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Former EGLE employee charged with embezzlement

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel. Photo from State of Michigan.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and EGLE announced Wednesday that a former employee of the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) has been charged with embezzling more than $850,000 from the State of Michigan. 

Joseph Pettit, 49, is charged with the following: three counts of embezzlement over $100,000, a 20-year felony; four counts of uttering and publishing, a 14-year felony; and using a computer to commit a crime, a 20-year felony. 

Any entity that wants to drill or operate any type of well in the State of Michigan must apply for a permit and post a conformance bond with the Oil, Gas, and Minerals Division of EGLE. When the owner of the well changes hands, the original owner gets the bond back. 

As an employee of EGLE, most recently as an environmental quality specialist, Pettit was responsible for completing the process of releasing bonds back to companies and facilitating the transfer of bonds back to the original owner. Instead, Pettit created fake vendors and diverted these funds to bank accounts that he supplied for these vendors. Pettit worked at EGLE from 1996 until January of 2020. 

“This case is a reminder that my office treats it very seriously when anyone abuses the system for their own gain,” said Nessel. “I am grateful to EGLE for their cooperation and diligence in ensuring those who violate the public trust are held accountable and in working to ensure something like this never happens again.” 

EGLE leadership became aware of potential discrepancies in September of 2020, and immediately contacted Michigan State Police, which conducted the investigation. 

“Our discovery of potential crimes was immediately referred to law enforcement, and we continue to provide them everything they need to ensure justice is done on behalf of the State of Michigan,” said Liesl Clark, EGLE director. “We are also doing everything we can to prevent this from occurring again, including strengthening internal financial controls to provide even greater checks and balances against fraud.” 

It is alleged that between 2018 and 2020, Pettit embezzled more than $850,000. Suspected losses from 2013 through 2016 are barred by the statute of limitations. 

“We hold ourselves to the highest standards of government ethics at EGLE and that starts with vigilantly stewarding public funds,” Clark said. “So when an employee disregards department values and violates the public trust, it harms not only Michigan’s 10 million residents who count on us to use their resources wisely to protect the environment and public health, but also fellow members of the EGLE team who dedicate their lives to that mission.”         

Pettit was charged in the Lansing District Court 54-A. He Is expected to appear in court Friday, April 16, for arraignment.  

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J&J vaccine paused due to risk of rare blood clots

by Judy Reed

The CDC and FDA announced on Tuesday, April 13, that they are recommending a “pause” on administering the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine for COVID-19 due to the risk of a rare and severe type of blood clot.

On February 27, 2021, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization (EUA) for the third vaccine for the prevention of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).

As of April 12, more than 6.8 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson (Janssen ) vaccine have been administered in the U.S. In a joint press release and a media briefing on April 13, the CDC and FDA said they have recommended a pause on administering the vaccine because they are reviewing data involving six reported U.S. cases of a rare and severe type of blood clot that occurred in individuals after they received the J&J vaccine. In these cases, a type of blood clot called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST) was seen in combination with low levels of blood platelets (thrombocytopenia). All six cases occurred among women between the ages of 18 and 48, and symptoms occurred 6 to 13 days after vaccination. One case was fatal, and one person is still in critical condition.

Treatment of this specific type of blood clot is different from the treatment that might typically be administered. Usually, an anticoagulant drug called heparin is used to treat blood clots. In this setting, administration of heparin may be dangerous, and alternative treatments need to be given.

According to Peter Marks, M.D., Ph.D., Director FDA Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, this type of blood clot (CVST) usually only occurs in 2 to 14 people per million in those with a normal blood platelet count. “The notable thing here is their occurrence together (CVST and low platelet count). It is similar to what has been seen in Europe in another vaccine (Astra-Zeneca),” he said.

Marks said they have not seen the same problem with the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, which has had 180 million doses administered.

For clarification, it is a recommended pause and not a mandate. They explained that if a provider and patient have a conversation about the risks, and then agree that the J&J vaccination is the best fit, the provider may still administer it.

The CDC and FDA emphasized that the reason for the pause is to give them time to review the data and to get the health community prepared to diagnose and treat patients with the correct protocol.

“CDC will convene a meeting of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) on Wednesday to further review these cases and assess their potential significance. FDA will review that analysis as it also investigates these cases. Until that process is complete, we are recommending a pause in the use of this vaccine out of an abundance of caution. This is important, in part, to ensure that the health care provider community is aware of the potential for these adverse events and can plan for proper recognition and management due to the unique treatment required with this type of blood clot.

“Right now, these adverse events appear to be extremely rare. COVID-19 vaccine safety is a top priority for the federal government, and we take all reports of health problems following COVID-19 vaccination very seriously,” they said in their press release.

People who have received the J&J vaccine who develop severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath within three weeks after vaccination should contact their health care provider. Health care providers are asked to report adverse events to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System at https://vaers.hhs.gov/reportevent.html external icon.

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MSP says OMA allegations against Sand Lake unfounded

By Judy Reed

Last week the Post ran a story about a civil suit that has been filed against the Village of Sand Lake and its council members in Kent County’s 17th Circuit Court accusing them of violating the Open Meetings Act and Whistleblower Protection Act.
In it, we said we were waiting to for the Michigan State Police to tell us if any criminal charges were being brought. They have since responded and said the allegations about violating the OMA are unfounded.
The suit was filed in February by Rachel Gokey and Tracy Quinlan. Gokey is a current council member and was recently terminated from her dual position as the Village clerk/treasurer. Quinlan was the former Village president, zoning administrator, and code enforcer. She lost the presidential position in the November election to Nile Hayden, and then was recently terminated by the council from her other employment with the Village.
The Sand Lake Village Council approved contracts with the two in September of 2020. However, other than Gokey and Councilor Marcia Helton, the Village Council is a totally different council than those that approved the contracts. When the election was over, there were five new people elected to the Village council.
The crux of the lawsuit is that members of the new council—President Nile Hayden (now resigned due to health reasons), now President Mollie Doerr, President pro tem Kevin Wright, and trustees Stacy Rudicil, Marcia Helton and Kim McNees—met in private several times to discuss Village business—such as the firing of Gokey and Quinlan—which is a violation of the Open Meetings Act.
Gokey and Quinlan state in the suit that they “became aware of multiple apparent gatherings” and then asked the Michigan State Police to investigate the matter. The suit alleges that when a MSP trooper went to Hayden’s house to interview him about the matter, Hayden forgot to deactivate the automatic speakerphone he has installed for health reasons that is triggered by the doorbell, and the entire conversation was allegedly overheard by Gokey on an automatic phone call she received from him. During that conversation, Hayden allegedly “implicitly or explicitly admitted the truth of the assertions that he had met with Council Members in violation of the OMA.” They said he also wanted to know the identity of the person that told him.

The Post checked with the Michigan State Police to see if this was true, and if so, if any state or county charges will be sought. “I contacted Tpr. Fisher and he did investigate a complaint of a possible violation of the open meetings act,” said Spl/Lt. Michelle Robinson. “The investigation was closed as unfounded.”

The plaintiffs are also saying their contracts were breached, and that they reported violations of the OMA in good faith and then were terminated, at least in part, because of it. They are asking to be reinstated, and be awarded economic and compensatory damages, punitive damages, attorney fees, etc.

Under their attorney’s advice, the Village of Sand Lake is not commenting on the allegations at this time.

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Fast cash winner

April fools fast cash winner, Jeff Hendges.

We have a winner!

Last week was our annual April Fools edition, which fell right on April 1. We always run several April Fools stories, a fake ad, and like to add some little “Easter eggs” for readers’ enjoyment. Then, to top it off, we run a contest to see if readers can guess which stories and ads are the April Fools ones. If you guess correctly, you get entered into the contest to win some cash.

Congratulations to Jeff Hendges, of Solon Township, who was one of the people who correctly guessed all the April Fools stories and which ad it was. There were four stories: New cannabis shop to open; Turtle time; Splash pad announced; and Golf and get healthy at the same time. The fake ad was for Sky High Cannabis.

One story that threw some people for a loop was the blue frog story. It was a true story—one that we ran several years ago, so it was a reprint (just to make things harder). If this was one of your guesses, we did not count it against you. 

One of our readers let us know how much she enjoyed the issue. Kay Ransom, of Solon Township, wrote: “Oh my, you had me laughing so hard reading this week’s Post. I even reread them to my husband and laughed just as hard the second time. Thanks for the hilarious articles! Thanks also for your paper. I enjoy reading it each week and I know you work hard and do a great job of covering the events in our town.”

Thank you to Kay, Jeff, and all the people that entered our contest!

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Kent ISD Board suspends Superintendent search

Interim Superintendent 
Ron Koehler


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.
– Citing the extraordinary challenge of searching for new leadership amid a worldwide pandemic that has brought huge stress on educators at all levels, the Kent ISD School Board today suspended its search for a new superintendent and asked Interim Superintendent Ron Koehler to remain until conditions return to “some sense of normalcy.”

Board President Andrea Haidle said the board learned during Koehler’s interim service how heavily the pandemic, work-at-home orders and other unusual circumstances had weighed on Kent ISD staff of more than 1,000 members and decided now was not the time for a change.  

Before taking the interim position in January 2021, Koehler committed to remain as superintendent until the board found permanent leadership.

“This pandemic has stressed us all, but few have been impacted as much as educators and educational leadership,” Haidle said. “We received just 13 applications for what is widely viewed as one of the premier education leadership positions in the state. One of our primary goals was a diverse pool of candidates, yet those we received were not diverse.” While we thank the search consultants for their work in this process, we have to believe the unusual times in which we are operating had an impact on the number of candidates who applied. 

“Our staff deserve a well-known and welcome leader during this time as we work toward a sense of normalcy,” said Haidle.  Koehler worked at Kent ISD for 23 years, more than half of that time as an assistant superintendent, before retiring in 2019.

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Rep. Huizenga announces local office hours in April

State Rep. Mark Huizenga today announced he will host office hour opportunities at five locations throughout northwestern Kent County during the month of April.

“It’s a privilege to represent the residents of West Michigan in Lansing, and I always want to be available to listen to their concerns,” said Huizenga, of Walker. “I look forward to meeting with residents at my upcoming office hours to discuss the issues that are most important to our community.”

Huizenga will host office hours at the following times and locations:

  • Friday, April 16, 8-9 a.m., at Jody’s Restaurant, 503 E. Division St. NE, Rockford, MI 49341;
  • Saturday, April 17, 8-9 a.m., Rainbow Grill, 4158 Chicago Drive SW, Grandville, MI 49418;
  • Friday, April 23, 7:30-8:30 a.m., Maxine’s Family Restaurant, 370 N. State St., Sparta, MI 49345;
  • Saturday, April 24, 9-10 a.m., Big Boy, 13961 White Creek Ave. NE, Cedar Springs, MI 49319; and
  • Friday, April 30, 7:30-8:30 a.m., New Beginnings, 4735 Lake Michigan Drive NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49534.

In addition to office hours, residents can also contact Huizenga’s office by phone at 517-373-8900 or by email at MarkHuizenga@house.mi.gov.

Huizenga represents the 74th House district, which includes the cities of Cedar Springs, Grandville, Rockford and Walker and the townships of Algoma, Alpine, Solon, Sparta and Tyrone.

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M-57 work to begin Monday

The Michigan Department of Transportation will begin roadwork on M-57 (14 Mile Rd) next week that will bring safety improvements for motorists.

According to John Richards, with MDOT, the $3.8 million project will begin Monday, April 12. They plan to resurface and widen two miles of M-57 from just west of Farland Avenue, to just west of Ramsdell Drive. The road will be widened to include passing relief lanes, and work also includes new concrete curb and gutter, driveway openings, new culverts, drainage improvements, and new guardrail.

Richards said the passing relief lanes will increase safety and mobility, while the resurfacing will improve the ride quality and extend the service life of the existing roadway.

Lane closures with a traffic regulator will be in effect throughout the project, which is expected to last until July 16.

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“U Drive. U Text. U Pay.” leads Distracted Driving Awareness Month effort

Increased enforcement push part of effort to decrease distracted driving crashes

In support of National Distracted Driving Awareness Month in April, law enforcement agencies will be joining forces across the country this week to promote enforcement and awareness of state and local texting and distracted-driving laws.

This annual campaign is part of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) U Drive. U Text. U Pay. high-visibility enforcement effort that runs from April 8 to April 12, 2021.

According to the Michigan State Police (MSP) Criminal Justice Information Center (CJIC), in 2019 there were 18,096 distracted driving crashes in Michigan, resulting in 70 fatalities. Nationwide in 2019, the number of fatalities linked to driver distraction was 3,142, or nearly nine percent of all fatalities that year. This included 566 non-occupants (pedestrians, bicyclists, and others) killed in crashes involving a distracted driver.

“Any activity that takes your eyes off the road and your hands off the wheel is extremely reckless and puts you and others on the road at risk,” said Michael L. Prince, Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning (OHSP) director. “Whether it’s texting, eating, drinking, using GPS or talking to other passengers, it’s all dangerous while driving.”

Also, continuing through April 26, researchers from Michigan State University (MSU) will be working with police agencies in Kent and Wayne counties to evaluate methods of enforcing distracted driving and cell phone use violations. During the three-week period, dynamic message signs will be used off-and-on to alert drivers to the highly visible enforcement. Researchers seek to determine if targeted safety messages have any measurable impact on driver behavior.

“Distracted driving, and cell phone use specifically, continue to be significant traffic safety concerns nationwide,” said Dr. Peter Savolainen, MSU Foundation Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. “This project aims to assess the effectiveness of high-visibility enforcement, in combination with different types of messages that discourage cell phone use by drivers.”

Participating law enforcement agencies are the Detroit Police Department, MSP Second District Wayne County Sheriff’s Office, Grand Rapids Police Department, Wyoming PD, MSP Sixth District, and Kent County Sheriff’s Office. They will conduct up to 1,000 hours of distracted driving enforcement.

Kent and Wayne counties were selected to participate because of their high number of fatal and serious injury crashes. From 2016-2018, there were 188 fatal or serious injury distracted driving crashes in Wayne County and 128 in Kent County, the two highest in the state.

Michigan law prohibits a driver from reading, manually typing, or sending a text message while driving. Exceptions are in place for reporting crashes, crimes, or other emergencies. The research project is supported with federal traffic safety funds provided by the United States Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and enforcement will be coordinated by the OHSP.

For more information about distracted driving, visit www.trafficsafetymarketing.gov.

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MDHHS Lab a national leader in sequencing and identifying COVID-19 variants

LANSING, Mich. Since shortly after the first positive COVID-19 test was diagnosed at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) Bureau of Laboratories (BOL) on March 10, 2020, BOL scientists have been busy genome sequencing the virus to identify variants.

More than 10,000 samples have been sequenced by BOL staff to date with over 4,200 of those tests completed in 2021.

“Our lab is a national leader in genome sequencing and our efforts have allowed us to implement rapid public health responses to slow the spread of outbreaks involving more easily transmitted variants,” said Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health. “We will continue to work to identify these variants in Michigan as an important tool in fighting this pandemic back in Michigan.”

Viruses are constantly changing, and this includes SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. These genetic variations occur over time and can lead to the emergence of new variants that may have different characteristics.

The SARS-CoV-2 genome encodes instructions organized into sections, called genes, to build the virus. Scientists use a process called genomic sequencing to decode the genes and learn more about the virus. Genomic sequencing allows scientists to identify SARS-CoV-2 and monitor how it changes over time into new variants, understand how these changes affect the characteristics of the virus, and use this information to predict how it might impact health. Some variant viruses are of particular concern because they spread easier, cause more severe disease, or may escape the body’s immune response.

The genome sequencing process takes about a week after the lab receives the positive test results. The MDHHS BOL is one of two labs in the state currently conducting sequencing and can process about 500-600 samples week. However, not every COVID-19 positive test is sequenced, which means additional cases of the variant could be present in the state.

Because sequencing of specimens associated with outbreak investigations is a priority, 2021 many of the samples sequenced were from a Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) outbreak with the remainder submitted from a variety of other locations throughout the state. As of April 6, 1,998 B.1.1.7 (U.K.) cases have been identified, with 513 of those (26%) connected to the MDOC investigation. Additionally, eight cases of the B.1.351 or South African variant have been identified, three cases of P.1 or the Brazilian variant and 16 cases of the B.1.427 and B.1.429 or California variant have been discovered.

“The presence of more infectious variants, such as the B 1.1.7 variant, threatens our progress in control of the epidemic and is likely contributing to our current increase in cases,” said Khaldun. “It is critical that we not let up now and I urge Michiganders to continue to mask up, wash their hands, social distance, get tested and get vaccinated as soon as possible.”

On a daily basis, scientists at the Bureau of Laboratories protect the health and safety of Michiganders by testing for hundreds of microbes, diseases and chemical substances in human, animal and environmental sources.

“The important testing being conducted by our highly qualified, skilled and dedicated scientists protects the health and safety of all Michiganders every day,” said Dr. Sandip Shah, BOL director. “Their work is allowing the state to effectively monitor and respond to environmental as well as public health threats and to expand investigation of potential contamination of public water and food sources.”

Tests can take from a few minutes to a few weeks and, on an annual basis, lab staff conduct nearly 6.8 million tests. This includes sexually transmitted diseases, influenza, Salmonella, rabies, lead, measles, newborn screening and hundreds of other tests.

The lab is also responsible for testing fish in the state’s lakes, rivers and streams for mercury, PCBs, dioxins and PFAS. These results are published in the Eat Safe Fish Guide, which helps protect residents who eat Michigan fish by providing information on which fish are safe to eat and which ones to avoid.

It also completes newborn screening (NBS), where infants’ blood spots are tested for more than 50 potentially life-threatening diseases. Every year, the NBS program tests more than 120,000 newborns and identifies approximately 250-280 babies afflicted by one of the 54 blood-spot-testable disorders included on the NBS panel. Screening is completed between 24 and 36 hours after birth and lab staff work quickly to identify conditions that require immediate medical or nutritional intervention.

Michigan residents seeking more information about the COVID-19 vaccine can visit Michigan.gov/COVIDvaccine

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Family loses home in fire

By Judy Reed

A Solon Township family is trying to put their life back together after a fire destroyed their home Monday.

According to Solon Township firefighter Matt Schievink, they were toned out at 11:50 a.m. on Monday, March 29, to a structure fire at 13421 Sunset View, which is off 16 Mile, west of Algoma. It was called in by someone across the street, and they reported that smoke and flames could be seen through the roof.

Schievink said that when he got up to 18 Mile Rd, he could see the smoke.

Multiple area fire departments assisted Solon at the scene, including Cedar Springs, Kent City, Sparta, Algoma, Courtland, and Rockford, who brought in their ladder truck. “We needed the ladder truck because everything was collapsing in the entry and it made it harder to get into,” he explained.

Schievink said that it started in the attached garage and spread from there. The cause was not determined.

The fire departments had cleared the scene by 3 p.m. 

The house was the home of Nick and Naomi Calhoun and their five children, ages 2-14. Those who were home got out safely and there were no injuries.

For those asking about helping the Calhoun family, who lost everything, there are a couple of ways. 

Here is a list of clothing sizes needed for family members:

Girl: 4T

Boy: boys 6-7

Girl: girls 8

Boy: 14-16 pants, youth large shirts

Girl: junior size 6 pants, adult medium shirts

Nick: 36-32 pants and XL shirts

Naomi: Size 12 pants and large shirts

Contact Stacey to make donations at 616-690-3436.

A go fund me page has also been set up if you’d like to donate. Just go to https://gofund.me/ffea768f.

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