10-03-2019 Letters and Commentary

Berrien County investigation concerning conflict of interest by commissioner

The following statement is being issued on behalf of the Berrien County Board of Commissioners:

“The Berrien County Prosecutor, upon a referral from the County Board of Commissioners and after an exhaustive investigation, has decided not to press charges on whether Commissioner Teri Freehling violated the Michigan criminal code governing conflicts of interest by elected officials.

The Berrien County Board of Commissioners has its own by-laws concerning disclosure of Commissioner conflicts of interest. At this point in time the Board has made no decisions on this matter. To protect the rights of both Commissioner Freehling and the integrity of the Board’s by-law standards, the Board has retained Special Counsel to review the facts of this conflict of interest issue and to advise the Board concerning its appropriate course of action. The Special Counsel will make a report to the entire Board in the next three weeks.”

*Update September 27, 2019*

Following the Berrien County Board of Commissioners’ meeting on Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019, leadership of the Board met with Special Counsel John Dewane.

Board Chairman R. McKinley Elliott stated the following: “We discussed the scope of his services. Although we appreciate that the criminal investigation has been concluded by the Prosecutor’s Office, the Board’s work is just beginning. We anticipate that Special Counsel Dewane will undertake a complete review of everything that has transpired involving the allegations of Commissioner Freehling’s conflict of interest and the alleged failure to fully disclose the same. The investigative file has already been provided by Prosecutor Sepic, and Judge Dewane is presently going through it. This process will also likely involve contact with various County officials. Special Counsel John Dewane will be granted a broad delegation of the necessary power and authority to conduct a thorough investigation, which will include the full cooperation of our all of our Board members and our employees.”

During the course of the meeting with Dewane, Elliott asked him to “follow the arrow wherever it points”, and to advise the Board of Commissioners on any findings which may warrant the imposition of administrative sanctions. In addition to this comprehensive review, the Board of Commissioners anticipates advice and comments on the prospective application of their By-laws to the conflict of interest and disclosure duties of individual Commissioners, including suggested amendments.

Final 2019 Berrien County recycling event, Oct. 12

Berrien County residents can recycle household chemicals, home medical waste, electronics, and get their personal documents shredded on Saturday, Oct. 12 at the Southeast Berrien County Landfill Recycling Center, 3200 Chamberlain Road, Buchanan. The event will run between 8 a.m. and 12 noon. The event is open to Berrien County residents only. Business waste is prohibited.

The household chemicals and liquids will be recycled and disposed of properly to prevent poisoning and protect environmental health. Accepted items include home, garden, garage, and workshop liquids and chemicals, as well as batteries of all sizes, fluorescent light bulbs, mercury items and home medical waste such as pills, liquids, aerosols, and sharps. Donations are accepted to help off-set the collection and processing costs.

Items that are NOT accepted are latex paint (can be dried out and placed in regular curbside trash with the lid off the paint can), gas grill propane tanks, and ammunition. Visit www.berriencounty.org click Recycling Services to learn how to recycle and properly dispose of these materials, or call the Berrien County Parks Department 269-983-7111 x8234.

Green Earth Electronics Recycling will be on-site to collect household electronic waste including computers, televisions, printers, large and small appliances, dehumidifiers, and anything else with a cord or that is battery operated. Fees apply on computer monitors ($10 each) and televisions ($20 each). Cash or check is accepted. All other electronics are accepted at no cost. Call Green Earth Electronics Recycling for more information, 269-326-1232.

County residents can also bring personal documents for on-site shredding. Participants must remove any 3-ring binders, large binder clips, and heavy plastics and metals before bringing documents. The Southeast Berrien County Landfill Authority is sponsoring the on-site shredding truck, providing this service free to residents.

This event is the final Berrien County Community Recycling Event of 2019. A complete list of accepted items is posted at www.berriencounty.org click Recycling Services, or call Jill Adams in the County Parks Department, 269-983-7111 x8234 with questions.

Government Day presented by Berrien County Republican Women’s Club

The annual Government Day Program sponsored by the Berrien County Republican Women’s Club is Wednesday, October 16. The buffet luncheon and speaker’s program will begin promptly at noon at Pebblewood Restaurant in Bridgman. Two student representatives from Berrien County high schools and a sponsor are invited as guests of the Women’s Club. Michael McHenry, owner and lead trainer, along with Nick Kruger, instructor, from the FM K-9 training facility on Pokagon Road in Berrien Center will speak on: “Law Enforcement and Their Canine Companions”.

Their training program includes basic courses in a variety of areas along with obedience, health and care of dogs, sociability, searches, aggression control, court testimony, legal aspects, problem solving/solutions, and maintaining records. Also, they will have a “trainee” with them for a live demonstration. The luncheon buffet program is $15.00, payable at the door and is open to the public. An RSVP is requested and can be made by calling 465-3972 or 982-9939.

Nessel opposes proposed federal rule that would deprive 144,000 Michiganders of critical food assistance

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel last week joined 23 other Attorneys General to oppose the federal government’s proposed changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that would strip away benefits from 144,188 individuals in 79,901 Michigan households.

The Attorneys General filed a comment letter against the rule proposed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that would end states’ ability to set rules for SNAP eligibility based on the unique needs of their communities. The letter argues that the rule would violate federal law and harm the states, their residents, their local economies, and public health.

“This proposed rule is entirely unacceptable and exhibits a blatant disregard for more than 10 percent of SNAP recipients in Michigan,” said Nessel. “I am horrified that the federal government feels comfortable not only in depriving adults of the essential assistance needed to put food on their tables, but also denying 58,743 Michigan children from eating lunch at school and consequently impacting their ability to learn.”

The USDA’s proposed rule – “Revision of Categorical Eligibility in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program” – would affect the SNAP program, the country’s most important anti-hunger program referred to as “food stamps.” The program provides residents with limited incomes access to nutritious food they otherwise would not have. SNAP is a crucial component of federal and state efforts to help lift people out of poverty.

Based on federal guidelines, each state designs its own process for how low-income residents apply for SNAP benefits. The states must track whether participants meet the income and asset requirements for the program on a monthly basis.

The federal government’s proposed rule would eliminate a long-standing policy known as “broad based categorical eligibility” (BBCE). BBCE allows states to consider local economic factors like high costs of living or costs of childcare when determining eligibility for SNAP. It also allows states to adopt less restrictive asset limits so that families, seniors, and individuals with disabilities can attempt to save money without losing food aid. BBCE is used by 39 states including Michigan, the District of Columbia, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The Attorneys General argue in their comment letter that the proposed rule harms the states by:

Taking food assistance away from 3.1 million vulnerable people: If finalized, the proposed rule would cause 3.1 million low-income individuals – including working poor families with children, seniors, and people with disabilities – to lose critical nutrition assistance. According to the administration’s own calculations, the rule would cause low-income Americans to lose at least $10.5 billion in SNAP benefits over four years.

Causing 265,000 children to lose free school meals: Children in households that receive SNAP are eligible for free meals at school. This rule change would mean an estimated 265,000 children nationwide would lose access to free school meals, leading to food insecurity and malnourishment. According to studies, food insecure (the disruption of food intake or eating patterns due to the lack of money or other resources) children are more likely to have learning difficulties and reduced academic performance, stomachaches, frequent headaches and colds, iron deficiency anemia, asthma, and mental health problems.

Disproportionately taking SNAP benefits from seniors: According to estimates, this rule change would have a disproportionate impact on seniors. More than 13 percent of all SNAP households with elderly members would lose food assistance, which could potentially force low-income seniors to choose between paying for necessary medication and food.

Harming public health and increasing healthcare costs: States’ medical, disability and other systems will be burdened when people who lose SNAP benefits become food insecure or malnourished. Food insecurity is linked to some of the most potentially costly health conditions such as diabetes, obesity, and complications in pregnancy. Studies have shown that SNAP is associated with better health and, correspondingly, reduced health care costs.

Harming state economies: SNAP benefits are provided to low-income individuals with immediate spending needs, and SNAP boosts local economies by increasing consumer demand, injecting money directly into the economy, creating jobs, and supporting national and local retailers and the food industry generally. If 3.1 million people lose SNAP benefits, these cuts will have negative ripple effects across the nation’s economy.

Increasing administrative burdens on states: The Government Accountability Office has consistently found that polices like BBCE can save state and federal resources and improve productivity. The proposed rule will eliminate these efficiency gains and increase administrative costs—and every dollar that states spend on administrative costs is money taken away from needy families.

The Attorneys General also argue that the proposed rule violates the federal Administrative Procedure Act (APA), which governs how federal agencies implement rule changes. Among other violations of the APA, the proposed rule fails to provide a legitimate justification for changing longstanding USDA policy, conflicts with the clear intent of Congress, and exceeds USDA’s authority.

Taxpayer-funded child welfare agencies allowed to discriminate against same-sex couples

As a result of a federal court order issued recently, St. Vincent Catholic Charities, a state-contracted and taxpayer-funded child welfare agency, will be allowed to refuse to work with same-sex couples who wish to become foster parents, despite a state contract prohibiting such discrimination. This case, Buck v. Gordon, was filed on April 15 in the Western District of Michigan, which challenged a previous settlement in favor of Kristy and Dana Dumont, prospective foster parents who were turned away from two taxpayer-funded child welfare agencies in 2016 and 2017 because of agencies’ religious objections.

Jay Kaplan, LGBT Project staff attorney of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, has this reaction:

“Today’s decision requires the state to put the individual religious beliefs of foster care agencies ahead of the welfare of children. This will not facilitate foster and adoptive placements for children in need. Instead, it will allow agencies to turn away same-sex foster parents who are able to provide supportive and loving homes for these children.”

Marijuana Regulatory Agency announces Social Equity Program Educational Session

The Marijuana Regulatory Agency’s (MRA) social equity team has announced an education and outreach session to promote and encourage participation in the licensed marijuana market for Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019 at Benton Harbor Public Library, 213 E. Wall St. The session begins at 10 a.m.

While attendance is free, space is limited. Interested participants need to register at http://bit.ly/MRA-SE-Events.

More education and outreach sessions for the MRA’s Social Equity Program will be added soon; check the MRA website for more information.

During the visit, the MRA will provide educational sessions regarding the social equity program and the application and licensure process. The MRA’s social equity representatives will be available to assist individuals with completing the social equity application, which will allow the MRA to determine if the individual qualifies for participation in the program.

Participating in the Social Equity Program allows qualifying applicants to benefit from a reduction of up to 60% off the application fee, the initial license fee, and future renewal fees, which will be calculated as follows for qualifying applicants: 25% reduction for those who have been a resident of one of the 19 disproportionally impacted communities for the past five years and whose marijuana establishments will be located in disproportionately impacted communities; an additional 25% reduction if the individual(s) holding majority ownership have been a resident of one of the 19 disproportionally impacted communities for the past five years and have a marijuana-related conviction; an additional 10% reduction if the individual(s) holding majority ownership have been a resident of one of the 19 disproportionally impacted communities for the past five years and were registered as primary caregivers for at least two years between 2008 and 2017.

Social Equity Representatives will confirm eligibility for participation in this program through acceptance of several forms of documentation.

Section 8 of the Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act (2018) required the MRA to develop “a plan to promote and encourage participation in the marijuana industry by people from communities that have been disproportionately impacted by marijuana prohibition and enforcement and to positively impact those communities”.


Of starlings and God

I had seen videos of starlings flying in graceful flock formations, weaving, turning, folding, in perfect harmony. I had not personally witnessed such a performance until recently while driving on an interstate highway. About a quarter mile ahead I could see them. A shadow in the sky. A shadow of what seemed to be a thousand or more dots moving in unison back and forth across the highway 100 to 200 feet above the ground. Instantly recognizing what I was seeing, I slowed down to prolong the show. It was like a dance. Those around me slowed down too, fascinated by the wild aerial performance. As I went under the starling cloud I could see that even with their erratic flight patterns, they maintained a safe distance from one bird to the other. There were no mid-air bird collisions in a tangle of beaks and wings. Wow, I thought. That is so cool. Were they getting ready for a migration? Was that one clan of birds with their own dance routine? Were they just playing, or having fun, enjoying being able to fly? I don’t know. Even without understanding the why, I could enjoy their antics, and could thank God for the encounter. The Bible book of Job contains many interesting references to the natural, created world and its animals. Everything from mountain goats to the “Behemoth”, a huge, ancient animal that was probably one of the largest dinosaurs God had created. In most of the conversation between Job and God, it was God asking Job something like “Where were you when I…?”, or “Can you explain how…?”, or “Have you witnessed…?”. Job was very humbled by God’s questioning. Bottom line – Job worshipped God in spite of not having all the answers to his questions neatly presented on his terms. I may someday understand more about the starlings. Meanwhile, thank you Lord; that was cool!


Social Security can help you get back to work

Having a job means different things to different people, but it can give you a sense of self, a community to rely on, and much-needed structure. Some people define themselves through their work. Others may enjoy the social aspect of their jobs. If you rely on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments or Social Security Disability (SSDI) benefits and want to start working or return to work, Social Security can help. A plan for achieving self-support (PASS) is a plan for your future. This plan lets you use your income or the resources you own to help you reach your work goals. You could set aside money to go to school and get specialized training for a job or to start a business. PASS is for both SSI and SSDI. The job that you want should allow you to earn enough to reduce or eliminate the SSI or SSDI benefits you currently receive. You should use the PASS if all of these apply to you: You want to work; you get SSI (or can qualify for SSI by having this plan) because you have a disability or are blind; you have income, other than SSI, or resources above the resource limit, to use to get a job or start a business. In some cases, someone on SSDI can use a PASS and become eligible for SSI while pursuing the plan. Your employment income may reduce or eliminate your SSDI benefits. Under SSI rules, any income that you have may reduce your SSI payment. However, if you have an approved plan, you can use most of that income to pay for the items you need to reach your work goal. We don’t count money set aside under the PASS when we decide your SSI payment amount. This means you may get a higher SSI payment. However, you can’t get more than the maximum SSI payment for the state where you live. With an approved plan, you can set aside money to pay expenses needed to reach your work goal. The plan must be in writing, and Social Security must approve it beforehand. To start, contact your local Social Security office for an application (Form SSA-545-BK). You can access this form at www.socialsecurity.gov/forms/ssa-545.html. If you need help, there are many people who can help you write a PASS, including a Ticket to Work service provider, vocational counselor or a relative. The Ticket program is free and voluntary. The Ticket program helps people with disabilities progress toward financial independence. To learn more about the Ticket program, call the Ticket to Work Help Line at 1-866-968-7842 or 1-866-833-2967 (TTY) Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET. Vonda VanTil is the Public Affairs Specialist for West Michigan. You can write her c/o Social Security Administration, 3045 Knapp NE, Grand Rapids MI 49525 or via email at vonda.vantil@ssa.gov.

WHAT PARKING PROBLEM? I attended a program, 40 years ago, put on by a chamber of commerce, to discuss options for economic development. The community was about the size of Paw Paw. The program was called Main Street USA. Once the speaker was introduced and he made some general comments about economic development, the importance of visioning and planning, he then asked the audience of 30 some merchants for their thoughts and ideas. The first comment was about the need to find businesses to fill the stores vacated by the strip mall at the four corners out of town. The second was about the lack of parking space and how it kept people from shopping downtown. “Aha!” the speaker exclaimed, “I was wondering when that question would pop up. You don’t have a parking problem; you have a lack of business problem. If you have something your customer wants, your customer will find a place to park. He’s not coming downtown for the parking; he’s coming for what he needs, at a fair price, in convenient and pleasant surroundings.” I hadn’t thought about that meeting in years. I thought about it last week at the Watervliet DDA meeting. Members were talking about the proposal of Freshwater Church to buy the dilapidated Bob’s Hobby Shop building downtown, rehab it as a community center during the week and to use it for church services on Sunday morning. City Manager Tyler Dotson said some members of the planning commission and of the city commission were concerned the activity would use up available parking which would be a burden on other businesses on Main Street. As an occupant of a Main Street building, I have never seen much of a parking problem except for those special occasions, such as parades, festivals, and business promotions that are designed to attract folks to the business district. I would think most merchants, downtown, would welcome the increased traffic a community center would create on a daily basis. As for using up all the available parking on a Sunday morning service shouldn’t be a problem as most businesses are closed on Sunday mornings.

GOODBYE GUG… I have more nieces and nephews than most. I probably quit counting at 30 or so. If I had to guess the number including second and third generation is nearly 90. Even with so many, some stand out more than others. Doug Trottier is one of those in the first rank. He is one of those kids that squeeze into any event, that includes cards games, sports, family gatherings, you name it, and Doug is always there. Doug and Justin are just three months apart in age, size, and temperament. When they were tiny, Justin could only manage “Gug”. Later when he could call Doug’s name without mangling it, “Gug” fell into misuse, but when Justin wanted to irritate Doug, all he had to do was call him “Gug”. An early memory of “Gug” was his insistence on learning Pinochle when his parents and Anne and I were playing the card game. Our kids were being good (out of sight and quiet qualifies as good). But as usual Gug wanted to be were the big people action was. Connie tried to distract him, Richard attempted reason, Annie offered bribery. All to no avail, he just moved around the table. When he was next to me reaching for my cards, I covered his ears with my hands and pulled his head to mine. And then I planted the wettest, sloppiest kiss right on his lips. In a flash he was gone. Sadly, Doug died this past week at his home in Bradenton, Florida from an apparent heart attack. He was 51. Needless to say, family and friends are devastated by his death as he was making strides in recovering from a recent illness. Happily, he left behind wonderful memories for all of us to recall assuaging our grief. Doug will be missed.

H-P IN THE MAIL… Subscribers of The Herald-Palladium got something new this past Monday; their daily newspaper was delivered by the mailman. The H-P ran ads in their paper the past few weeks advising their subscribers that there would no longer be home delivery by news carriers. Delivery would be by the United States Postal Service for Monday through Saturday service. Since the mail doesn’t deliver on Sundays or federal holidays, there will be no delivery of the H-P on Sundays or holidays. I spent a few seconds wondering why there was no Herald-Palladium in our mail slot next to the door at the Record and then Amy brought the mail from the P.O. and the mystery was solved. There was a smattering of discussion with folks calling or stopping in earlier this week as they got used to the idea. The only ones losing out were those on postal routes that don’t get delivered until the afternoon. I guess they could say they were getting the afternoon edition instead of the morning edition. As the news of daily newspapers closing is mostly the news, we should appreciate the H-P is not. We are fortunate to have our own daily paper.

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