12.18.14:  University honored for environmental practices


KALAMAZOO, Mich. (AP) — Western Michigan University has received a “Best of Green Schools” designation from a national organization that supports environmentally friendly buildings and communities.


The U.S. Green Building Council selected the university in Kalamazoo as its winner in the higher education institution category for this year.


Western Michigan was honored for two decades of efforts to operate more sustainably, beginning in the 1990s when it stopped using coal and began recycling.


The council says that since then, the university has been a leader through efforts such as conserving energy and reducing waste. It also supports research of green manufacturing practices and has 20 campus buildings that are certified or registered under the LEED program, which encourages sustainable design and construction.


12.18.14:  Michigan road funding talks down to final day


LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Talks over raising taxes to repair deteriorating Michigan roads have come down to the last day of voting in the Legislature this year.

Gov. Rick Snyder and legislative leaders plan to resume negotiations Thursday morning in hopes of brokering a minimum $1.2 billion deal. A solution may be done through legislation only, a ballot measure proposed for a statewide vote or a combination of both.

Legislators are planning for a marathon session that may stretch into Friday.

Snyder says talks are centered on a number of principles. They include generating an extra $1.2 billion a year for transportation funding, not harming K-12 and municipal budgets, making sure taxes at the pump go to roads, keeping fuel taxes in check and preventing a tax hike from disproportionately affecting lower- and middle-class residents.

He says lawmakers are “heading in a direction where it may be possible to check those boxes.”

12.17.14:  Firefighting equipment stolen


A volunteer firefighter with the Oakfield Fire Department of Kent County, had over $2,000 worth of equipment stolen.

Ryan Ford said when he went to fight a fire Sunday night, he found that his gear was gone.  It had been stolen from his vehicle during the night.


The Oakfield Fire Department says the money it will cost to replace Ford’s gear will take away from some urgent repairs that they were hoping to make before the end of the year.

12.17.14:  Grand Rapids giving police body cameras a look


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — A pilot project is being discussed in Grand Rapids that could include the use of body cameras as part of a broader effort to improve police relations with the public.

Most city leaders say they support giving body cameras a try and many residents at a Tuesday hearing reiterated their desire to see that happen.

Other changes called for at the hearing include a racial profiling study, psychological testing to determine any underlying racial bias that police officers may have, a task force to study how to improve public attitudes toward police and targeted recruitment of black police officers.

Andy Bingel, president of the Grand Rapids Police Officers Association, says they’re not opposed to the cameras, but they worry about the cost. Roughly $1 million could be spent on cameras and Bingel says that same money could add eight to 10 officers to the department.

President Barack Obama has promoted the use of body cameras by police in the wake of the August shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.


12.17.14:  Michigan road funds deal in doubt this session


LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Gov. Rick Snyder and legislative leaders are still talking about how to raise taxes to improve Michigan’s roads, as chances rise that no deal will be struck before lawmakers adjourn for the year.

The Republican governor says negotiators are trying to balance at least five priorities by Thursday’s deadline. They will meet again Wednesday after days of talks.

Top legislators’ main concerns include generating at least $1.2 billion more a year for transportation infrastructure but not harming schools and local governments also funded in part by a sales tax on fuel. Other priorities range from ensuring taxes at the pump go to road repairs and that they aren’t too high.

Snyder says that negotiators are “in the hunt” to strike a deal and “we are not just going in circles.”

12.17.14:  Bills signed to create parolee work certificate


LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Gov. Rick Snyder has signed legislation allowing Michigan inmates released on parole to be given a work certificate if they complete a career and technical education course and meet other requirements.

The “certificate of employability” would be good for four years and is geared to helping reduce the high unemployment rate among parolees.

They could show the document to potential employers as evidence of job training, no major misconduct in prison and that they passed work skills assessments. The state Corrections Department would have to revoke the certificate if a prisoner commits another felony.

Snyder said in a statement after Tuesday’s signing that: “Finding employment … helps parolees become productive members of society and it saves taxpayers money.”

The legislation requires the state to give released inmates documents regarding their criminal convictions, history behind bars and whether they obtained degrees or completed other programs while incarcerated. It also would let employers cite a certificate of employability as evidence that they were not negligent in hiring someone with a criminal history.

Meanwhile, Snyder signed a bill that seeks to modernize licensing practices and requirements and defines common phrases across the debt management industry. Snyder’s office says the bill brings Michigan more in line with current business practices.

Snyder also signed legislation to enable Michigan and Indiana to continue working together through Jan. 1, 2018, to survey the Michigan-Indiana state line. The original partnership calling for shared responsibilities and costs was established in 2010 and was due to expire.


12.17.14:  Wind park starts service in eastern Michigan


AKRON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) — A Consumers Energy wind park has started serving electric customers in Michigan’s Thumb region.

The company says its $255 million Cross Winds Energy Park in Tuscola County is its first wind park on the east side of the state. The utility estimated in April the wind park will have a 20-year economic impact of around $126 million in the state.

The park includes 62 wind turbines in Akron and Columbia townships and can generate 111 megawatts. The utility says more than $100 million of the $255 million project went to construction and components from Michigan manufacturers.

Consumers Energy says the park’s completion means it has met Michigan’s pending standard of 10 percent renewable energy production ahead of the requirement deadline in 2015.

The unit of Jackson-based CMS Energy Corp. serves 6.5 million Michigan residents.

12.16.14:  Former G.R. Clerk files 1 Billion dollar lawsuit


(Mlive) – Lauri Parks, fired from her job as Grand Rapids city clerk in 2013, has filed a $1 billion job discrimination lawsuit against the city, according to a document filed Monday in U.S. District Court.

A docket for the civil case shows Parks is suing Mayor George Heartwell and the city in federal court. Further information about the case has not been filed.

Parks, who was appointed to the job in 2008, was fired in October 2013 after city commissioners voted in a special meeting performance review not to renew her contract and to place her on paid administrative leave for three months. They said Parks’ dismissal was prompted by negative feedback about her job performance and that she failed to make improvements in teamwork, judgment and leadership.

She was offered the option to resign with six months’ pay or take another city job. Parks left during the closed-session performance review.

Black community members stood behind Parks and expressed outrage and disappointment at the City Commission’s decision.

An attorney for Parks alleged discrimination and said there was no basis for the firing.

Heartwell told the city’s Community Relations Commission, which investigates complaints of discrimination, that “at no time was Ms. Parks’ race or gender a factor in the commission’s decision.”

Parks is the granddaughter of Grand Rapids’ first African-American mayor, the late Rev. Lyman S. Parks.

12.16.14:  World War II landing ship getting new paint job


MUSEKGON, Mich. (AP) — A World War II landing ship that’s now a museum in western Michigan is getting a new paint job.

The USS LST 393 Veterans Museum in Muskegon is seeking donations and volunteers to help paint the ship.

The museum in Muskegon has launched a campaign to return the ship to its original “D-Day Gray” color scheme. It’s currently painted in “Pacific Jungle Camouflage” and hasn’t been repainted in more than seven years. The museum says it looks like it needs a fresh coat.

The fundraising goal is $30,000.

Museum manager Ron Morzfeld says it’s a “huge undertaking” to paint the 330-foot-long, 50-foot-wide ship. Potential volunteers are urged to contact the museum, which is open for tours from May through September. Donations are tax-deductible.

The landing ship tank was launched in 1942 and museum officials say more than 9,000 military members made their way into battle in Europe aboard LST 393. Decommissioned in 1946, the ship was used to carry automobiles across Lake Michigan.


12.16.14:  AAA forecasts big travel season in Michigan


DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) — AAA says more than 3 million people from Michigan are expected to travel 50 miles or more from home during the year-end holiday season.

The projections released Tuesday are an increase of nearly 5 percent from the 2.8 million people who traveled last year during that time. The auto club says that’s the highest travel volume for the period since 2006. The holiday travel period runs Dec. 23 through Jan 4.

Nearly 91 percent of Michigan travelers are expected to go by personal vehicle. That comes as Michigan gas prices are more than 70 cents per gallon lower than the same time last year, averaging about $2.42 per gallon. AAA says that’s the lowest level in more than five years.

AAA Michigan spokeswoman Susan Hiltz says in a statement that: “Continued growth in consumer confidence and disposable income, an extended holiday period and low gas prices should drive expected travel volumes … during the year-end holidays.”

AAA says air travel is forecast to grow 1.6 percent from 2013.

Christmas and New Year’s Day are on Thursdays this year, creating a holiday travel season that is one day longer than last year’s season. AAA notes that the calendar gives travelers more options for departures and return trips this year, making trips easier to schedule.