kent county

GRAND RAPIDS – An ex-Kent County commissioner has pleaded guilty to embezzling funds while working for a Catholic cemetery.

Authorities say Michael Wawee pleaded guilty Friday to two felony charges, including embezzlement from a charity or nonprofit.

Grand Rapids police said they determined through an investigation that Wawee had overcharged families for the engraving of grave markers while working for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Grand Rapids-owned Holy Cross Cemetery. Police have said the diocese wasn't aware of the overcharging.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A handful of Michigan county health department leaders say “health” should play a bigger role in local decision making. 

Health department officials from Wayne, Genesee, Ingham, Kent, Kalamazoo, Saginaw and Washtenaw counties met in Lansing this past week to strategize how to change the way local governments do pretty much everything. 

Linda Vail is Ingham County’s Chief Health Officer.   She says city and county leaders often fail to consider the potential effects their decisions will have on their community’s health.

File photo / Kent County Sheriff

A former Kent County commissioner will spend a year in jail after pleading guilty to fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct charges.

Gary Rolls resigned his county commission seat earlier this year. He was accused of beginning a sexual relationship with a girl when she was nine. She's now in her late 20s.

Rolls said nothing before he was sentenced Thursday afternoon.  

In a statement, the victim told the judge Rolls used his position in power to threaten her.

“I saw him with police officers and important people in the news and I believed him,” she said.

Governor Rick Snyder's statement after a federal court overturns Michigan's ban on same sex marriage in March 2014.

File photo / Kent County Sheriff

A former Kent County commissioner will be sentenced next month after pleading guilty this week to fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct charges.

As part of the agreement, prosecutors dropped four counts of first degree criminal sexual conduct against former Kent County Commissioner Gary Rolls. He could’ve faced life in prison if convicted on those more serious charges.

Instead, Rolls pleaded guilty to a lesser charge plus illegal use of a computer and tampering with evidence.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Like a lot of counties in Michigan, Kent County uses money out of its general fund to pay for services for veterans who live there. Right now that amounts to $8 per veteran. As a comparison, Oakland County spends more than three times as much per veteran. Livingston County spends nearly seven times as much.

A Kent County commissioner is resigning. Michael Wawee Jr is facing a felony embezzlement charge for between $1,000 and $20,000, a crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

Wawee announced his resignation Thursday. The Republican from the Grand Rapids suburb of Walker was arrested earlier this month.

He's accused of overcharging families for the engraving of grave markers while working as a salesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Grand Rapids. Police say the diocese was not aware of the overcharging.

File photo / Kent County Sheriff

Gary Rolls resigned from the Kent County Commission today. In a brief written statement to the board, Rolls thanked his constituents for allowing him to serve.

“I will use this time to prepare for trial to prove my absolute and complete innocence,” Rolls’ letter said. The resignation takes effect January 1st, 2014.

“We accepted the resignation of Commissioner Rolls this morning,” said Dan Koorndyk, Chairman of the Board of Commissioners. “We appreciate that he recognizes it is better for the Board of Commissioners to select a new member who can represent District 4 without distraction.”

Kent County is a part of a new pilot program for children in the foster care system.

Michigan has been working to overhaul its child welfare system for years, after it was sued over problems in the system.

“(That case) tells us that we don’t have a perfect system. So we have to continually improve,” Kent County Assistant Administrator Wayman Britt said.

Dustin Dwyer/Michigan Radio

Gov. Snyder seeks a presidential disaster declaration for 16 Michigan counties hit hard by floods this spring. Heavy rains in April and early May led to flooding in many parts of Michigan. 

Governor Snyder declared a state of disaster on May 7. That set the stage for state and federal teams to review damage and property losses in 19 counties. The assessment has led the governor now to seek a presidential disaster declaration in 16 counties. The Federal Emergency Management Agency will review the governor’s request.

Michigan State Police

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) - Officials say about 150 people who were evacuated from homes in Kent County because of flooding have been allowed to return home.

Kent County spokeswoman Lisa LaPlante says those allowed home by around midday Wednesday are among nearly 700 officials believe are evacuated. She says officials want to make sure homes are inspected before people return and utility crews restore power and natural gas service.

The Kent County number doesn't include about 1,000 people evacuated from downtown Grand Rapids' Plaza Towers because of the rain-swollen Grand River.

LaPlante says it could be weeks before Kent County officials have estimates of the financial cost of the flooding damage in the area.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The City of Grand Rapids and a group behind the decriminalization of marijuana there are at odds over how to enforce the charter amendment voters passed in November.

In a recent court filing, the city argues police should have discretion, if not the duty, to turn over marijuana charges to the state. That way, offenders would be charged with a crime, not a civil infraction.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Grand Rapids will work to put a new charter amendment in place that decriminalizes marijuana, now that a Kent County judge today lifted a temporary restraining order preventing implementation.

City residents voted overwhelmingly for the amendment in November. Under the charter amendment people who get busted with a little pot in Grand Rapids would just pay a fine.

Robert Couse-Baker / Creative Commons

Maybe people are washing their hands and staying home when they’re sick. Maybe they’re not even going to the doctor’s office; toughing it out at home on the couch instead.

We don’t know why exactly, but the number of confirmed flu cases in Kent County this week dropped 43-percent from the week before. The number of people visiting the emergency room with flu-like symptoms has also decreased.

Statewide numbers are less dramatic, but also down from a peak in December.

Still...

“If you haven’t gotten a vaccination yet, get it,” Lisa LaPlant, a Kent County Health Department spokeswoman said. “There is a possibility that we could see resurgence of flu,” she adds.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The City of Grand Rapids was prepared to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana today. But a Kent County judge issued a temporary restraining order to stop it.

So, roughly a hundred protestors gathered outside Kent County Prosecutor Bill Forsyth’s office at high noon.

“It’s such a bummer that we’re ignored,” resident Nick Monroe said.

Garretttaggs55 / wikipedia commons

Update 9:00p.m. - There's a growing crowd of people who say they'll protest the prosecutor's decision in Grand Rapids on Thursday. The event was posted on facebook this evening.

The City of Grand Rapids was ready to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana this week. But a Kent County judge issued the city a temporary restraining order Monday afternoon at the request of the Kent County prosecutor to prevent implementation.

Republican Kent County Prosecutor Bill Forsyth said today he halted the investigation into Michigan House Speaker Jase Bolger (R-Monroe) and Rep. Roy Schmidt (R-Grand Rapids) because he wanted the information about Bolger and Schmidt's scheme to be made public prior to the election.

If he continued with his investigation, the Detroit News reports, Forsyth said it could have continued beyond November.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Now that the primary is over, Kent County Republicans are working to get more people to rally behind their nominees.

Even Democrat-turned-Republican State Representative Roy Schmidt Schmidt was among the GOP nominees at a unity rally in Grand Rapids Wednesday night.

He narrowly defeated a write-in candidate who decided to challenge Schmidt in the wake of a criminal investigation into Schmidt's party switch. No charges were brought in the case. However, the Secretary of State's office is still investigating allegations Schmidt violated campaign finance laws.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Democrats in Kent County are asking for an investigation after a state representative switched political parties this week.

Longtime Democrat Roy Schmidt from Grand Rapids switched parties to run as a Republican Tuesday.

22-year old Matt Mojzak filed to run in the district which includes Grand Rapids. The Secretary of State’s office says Mojzak changed his address from one in neighboring Ottawa County to one within the district just this week. But the affidavit says Mojzak had lived at the Kent County address for 22 years.

Steven Depolo / Creative Commons

Kent County is saving tens of thousands of dollars a year on supplies thanks to a customized online auction. The program is like the online auction site eBay in reverse.

When Kent County needs office supplies, like printer paper, it opens an auction online. It lists a maximum price it’s willing to pay based on previous bills. Vendors offer to sell the county printer paper at that price or lower.

51-year-old David Smith faces one count of failing to disclose his HIV status to a sexual partner.

The Kent County Health Department issued a press release Thursday afternoon that said it’s treating this as “an extremely serious health concern”:

Police say the suspect, 51 year old David Smith from Kent County, made statements that suggested his activities may have included people from outside of the area, including individuals he met over the internet.

Undercover officers arrested at least a dozen men at public parks during the fall of 2010. During the sting operation, male undercover officers would approach men and suggest engaging in sexual activity. Those who reciprocated interest were charged with soliciting sex or accosting.

Joe Gratz / flickr

The Michigan Supreme Court will hear a case tomorrow where an African-American man claims he was denied a fair trial because of a computer error. The error caused fewer jury notices to go to households in African-American neighborhoods.  

Ramon Bryant is challenging his convictions on charges of criminal sexual conduct, stealing $90, and possession of marijuana. Bryant says he was denied a trial before a jury of his peers that is guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment.

The question is whether the unintentional exclusion of African-Americans from the jury pool entitles Bryant to a new trial with a new jury. A computer error caused fewer jury notices to be sent to ZIP codes in Kent County with higher minority populations.

Bradley Hall is with the Criminal Defense Attorneys of Michigan. He says the law requires juries be a “fair cross-section” of the community.

"Excluding of a minority population from jury service does not create a fair and reasonable representation of the community," said Hall. “"So it sort of happened by happenstance but there's no question it's systematic."

The prosecutor argues the mistake was accidental, and that there are other explanations as to why so few African Americans reported for jury duty.

Michigan's Attorney General says Bryant's conviction should stand. The AG's office contends the jury chosen made its decision based on the evidence.

Steven Depolo / Creative Commons

Discussions about a proposal to merge the City of Grand Rapids and Kent County into a single unit of government will move forward despite numerous concerns about the final outcome.

Earlier this year a group of business leaders launched the “One Kent Coalition”. They didn’t really inform the city or the county of their plan ahead of time so initially there was a backlash against it. Many government leaders, like Grand Rapids City Commissioner Dave Shaffer, remain cautious.

It may take until Thursday before tens of thousands of people in west and central Michigan get their electricity back.  Two strong storm fronts moved through the state today, packing powerful winds.  

Terry Dedoes is a Consumers Energy spokesman.  He says the utility is busy trying to restore electricity to 95 thousand Consumers Energy customers.   

 “That second wave materialized…and that did a lot of damage…we saw more outages from that second wave that came through in Kalamazoo….which just got brushed by that first one.”  

Steven Depolo / Creative Commons

More than a dozen private business leaders are taking steps that would make it possible to merge Kent County and Grand Rapids to a single government. The One Kent Coalition includes more than a dozen lawyers, businessmen, and former elected officials.

Attorney Nyal Deems (former mayor of East Grand Rapids) presented the One Kent proposal to the Kent County Board of Commissioners Thursday. He says the coalition would like to see broader approach to governing the metro Grand Rapids region, rather than a number of smaller municipal governments.

 “All of our flow and economic interaction and cultural and social interaction ignores all those boundaries but governmentally we live by them. It would be good to mirror our communities more to match the way we live and work and function."