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News and quick-hit commentary from around mid-Michigan ... from the Morning Sun.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Lower flags Monday for Coleman soldier

Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm has ordered U.S. flags throughout the state of Michigan and on Michigan waters lowered for one day on Monday, June 4, in honor of Army Pfc. Casey P. Zylman of Coleman who died May 25 while on active duty in Iraq.
Zylman, 22, died from wounds suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle in Tallafar, Iraq. He was assigned to the 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.
Flags should return to full-staff on Tuesday, June 5.
When flown at half-staff or half-mast, the U.S. flag should be hoisted first to the peak for an instant and then lowered to the half-staff or half-mast position. The flag should again be raised to the peak before it is lowered for the day.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

A Marine Comes Home

Shepherd welcomed home Marine Cpl. Robert Richards from his second tour of duty in Iraq with a parade down Wright Avenue Wednesday. Accompanied by his wife, Suzy, and their daughter, Allison, Richards got the kind of welcome that veterans of an older generation might only have dreamed about.

Members of the Shepherd Police, veterans groups and an escort of more than 30 motorcycles led the way down Wright Avenue to welcome the 2001 Shepherd High School graduate back home.

First-graders from Shepherd Main Elementary School waved flags as the parade moved past the stately old houses on Wright Avenue toward downtown. There, at the village park across from the grain elevator, the village president welcomed the Marine home, members of the Central Michigan Concert Band played patriotic music, and Richards reminded people of his comrades who didn't make it home.
Richards is scheduled to return for a third tour in January.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The home price roller coaster

Take the home price roller coaster! (You should have a high-speed connection, and watch your step.)

Why we're paying $3.60 for gas

Northbound Interstate 75 near Saginaw was jammed Friday night before Memorial Day. Hundreds of thousands of people decided to purchase gasoline and hit the road.
We're not willing to give up the freedom of the road, and the demand for fuel is almost as high as it's ever been.
We might cut back other places, reduce our shopping at Macy's and shop more at Wal-Mart, or even cut back on what we buy at Wal-Mart, but it's not going to stop us from driving.
The people who sell the fuel will charge what the traffic (literally) will bear. We can whine, yell, scream, but as long as we want the product, and we're willing to pay for it, nothing will change.

Memorial Day

The flag flying at half-mast, the crowd gathered on Main Street, the wreaths, the flags, the veterans, the Boy Scouts and the high school marching band playing patriotic music all combine every year to give Mt. Pleasant a typical, American Memorial Day.

The VFW and the American Legion handed out hand-held flags, starched and standing out from the staffs that held them. The older people handled them carefully, but for a few younger people, who clearly had no idea what to do with them, they were just pretty cloth on a stick. That's sad, but it's not surprising. Someone had to teach all of how about what it all means, and we need to pass it along.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Construction starts on Lake Isabella hall

No, that's not a sand trap at The Pines. That's the excavation for the new Lake Isabella village offices on Clubhouse Drive.
A long-time resident raised a flap earlier this month over the location of the village hall -- he wanted it built near the airport. But it's clear that the village council has decided to go ahead with the plans to put it adjacent to the golf course.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Mid-Michigan service member dies in Iraq

The Associated Press is reporting a service member from Coleman has been killed in Iraq.
Casey Zylman, 23, a 2003 graduate of Coleman High School, was reported to have died, but details of the young man's death have yet to be announced by the Pentagon.
The Midland Daily News quotes the principal of Coleman High School as saying "He was one of our kids."
His father, Randy Zylman, asked for privacy.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Another day at half-staff

Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm has ordered U.S. flags throughout the state of Michigan and on Michigan waters lowered for one day on Tuesday, May 29, in honor of Army Sgt. Justin D. Wisniewski of Standish, who died May 19 while on active duty in Iraq. Flags should return to full-staff on Wednesday.
Wisniewski, 22, died from wounds suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated near his unit in Lutfiyah, Iraq. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 15th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, Fort Drum, N.Y.

And a reminder: Flags are to be flown at half-staff on Memorial Day, Monday, May 28, until noon.

When flown at half-staff or half-mast, the U.S. flag should be hoisted first to the peak for an instant and then lowered to the half-staff or half-mast position. The flag should again be raised to the peak before it is lowered for the day.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Meridian Park Spider

Spent the early evening at Meridian Park with my son. The light made everything look like a childhood memory. Everything is in full bloom, and aside from a with a man and his dog, some jumping fish, a lot of bugs and this spider, we didn't see another living thing. I think mid-Michigan is so lucky to have the parks we have.

Gas Prices-what do you think?

Are gas prices out of control? Will the rising cost of fuel influence your plans this summer? Tell us what you think by adding a comment here!

Half staff

Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm has ordered that U.S. flags throughout the state of Michigan and on Michigan waters be lowered in honor of Michigan servicemen who lost their lives while on active duty in Iraq. Flags will be lowered:
Thursday, May 24,
to honor Army National Guard Sgt. Thomas G. Wright of Holly, 38, who died May 14 from a non-combat related illness while serving in Balad, Iraq. He was assigned to the 46th Military Police Co., 210th Military Police Battalion, Kingsford.
Friday, May 25, to honor Army Pfc. Daniel W. Courneya of Nashville, 19, who died May 12 from wounds suffered when his patrol was attacked by enemy forces in Al Taqa, Iraq. He was assigned to the 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, Fort Drum, N.Y
Flags should return to full-staff on Saturday, May 26.

When flown at half-staff or half-mast, the United States flag should be hoisted first to the peak for an instant and then lowered to the half-staff or half-mast position. The flag should again be raised to the peak before it is lowered for the day.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

One family, school choice and school budgets

Andrew Ranzenberger is a member of the Mt. Pleasant High School ski team.

The experience of my own family, school choice and the Mt. Pleasant Public Schools illustrates the extreme difficulty the school board faces as budgets get tight.
I have three children in Mt. Pleasant Public Schools. They are in Mt. Pleasant schools because of school choice.
We actually live in the Chippewa Hills school district, but our decision to send the kids to Mt. Pleasant began a number of years ago because Mt. Pleasant offered something that Chippewa Hills did not: The Oilers have a ski team.
At the end of sixth grade, the time came to decide where my son Andrew would go to junior high school. We wanted to find the best fit, and we looked at Chip Hills, Beal City, Morey Charter School and Mt. Pleasant’s West Intermediate.
A variety of factors entered into the decision. Academics at all those schools are comparable, so it came down to the atmosphere of the schools, convenience and extracurricular activities.
My son, Andrew, has always been an avid skier. At the end of the day, the choice was made to attend West – because in two years, he could join the Mt. Pleasant High School ski team.
That’s what happened. He’s spent three years as a J.V. skier, honing his skills and learning from a top-notch coach. He’s got the fire in the belly to make varsity this year.
That’s what happens when high school athletics works the way it’s supposed to: Students learn teamwork, follow good role models, set goals and work hard to achieve them. It’s carried over to his academics; he’s being recruited – not as an athlete, but as a scholar – by several dozen universities, from Michigan Tech to Marquette to NYU and the University of Chicago.
I give a lot of the credit for his mind-set to his coach, who sets the bar high and helps his student-athletes achieve what he demands of them.
Then I read this in today’s Sun:
"I think it's extravagant to have buses taking students to Cadillac to practice skiing and we're talking about not filling superintendent and principal positions," Trustee Rita Doneth said. "It's wonderful that we have a ski team, but we don't have a mountain. It's got to be tight and got to be lean."
That bus to practice in Cadillac actually happened only once or twice, because the local hill – Snow Snake – didn’t have enough snow because of last winter’s weird weather.
But is a ski team really extravagant? I did some figuring. Choice students really don’t increase the district’s costs – it costs just about the same to educate a class of 24 as a class of 23. The choice kid just brings in an additional state foundation grant.
Andrew will spend six years as a Mt. Pleasant Public Schools student under school choice. Figure an average of $6,800 a year times six years, and he’s brought in about $40,800 in additional income.
Then consider this: He has two siblings. Katherine, two years younger than Andrew didn’t even want to consider any other school after sixth grade. She saw her brother’s experience in Mt. Pleasant and never considered becoming anything but an Oiler.
There’s another $40,800.
The same year Katherine went to West, youngest brother Robert started fifth grade at Mary McGuire school. That’s eight years in the Mt. Pleasant system; $54,400.

Katherine and Robert both found their passions in music. It works the same way as athletics: The standards are high, the support is great, the academic motivation is strong.
From 2002-03, when Andrew started at West, to 2011-12, when Robert will graduate, the presence of this one family will have produced $136,000 in income the Mt. Pleasant schools would not otherwise have had. That averages out to $13,600 a year in additional income to the school district.
That would appear to be enough to pay a big chunk of a teacher’s health benefit for 10 years.
This family is there because of the ski team. Extravagant? Or critical investment in paying for everyone's quality education?

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Gas leak

The Commerce Center was evacuated for a while today because of a natural gas smell somewhere inside the building.

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Eventually the MPFD gave the all-clear and we all went back to work as normal. It was kind of nice to have an impromptu company picnic in the middle of the day!

Near record cold expected

The National Weather Service has posted a freeze watch for mid-Michigan for tonight into Friday morning.
Clear skies and light winds will allow temperatures to drop into the 25 to 30-degree range, most likely between 3 and 7 a.m. Friday. Low-lying areas will be particularly vulnerable.
It will be cold enough to mess with some of the emerging crops, but the extent of the damage will depend on how everything plays out.
The record low temperature in Mt. Pleasant for May 18 is 25 degrees, set in 1925.
So far this week, temperatures are running about 12 percent below normal. For the heating season, which runs from Labor Day to Memorial Day (this is Michigan, after all), temperatures are 9 percent above normal.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Record gas prices

News item, Sept. 3, 2005: In the wake of the massive disruption of Hurricane Katrina, gas prices jump. The highest price for a gallon of unleaded recorded in Michigan over that Labor Day holiday, high-demand weekend was in Traverse City (hey, it's T-C, and the tourists have to buy gas to get home) was just over $3.40.
News item, May 15, 2007: Sagamok Shell posts the lowest price in mid-Michigan for a gallon of unleaded fuel. The price: just over $3.40.
News item, May 15, 2007: Wal-Mart announces its earnings won't meet analysts' expectations. The world's biggest retailer blames high fuel prices. In other words, Americans are spending so much on gas they can't even afford to shop at Wal-Mart.

Schultz bound over on solicitation charge

Accused murderer Gordon D. Schultz was ordered Tuesday by a Jackson County District judge to stand trial for allegedly hiring a hit man to kill his murdered ex-girlfriend's daughter.

Schultz, who is charged in Isabella County with the murder of Becky Sue MacDonald, whose body was found by police in Midland County's Edenville Township Jan. 23.

State police Detective Sgt. William Eberhardt went undercover in the Southern Michigan Correctional Facility in Jackson, became acquainted with Schultz and learned where MacDonald was buried, according to testimony in Chief Judge R. Darryl Mazur's courtroom.

Schultz allegedly hired Eberhardt to kill Terrie Thrush of Sanford because he believed she was behind the ongoing investigation into her mother's Nov. 11, 2005 disappearance.

Schultz, 45, who is serving time for third-offense domestic violence, is scheduled to be arraigned before Jackson County Circuit Judge John McBain June 5, Jackson County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Mark Blumer said Tuesday.

Speedway cranks up the price

Speedway stations, like this one on Pickard Road in Mt. Pleasant, raised the price of gas to $3.499 Tuesday. Other retailers, such as the Meijer station across the street, did not immediately follow suit.

The price of gasoline at Speedway stations in outstate Michigan, including Mt. Pleasant, jumped 23 cents a gallon Tuesday morning to a record $3.499 a gallon.
Gasoline had been selling for about $3.26 a gallon
Other stations in Mt. Pleasant appeared to be resisting the increase, at least for the moment.
Drivers were frantically packing service stations to top off their tanks at $3.26 -- which in itself had been a record high price.

Mission Construction

Construction work is the order of the day today on Mission Street and Business U.S. 127.
Northbound drivers are down to one lane at Mission and High streets, due to a water main break. Drivers are being discouraged from turning right from Mission to westbound High, instead being routed on a detour using Bellows and Main streets. It's not clear now long the work will last.
At the south end of town, the U.S. 127 business route is to be closed today for installation of a culvert, work related to the opening of the Isabella Road junction. Traffic that ordinarily would exit on the business route is being rerouted to the Pickard Road/M-20 exit, with a detour involving Isabella and Bluegrass roads.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

When normal is news

Farmer Bob Murphy says about half his corn crop is planted this year.

Week one, Journalism 202, Introduction to Writing for the Mass Media:
Q. What makes something news?
A. When it's unusual or out of the ordinary.
Well, the weather in mid-Michigan has been entirely normal, entirely average for the last month. Farmers have been planting crops on time, gardeners have been putting in flowers, it's been raining, but not too hard, at the right times, and staying dry at the right times so work can be done. The pests are there, but they're staying in check.
In most other years, we're writing about how the spring is too cold, or too hot, or too wet, or too dry, or the pests are about to munch on the soybeans.
It's not happening this year; everything's "normal."
That's really unusual.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

A community mouns

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Sherry and Jim Kaiser of Alma place flags along the motorcade route leading to Riverside Cemetary.

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The hero comes home

The family of U.S. Marine Master Sgt. Michael Wert, from left, Debbie, Michael, Katrina and Rochelle, accept the U.S. flag that covered Sgt. Wert's casket before his burial at Riverside Cemetery in Alma.

U.S. Marine Master Sgt. Michael Wert died a hero.
The Alma native died attempting to rescue two boys who were being carried out to sea by a rip current off the coast of North Carolina, where he was stationed.
He was laid to rest Saturday in his home town with full military honors.

The Rev. Phil Friedrick, pastor of Alma United Methodist Church, leads the Marine Corps honor guard carrying Sgt. Wert's casket down the steps of the church.

Katrina, Rochelle, Michael and Debbie Wert leave the church after Sgt. Wert's funeral.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Just dandy

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

One person's harassment

Shepherd Village Council member Jim Bush wasn't at this year's Maple Syrup Festival; a family commitment called him to Minnesota. But even in Minnesota, his mobile phone rang with at least one complaint of "police harassment" during the weekend festival.
The details of this harassment: Shepherd officers were asking people not to double-park and block side streets while drivers perused garage sales.
Garage sales are a big deal during the Maple Syrup Festival -- almost every block has at least one. But a lot of the streets in Shepherd are pretty narrow, and the bigger sales attract a lot of customers.
Blocked streets scare the heck out of people who drive ambulances and fire trucks. If somebody's having a stroke or a heart attack, seconds count, and if your house is on fire, minutes seem like hours.
Police Chief Tony Hagen said his department followed long-standing village policy, and asked people nicely to move their cars out of the way. But ask enough people to do something they don't want to do, and presto! Harassment! Threats! Abuse!!!
Hagen said he did end up giving somebody a ticket.
One ticket.
Such torment.

CMU Campus shutdown

Central Michigan University will shut down most of its main campus beginning at 6 a.m. Friday and running through about 6 p.m. Sunday.

Workers will use the time to switch the campus from existing supplies to the new Satellite Energy Facility's high voltage substation.

Most workers and faculty will be given a paid day off. Essential personnel such as police will still be on duty.

Mt. Pleasant bond results

Voters approved the Mt. Pleasant Public Schools $14.9 million bond proposal Tuesday by nearly three to one.
Here's the breakdown by precinct:

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Cast your ballot!

Voting is being held today (Tuesday) at precincts within the Mt. Pleasant School District.
Mt. Pleasant Public Schools is requesting $14.9 million for repairs and construction for buildings throughout the district that range in age from 6-83 years old.
As of noon Tuesday, voter turnout was relatively light, according to Mt. Pleasant City Clerk Rob Flynn.
Take this chance to make your opinion heard, polls are open until 8 p.m.
If approved, the debt levy for next year will drop by 0.54 mills, from 6.02 mills levied this year to 5.48 next year. A homeowner with a $100,000 house will save roughly $27 next year if the bond proposal is passed.
If the bond is rejected, the overall debt levy will drop to 5.11 mills next year.

The Old Water Tower

Behind the Borden Building is the ancient water tower that once served the one-time condensed-milk factories boilers. Some also believe that the tower might have held water for steam locomotives -- the Ann Arbor had a siding that led to the factory.
In any case, the water tower, rusty, flaking lead-based paint and generally decrepit -- appears to be on its way out.

The financing of the Borden Building project is a complex melange of municipal bonds, brownfield tax credits, private money, public money and historic preservation tax credits. The interplay of these credits is supposed to tilt the playing field enough to make the cost of converting the ancient factory into office space competitive with going out and converting a soybean field into an office.
To qualify for a historic preservation tax credit, a building must be restored as closely as possible to its original state. In the case of the Borden Building, that would include the water tower.
But the water tower is contaminated with lead. State environmental regulators say the best thing is to make it go away. State historic preservation people wanted it to stay, to maintain the historic integrity.
It looks as if the environmental people will win this one. Word is that the state historic preservation gurus looked closely at the issue, and are likely to give their OK to make the water tower go away. The decision might be helped along by the fact that the low bid to clean up what would now be a purely decorative feature of the building was more than $42,000.
They'd rather have the restored old building than sink the project over a rusty mass of steel.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Students behaving badly

The battle over development of the southwest corner of Broomfield and Crawford roads seems have to come down to one issue: Whether students cause more trouble when there are four students in an apartment vs. two students in an apartment.
Mount Pleasant Planning Commissioner Lori Gillis said where there are four student in an apartment, the party's already started.
A lot of people, remembering their own college days, would have a tendency to agree. The 1975-76 school year at 1725 S. Crawford, for example, pretty much kitty-corner from the proposed Broomfield Hills development, was, indeed, a party every night. Four guys, all of legal drinking age, all majoring in broadcasting -- rock 'n' roll, baby!
The landlord was wise enough to "decorate" the walls with barn wood -- it's awfully hard to scar the walls when the walls already are scarred!
That apartment, and hundreds of four-person, two-bedroom apartments like it, are still there. But the four-person, two-bedroom, one-bath apartment rapidly is becoming a thing of the past. Those are the apartments that are going empty. Those are the places that today's students turn up their noses at.
The apartment of choice today is a four-bedroom, four-bath, four-person townhouse. Most of today's students have never shared bedrooms, are appalled when they have to do it their freshman year in the Towers, and many get out as fast as they can.
Once they do, these overscheduled students barely see their roommates; their lives are lived online in virtual communities.
The newest student developments, such as the Village at Bluegrass, Copper Beech Townhomes, and United Investments' own West Pointe Village, all are one-student-per-bedroom developments.
It's worth asking about: Are these any quieter than two-students-per-bedroom? Maybe, just maybe, the density issue isn't students-per-unit, but students per bedroom.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Glad Grads

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Two years ago today, I was in this man's shoes.

Two years of living in Mt. Pleasant post-CMU has taught me a lot, and as John Grogan, the keynote speaker at commencement who penned the best-selling "Marley and Me," said, we continue to learn after leaving the classrooms behind and entering the workforce. As he said, it is only the beginning of a lifetime of learning.

I have had to learn to say goodbye to close friends I made over my four years at CMU, which has probably been the hardest thing for me to do. As we spread out over the country after school to find work and a place to live, we sometimes lose track of the people who were in all our classes or who helped us through the hard times.

I have been thinking a lot today about my classmates in the photojournalism program at CMU, who I went to Louisville and Cleveland with for conferences; who worked with me at CM Life and who would wake me up when I would fall asleep during lecture; who gave me so much encouragement and inspired me to better myself. I miss them all. My dad once said there will be no stronger friendships than the ones I make in college and so far I am inclined to agree with him. From New York to California, they are striking off on their own and growing in ways I can only imagine.

Best of luck to today's graduates. May you never stop discovering the world around you.

Add your input!

Got an opinion about something you saw in today's Morning Sun? Express yourself!

Friday, May 04, 2007

Hot stuff

There's still no good explanation of a very strange car fire at Green's Towing Thursday afternoon. The best speculation is that the vehicle, which had been involved in an accident earlier in the day, still had its battery connected. The accident might have short-circuited some wiring, causing heat or a spark. Leaking gasoline then caught fire.
The black-and-white image on page A3 of today's Sun printed a bit dark -- here's what it looked like in color:

There was some question in the newsroom as to why we would cover a car fire -- ordinarily, we don't.
But when we heard on the initial call the words "thick black smoke" "multiple explosions" and "flames showing," it got our attention. The words "multiple explosions," especially.
It's likely the explosions were the sounds of the tires bursting, but we didn't know that at the time. One of them went while I was standing next to the vehicle, and it sounded like a 12-gauge shotgun shell being fired. It was VERY attention-getting.

We're back!

The blog is back!
We're still not clear on exactly what happened, but in March, this thing just kinda disappeared. Blame our hosts at Blogger, a division of Google.
Lisa Yanick, give her tremendous credit, kept on the Blogger people, and apparently, they opened the right drawer and found it again!
I do know that Blogger was in the process of moving its system from Beta to full service; we all know that when you're dealing with a Beta system, expect surprises.
The important thing -- we're back on line and blogging!