SW Michigan Today: Thursday, June 28

Jun 28, 2018

Julian Kuerti
Credit Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra

Protests of Kent County's contract with immigration authorities shut down a board meeting, the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra has a new music director and more. 

(MLive) The chairman of the Kent County Board suspended a meeting this morning after it was interrupted by protestors. About 100 people called on the county to end its contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Kent County houses ICE detainees at its jail. Demonstrators interrupted a man during public comments and unfurled a banner. Board Chair Jim Saalfeld then suspended the meeting, citing what he said was a risk of violence. One commissioner said he wasn’t sure Saalfeld had the right to end the meeting unilaterally.

The Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra has a new music director. The symphony said Wednesday he's Julian Kuerti. The Canadian has previously conducted orchestras in Montreal and Chile as well as Boston, Dallas, Germany, and Norway, among others. Kuerti takes over from maestro Raymond Harvey, who retired in 2017 after 18 years in Kalamazoo. The KSO says Kuerti brings a growing international reputation to the symphony. His hiring comes after a year-long search. Before coming to Kalamazoo, Kuerti will be in Australia for performances by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.

Western Michigan University trustees have approved new tuition and fees for the next academic year. In-state undergraduates who take 12 to 15 credit hours will see their tuition rise about four percent. That brings the annual cost of attending Western to $12,500 for a typical student. Undergrads from other states will pay even more. Tuition for graduate students is also going up, by eight-percent for Michigan residents and about two-percent for others. Western is doing away with a one-time, $300 enrollment fee for all students.

Graduate students who teach at Western Michigan University have a new contract. The Board of Trustees approved a four-year agreement with the Teaching Assistants Union Wednesday. Negotiations were contentious at times earlier this year. Under the new agreement, union members will get annual two-percent raises over the next four years. The agreement will also save members money on tuition. It allows them to apply unused waivers for classes they take during the summer.

Portage will officially name a new nature preserve for former mayor Betty Ongley on Friday, June 29. Land for the "Betty Lee Ongley Nature Preserve" was donated by City Councilwoman Claudette Reid and her husband last year. City officials say the 12-acre area off Kilgore Road near the Portage Bicentennial Trail is the home of a variety of wildlife. They say the preserve will eventually include walking paths and a pedestrian bridge over Portage Creek. Ongley served as the mayor of Portage from 1973 to 1979. The dedication ceremony Friday starts at 4:30 p.m. on Circlewood South Drive.

(MPRN) State Attorney General Bill Schuette has weighed in on the conflict over a proposal to fight gerrymandering. But the group behind the campaign says he hasn't raised any new issues. Schuette submitted a brief to the Michigan Supreme Court supporting opponents who say the issue should not be on the ballot this fall. The Michigan Court of Appeals ordered the state’s Board of Canvassers to send the proposal to the ballot earlier this month. The Voters Not Politicians initiative would have an independent commission set legislative and congressional districts instead of state lawmakers. But Schuette and other opponents say the issue is too sweeping and complex to be decided by voters.

Missing Hemingway sculpture
Credit Cynthia Hector-Johnson / Beaver Island Public Library

(WCMU) People are being asked to keep their eyes peeled for a large, bright orange memorial to writer Ernest Hemingway. The nine-foot sculpture outside the Beaver Island Public Library went missing last week. Library Director Patrick McGinnity says the piece is worth $20,000. He says the thieves will have a hard time getting it off the island. The library has warned the crew of the Beaver Island ferry to watch out for it. McGinnity says the sculpture's disappearance wasn't reported right away because the library hoped it was just a prank and that those responsible would bring it back. He says police don't have any leads yet. (Update on Friday, June 29: Just as mysteriously as it vanished, the sculpture has returned. The Beaver Island Public Library says staff arrived Friday morning to find that it had been bolted back in place overnight.)

(WCMU) Unions in Michigan are reacting to a decision by the U.S.Supreme Court. Wednesday it struck down a 1977 rule that required people to pay union dues. The Michigan Nurses Association says it wasn't surprised by the decision. MNA says it has continued to attract new members despite the state's "right to work" law approved in 2013. But David Crim at the Michigan Education Association says the high court's ruling is an attempt to bust unions. And Democratic Michigan Congressman Dan Kildee says the decision attacks the basic rights of workers. But Republican State Attorney General Bill Schuette says it shows that First Amendment rights have prevailed.

(WCMU) Two lawsuits in Genesee county aim to block Michigan State Police from engaging in high-speed chases over minor traffic violations. They're based on Michigan State Police data that found high-speed chases were more likely in predominantly African-American communities. Those chases were also a lot more likely to end in death, injury, or property damage than those in white neighborhoods. A spokesperson for the Michigan State Police says the department will ask a judge to throw out the lawasuit. A hearing on its request is expected in late July.

(Michigan Radio) Michigan State University trustees say they'll pick its next president by June 2019. Former president Lou Anna Simon resigned in January because of the scandal over sexual abuse by former sports doctor Larry Nassar. Former governor John Engler is serving as interim president but has drawn controversy over his handling if the issue. MSU's board says it will hold listening sessions to hear from students, faculty, and the community. But Trustee Dianne Byrum says there aren't many specifics about the process yet. During a news conference Wednesday, MSU students and staff said trustees haven't listened to them so far. They say they're not sure the listening sessions will be effective in influencing the selection of the school's next president.

(WDET) For the first time in nearly 18 years the State of Michigan has no emergency managers. The state treasurer released the Highland Park school district from state oversight in May. Michigan Treasury spokesperson Ron Leix says each case that led to state intervention was unique.

"From a general standpoint, the communities that have been released from state financial oversight have addressed the conditions that led to their financial emergency. They have a plan in place, they have a plan for a balanced budget," he said.

The Highland Park school district had been under control by an emergency manager since 2012. Leix says some other school districts are still under other forms of state oversight.

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