THIS SHOULD BE a grand time of year for Northern Michigan University.
Spring’s here, the sun’s shining, the ice on the lake has melted, and thrilled students and proud parents will be celebrating graduation is this weekend. Woohoo.
If you look up, you’ll notice that stubborn, dark cloud that’s settled over the university. A cloud that’s been blown in by the North Wind, NMU’s feisty and troublesome student newspaper.
Of immediate concern to the university is a motion for an injunction brought by North Wind faculty advisor Cheryl Reed and managing editor Michael Williams against five members of the newspaper’s board who ousted Reed from her position, effective in June.
Reed and Williams charge that the board violated their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. They charge intimidation, threats, secret and illegal meetings, unwanted interference in the editorial operations of the newspaper, an infringement on free speech rights…The list goes on.
The North Wind has written some provocative articles over the last several months. Critics would say some were irresponsible. Reed and Williams vehemently disagree. And they have free speech advocates on their side. Reed has the endorsement of the English Department faculty as well as the staff at the newspaper.
Reed, who has serious journalistic credentials, says she merely advises the students. She does not write the stories, she does not set the editorial tone of the paper. The students do that, and should be allowed to do that without interference by the administration or by the board.
Reed wants her job as advisor back. She seems unlikely to back down, and she’s got allies.
So, during what should be happy, sunny times, we’ve got our hometown university dealing with a motion for an injunction, a lawsuit, charges, and counter-charges. Oh, and also a faculty protest over salaries. Bad feelings all around.
A tough first year for University President Fritz Erickson.
But you know what? Leaders are supposed to deal with crises, not wish them away. They need to bring adversaries together and resolve the problems. Find a way forward.
Sure seems like the perfect time for a leader to assert himself. Earn his keep.
Either that, or the bad feelings linger, and the stubborn cloud continues to cast a long, dark shadow over NMU.
NO SURPRISE IN Lansing. The bills that State Rep John Kivela and State Senator Tom Casperson are sponsoring to promote fairness in taxes on business properties (the “dark store” issue) are taking longer than expected to get before the full legislature.
The proposed bills are now being vetted by the Treasury Department to ensure that they’re constitutional and that they’ll accomplish their goals: eliminating loopholes that allow businesses to be taxed in the same way as a dark, defunct store or one that has a deed restriction on it.
One of the bills would also prohibit a business from placing a deed restriction on a property that violates the community’s master plan. In other words, if a city or township says it wants box stores in a specific area, a property owner in that area can’t stipulate, “No box stores.”
So when do the bills come back from the Treasury Department? Kivela hopes, within two weeks.
Then we’ll see how they fare before the legislature which, it’s fair to say, has been consistently pro-business. Any bills perceived as hurting business generally get shot down.
On a postive note, the bills are bipartisan (Kivela is a Democrat, Casperson is Republican). Maybe that’ll help.
On a negative note, maybe the legislators will still see this as a “UP problem” and who the hell cares about 3% of the state’s population?
SPEAKING OF DEED restrictions, Kivela says he’s been told by a Marquette Township official that the property on US 41 that ProBuild recently vacated does, in fact, have a deed restriction on it.
The restriction essentially prohibits the future owner of that land from building a store that would sell food, clothes, electronics, and the like. In other words, no box stores.
Which means that any hopes for a Meier or a Costco on that site are dead. Maybe it’s not a big enough site, anyway.
But this is clearly a case where the Township’s master plan to promote a retail corridor there is being thwarted.
Who bought the deed restriction on that property? Good question. Was it a competing box store in the same area? Don’t know yet. Kivela’s staff is looking into it.
Regardless, it’s legal. That’s the way business is done.
It’s natural to be skeptical when we hear about the latest exciting plans to renovate this historic building that’s been an eyesore, a nuisance, and a pain in the ass for the city for so many years.
But this time it might be different.
Home Renewal Systems, which is proposing a $15 million renovation of the Orphanage, has a track record for such projects downstate. Barry Polzin, who’s been hired as architect for the renovation (Is there any building project he’s not involved in these days?), says it’s absolutely do-able. And likely.
The date to watch is July 1. That’s when the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) will announce whether the Orphanage will qualify for tax credits that would give the go-ahead for the project. Other projects compete for the tax credits but Polzin is convinced that the building’s historic heritage, its architecture, and the plans for its future use as low income housing (including veterans and single mothers) will win the day.
We’ll see. If it misses out on July 1, it’ll come up for consideration a month later.
The Orphanage would have to be stripped to the bone but the bones are good. The new Orphanage, with 55 housing units, would look as close to the original, built in 1915, as possible.
Total time for the cleanup, the stripping and the rebuilding? About a year and a half.
We’ll believe it when we see it.
IF YOU DRIVE south on US 41, it’s hard to miss the clearing of trees along the highway near Shiras Hills.
It’s pretty substantial. Some might even say drastic.
Turns out, it’s two different projects. One’s being done by the MDOT to make improvements to 41. The other, however is the work of the property owner on the lake side of the highway.
That work, according to City Manager Bill Vajda, came as a surprise to the city. Officials received no notice of the clearing and once they learned of it, they issued a stop-work order. They’re fining the owner. Mass clearings like this, Vajda says, are in violation of city ordinances. They also can create erosion problems.
Officials want to confer with the property owner about it. No response so far, according to Vajda.
Not that it’ll matter much. The trees are already down. The timber’s being harvested.
For what it’s worth, the view of the lake from the highway is clearer than it’s ever been.
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