Granholm declared a financial emergency in Benton Harbor in February.

State officials say Benton Harbor's financial troubles include a deficit that has been growing by double digits. The city asked for an emergency infusion of cash from the state last month to make its payroll.

A state board named former Detroit auditor general and chief financial officer Joseph Harris to run the city, with the power to control all spending and renegotiate union contracts.

Terry Stanton is a spokesman for the state Treasury. He says drastic action is needed at times to set a city's finances right.

"The state is only as financially strong as the units within the state and, unfortunately, sometimes it's a long ways down the road before the state can step in," says Stanton.

Benton Harbor is the third city in Michigan being run by an emergency manager. The others are Pontiac and Ecorse.

Auto/Economy
3:07 pm
Tue September 2, 2008

Construction Begins at Jean Klock Park

Developers in Benton Harbor hope a new resort and Jack Nicklaus signature golf course will improve the economically depressed city. But plans call for three of the golf holes to be built inside Jean Klock Park, next to Lake Michigan beachfront. Activists hoping to save the park have sued in federal court, but construction at the park is underway. Officials with Harbor Shores Redevelopment say they are not building the golf course holes, but instead are working on park improvements as part of a lease agreement with the city.

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Politics
4:28 pm
Tue June 17, 2008

DNR approves Benton Harbor Golf Course

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has approved developers plans to build part of a golf course over a Benton Harbor beachfront park.

Developers want to build a golf course resort along Lake Michigan in Benton Harbor. The plan calls for three of holes to be inside Jean Klock Park.

Residents opposed to the golf course say the development is illegal and will destroy the sand dunes. But they didn't get a chance to make their case because the D-N-R approved the plan without discussion or a public meeting.

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Politics
3:32 pm
Sun June 1, 2008

Lake Michigan golf course plan stirs controversy

Five years ago riots in Benton Harbor, Michigan drew national attention to racial issues and poverty there.

Today an arm of the Whirlpool Corporation wants to build a golf resort in the struggling city.

The location has some city residents less than pleased.

Benton Harbor is the poorest city in Michigan.

Unemployment is officially at 17% and the median household income is in the teens.

Vacant lots and boarded up buildings litter the downtown. But there is natural beauty in Benton Harbor.

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Politics
3:26 pm
Mon April 21, 2008

Jean Klock Park

The city of Benton Harbor is deeply divided over the future of Jean Klock Park. And like many things in America, this is, not far below the surface, a story about race and class, and history.

Yet there is also an element of Victorian romance here. My guess is that most of the people fighting over the issue don’t know much about the man behind it.

John Nellis Klock lived a classic Horatio Alger story. He was born in upstate New York the year the Civil War ended, into a family so poor he had to go to work full-time as a typesetter at age eleven.

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Politics
3:28 pm
Fri April 18, 2008

Testimony Mixed at Jean Klock Park Hearing

Dozens of people testified in Benton Harbor last night (TH) at a packed city hearing on the future of the nearly 100-year old Jean Klock Park.

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Politics
3:31 pm
Thu September 6, 2007

Benton Harbor resort development makes waves

Benton Harbor is the poorest city in Michigan. Poverty and racial unrest led to two nights of rioting here in 2003, and vacant lots and boarded up buildings litter the downtown of this former industrial city.

But there is some beauty in Benton Harbor. On the west side of town, out by the Whirlpool National Headquarters, is an undeveloped half mile of Lake Michigan beachfront surrounded by high dunes.

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