Benton Harbor

Commentary
2:45 pm
Thu January 26, 2012

Michigan's Benton Harbor in the national media spotlight

Benton Harbor.
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.

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Flint
7:34 pm
Tue January 17, 2012

Flint's emergency manager has a plan to fix the city's 'financial crisis-a "difficult challenge"

Flint Emergency Manager Michael Brown
(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.  

Politics
3:10 pm
Thu January 5, 2012

Independent audit of Benton Harbor’s finances reveals problems

Benton Harbor City Hall pictured in the summer of 2011.
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

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Politics
7:00 am
Mon January 2, 2012

Benton Harbor prepares for emergency manager exit in 2012

Betty Guy talks to Benton Harbor city department heads, elected officials and residents at The Ideal Place in December. Guy is the Director of Strategic Planning at Lakeland HealthCare in St. Joseph, Michigan.
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

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Politics
8:30 am
Mon December 26, 2011

Emergency manager advice: “Don’t think that you have the answers”

Joe Harris in Benton Harbor City Hall in April 2011.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

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

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Education
2:14 pm
Wed December 21, 2011

Benton Harbor schools avoid further financial reviews, for now

Benton Harbor Area Schools will be able to follow thier own map to success by retaining local control of the district. The district will have to maintain progress in order to avoid another state review.
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:”

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Education
6:35 pm
Tue December 20, 2011

Benton Harbor teachers agree to lower wages in face of potential state takeover

Benton Harbors' school board voted to close a junior high school. 7th and 8th graders will head to Benton Harbor High School. Seawood said he's taken precautions to seperate the age groups within the school.
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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Politics
10:17 am
Mon December 19, 2011

In this morning's news...

user brother o'mara

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."

Politics
5:45 am
Mon December 19, 2011

Benton Harbor schools take “major steps” to avoid possible takeover

In a conference room near Dr. Leonard Seawood's office is a roadmap illustrating how Benton Harbor Area School are planning to get back on track.
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.

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Politics
7:28 pm
Fri December 16, 2011

Benton Harbor mayor-elect works to bring city leaders together

Betty Guy talks to Benton Harbor city department heads, elected officials and residents at The Ideal Place Friday. Guy is the Director of Strategic Planning at Lakeland HealthCare in St. Joseph, Michigan.
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.”

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Politics
12:28 am
Thu December 15, 2011

Benton Harbor emergency manager “not surprised” at state’s review of Detroit's finances

Benton Harbor Emergency Manager Joe Harris explains parts of Michigan's emergency manager law at a monthly town hall meeting earlier this year.
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.

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Education
12:18 am
Tue November 22, 2011

“Everything on the table” to avoid emergency manager at Benton Harbor Schools

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.

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Election 2011
5:34 pm
Fri November 18, 2011

Results stand after Benton Harbor recount vote

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.

Education
6:57 pm
Thu November 17, 2011

State takes a step in potential takeover of Benton Harbor Schools

The State of Michigan will conduct a preliminary review of the "critical and alarming financial situation" at Benton Harbor Area Schools. This is the first step in a process that would determine if the school district needs a state-appointed emergency manager. It doesn’t mean one would be appointed for certain.

Leonard Seawood has been superintendent of Benton Harbor Area Schools for a little more than a year. “When you are in a deficit like I inherited…there are no easy answers in terms to digging yourself out of this hole as a district,” Seawood said.

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Culture of Class
11:49 am
Thu November 17, 2011

Bridging the Gap Between Benton Harbor and St. Joseph

Bridge between Benton Harbor and St. Joseph in southwest Michigan.
Mercedes Mejia/Michigan Radio

We've been talking a lot about class, what it means, and how we define it.

We took a trip to St. Joseph and Benton Harbor. They’re called the Twin Cities, but they're different.

In Benton Harbor forty-three percent of families live below the poverty line.

In St. Joseph it’s six percent.

And, families in St. Joseph earn more than twice as much as their neighbors across the river.

Here's a video produced by Meg Cramer and Mercedes Mejia who spoke to residents on both sides of the river.

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Election 2011
2:19 am
Wed November 9, 2011

Benton Harbor gets a new mayor; denies charter amendments

Mayor-elect James Hightower on election night with his wife, June Hightower.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

Super close mayoral race

City Commissioner James Hightower narrowly beat the incumbent Mayor Wilce Cooke. Cooke is likely to challenge the results, which came in 681 to 673, a difference of 8 votes. There were two write-in candidates who got a combined 8 votes. The state appointed an emergency manger to take over the city’s finances during Cooke’s second term as mayor.

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Election 2011
9:59 pm
Tue November 8, 2011

Close mayoral race in Benton Harbor, EM's proposals defeated

Benton Harbor
Google Maps

West Michigan reporter Lindsey Smith called in with these unofficial election results from the city of Benton Harbor.

In the race for Benton Harbor mayor, the city is reporting this result:

  • James Hightower has 681 votes
  • Wilce Cooke has 673 votes

It's a close race, so we'll have to watch how this one is "officially" called.

And whether the winner ends up being Hightower or Cooke, neither will have any official power.

The city is still under the power of state-appointed emergency manager Joe Harris.

Smith reports that all seven of Harris' proposed charter amendments in the city were voted down.

Politics
5:30 am
Mon October 31, 2011

Water rates spiking in Benton Harbor

Water bills in Benton Harbor will jump at least 40-percent in November.

Benton Harbor’s water system has served the city and surrounding Benton Charter, St. Joe Charter, Hagar and Sodus Townships. Earlier this month Benton Township put its own system online.

The township decided to separate from Benton Harbor after years of mismanagement by the city.

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Economy
12:45 pm
Fri October 28, 2011

Whirlpool to cut 5,000 jobs to reduce costs

Whirlpool

Update 12:45 p.m.

Jeff Noel, a Whirlpool company spokesman, would not give Michigan Radio reporter Lindsey Smith a number. When pressed further about the job losses expected in Michigan, Noel said it would be “a commensurate amount."

10:06 a.m.

In a cost cutting measure, the Benton Harbor-based company Whirlpool says it will cut 5,000 jobs. There's no word yet on how many of those job cuts will be in Michigan.

Michigan Radio's Lindsey Smith is following the story and will have more for us later.

From the Associated Press:

Appliance maker Whirlpool Corp. says it will cut 5,000 jobs in an effort as it faces soft demand and higher costs for materials.

The jobs to be cut are mostly in North America and Europe. They include 1,200 salaried positions and the closing of the company's Fort Smith, Ark., plant.

The company expects the moves will save $400 million by the end of 2013.

Whirlpool also says its third-quarter net income more than doubled to $177 million, or $2.27 per share, from $79 million, or $1.02 per share. Adjusted earnings of $2.35 per share fell short of analyst expectations for $2.75 per share.

The company, whose brands include Maytag and KitchenAid, has been squeezed by higher costs for materials such as steel and copper.

Bloomberg News reports that Whirlpool employs 71,000 people around the world "at 66 manufacturing and research sites.":

Whirlpool follows European rival Electrolux AB (ELUXB) with a more muted outlook for the year. The Swedish company said today that it will deepen cost cuts after lowering a forecast for growth in Europe and North America this year. Whirlpool said reductions in Europe and North America account for about 10 percent of all employees in those regions. The company has a global workforce of 71,000 at 66 manufacturing and research sites.

Politics
11:21 pm
Wed October 26, 2011

3 reasons things are looking up for the City of Benton Harbor

Joe Harris was appointed by former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm in April of 2010. He expects the city's financial 'emergency' will be over in less than 8 months.
Lindsey Smith Michigan Radio

In April 2010 the State of Michigan appointed an emergency financial manager for Benton Harbor to prevent the city from going bankrupt.

The mood has changed and it is not as adversarial as it was a year ago,” Benton Harbor City Commissioner Bryan Joseph said after a town hall meeting Wednesday night.

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