Local News Archives

Art Van Furniture Being Sold To Equity Firm

From the Associated Press — Art Van Furniture has announced it’s being sold to Boston-based private equity firm Thomas H. Lee Partners. The Warren-based retailer said Wednesday the tentative deal is expected to close in February. Terms weren’t disclosed. The company founded by 86-year-old Art Van Elslander began in 1959 with a single store and has grown into one of the country’s largest independent furniture retailers, with more than 100 stores in five states, a franchising program and more than 3,500 employees. It says the company’s current executive team will stay on after the sale, including Art Van CEO Kim Yost, president Gary Van Elslander and David Van Elslander, the president of Art Van PureSleep. Executives say the equity firm also will continue Art Van’s sponsorship of Detroit’s Thanksgiving Day parade and its charitable giving.. ...Read Full Story

BH Schools To Hold Town Halls About Possible Building Closures

A couple of town hall meetings are planned for residents of Benton Harbor to come and express their concerns about the possible closure of the Dream Academy, the STEAM Academy, and the International Hull Academy. The first meeting is slated for Wednesday at the high school starting at 7 p.m. Anyone can come and ask Benton Harbor Area Schools Superintendent Dr. Shelly Walker about the threat to the schools. They’re being reviewed by the Michigan School Reform Office for possible closure, but Walker says the test scores which put them in that position were generated by students who no longer attend those schools. Following Wednesday’s meeting will be another with all the same points made next Wednesday at the MLK STEAM Academy. It’s also set for 7 p.m.. ...Read Full Story

2016 A Benchmark Year For SWM Housing Market

The housing market in Southwest Michigan has started 2017 in a strong position. The Southwest Michigan Association of Realtors tells our newsroom it posted the highest numbers across the board in the year-over-year comparison since 2006 last year. Association Executive Philip Amodeo says the number of homes sold in 2016 versus 2015 was up 9%. December alone was up by 16% over December of 2015. Total dollar volume is also up for the year by 12%, and the average selling price is up 3%. Amodeo notes the region’s real estate market has been improving since 2012, when the slide that started in 2006 finally ended. Nationally, the housing market closed out 2016 having had its best year in a decade.. ...Read Full Story

SWM Regional Airport Director Pleads To Drunk Driving

The director of the Southwest Michigan Regional Airport has pleaded guilty to drunk driving. 30-year-old Vincent Desjardins was in Berrien County Court Monday to enter the plea. Prosecutors say his blood alcohol content was about twice the legal limit when he hit a mailbox in Royalton Township on the night of November 19. Desjardins didn’t stop but was picked up by police not long after. The Berrien County Prosecutor’s office tells WSJM News he was originally charged with the state’s high blood alcohol content law, but the charge has been reduced to standard driving while intoxicated. A charge of having an open alcohol container in the vehicle has also been dismissed. Desjardins could get up to 93 days in jail when sentenced on February 15.. ...Read Full Story

Benton Harbor High School To Take Part In Safe Driver Program

Benton Harbor and South Haven High Schools are on the list of schools to be selected for this year’s Strive for a Safer Drive program. The program is a partnership between Ford Motor Company and the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning, and office spokesperson Kristin Allen tells us the students at each building decide how to preach safe driving to their classmates.. ...Read Full Story

SJ High School Student Named Semifinalist For Military Child Of The Year

A 15-year-old St. Joseph High School student is in the running to be named the Military Child of the Year by Operation Homefront. The non-profit provides assistance to military families, and tells us Janelle Gehrke was among 400 kids to be nominated by parents, teachers, and coaches. She’s now one of 20 semifinalists for the Coast Guard category. Her dad, Jeffrey Gehrke, works at the St. Joe Coast Guard station, and tells WSJM News his daughter has done all sorts of things to be helpful on the bases where they’ve lived.. ...Read Full Story

LMC Narrows Down President Search To Two Candidates

The Lake Michigan College Board of Trustees has narrowed down its search for a new college president to two candidates. At a quick meeting Tuesday, the board picked Dr. Jon Mandrell and Dr. Trevor Kubatzke to be its finalists for the job. Board of Trustees Chair Mary Jo Tomasini tells WSJM News they’ve heard plenty from the public as the search has continued.. ...Read Full Story

DiBrito Issues Statement On Settlement With St. Joseph

Al DiBrito says he still thinks the city of St. Joseph fired the wrong person over his dispute with former Public Safety Director Mark Clapp. However, the former deputy public safety director decided it was time to move on and find a resolution to his lawsuit against the city. A $150,000 settlement was announced Monday between the city and DiBrito in the wrongful termination suit. He sued after being fired in 2014, and says in a statement released Tuesday the intent of his suit was always to get his old job back. However, due to recent changes in administration, it’s time to wrap it up. DiBrito also praises new St. Joe Public Safety Director Brian Uridge, saying Uridge has shown he’s looking out for the best interests of the city.. ...Read Full Story

MI Traffic Fatalities Up In 2016

From the Associated Press — Preliminary state statistics show that 2016 was the deadliest year since 2007 for drivers in Michigan. The Detroit Free Press reports that at least 1,021 people were killed in Michigan vehicle accidents last year. The number of total crashes was 301,525. Ann Readett, with the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning, says the number
could increase as more reports come in. Experts say the recent increase in road deaths could be due to an improving
economy, lower gas prices and possible increased texting and driving. National traffic-crash data shows a 21 percent decline in U.S. traffic fatalities between 2007 and 2011. In 2007, there were 1,084 traffic fatalities in Michigan.. ...Read Full Story

Benton Harbor Mayor To Hold Town Hall To Discuss Possible Closure Of Schools

Benton Harbor Mayor Marcus Muhammad will hold a town hall this week for anyone concerned about the possible closure of three areas schools to come and air their thoughts. Word came last week that the state may soon target the International Academy at Hull, the STEAM Academy at MLK, and the Dream Academy to be shut down. Muhammad is inviting all parents, students, community leaders, and others to come to Benton Harbor City Hall this Thursday to talk about the impact and ask questions. The forum will be at 6 p.m.. ...Read Full Story

Judge Rejects Attorney General Filing In Flint Water Lawsuit

From the Associated Press — A judge has told Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette to butt out of an ongoing dispute over home delivery of water in Flint. Schuette and his special counsel, Noah Hall, are seeking to join a lawsuit against Governor Rick Snyder’s administration by filing a brief that supports Flint residents. Schuette wants federal Judge David Lawson to keep an injunction in place, which calls for home-delivered water if lead filters haven’t been properly installed. The judge on Monday rejected the filing. Lawson says there’s nothing new in Schuette’s arguments. He also says Schuette has injected a “troubling ethical issue.” Lawson notes that lawyers in Schuette’s office are on the other side of the case, arguing that the injunction should be scratched. Schuette says there’s a wall between his views on the case and the work of
department lawyers who must defend state agencies.. ...Read Full Story

St. Joseph Reaches Settlement With Former Public Safety Official

A settlement has been reached in a lawsuit filed against the city of St. Joseph by its former deputy public safety director. Al DiBrito was fired from the post in 2014 by former City Manager Richard Lewis after a conflict with former Public Safety Director Mark Clapp. Lewis, Clapp, and the city were then sued by the former deputy director who alleged wrongful termination. On Monday, city commissioners agreed to pay $150,000 in exchange for DiBrito’s dismissal of the suit. DiBrito also waives further appeals in federal court and agrees not to reapply for employment with the city. City Manager John Hodgson said there will be no further comment on the matter.. ...Read Full Story

Feds Release New Fish Consumption Guidelines

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Environmental Protection Agency have jointly released new advice on which and how much fish is safe to eat. The guidelines are aimed mostly at women who are pregnant. Elizabeth Southerland, Director of Science and Technology at the EPA’s Office of Water, tells our newsroom it’s not necessarily unhealthy for pregnant women to eat fish. ...Read Full Story

Online Auction To Benefit Lakeshore Schools

Coming up next week will be a chance for supporters of Lakeshore Schools to help out the district while bidding on some choice prizes. The Lakeshore Excellence Foundation is going to hold an online auction, raising money for the district to implement is new STEM curriculum. Chair J.C. Anderson tells WSJM News STEM at Lakeshore will have long-term benefits.. ...Read Full Story

Mortgage Insurance Rate Cut Could Cost Homeowners

An hour after Donald Trump assumed the presidency Friday, his administration indefinitely suspended a pending rate cut for mortgage insurance required for FHA backed loans, which are popular with first-time home buyers and those with poor credit. Marla Thomas, a mortgage loan officer for Inland Home Mortgage, told Michigan News Network the action will affect millions of homeowners. ...Read Full Story

Officials: Michigan Lighting Upgrades Cut Costs, Energy Use

From the Associated Press — Officials from the state and a utility say a six-month partnership to improve lighting on Michigan roadways is cutting costs and reducing energy use. The Michigan Department of Transportation last year participated in DTE
Energy’s Energy Efficiency Business Program. The department installed nearly 13,000 energy efficient LEDs on a number of Detroit-area freeways and reported a reduction in energy use. Detroit-based DTE and the state say Monday the lighting upgrade is expected to save an estimated $2 million in energy costs in 2017. In a statement, Michigan’s Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley says he looks forward to “additional partnership and savings in the future.” DTE is giving MDOT a $1 million rebate check to help offset the cost of the department’s investment in energy efficiency improvements.. ...Read Full Story

Land Deal Adds 80 Acres To North Ottawa Dunes Park

From the Associated Press — About 80 acres in western Michigan are being added to North Ottawa Dunes park in Ottawa County. The land in Spring Lake Township was acquired through a property exchange. Ottawa County Parks says it contributed $400,000 from a millage. The parcel will increase the size of the park to 593 acres. It is along the eastern edge of the dunes and is surrounded by park on three sides. It is primarily back dune forest dominated by sugar maple, American beech, eastern hemlock and red oak. Ottawa County Parks will survey the new property early this year and then mark trails during spring and summer. The park is part of a freshwater dune system along the Lake Michigan shoreline.. ...Read Full Story

AAA Michigan: Statewide Average Gas Prices Fall 11¢

AAA Michigan says gas prices statewide have fallen by about 11¢ per gallon in the past week. The Dearborn-based auto club says Monday the average price for self-serve regular unleaded gasoline was about $2.29 per gallon. That’s about 66 cents more than it was at the same point last year. The lowest average price was about $2.16 per gallon in the Flint area, while the highest average was about $2.48 in the Marquette area. It was the third week in a row Flint had the lowest average and the second consecutive week that Marquette had the highest. In Benton Harbor and St. Joseph, we’re averaging $2.19 a gallon, down 12¢. AAA Michigan surveys daily fuel prices at 2,800 gas stations across the state. The auto club is warning the recent downturn in prices may just be temporary with OPEC’s December monthly output report awaiting release.. ...Read Full Story

Women’s March Held In St. Joseph

Several dozen men and women took to the streets of downtown St. Joseph on Saturday as one of many Women’s Marches held nationwide. About 60 took part locally, while crowds were much larger in big cities. The crowd in Chicago is estimated at around a quarter-million people, and around 500,000 marched in Washington, DC. That rally included a few busloads of people from here in southwest Michigan. Organizers of the marches say the rhetoric of the November election cycle “insulted, demonized, and threatened” women nationwide. A focus was placed on LGBT rights along with women’s and voting rights, and climate change.. ...Read Full Story

Suspected Animal Abuse In Lawrence

A case of suspected animal abuse is under investigation in Lawrence. The Van Buren County Sheriff’s Department was tipped off to a situation at a home in the 200 block of South Exchange Street Sunday morning and found three dogs with no heat, water, or electricity in the vacant home. Animal feces, urine, and trash was found scattered throughout. Deputies say the dogs were confined to the basement without any care, and have been sent to Van Buren County Animal Control. Charges are being pursued against a 32-year-old Hartford woman in the case. Her name has not been released. The Van Buren County Prosecutor’s Office will review the report from deputies.. ...Read Full Story

New St. Joe Today Director To Start Next Month

We now know who’s going to lead St. Joseph Today. Its board announced this week that Amy Zapal, the current director of the Heritage Museum and Cultural Center in St. Joe, will be the tourism and business group’s next director. Zapal tells WSJM News she looks forward to taking on her new role with St. Joe Today.. ...Read Full Story

Berrien County YMCA Branches To Merge

The Benton Harbor-St. Joseph YMCA is merging with the Niles-Buchanan YMCA. The two organizations have been sharing some programs since last year, and it’s worked out so well they say they’re going ahead with the full merger. Benton Harbor-St. Joseph YMCA Board of Directors President Bob Kenegy says the move will enable the new YMCA of Southwest Michigan, as it’s being called, reach a greater area and offer better services. Each entity will still have its own branch, but now they’ll be pooling resources. Collectively, the Benton Harbor-St. Joseph and Niles-Buchanan YMCAs have more than 14,000 members.. ...Read Full Story

Southwest Michigan Tourism Industry Remains Strong

Southwest Michigan has closed out 2016 with an improved employment picture as the tourism industry continued to expand. The latest economic outlook report from the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research shows hospitality jobs in the region jumped by more than the state average. That’s according to the institute’s Brian Pittelko.. ...Read Full Story

Three Benton Harbor Schools In Danger Of Being Shut Down

Three schools in Benton Harbor are in immediate danger of being shut down by the state. On Friday, the Michigan School Reform Office released its latest list of failing schools identified as being reviewed for the Next Level of Accountability. That means they could be targeted for closure within the next 30 to 45 days. Reform Office Director Natasha Baker tells WSJM News the International Academy at Hull, the STEAM Academy at MLK, and the Dream Academy are on the list. She’s talked with the local superintendent.. ...Read Full Story

Chronic Wasting Disease Found In Two Central Michigan Deer

State agriculture officials say chronic wasting disease has been identified in two female deer in central Michigan. The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development said Friday the deer were from a Mecosta County farm. It’s the second time the neurological disease has been found in a farmed facility in Michigan. The other was in 2008 when a white-tailed deer tested positive in Kent County. Officials say samples from the two deer were submitted for testing as part of the state’s mandatory chronic wasting disease surveillance program. State officials say they are quarantining the farm and working with the farmer to test all deer from the herd. All deer within a 15-mile radius will undergo increased testing as well. An informational meeting will be Wednesday in Big Rapids.. ...Read Full Story

St. Joseph Commissioners Looking At Replacing Some Parking Equipment

St. Joseph city leaders are looking at replacing the parking meters used at local parks. City Manager John Hodgson tells WSJM News the new ones would allow access to parks based on license plates, rather than the passes given out to residents each year. Since each residence currently just gets two parking passes, letting people into parks based on their vehicle’s license plate could be more convenient.. ...Read Full Story

Michigan State Police To Raise Awareness About Human Trafficking

Michigan State Police motor carrier officers will spend next week trying to raise awareness about human trafficking. MSP Lieutenant Susan Fries tells WSJM News they’ll primarily be talking with truckers and the management of trucking companies. They’re in a good position to catch human traffickers because they frequently stop at rest areas, where victims can often be found.. ...Read Full Story

LaSata “Deeply Concerned” About Benton Harbor Schools

State Representative Kim LaSata says she is “deeply concerned” about the fate of three Benton Harbor schools targeted for possible closure this week by the Michigan School Reform Office. In jeopardy are the Dream Academy, the International Academy at Hull, and the STEAM Academy at MLK. They are currently under review for failing to perform, and LaSata, who represents Benton Harbor in Lansing, said in a statement she’s been in contact with the reform office and local school officials trying to reach the best outcome for the students. She adds parents of the students at those schools should get an update sometime around early March.. ...Read Full Story

List Of Michigan House Salaries Now Online

A new list of the salaries of Michigan House members and their staff is now available online. State Representative Beth Griffin, of Mattawan, tells us it represents “the first step this legislative session to make information about the use of taxpayer dollars more available to the public.” Thanks to the list, we know that as a state representative, Griffin is paid about $71,000 a year, as are all the state reps. State House salaries range from around $30,000 to more than $100,000, depending on the position. Griffin says the House wants to make transparency a priority, and this publication is a step in that direction. You can find the list right here.. ...Read Full Story

Niles Woman Arrested In Drug Bust

A Niles woman is facing charges after a meth bust in Cass County this month. The Cass County Enforcement Team says it searched a home in the 1,000 block of Huntly Road in Howard Township on January 12 after getting some tips. It says officers found meth paraphernalia, marijuana, and crack. 46-year-old Andrea Sutfin was arrested for possession of meth, cocaine, and marijuana. She’s now in jail on $20,000 bond. Police ask anyone with information about drug activity to call them.. ...Read Full Story

Women’s March Planned For Saturday In Lansing

On Saturday, thousands of Michigan women will take to the streets in opposition to what they say is a wave of discrimination since the November election. Sarah Eisenberg is one of the organizers of the Women’s March on Lansing, which is expected to draw more than 5,000 people. She says the event is not about President Donald Trump, but about a narrative of intolerance that she believes needs to be addressed at the state and local level.. ...Read Full Story

Three Benton Harbor Schools Could Close

Three schools in Benton Harbor are in immediate danger of being shut down by the state. On Friday, the Michigan School Reform Office released its latest list of failing schools identified as being reviewed for the Next Level of Accountability. That means they could be targeted for closure within the next 30 to 45 days. Reform Office Director Natasha Baker tells WSJM News the International Academy, the STEAM Academy, and the Dream Academy are on the list. She’s talked with the local superintendent.. ...Read Full Story

State Fines Prison Food Contractor

From the Associated Press — The Michigan Department of Corrections has slapped its latest food contractor with more than $2 million in penalties for inadequate staffing and other problems since it began providing meals in September 2015. Department spokesman Chris Gautz told the Detroit Free Press the penalties against Trinity Services Group include $905,000 for unauthorized meal substitutions, $357,000 for delays serving meals, $356,000 for inadequate staffing levels, and $294,000 for sanitation violations. Gaultz says the department believes staffing problems lead to other issues. The penalties were first reported Thursday by Gongwer News Service. They show significant problems persist with the privatization of prison food services after the state and its first prison food contractor, Philadelphia-based Aramark Correctional Services, ended their contract early. A message seeking comment was left Friday at Trinity’s Florida headquarters.. ...Read Full Story

Michigan Center Picked As Driverless Vehicle Proving Ground

From the Associated Press — The U.S. Department of Transportation has designated a testing facility in Michigan for driverless vehicles as a proving ground for such technology. Those involved in the effort say proposals were sought for the Automated Vehicle Proving Grounds Pilot program after it was announced last year and 10 facilities were selected, including the American Center for Mobility in Washtenaw County’s Ypsilanti Township. The facility is being built at the site of a former General Motors plant. It’s also where B-24 bombers were made during World War II. It will be available for use by private industry, government, standards bodies and academia. Companies will be able to lease office space, garages and other amenities. It will include real-world environments with the ability to test under varied, yet controlled conditions.. ...Read Full Story

Grand Rapids Polish Hall Votes To Allow Women Members

From the Associated Press — For the first time in its 87-year history a Grand Rapids Polish hall will allow women to become official members. MLive reports that as many as 30 women are scheduled to be granted membership on Valentine’s Day at St. Ladislaus Aid Society. Discussion for the change came during Pulaski Days 2016, when more female volunteers came to work at the club than male volunteers. Over the course of the last eight months, current members voted to allow women members into the club on three different occasions. Andie Crapsey, 2016-2017 Grand Rapids Pulaski Queen, will become the Polish hall’s first female member. Grand Rapids currently has 14 Polish halls. St. Ladislaus Aid Society is one of the few Polish halls in the city that don’t allow women to become a member.. ...Read Full Story

Buchanan Thrill On the Hill Cancelled

The Thrill on the Hill in Buchanan has been cancelled. The annual sledding event had been slated for next Friday and Saturday, but warm weather has prompted city officials to call it off. They say the long-term forecast shows it will be too warm and there will likely be rain. That means they wouldn’t be able to generate enough snow for Front Street Hill. While you may be heartbroken about the news, don’t despair. The city says the Summer Thrill on the Hill is still planned for later in the year, and it will be bigger than ever.. ...Read Full Story

Warm Weather Not Expected To Damage Crops

The recent warm weather isn’t likely to damage southwest Michigan crops. Mark Longstroth, with the MSU Extension office in Paw Paw, tells WSJM News the crops went dormant in November or December, and the warm temperatures haven’t returned long enough for them to become vulnerable to another freeze.. ...Read Full Story

YMCA Merger Announced

It’s official. The Benton Harbor-St. Joseph YMCA and the Niles-Buchanan YMCA are merging. The two have been exploring the possibility since March when they started forming a management agreement. They’ve been sharing services since June, and tell us it’s worked out well. Mowitt Drew, of the Niles-Buchanan YMCA, says becoming one united entity to serve all of Berrien County just made sense as the next step. The new association will be called the YMCA of Southwest Michigan. Each branch will maintain its independent identity, while the two pool their resources.. ...Read Full Story

50,000 Expected At Chicago Women’s March

From the Associated Press — Organizers say about 50,000 people are expected to attend a women’s march in Chicago the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration. The Women’s March on Chicago is scheduled to begin with a rally in Grant Park at 10 a.m. on Saturday. The march through downtown is set for 11:30 a.m. The event is planned for the same day as a larger Women’s March on Washington. About 200 other “sister marches” are scheduled around the country. Organizers say that like those marches, the Chicago event is intended to send a message to the Trump administration “that women will defend and further their rights.” Jessica Scheller is a co-chairwoman for the Chicago march. She says grassroots organizers will rally attendees and highlight ways they may get involved in various issues.. ...Read Full Story