Source: Grosse Pointe News Online

Focus: power outages, millage vote

by Kathy Ryan Staff Writer

January 10, 2013

GROSSE POINTE WOODS — Residents were outraged with all the power outage during the year and the council responded. Citizens also went to the polls to vote on millages.


With the concerns of residents in mind, the council at its meeting March 19, authorized a resolution to the Michigan Public Service Commission asking for a thorough review of the benefits and alleged downsides to installing the new “smart” utility meters in houses in Grosse Pointe Woods. The resolution states, in part, “A number of persons, including residents of the City of Grosse Pointe Woods, have expressed concerns regarding smart meters in the area of health, privacy and a lack of consumer/homeowner options relative to the installation of these meters by DTE.


While there was no formal discussion at the Grosse Pointe Woods city council meeting Monday night of a possible vote on a Headlee Amendment override, opponents to it made their feelings known during public comments at the close of the meeting. At issue is a possible vote by Woods residents this November to approve an override of the Headlee Amendment that would allow city officials to increase the city’s millage rate, currently set at 14.04 mills, to 17.69 mills. Money raised through the millage increase would be used primarily to fund major road repair projects. If that’s the case, some residents noted then ask the residents for a designated millage increase strictly for road repair, rather than a general tax increase with no guarantee that money would be used for road repair. “We all know that many of our roads are in sorry shape,” former city council member Pete Waldmeir told the council.

Waldmeir has joined forces with two other former council members, Lisa Pinkos Howle and Joe Sucher, to challenge any millage increase that would allow the money to go into the city’s general fund rather than kept separate for a designated purpose such as road repair.

It isn’t everyone who actually lives an episode of CSI on a daily basis. But for Todd Fenton, Ph.D., a forensic anthropologist from Michigan State University, his day wouldn’t be complete without latex gloves, a microscope and bones. Fenton discussed his work with detectives from several of the Grosse Pointe public safety departments last week, and while it isn’t often local public safety departments deal with bone fragments and skeletal remains, there was still much to learn from Fenton’s presentation. As an investigator brought in by law enforcement agencies on suspicious death cases, Fenton, along with his colleague David Foran, Ph.D., lends his expertise to cases that oftentimes have stumped investigators for years. Sometimes it can take weeks for the MSU professors and their graduate students to provide the answers bringing closure to these cases. Or oftentimes it can take just a few minutes. “You’ll have to excuse me if I don’t smell very good,” Fenton said in his opening remarks. “Let me give you some advice, never stand downwind when opening a cooler that may contain suspicious remains.”

Just before coming to Grosse Pointe, Fenton had been called to a potential crime scene by a local sheriff’s department that had found a cooler dumped by the side of a road. Upon opening it, Fenton had an answer for the local police. “Why do deer hunters always keep the remains of their deer in a cooler?,” he asked somewhat rhetorically. “You’d be surprised how often that happens and how often we get called to identify those bones.”


A new program offered by Grosse Pointe Woods gives residents a chance to learn more of the day to day operations of their public safety department and gives them a better understanding of what happens when they dial 911.

A Citizens’ Public Safety Academy will be offered in September, providing participants an overview of their local public safety department, including operations, fire safety, dispatch services and crime prevention. In addition, it offers citizens tips on preventing identity theft and how to avoid phone, internet and mail scams.


It might be time to check the junk drawer for any unpaid tickets that were stashed away with the thought of paying them next pay day, because if that ticket was generated in Grosse Pointe Woods, pay day is upon you. And that pay day has paid off big for the Woods’ general fund.

A year ago, retired Woods public safety officer Jim Lafer was given a desk and a phone and was put to work collecting thousands of dollars owed to the city through court-ordered fines, unpaid traffic and parking tickets and restitution orders. To date, nearly $100,000 has been collected.


Representatives of DTE Energy heard complaints from Grosse Pointe Woods residents and provided few answers as to why many houses were without power for several days at the beginning of July. The officials attended the Woods city council meeting Monday, July 16. DTE’s lack of response, both at the time of the outage and at the council meeting, prompted city officials to order a public hearing, at a date to be determined some time in August, where DTE officials will have to give residents an official reason why the outage occurred and a definitive plan to prevent these outages in the future. “I was among those without power,” council member Art Bryant told the DTE representatives, “and that wasn’t the first time. We were without power for four days a few weeks before that, and I know houses on Roslyn were without power another time. We’re without power a lot. You generate $10,000,000 in revenue from this area, and I want to know when you’re going to put money back into this area to improve our service and guarantee an end to these outages.” At issue is an outage that occurred in an area bounded by Mack, Vernier, Lakeshore and Blairmoor Court, referred to by many simply as “the quadrant.” Most residents lost power about 5 p.m. Friday, July 6, and power was not restored until Sunday night, July 8, they had to endure a weekend with temperatures into the 90’s without air conditioning or fans.

There are all kinds of ways to look innocent, but for a young man from St. Clair Shores, walking away from a police officer at 4:30 a.m. while carrying a woman’s purse isn’t one of them.

Grosse Pointe Woods police recently increased patrols in an area where several incidents of larceny from autos occurred, as well as two car thefts. During the early morning hours of Tuesday, June 26, a Woods officer on patrol noticed three young men walking near Blairmoor Court and Charlevoix. When he started driving toward them, the three turned and started walking away. It was then he noticed the one young man was carrying a woman’s purse, while another had a backpack. After requesting backup, the officer stopped the trio, and while questioning them as to what they were doing out walking during the early morning hours, they appeared, according to the police report, “evasive and confused. They said they were going to a friend’s house, but couldn’t remember where the friend lived.” Upon further questioning, one of the young men said he lived on Avalon in St. Clair Shores, which the officer recognized as the street where both stolen cars had been found abandoned just a few days before. By this time, backup had arrived and the young man’s purse was searched. Officers found a radar detector, women’s sunglasses, credit cards with women’s names, a digital camera and perfume. The backpack was also searched, and police found money and women’s glasses.


Officials from DTE Energy will meet with Grosse Pointe Woods residents Wednesday, Sept. 12, to discuss continuing problems with power outages in the city. The meeting was requested by city officials following an outage in July that left a large segment of the Woods in the dark for several days. At the time, DTE officials told the city the problem was caused by a burned out cable at the DTE transformer at Mack and Anita, which was replaced, but problems developed when attempting to restore power with the power grid tripping and blowing fuses. According to Woods city administrator Skip Fincham, DTE maintained recurring power outages had been resolved in January when upgrades to what is known as the 1481 Vernier circuit were completed. DTE officials met with the Woods city council earlier this year and assured the city these upgrades would not only reduce the number of outages, but when they did occur, fewer residents would be without power as the result of “sectionalizing” done during the upgrade.

But that did not appear to be the case the first week in July when residents in an area bordered by Mack, Vernier, Lake-shore and Blairmoor were not only without power for three days or more,but were left with few answers from DTE.

That prompted Mayor Robert Novitke to place the outage on the July 16 city council agenda and demand a hearing with representatives of DTE. Several DTE officials attended that council meeting. While they offered apologies, they didn’t offer much in the way of hard facts as to what DTE was doing to avoid outages like this in the future.

Knowing that minutes count when treating medical emergencies, St. John Hospital and Medical Center is proposing the installation of a helicopter landing pad to service air ambulance flights from Michigan’s Thumb area. “Our primary focus will be on stroke patients,” explained Carrie Stover, a St. John administrator. “We know that during a stroke, 32,000 brain cells per second are lost. Treatment options are time sensitive, so obviously time is of the essence for those patients.” Plans call for a permanent landing site to be built on the Moross Road side of the complex, near the Emergency Room entrance.

Until then, the hospital hopes to have a temporary site established in the North parking lot area, but to do that, it needs the approval of Grosse Pointe Woods.

The Grosse Pointe Woods Foundation will share its newest project as members and guests gather for a kick-off celebration Thursday, Sept. 6, at Grosse Pointe Yacht Club. The new project is centered at the Woods Lakefront Park and includes a new entry way and a fitness trail. It is expected to be completed by next summer. “This is a project all residents can use and enjoy,” said Peter Ahee, the foundation’s vice president. The proposed fitness trail will feature 12 to 15 fitness stations along the park’s 1.3 mile-long jogging and walking trail.


City administrators presented their case to residents Monday night on why the city is requesting voter approval of a Headlee property tax override on the November ballot.

About 75 residents attended the meeting. City treasurer DeAnn Irby explained a Headlee override is needed to make up for a loss in tax revenue due to declining property values. According to Irby, in the 2007-08 fiscal year, tax revenue was nearly $15 million. In the 2012-2013 fiscal year, that revenue dropped to $12 million. The decline in revenue represents a 30 percent decline in taxable property values.

At the conclusion of Irby’s remarks, city administrator Skip Fincham introduced several department heads to residents and said they would be available to answer individual questions.

Several audience members were vocal in their complaints that they had expected more of a town hall-type meeting, with a question and answer session done in the context of an open forum. Despite their comments, Fincham held firm.

Determined that complaints about recurring power outages stay not just at the local level, Woods officials voiced their concerns directly to the Michigan Public Service Commission, the state agency charged with overseeing local utility providers. Mayor Robert Novitke and city administrator Skip Fincham traveled to Lansing Friday, Sept. 7, where they met with several members of the MPSC, including Don Mazuchowski, Electrical Operations manager. At issue were the recurring power outages affecting a large segment of Grosse Pointe Woods, bounded roughly by Vernier, Brys, Mack and Lakeshore, and the fact that even though DTE had assured residents and city administration the problems had been resolved, power outages continued. had met with DTE to discuss our problem.”


Residents soundly defeated two proposals that would have increased property taxes through an override of the Headlee Amendment to the state’s Constitution. The first proposal, which asked voters to approve an increase of 1.85 mills over 10 years with the monies going to the city’s general fund, was defeated by a 2-to-1 margin, 5,948 to 3,788. A second Headlee override, which would have been used for road construction bonds, was closer, but lost by a vote of 5,217 to 4,389. A citizens group headed by three former city council members, Lisa Pinkos Howle, Joe Sucher and Pete Waldmeir, organized a campaign against the proposals, saying the city had not made enough cuts to the city’s budget.

Woods city council approved a temporary helicopter landing site for St. John Hospital and Medical Center, with several caveats, the most notable being a six-month time limitation.

It will also limit the number of flights during that time period to a maximum of 25. The approval allows St. John to install a temporary landing site for medical helicopter flights in the north parking lot.

The vote came following a public hearing, where several Woods residents who live on the streets bordering the parking lot spoke in opposition to the proposed site. St. John originally requested a one year time frame for the site, while it worked through the approval process for a permanent site with the city of Detroit. St. John asked Grosse Pointe Woods officials to approve a temporary site for one year to allow sufficient time for the hospital to secure the necessary approval and financing for the project, as well time for constructing the facility, which would include installing a new elevator in the parking deck. The one year time frame and St. John’s need for approval from Detroit causing council members to balk.

A 54-year-old Grosse Pointe Woods resident was found dead in his Hampton Road house between Mack and I-94 on Monday, Nov. 26. Woods Public Safety Director Andrew Pazuchowski said Don Dewulf was found by relatives and police are investigating the death as a homicide.


The year 2013 is still weeks away, but the Grosse Pointe Woods city council decided not to wait to begin budget talks for the next fiscal year. Faced with declining revenues that could mean a $700,000 shortfall and a message from voters the way to balance the budget is to make cuts rather than raise taxes, the council has directed department heads to look to ways to cut costs as well as new revenue sources. Two department heads made recommendations that could have a dramatic impact on city services.

Declining water levels result in the council coming up with two plans in its marina, one for just the dredging of the channel leading to the lake, the other for the dredging of individual boat wells.