09-24-2020 Firefighters tell elected officials they lack confidence in Chief; 2020 Miss and Mr. Blos

2019 ROYALTY FINAL DUTIES SATURDAY… The couple was crowned in March 2019. The scheduled 2020 pageant was postponed due to the rapid spread of the coronavirus. Olivia Ellis of Bangor was named the 87th Miss Blossomtime. Sin’cere Taylor of Coloma was named the 23rd Mr. Blossomtime.


2020 Miss and Mr. Blossomtime Pageant different than years past

The Blossomtime Festival Board of Directors is excited to announce the 2020 Miss and Mr. Blossomtime Pageant will be held on Saturday, Sept. 26.

President Anna Abdelnour expressed, “The Blossomtime Festival is honored to be able to present the 2020 Miss and Mr. Blossomtime Pageant. We are overjoyed to be able to give the young people of Southwest Michigan this opportunity and we are eager to see who will be crowned Miss and Mr. Blossomtime and their respective courts of honor. Not only will they receive the title of Miss Blossomtime and Mr. Blossomtime, they will receive scholarship dollars that can be used to further their education. 2020 has been a challenging year for everyone and our pageant will present itself differently than years past, but the heart of the festival continues to beat strongly for the young people of our communities as we travel this new road together.”

The pageant will take place at the Harbor Shores Golf Club Event Tent. The Mr. Blossomtime Pageant begins at 1:00 p.m. The Miss Blossomtime Pageant begins at 3:00 p.m. Due to Michigan’s COVID-19 pandemic state guidelines, the pageants will be closed outdoor events and there will not be a public ticket sale nor will tickets be available to purchase at the door. However, the pageant will be streamed live for anyone to view and as we approach the pageant date, details will be provided on our Facebook page under Blossomtime Festival, Inc.

The Blossomtime Festival is the oldest, largest, multi-community Festival in Michigan, celebrating 114 years this year. The goal of the Festival is to provide young adults in Southwest Michigan with mentoring opportunities, to learn about our rich agricultural history and to assist in making their educational dreams come true by providing scholarships. Each year the Blossomtime Festival crowns a Queen and King to celebrate the coming of spring in our rich agricultural region. Our first Miss Blossomtime, Catherine Burrell from Benton Harbor, was crowned in 1924 and our first Mr. Blossomtime Jake Belter from the community of Stevensville was crowned in 1997. On Sept. 26, the legacy continues with the crowning of the 88th Miss Blossomtime and 24th Mr. Blossomtime for the festival.

Firefighters tell elected officials they lack confidence in Chief

By Annette Christie

Members of the Watervliet Joint Fire Department have expressed to local officials and the Fire Board, their lack of confidence in their Chief following his re-instatement to active duty. They did so in a letter addressed to the Fire Board, Watervliet City Commission, and the Watervliet Charter Township Board. The township, in their Monday, Sept. 21, 2020 meeting, accepted the letter and addressed it.

Watervliet Joint Fire Department Chief Dan Jones had been placed on paid administrative leave following a special meeting of the Fire Board on Aug. 27, 2020. In addition to Jones, 2nd Lt. Justin Scheetz was also placed on paid administrative leave. As the two each had a closed session with the Fire Board, the details of what may have occurred with the two or between the two were unknown; however, the minutes of that meeting reflect that it was a personnel matter.

At the Fire Board’s next meeting held on Sept. 15, both individuals were re-instated following the announcement that a written warning would be placed in each of their personnel files. This did not come without dissent. At one point in that meeting, Fire Board member Melanie Marvin (representing the City of Watervliet), made a motion that as the Fire Board continues to review policies, the handbook, employment agreements and the agreement that ties the Fire Board together, that Jones should remain on administrative leave. Watervliet City Mayor Dave Brinker supported the motion; however, it failed, as Watervliet Charter Township representatives Joe Stepich and Patt Bambrick and at-large member Deane Fizzell voted no.

It appeared that recent happenings have given the Fire Board some reason to believe that it is time to visit all of those governing documents and update and revise them as needed. Fire Board Chairman Fizzell asked that all board members go through the materials and note areas that needed updating or changed. In addition, he distributed payroll and administrative processes for the department so that they could be updated also. He had hoped that at next month’s meeting they could go over the changes. While no details were revealed, Stepich eluded to a situation and noted that in the course of that “situation”, the board has heard this and that and that the board needs to do a thorough job of looking at things.

Following the meeting on the 15th, a special meeting of the Fire Board was called on Friday, Sept. 18. While there was further discussion about the Chief’s status and some firefighters expressed some concerns during public comments, no action was taken by the Fire Board.

At the Monday, Sept. 21 Watervliet Charter Township Board meeting, Clerk Patt Bambrick (who also represents the township on the Fire Board) read the following letter into the record.

“Dear Watervliet Joint Fire Board, Watervliet City Commission and Watervliet Township Board,

We, the Watervliet Firefighters, regretfully submit this letter of official notice to inform you of a majority vote of No Confidence in Fire Chief Dan Jones. Unfortunately, we feel that with recent actions by Chief Jones we have been left with no other ethical recourse.

Most recently Chief Jones had an altercation with an employee in which he allegedly assaulted the employee by hitting him in the back of the head with a department radio. This is the first physical altercation he has had at the department, but in recent months he has had verbal altercation with residents on fire calls and had multiple complaints from his behavior at a graduation parade for grade school children. Chief Jones has been in several verbal altercations with neighboring departments’ personnel alienating us from the departments we need to work with.

As well in recent weeks, several questionable payroll inaccuracies have come to light with at least one employee being over paid and three others being under paid, one of them for over a year. You might think that it should have been caught by the employee, but most of us are here because of a sense of duty to serve our community, getting paid comes second to that. With that being said, it has also come to light that Chief Jones has misappropriated funds to himself upwards of thousands of dollars.

After the most recent Fire Board meeting, in an attempt to, what we assume is to spread blame or intimidate, Chief Jones threatened an employee that spoke out against him in the meeting. There are many miscellaneous issues that we have and each day that he is in charge, things progressively get worse. Only some of these pressing issues are equipment not being maintained, questionable responses to calls, and important personal protective equipment out of date. It’s extremely unfortunate that this matter has escalated as far as it has and that we, as firefighters, are being put in this position.

In closing, in a profession where every call can be life and death for us or our citizens, you have to be able to rely on the people and equipment you work with. Honor and integrity are the back­bone of the fire service and when the trust has been broken in so many ways it cannot be repaired. Chief Jones has lost the ability to lead this department.

Respectfully submitted,

Watervliet Firefighters”

Bambrick said during the virtual meeting that the letter was signed by 14 firefighters and acknowledged that there may be a couple more signatures in the days to come. Bill Whitney Jr., an officer in the fire department and a Watervliet City Commissioner, was on the virtual meeting and, when asked, answered that there was around 20 on the roster. Stepich inquired about the firefighters who are now on leave. Whitney replied, to his knowledge, that the department has approximately five certified guys that are available right now to answer a fire call, including Jones. The rest have either left the department or put themselves on a leave of absence. Whitney noted that there are four other firefighters that have post-dated their leaves for tomorrow, pending the outcome of this letter.

Bambrick announced that she and Brinker, representing both the city and the township, were planning to meet with Jones on Wednesday. Bambrick said that there will be no action taken, that they are talking to him, and they will go from there. She assured the firefighters that were on the meeting that it was time for no more talk and only resolve. Stepich also joined in that sentiment stating that they hope to have a decision by the end of the week that will resolve the situation.

Both Stepich and Brinker (when contacted after the meeting) want to assure the community that steps have been taken to make certain that when the fire bells go off, the Hartford, Covert, and North Berrien Fire Departments are prepared to respond, even as the first on the scene, until this situation can be resolved.

Brinker said that he would expect a special Fire Board meeting to occur either Thursday or Friday.

Jones remains in the Chief position and is on active duty as of Tuesday. An effort to reach Chief Jones was unsuccessful.

Multi-car crash claims child

A multi-vehicle crash on M-140 in Covert Township has claimed the life of a seven-year-old boy.

The Covert Police Department responded to the accident at the 28th Street and M-140 intersection in Van Buren County. Around 2:00 p.m., a person driving a Buick Regal ran the stop sign and struck a northbound Saturn VUE on M-140. The impact of the crash caused the Saturn to strike another vehicle, one that was traveling southbound on M-140.

There were two passengers in the Saturn, the adult driver and the child. Damian Sanchez Enriquez, 7, was pronounced dead at the scene. The driver was taken to a local hospital and was listed in stable condition.

The accident remains under investigation and may be forwarded to the Van Buren County Prosecutor’s Office for review.