Beth Altena

Schools ban field trips until township sets sex offender policy

November 25, 2009 // 0 Comments

Rockford Superintendent angry over proximity of offender, school by BETH ALTENA Rockford Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Michael Shibler had harsh words to say about Plainfield Township officials’ failure to notify him that a convicted sex offender was working practically within arm’s reach of elementary students. Forty-year-old Jeffrey Hawkins was fired from his job as firefighter and deputy clerk for the township after a Friday, November 6, incident when the convicted sex offender was accused of soliciting a teenage boy on the Internet for immoral purposes. Hawkins allegedly used Facebook to contact the youngster. Hawkins had been convicted in 1997 of criminal sexual conduct with a 12-year-old family member. In a letter to the media released November 10, Plainfield Fire Chief Dave Peterson stated, “At the time of his prior conviction, steps were taken to limit or eliminate the possibility of him being alone with a minor child. At the time of his prior conviction, considerations for continued employment were taken concerning the employment record and attitude of Mr. Hawkins, the family members who were involved, and the recommendation of his mental health professional. Based on that information I felt that with proper safeguards his continued employment with the fire department did not constitute a threat to the public.” Chief Peterson said the latest investigation was the result of activities outside his position as a firefighter but nonetheless reason for termination. He also said the township personnel are deeply concerned for the victims and family members involved in this unfortunate incident. He fired Hawkins effective November 10. In 2000, Hawkins was appointed as deputy clerk for the township. Shibler sent a letter to the township, backed by similar sentiments from Northview and Comstock Park schools. Shibler’s letter informed Supervisor George Meek that no field trips will be allowed to the Plainfield Charter Township until a sex offender policy is implemented. “As I am sure you can appreciate, one of the most important duties I have as superintendent of schools, is to ensure the safety and security of the children entrusted to our district,” he stated in the letter. Shibler also questioned whether the township broke the law by allowing Hawkins to work within 1,000 feet of a school. “The law is very clear that a sex […]

Divided Supreme Court rules for Servaas

August 6, 2009 // 0 Comments

‘JTC put the cart before the horse’ by BETH ALTENA “This court has no duty to accept, even in part, any Judicial Tenure Commission (JTC) “decision” because the JTC does not have the power to decide how and whether to discipline a judge…”< Those words summed up much of the majority opinion from the Michigan Supreme Court over whether Rockford Judge Steve Servaas has vacated or been removed from his office. Nineteen months after  Servaas was told he must resign or face public humiliation, the Michigan Supreme Court has ruled he will keep his position of 35 years. The 91-page ruling was released after the judges made public their decision at 11 p.m. Friday, July 31, the last day they had to come to a decision. It said the JTC had “put the cart before the horse,” in acting as if it had the authority to oust a sitting judge. It is the end of over a year-and-a-half of publicity, accusations and the possibility that all Servaas rulings in recent years could be invalid. It also cost the Rockford judge $56,000 personally in legal costs—that on top of $100,000 in costs covered by county insurance.< Servaas still believes the fiasco all came from his disagreement over moving from the Rockford court location to a new building. The ruling overturned an earlier decision that said Servaas had vacated his office by moving outside his district, and also accused him of misconduct. “It looks like the Supreme Court came down over political lines,” he said. “Maybe I’m naive about politics, but I didn’t expect that.” Four of the seven judges—three supported by democrats and one moderate Republican—agreed that Servaas could not and should not be removed from office. The other three, and one of the four, submitted separate opinions. Almost all commented unfavorably on the actions of Paul Fischer, chair of the Judicial Tenure Commission. “For me this is the end of it,” said Servaas. “For Fischer, it’s the beginning. It’s his chance to go through this and see what happens.” Fischer has a grievance against him filed by Grand Rapids Bar Association members. In addition, one of the Supreme Court judges who ruled for Servaas also wrote specifically regarding Fischer and the JTC. Justice Elizabeth Weaver […]

Merchant thinks time may be right for cultural/convention center

July 9, 2009 // 0 Comments

by BETH ALTENA With changes guaranteed to come to downtown with the closing of the Wolverine tannery, one Rockford merchant has a vision he believes would benefit Rockford. Herman’s Boy’s Floyd Havemeier is an idea guy, and he believes now may be the right timing for consideration of an arts and convention center for Rockford. “People have a yearning for nostalgia and history and we have such a rich history here,” Havemeier said. He believes a center with room for art shows, musical performances and historic and art displays would draw crowds. He also believes such a facility could be self-supporting. Havemeier is also willing to  put some money where his mouth is and said he is in a position to purchase a 100-year-old carousel he would donate. At a recent Rotary meeting, members of the Rockford Historical Society were invited to hear from Dale Robertson, president and CEO of the Grand Rapids Public Museum. He told the audience that museums offer much to communities and can be a boon to business and residents. He said, although museums  rarely pay for themselves, they are an attractant. In 2007 museums brought in $2.2 billion in revenue to Kent County. Rockford already has a beautiful small museum located by the dam in a historic building (without water or plumbing). It is staffed by volunteers from the Rockford Historical Society. At one time an expansion was planned at a cost of $700,000, but funding was unavailable. Havemeier hopes for a center that could house the Historic Society, but much more. “A town that sells its history sells itself,” Havemeier stated. He said Rockford should and could promote the town’s lumber heritage, Indian heritage, shoe and tanning history as well as the arts. He pointed out the town is home to a world-class duck carver, nationally-known artists, and could do better promoting fishing and outdoor activities. He believes the proximity of Rockford to Grand Rapids would make it an ideal day trip to any number of organizations. Visits could be educational or for entertainment, as in concerts. “Tie it all up with a day shopping on the town,” he suggested. City Manger Michael Young said the concept is nice, but would be expensive. “We looked into this for the […]

Sick of Gloom and Doom? Rockford Reports Positive News

February 26, 2009 // 0 Comments

by BETH ALTENA We need to get over our pride and ego and get on with our lives, Frenz Coffehouse owner Rich Zeck believes. He is one of many local businesess people who haven’t bought into the news that we are going through the worst of times. “I can speak for myself because I have lost my job,” he said of a former high-paying career. Zeck opened his own shop after the job loss and also works another part-time job. Zeck said he believes Americans have allowed their financial fear to dominate their lives and this has made things worse. “What if there were no newspapers and no televisions? The economy ”d go about our business and have a life.” He believes the stockmarket slumps follow each dire news report as people hunker down, afraid to spend money and get on with things. Zeck, who is also a college professor, said he understands the economy is a hot topic and his students want to discuss it at length. “It’s such an emotional issue,” he said. Zeck believes there is plenty of good to be learned and practiced in tough times. He said friends, neighbors and families helped each other out to make it through the Depression. We should take a page from that chapter of history. “I knew we were in big trouble when people came in worried about the cost of a barrel of oil and gold,” he said. “That makes no difference to most people.” Putting hope in corporations and companies rather than in people is part of the error behind economic troubles. “Two hundred years ago you were a seamstress and I was a farmer,” he said. “We helped each other out and did business together.” Doing this today is what we should be doing, Zech believes. As a coffee shop owner, he has sent customers to the other coffee shops in town. “Too often it’s ‘Me, me, me.’ It’s not me, it’s just us.” He is a firm believer in paying it forward. “If we all took the time to help someone else out, what would that do?” he asked. Zeck gave the example of people who have lost their jobs. “Get out and volunteer,” he said. “People lose their jobs, […]

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