- Associated Press - Monday, November 23, 2015

The Detroit Free Press. Nov. 19, 2015

With Inkster cop convicted, Detroit motorist vindicated.

A seemingly relentless succession of videos documenting unprovoked police violence has placed officers in southeast Michigan and other communities nationwide under unprecedented scrutiny. And some will doubtless argue that former Inkster Police Officer William Melendez’s conviction Thursday for the savage beating of motorist Floyd Dent will make law-abiding cops more reluctant to do their jobs.

It should, of course, do nothing of the sort.

To the contrary: The Wayne County jury’s unanimous verdict should reassure the public that Melendez’s conduct was so outrageous that it overcame the deference that, in general, ordinary citizens almost reflexively provide to police officers pursuing their vital and often dangerous work.

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy filed criminal charges against Melendez not because he was a police office, but because the camera on Melendez’s own patrol car showed him striking the unarmed Dent 16 times last January after Dent was pulled over for running a stop sign.

The video evidence made a mockery of Melendez’s claim that Dent had provoked the beating by resisting arrest. It took the biracial jury of eight women and four men just a few hours to conclude that Melendez had assaulted the unresisting Dent without justification, violating his sworn oath and recklessly endangering the motorist’s life.

The egregiousness of Melendez’s offense was telegraphed earlier this year when Inkster fired the rogue officer and agreed to pay Dent $1.38 million rather than waste its time defending Melendez’s conduct (and the city’s own hiring standards) in court. Prosecutor Worthy had earlier thrown out the dubious criminal allegations against Dent, tacitly lending credence to the defendant’s account that that cocaine Melendez claimed to have discovered in Dent’s vehicle was planted.

The vast majority of Michigan’s police officers have no difficulty obeying the law that forbids them from beating unresisting suspects senseless, and Melendez’s misconduct reflects on them no more than last week’s terrorist attacks in Paris impugn the character of law-abiding Muslims.

But Melendez’s crime does call into question the judgment and competency of his superiors, who handed him a badge despite the fact that he had been sued at least a dozen times during a 20-year career punctuated by recurring allegations of excessive force.

The phenomenon of small, underfunded police departments hiring officers whose record of violence and disciplinary violations got them booted from larger, more professional departments is hardly limited to Inkster. It has become increasingly common as state legislators starve municipalities of the funds required to maintain professional standards of hiring and training, and it is exacerbated by the proliferation of small-town police departments.

It is the elected officials responsible for providing and deploying those scarce law enforcement resources, not the majority of law-abiding police officers, whose conduct should come under closer scrutiny in the wake of Thursday’s Melendez verdict.

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The Detroit News. Nov. 20, 2015

Room for balance on ‘dark stores’ tax issue.

Local governments across Michigan say they are losing millions of dollars in taxes and facing cuts in services because big box retailers such as Target and Home Depot are arguing a “dark store” theory of retail property assessment before the Michigan Tax Tribunal to cut their costs.

To stop the retailers from seeking property tax relief, legislation has been introduced that would essentially determine how the tribunal, a board appointed by the governor, must specifically assess large retail properties.

It’s understandable local communities are concerned about cuts in their revenue. But the legislation intended to fix the problem is unconstitutional and violates the rights of retailers to enter private, free contracts.

The tax tribunal is supposed to consider the three criteria for property tax assessments and assess value based on which criterion - the sales comparison/market approach, the cost less depreciation approach, or the income approach - is most applicable and appropriate.

Many of the big box retailers have had their assessments cut using the sales comparison approach, arguing that their tax rate shouldn’t be any higher than a similar vacant building with no economic activity.

Municipalities argue a better approach is to consider the cost of construction minus depreciation.

Their first solution to the apparent problem, embodied in a Senate bill, attempts to define property tax law in such a way that big box stores specifically couldn’t be assessed as a warehouse, regardless of what the market or owners have determined for the property.

But this would artificially hike assessments. It also amounts to a violation of the state constitution, which says property assessments must be based on true cash value, or essentially the reasonable selling price, regardless of other factors.

The true cash value of a property should not include the business activity inside the property. Other taxes levied on businesses deal with their sales and activity, and big box retailers no doubt pay hefty amounts to satisfy those requirements.

Certainly assessing all properties as warehouses, when some have legitimate business activity in them, isn’t the the wisest public policy. At the same time, as much as some municipalities might dislike it, enormous retail spaces do sometimes sit vacant for lack of interest or the right next fit.

The constitution requires tax assessments to be uniform. Legislation can’t single out a particular type of building - or particular size of retailer - for a different kind of assessment. The proposed legislation attempts to do so.

A second bill in the House attempts to prevent big box retailers from putting deed restrictions on the sale of their property to other big box stores, which often devalues the building.

That blatantly violates their right to establish private contracts between the seller and buyer.

Local communities must be nimble enough to adjust budgets when businesses or their surrounding tax base changes. And retailers have a responsibility to seek honest assessments of their property that don’t devalue current and future business activity.

It’s up to the tribunal, not the Legislature, to make those calls.

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The Lansing State Journal. Nov. 19, 2015.

Good change for Michigan Avenue.

When the $6 million dollar development on East Michigan Avenue was announced earlier this month, there were mixed reactions to the plan. Many were excited about updating the look and feel from the street; others expressed concern about whether it would fit the neighborhood.

The East Michigan Avenue project is a great example of a developer working with residents, though. When a development company comes to a community and speaks with neighborhood representatives - like Scott Gillespie did Tuesday - you know this is a project that will help move Lansing forward.

To keep everyone feeling invested is to re-establish growth and reinvigorate a community that may have been stagnant or deteriorating. As the town grows, so too must its structures.

Michigan Avenue is the main corridor connecting the seat of state government with a world-class research university. When leaders, scholars and potential investors come to visit, Michigan Avenue should be a point of pride, not a potential detour.

East Michigan Avenue is in need of a face lift. Sure, the building that used to hold Emil’s restaurant and those surrounding it have been around for decades or longer, but their historical significance must be weighed against concerns such as safety, capacity and structural integrity - as well as aesthetic appeal and use.

Some critics of the latest Michigan Avenue project have expressed concerns about cookie-cutter developments leading to a monotonous string of brick buildings. That’s not likely to be the case here. Redevelopment of the corridor will take years to complete - Gillespie hopes to complete the East Michigan Avenue project by spring 2017 - and other developers will bring distinct visions to their projects.

The proposed East Michigan Avenue mixed-use development will change the corridor’s landscape - there’s no doubt about that. But a change in landscape is sorely needed. As long as developers continue to engage the community and keep neighbors invested in the outcomes, this is a win-win for Lansing.

Not all change is bad.

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The Grand Haven Tribune. Nov. 20 2015

Help your fellow hunter by following the law.

This past Sunday, Nov. 15, marked the opening of firearms deer-hunting season across Michigan.

While thousands of blaze orange-clad hunters headed to the woods, one hunter was not sitting in his stand Sunday morning - Zeeland’s Dennis Hassevort.

Hassevort recently pleaded guilty to illegally killing a mother bear, admitting that he knew the sow had cubs with it when he shot the female bear with his bow earlier this fall in Oceana County.

The media is having a field day with Hassevort’s recent case, using the situation to villainize all hunters - calling them ruthless killers, gun nuts and loose cannons - while throwing around words like butcher and slay to describe what was otherwise a legal hunt by Hassevort.

We in no way condone Hassevort’s actions. If he truly did know the bear he killed was a mother with cubs in tow, then he deserves to pay the price for his actions. He broke the law and jeopardized the life of those cubs. The fine he’ll have to pay, along with the loss of hunting privileges, are a very fair punishment to his crime.

Hunters everywhere need to realize that they’re held to a different standard.

The solution? Follow the law. Don’t trespass. Don’t harvest animals out of season. Learn the laws specific to where you hunt and the species you’re hunting, and follow them.

When you break game laws while hunting, you’re not only harming yourself, you’re hurting hunters everywhere, and dragging their collective name through the mud.

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