Kalamazoo

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

People in Kalamazoo are rallying to get rid of a major dump site that contains cancer causing waste.

Imagine decades’ worth of wood pulp and grey clay waste from the paper mill industry. There are 1.5 million cubic yards of it and it’s laced with polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs.

Now, plop it in the middle of a neighborhood.

Sarah Hill lives a little more than a mile away from what neighbors have dubbed "Mount PCB."

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

One of the founders of the Kalamazoo Promise is stepping down after five years with the education scholarship program.

Janice Brown has served as the Kalamazoo Promise’s executive director since 2008. Before that, she was the superintendent of Kalamazoo Public Schools.

Voting sign
Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Michigan voters go to the polls on Tuesday.

School bond issues dominate the ballot in most of Michigan.

For example, Kalamazoo voters are being asked to decide on a $62 million bond request. If voters give their OK, the district would spend most of the money on maintaining city school buildings.

There are a few elected offices on the ballot of note.

In Genesee County, voters are picking a new state senator. Former senator John Gleason stepped down after winning the Genesee County clerk’s election last fall.

EPA / Google

Kalamazoo officials say they're not happy about a federal plan for dealing with contaminated soil in the city's Edison neighborhood.

The site is part of an 80-mile-long area included in the Superfund cleanup program. Paper mills that occupied the site for a century left behind 1.5 million yards of soil tainted with toxic PCBs, some of which are already in a local landfill.

The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed spending $36 million to dig up more soil, add it to the landfill and cover it.

MLive.com's Emily Monacelli covered a public meeting held on the cleanup plan last night. Kalamazoo's Mayor, Bobby Hopewell, says the EPA's plan isn't enough:

Kalamazoo Mayor Bobby Hopewell told the crowd the Kalamazoo City Commission would stand behind them and protect them. The waste doesn't belong in a neighborhood, he said.

"The bottom line is we stopped them once and we're going to stop them again," Hopewell said of the EPA, referencing a past plan to dump PCB-laden soil from Plainwell on the Allied site. 

"This is unacceptable," Hopewell said. "It's poison in the middle of the neighborhood. It's unacceptable."

Public Services Director Bruce Merchant says more should be done to protect an aquifer beneath the site that supplies 40 percent of the city's drinking water.

The EPA says removing all contaminated soil and taking it to another landfill would cost $336 million.

David Kinsey / Creative Commons

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is working to clean up toxic chemicals along an 80 mile stretch of the Kalamazoo River. But Kalamazoo city leaders aren’t happy with the federal agency's proposed plan.

The effort is focused on cleaning up toxic chemicals, known as PCBs, left behind from several paper mills.

The EPA wants to consolidate the material and cap it so water cannot get in.

Steven Depolo / Flickr

It might not feel like it outside, but warmer temperatures are around the corner.

MLive has A LOT (including live coverage from Bell's Brewery) on the release of one of Michigan's favorite brews:

At least 64 Oberon kegs are ready to be tapped at Bell’s and at least four ‘Oberon Kings and Queens’ were crowned at midnight keg-tapping parties across the state. The brewery opened early on Monday for the event. 

Oberon is a seasonal ale in most markets, but is sold year-round in Florida, Arizona and Puerto Rico. The summer beer is fermented with Bell's yeast, spicy hops and fruity aromas, giving it a light malty taste, most commonly complemented with an orange peel.

The opening day is held at the end of March every year, to coincide with the start of the baseball season and more sunshine.

photo of Students in class at Waterford Mott High School.
courtesy: Mott High School

Students who attend a public Kalamazoo high school for their entire high school career and live in the district during those four years have the opportunity to attend a Michigan college or University for free.

This, of course, is old news.

The Kalamazoo Promise was announced in November 2005 and has since proven to be one of the most groundbreaking educational programs in the state.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Kalamazoo’s search for a new city manager takes another step this evening.

The city commission is expected tonight to narrow the list of search firms that have applied to aid Kalamazoo in finding a new city manager

Kalamazoo’s current city manager, Kenneth Collard, is among dozens of city employees taking an early retirement package.

11 search firms applied to the city to conduct the search for Collard’s replacement.

Kalamazoo Mayor Bobby Hopewell says there is a long list of qualifications the commission would like the next city manager to have. 

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Kalamazoo city residents will be paying a little more to the city.

The city commission approved a new city budget last night that includes significant fee increases.

Last night, Kalamazoo city commissioners voted 5 to 2 to approve the  144 million dollar city budget.   

Vice Mayor Hannah McKinney voted for the budget.   She called the budget plan “scary”, as the city continues to reduce its workforce.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

The Kalamazoo City Commission is scheduled to vote this evening on the city budget.

The 144 million dollar budget plan includes fee increases, most notably a one percent administrative fee on city tax collections.  

The city has also been trimming its workforce through early retirements and eliminating other positions.

The changes are intended to help off-set a drop in city property tax revenues.

City commissioners gave tentative approval to the budget plan last month.

Rick Van Laan / ArcPoint Labs

Pregnant women in Michigan can now use a simple blood test to identify the father of their unborn child.

Three labs across the state now offer the noninvasive prenatal paternity test. The Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo and Lansing sites are part of the ArcPoint Franchise Group.

With only a blood sample from the mother and a cheek swab from the potential father, paternity can be determined as early as five weeks after conception.

At that time, the pregnant woman's blood starts carrying fragments of the fetus' DNA.

The labs send the mother's blood samples and potential father's cheek swab to a different lab in Columbia, Md., where technicians compare genetic markers to determine paternity.

Stateside: Kalamazoo's Promise of lifelong learning

Nov 29, 2012
Kalamazoo Public Schools

Graduate from public high school in Kalamazoo and go to college for free.

It’s a rare offer- one that strives to show students that college is something crucial and attainable.  

In a recent New York Times feature, Ted C. Fishman examined the Kalamazoo Promise and its effect on both the city and the state of Michigan.

Seven years ago, anonymous donors started The Promise, hoping to encourage more Kalamazoo students to attend college.

During his time writing the piece, Fishman was personally impacted by the stories of the students with whom he spoke.

Wendy Medrano / Michigan Organizing Project

More people are protesting against a decision to deny Michigan driver's licenses to immigrants granted work permits under a new federal deferred-action program.

President Obama announced the "Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals" program in June. It provides work permits and Social Security cards to young people brought to the United States without legal permission.

But Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson will not issue those in the program driver’s licenses because she says they don’t have legal status.

Inventorchris / Creative Commons

Kalamazoo’s Public Safety Department is conducting a study to see if its officers unfairly target racial and ethnic minorities.

The study is not being court ordered, the city isn’t being sued, and there hasn’t been any big incident that sparked the study. Kalamazoo Public Safety Chief Jeff Hadley says that’s a good thing.

“These types of issues can bring a lot of emotion… and it makes it a lot more difficult to talk reasonably and to talk productively and constructively in how we move forward,” Hadley said.

Hadley says the department wants to try to avoid problems and they’re hoping the study will help.

“Spending money on this type of study I think is really an investment into our relationship with the community; and how important they are in how we operate as a public safety department and how we keep this city safe,” Hadley said.

A non-profit organization in Kalamazoo is trying to help young undocumented immigrants sort through a new federal process that could prevent them from getting deported.

The director of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services announced the process earlier this month.

Lori Mercedes is the Executive Director of the Kalamazoo-based Hispanic American Council. She says many immigrants have been calling with questions about the process but are nervous about exposing their legal status.

“This brought it up to the light and forced a conversation about it. It made it into an issue; now we have to talk about it,” Mercedes said. “It’s exciting…we can tell our kids go ahead and dream and have hope. There is hope for you after all.”

Chris Killian
www.kickstarter.com/

Living in a swing state like Michigan means you're probably already tired of non-stop elections coverage, sound bites and negative ads.

Now, a Kalamazoo freelance reporter wants to offer an alternative...he just needs some help paying for it.

Chris Killian says he'll take a months-long road trip through 11 swing states, getting stories from average people about their politics and their hopes for the country's future.

About 750 Pfizer employees in Kalamazoo are going to have a new boss.

Pfizer announced today it's spinning its “animal health” division off into its own company.

The new company’s name will be Zoetis. An odd, though appropriate name for the company. The Z-O in Zoetis is supposed to stand for ZOO, or zoetic, which means "pertaining to life".

Pfizer’s animal health division is a major employer in Kalamazoo. Damien Conover expects that will stay the same under the new company. Conover is an analyst with Morningstar Financial.

“There’s probably going to be some consolidation with the new business,” says Conover,  “but for the most part I’m not anticipating a big shakeup of the business.”

Conover expects Zoetis will be worth more than eleven billion dollars. That would make it the largest stand-alone company focused on animal pharmaceuticals in the world.

U.S. mail processing centers in five Michigan cities could close this May.    The U.S. Postal Service says the closings are necessary to help the struggling mail service with its mounting budget deficit.

Mail facilities in Lansing, Kalamazoo, Jackson, Saginaw and Iron Mountain have been on the bubble since the postal service announced last year that it wanted to shut down more than 260 processing centers.   The reason?  Postal officials believe closing the processing centers will save a billion dollars.  

The Postal Service had agreed to put the final decision on hold until May to give Congress time to work out an alternative.   But the chances of a Congressional solution appear increasingly dim.

John Marcotte is the president of the Michigan Postal Workers Union.     He says there’s still time for people to demand Congress and the postal service stop the closing plan.

“Get on the phone.  Tell’em you don’t want this," says Marcotte,  "Tell them you want the jobs in Michigan…you don’t want the mail slowing down."

Marcotte says if the mail processing centers close first class mail delivery will slow dramatically in Michigan.

While the national prayer breakfast was happening in Washington this morning, faith leaders in Kalamazoo held their own prayer breakfast.

The group of leaders from different faiths discussed state laws affecting people who are lesbian, gay or transgender.

The Kalamazoo Gay Lesbian Resource Center helped organize the breakfast. Executive Director Zach Bauer says faith has meant two things to the LGBT community.

Sean Marshall / Creative Commons

265 Kalamazoo City employees are eligible for the early retirement incentive. According to the city’s Human Resources Director Jerome Post, 191 of them have already signed up. “I have to admit I’m a little surprised at the number of people,” Post said the number is higher than he expected.

 “It’s been a little bit anxiety ridden for us but at the same time we’ve been very excited about the opportunity this presents for us to restructure virtually every department in the city,” Post said.

(courtesy of Wikipedia)

A large turnout is expected today at a memorial service for former Michigan congressman Howard Wolpe.  

Wolpe died October 25th at his home in Saugatuck. He was 71.  

Former Michigan congressman Mark Schauer will be among the speakers at the memorial service at Western Michigan University. He says Wolpe was a mentor and inspiration. 

"He made his decisions based on principles and values…and intelligence. And always trying to do what’s right for the people he represented," says Schauer.  

Wolpe represented Kalamazoo in Congress for seven terms and ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1994.

Jane Doughnut / Creative Commons

Carl Rizzuto sells his own sausage and meatballs at the summer farmer’s market in Kalamazoo. He tried coordinating a winter market ten years ago but he says there wasn’t enough interest. Now he says business is so good during the summer market vendors agreed a the Kalamazoo Winter Market would be worth the effort.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Hundreds of volunteers in neon yellow t-shirts handed out winter coats and hats, helped answer specific questions and enroll people in dozens of assistance programs that already exist.

48-year old George McCree lives in Kalamazoo, but he doesn’t have a permanent job or home right now. He got help finding temporary shelter at the Project Connect event last May. That inspired him to start volunteering at a soup kitchen in town.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The Michigan Economic Development Corporation approved tax breaks Tuesday in exchange for new investment and jobs.

MEDC spokesman Joseph Serwach says one of the four projects receiving tax breaks includes a much-needed grocery store in the City of Detroit.

USFWS

Voters in Kalamazoo voted to make possession of an ounce or less of marijuana a "low" local police priority.

Supporters of the effort said police in the city should instead focus on violent crime.

More from the Kalamazoo Gazette:

All votes are in and Kalamazoo citizens voted to make a small amount of marijuana use a low priority for Kalamazoo’s law enforcers on Tuesday night.

The ballot initiative passed with 4,649 "yes" votes to 2,416 that voted it down.

The proposal read: “Shall the Kalamazoo City Charter be amended such that the use and/or consumption of one ounce or less of usable marijuana by adults 21 years or older is the lowest priority of law enforcement personnel?”

Kalamazoo is the first city in the state to have such charter language.

The city's Public Safety director has said that the result of the vote will most likely not effect how police in the city do their job.

Steve Carmody / Michiganradio

There are several controversial elections taking place in cities and towns around Michigan today.  

A Republican state lawmaker faces a recall vote, spearheaded by the Michigan Education Association. State representative Paul Scott was targeted by the MEA for his support of cuts in state education funding and efforts to weaken the union. Scott tried and failed to get the courts to toss out or delay the recall election.

Voters in Kalamazoo will decide if they want to make possession of an ounce or less of marijuana a ‘low’ local police priority. Supporters say police should focus on violent crime. The city's Public Safety director says the result of the vote will probably not effect how Kalamazoo police do their job.

In Lansing, voters are deciding if they want to increase their property taxes. Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero says the millage hike is needed to reduce the chances of future police and fire layoffs.   

“I’m cautiously optimistic.  I’m hopeful.  I’m prayerful….Let’s face it….it’s do or die for us," says Bernero.   

Critics say city leaders are pushing for a millage increase before they truly know if the city will be $12 to $15 million dollars in the hole as predicted. 

Voters in Flint and Jackson are electing mayors today. 

And in Detroit, voters are being asked to approve many changes to their city charter. Supporters say the charter changes would address the city's corruption problems that have lead to numerous investigations, including one which resulted in criminal charges against former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.

In October of 2010 the Kalamazoo Community Foundation declared itself an anti-racist organization. But the foundation's leaders recognized it was going to take more than just a declaration to counteract persistent racial disparities.

Sharon Anderson, the foundation's Community Investment Officer, spoke with Michigan Radio's Tamar Charney.

"We're looking at every aspect of our work to determine who is being left out. Who is not at the table, and why...so that whatever we do, we do from an informed perspective," said Anderson.

The anti-racist program at the Kalamazoo Community Foundation was designed to include youths and youth-serving organizations. The foundation provides resources for youth organizations to develop after-school programs that build academic and social skills, and teach leadership and civic engagement.

The goal is more than equality, it's equity--identifying the gaps and taking action to ensure that every group has the opportunity to be successful. For Anderson that means fighting racial disparities by educating leaders and having an informed perspective when it comes to community development initiatives.

"We struggled in the beginning--where should we start? And the lesson is, start anywhere and keep moving," Anderson said.

-Meg Cramer-Michigan Radio Newsroom

user paigefiller / Flickr

Kalamazoo voters will decide next month whether to write a relaxed attitude toward marijuana use into the City Charter of the western Michigan community. The ballot proposal would direct police to make enforcement of
laws against possession of small amounts of marijuana a low priority. Supporters gathered about 2,600 signatures in order to win a spot for the charter amendment on the Nov. 8 ballot.
    

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has come out against the proposal, as have several Kalamazoo City Commission candidates.
    

The Story

"I'm not going to stop until Michael is dead."

In the streets of Kalamazoo, Michigan, people were looking for revenge against Michael Wilder for the violence he committed against others.

Michael says his violence was born out of violence against him.

So goes the cycle of hatred and rage that is repeated by people throughout the world.

The public radio program The Story recounted the tale of Michael "Too Short" Wilder and Yafinceio "Big B" Harris: two enemies from the streets of Kalamazoo who make changes and later meet at a community college:

From The Story:

Michael Wilder and Yafinceio Harris were long time rivals.  Several times they came close to an armed confrontation. Five years ago, one almost killed the other in a Kalamazoo street war.

But something always seemed to intervene. Imagine the surprise for both of them when they met, earlier this year, in a community college classroom.

Wilder said their teacher at the community college recognized their incredible story and asked if he could share it with the producers at The Story.

Wilder said he and Harris were excited to share their story:

"We're living proof that [violence] is not always the answer," said Wilder.

"You know what Yafinceio told me one day shortly after we met in school?

It almost made me cry.

He said, 'man, I realized that if I had killed you, I would have killed a good dude.' He told me that!

Can you imagine having a killer, that was going to kill you, turn around and get to know you and tell you something like that?!"

They call the trust they built between one another "Real recognized real."

Listen to Wilder and Harris recount their incredible story of how they broke the cycle of violence between them:

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Michigan Radio's West Michigan reporter Lindsey Smith went to Kalamazoo yesterday to report on a community forum with Congressman Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph).

Upton was invited by the Kalamazoo County Advocates for Senior Issues and he discussed the economy, health care, and social security with the group.

But as Smith reported the "crowd of 200 people also demanded he talk about what he’s doing to create jobs and improve the economy. Several interrupted and shouted at Upton. Those doing the interrupting asked him about the economy."

Here's some video of that forum. Upton attempts to talk about the information on his chart, but he's interrupted:

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