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Booze Allowed In Bronson Park

Image of the Kalamazoo City Hall building with a flower sculpture in Bronson Park in the foreground
Andy Robins

New Year's Eve revelers will be able to take alcoholic drinks into Kalamazoo's Bronson Park this year.

City have commissioners added the park to the city's new "social district." It's intended to help downtown bars and restaurants survive COVID-19. But resident Jeff Messer says the move doesn't go far enough.

"Rather than picking winners and losers among liquor purveyors and their customers, the City Commission should just repeal all prohibitions."

Members of the city's parks board opposed the change. They say the city should revisit the issue before next summer.

City Commissioner Chris Praedel supports the change. He says it will help struggling downtown businesses like bars and restaurants, and their employees, get through the pandemic.

"Those people who are going to be disproportionally impacted, and who, in large numbers, would be effectively unemployed if businesses would close."

But Commissioner Erin Knott says a better approach would be lobbying Congress for more federal help.

"That's where the real money is. And that's what we need to be doing, is advocating and putting pressure on Fred Upton and other members that actually can have an impact."

However, business leaders say the "social district" has drawn more people downtown, even during the COVID-19 crisis.

Did The Public Safety Chief Retire, Or Was She Fired?

Kalamazoo City commissioners have accepted an apology by City Manager Jim Ritsema. He admitted at the Commission's meeting on December 21 that he didn't tell them and the public that former Public Safety chief Karianne Thomas's departure wasn't voluntary. Ritsema says Thomas was allowed to retire in September, but only after he decided to end her contract.

"Following the protests during the summer, I believed Chief Thomas's ability to lead had been compromised, and it was in her and the city's best interests to part ways."

Thomas left after intense public criticism of the way the department handled a rally by the far-right group The Proud Boys in August. It led to fights with counter protestors and the arrest of of Kalamazoo Gazette reporter.

In September, Jim Ritsema said Thomas had retired. But a Gazette report later said documents showed that she had actually been let go. Ritsema says both are true.

"While factually correct, the press release and my discussions with commissioners did not mention the termination of the employment agreement. I take full responsibility for this and offer my apology."

Thomas was allowed to keep her retirement bemefits. Most commissioners say they accept Ritsema's apology. But they also say nothing like this should happen again. However, Commissioner Erin Knott and Vice-Mayor Patrece Griffin were less forgiving. In Griffin's words, "Accountability, transparency, (and) trust, all of that is words unless you put it into action."

Andy Robins has been WMUK's News Director since 1998 and a broadcast journalist for over 24 years. He joined WMUK's staff in 1985. Under his direction, WMUK has received numerous awards for news reporting.