Lowell City Council to hire new auditor, repair damaged sidewalks

By Tony Wittkowski | Contributing Reporter | The Lowell Ledger

Three of the five council members were at city hall Monday evening to discuss the replacement of damaged sidewalks and choosing a new auditor for the city.

After 133 letters were sent out to property owners who would be affected by the street and sidewalk construction areas, only four people showed up to the impromptu town hall meeting last month, said Council Member Andrew Schrauben.

What first started as an internal discussion on developing a sidewalk replacement program in August of 2011, has now developed into a schedule to break ground nearly two years later.

The city also approved a new audit proposal from Vredeveld Haefner LLC for a new three-year extension for Lowell Light and Power worth $7,500 a year.

“They are in the final year of a five-year deal,” said Police Chief Barry Getzen. “That audit cost is going up based on additional work they are doing for the city.”

Vredeveld Haefner LLC will also begin to audit the city as well, now putting one auditor in charge of Light and Power and the city.

Doing so will cost the city $11,500 every year for the next three years. The proposal was passed by city council by all present council members which included Schrauben, James hall and Mayor James Hodges.

The company that is taking on the city’s responsibilities was established to provide service and expertise to governmental and nonprofit entities having already worked with Ottawa County and cities that include Cedar Rapids, East Grand Rapids, Ionia, Mount Pleasant, Rockford, South Haven and Walker.

The fees are expected to end on June 30 every fiscal year.

City Manager Mark Howe was excused from attending the meeting because he was on vacation. However, Getzen was on hand to fill in.

Council Members Chris Schwab and Sharon Ellison were not present, and were excused.

Howe, along with the other absent council members, will be back for the next scheduled meeting on July 15, at city hall.

A pre-construction meeting was held for the Riverwalk extension project and is now scheduled to begin construction on July 15. On a further note, all city of Lowell offices will be closed this Thursday for the Fourth of July holiday.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on July 3, 2013)
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Jack-of-all trades volunteer helps to keep the fair rolling in Lowell

By Tony Wittkowski | Contributing Reporter | The Lowell Ledger

The man who can be seen walking the fairgrounds has been involved with the Kent County Youth Fair for more than a decade in nearly every form imaginable.

Bruce Doll first joined the youth fair in 2000, shortly after he and his family moved from Kentwood. Doll became involved in Cub Scouts, but felt a drawn toward the fair.

“I’m a photographer, so I had taken a lot of pictures of the fair,” Doll said. “When I gave the photos to them they said, ‘you need to be on board.'”

Now Doll is the vice president of the fair where he books the entertainment, special programs, sponsorships and helps deal with the technological aspect of the fair.

“That doesn’t mean those are the responsibilities for every vice president,” Doll said. “That’s just what I’ve done, I’ve got my niche.”

Since Doll has been involved, the fair has received four times the amount of sponsorship money in the past four years. But to this day the most difficult part of his job is that he can’t be there all the time.

“I have a real job outside of this,” Doll said. “I would love to be able to do this a lot more because there are so many things we could do.”

Doll works in Hudsonville and can usually be spotted at the fairgrounds in his spare time and after work when he stops in to see if anything needs to be done.

In the past decade, the man has held about every position except treasurer because “that would be a mistake.” Those positions have included vice president, president, secretary and as a board member.

Over the years, the one thing that struck a chord with Doll was the tractor structure dedicated to Ron Wenger, the fair manager who died two years ago. Doll can never run out of good things to talk about when it comes to Wenger.

To pile onto his job and responsibilities at the fair, Doll’s wife passed away six weeks ago. Now he is dealing with the loss of his wife of 34 years, with the help of his sons Justin and Tom.

“That’s been difficult at times to handle, with everything else going on,” Doll admits. “Two days after she passed, I realized there were things that just had to be done.”

A year ago, while the fair was in full swing, she fell ill and was out into the hospital. As a result, Doll was here and then there with not much sleep in between.

The disease that took his wife has no known cause or cure, prompting doctors to treat it with steroids. She fought it for a year.

Yet the most difficult thing Doll has had to deal with in regards to the fair was freeing up more of his time to volunteer when the flood hit Lowell. The town had it pretty bad, but the fairgrounds was another story.

Doll and a handful of volunteers scrambled to get all the boats out of the barns and were forced to watch as the water level constantly rose.

Despite all the obstacles, Doll remains adamant on increasing the success of the fair, while keeping an eye on the future.

“I think Lowell is a great place to live and it’s got great people. That’s why the events in Lowell are so great,” Doll said.

(Author’s Note: this article was originally published on July 31, 2013)

All by Design: Lowell resident welds pieces of metal into art

Some of the sculptures Franky has created over the years have included scorpions, motorcycles and flowers. (Photo by Tony Wittkowski)

Some of the sculptures Franky has created over the years have included scorpions, motorcycles and flowers. (Photo by Tony Wittkowski)

By Tony Wittkowski | Contributing Reporter | The Lowell Ledger

LOWELL, Mich. — Among the numerous booths on hand at the Riverwalk Festival in July, was one that sold sculptures made entirely of recycled metal.

Made from automotive parts and silverware, Rob Rose takes old metal and turns it into art. The result garners metal motorcycles, birds, planes, scorpions, spiders, and flowers, leaving the benefactor and opportunity every weekend at art shows.

Around friends he’s known as Franky, which is short for Frankenstein,

Like the doctor who created the famous monster, Franky has a knack for combining bits of pieces to make art.

Born and raised in Lowell, Franky graduated from Lowell High School and proceeded to marry his high school sweetheart, while settling in Saranac. The couple wanted to remain close to their Lowell roots without moving to a big city.

Three years ago Franky was laid off from a factory job and went back to school for welding. However, he soon realized he could not find a job welding in the area. Instead, Franky was stuck with an abundance of metal, which he kept in both the house and garage.

Early beginnings

While pondering what to do next, he received a picture from a friend of an old recycled bike, made from small pieces of metal.

This jump started the beginning stages of Franky’s new hobby. In the spare time he had, Franky began to construct the very statues and sculptures that now decorate several lawns and houses to this day.

“One of my wife’s friends set me up with a show to do an art gallery,” Franky said. “Now I’ve got people contacting me to do art shows all the way through wintertime, mainly recycled art markets which turn out to be pretty big in Grand Rapids.”

Franky still remembers the first gallery he went to. To him it seemed weird, and based on what he wore, the welder from Lowell stuck out like a sore thumb.

“My first show I remember doing was at a ballroom,” Franky said with a chuckle. “They had a doorman at the door and everything.”

Franky, who is known among his friends to dislike the city and being around one entirely, walked up to the hotel with a straw hat, long hair and beard accompanied with tattered jeans. Other artists that night wore black tie suits and the usual full dress one would see on the red carpet.

“The doorman stopped me at the door and asked me if I was lost,” Franky said. “I grabbed my artist card and showed it to him. He looked down at me from head to toe and said, ‘good luck.'”

Inside the ballroom was another story.

After passing the doorman/security guard, Franky came to realize that he wasn’t walking into a glorified flea market, but a showcased art gallery. Luckily, the lady who was running the gallery spotted Franky right away and showed him where to set up. By the end of the night he was a hit, and had sold the most out of every other artist in attendance.

Later that night he ran out of business cards to handout and has since been contacted by art galleries for his coveted recycled art.

However, When asking Franky about his art, he’s quick to remain humble.

“I don’t consider myself to be an artist,” Franky said, pushing the question aside. “I’d call myself a guy who welds junk together and tries to make a profit.”

A lot of his friends are mechanics, leaving him with spare car parts that would otherwise be thrown away. Franky also visits bike shops in Ada and Ionia that have spare chains and other parts that are normally hard to get rid of.

The sprockets and chains prove to be useful for the craftsman. most of the material Franky comes up with are free, with a few items being purchased at salvage yards and garage sales.

“Sometimes I have to spend a little to make a little,” Franky said. “But the turnout ratio after a show is profitable.”

The price Franky chooses stems from how much time he puts into the piece, ranging from several hours to several days. His friends tell him his prices are too low compared to what has been seen on eBay. These same friends tell him he should consider branching out.

His response: “Not looking for the fame, just looking for the fortune.”

With the future in mind, there are only two things Franky continues to think about.

More metal. More work.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on July 31, 2013)

Lowell Farmer’s Market: Changes in the making

By Tony Wittkowski | Contributing Reporter | The Lowell Ledger

The farmer’s market that Lowell is so accustomed to seeing in the spring has made several changes to its operation.

Liz Baker, the director of the Chamber of Commerce, who has helped jump start the weekly event, revealed a few changes to the market this year.

“We actually shortened the season up this year,” Baker said. “The farmers market has been kind of a rough haul for us, we haven’t found our niche yet.”

By shortening the season, baker meant the market will begin June 13 and run through Sept. 12, cutting nearly two months farmers had to sell portions of their crops.

The reason for excluding the eight weeks is due to the amount of competition, with every small town now showcasing markets of their own.

The Lowell market started at the fairgrounds and drew success in its first few years, until Ada opened a market on Tuesdays.

“We were getting a lot of people from Ada in our market, and of course they are not there anymore because they have their own market now,” Baker said. “We also lost vendors because, all of a sudden, we don’t have as many people coming to patronize the market.”

Market Masters Dave and Betty Dean revealed additional changes, which included the use of the flea market that was only allowed at the farmer’s market once a month. Now it will return regularly every week.

The market used to open in May and was held until the second week in October, but now it is expected to end in September, right after school begins in the area.

The market will still take place at the Tractor Supply parking lot, where it has been for the last couple of years. Around a dozen vendors are expected this year for the market, which will be held every Thursday afternoon.

“We’ve been tweaking it ever since the market opened,” Dave said. “We have continued to take suggestions from vendors and people who come through the market.”

Closing in on their third year as market masters and their eighth year in participation, the Deans will be allowing the community again to expose local programs which included FROM, the library and the museum last year.

“We want to service the community with what they need,” Betty said. “We are always learning, always listening to our customers.”

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on May 29, 2013)

A Hole in One: The beginnings of Bedrock Driving Range

Ken Clausen created the Bedrock Driving Range, acre by acre. (Photo by Tony Wittkowski)

Ken Clausen created the Bedrock Driving Range, acre by acre. (Photo by Tony Wittkowski)

By Tony Wittkowski | Contributing Reporter | The Lowell Ledger

Peering out over a dozen acres of the Bedrock Driving Range, Ken Clausen can remember when it held a diverse collection of trees and vegetation.

Going back to last March until its opening day, Clausen had been tirelessly working on perfecting the land and lending it all of his available time and energy.

The field was nothing but briars and loose brush, which he managed to cut by himself with a handful of John Deere mowers.

“I broke them each at least five times,” Clausen admitted with a smile. “My wife came down here and about pulled her hair out. I had to sneak them down after that.”

Hundreds of rocks that he pulled from the knee-high grass now line the outer edge of the driving range and its fertilized green.

After six months of waiting, Clausen finally opened the driving range only to be forced to close it three days later because of the flood that swept through Lowell and the rest of Kent County.

Before this, Clausen was focused on his free windshield chip-repair business, always standing with a sign out by the road offering his services.

“Half the time I was so bored I would bring the gold clubs with me and start hitting balls out into the weeds,” Clausen said pointing to where the range now stands.

As a retired autoworker, Clausen enjoys being outside and meeting people. Now he is going into a profession he prefers, having played golf since he was 12 years old.

PGA member Ken Kapcia, who works at Golf Galaxy and helps the boys and girls golf team in Lowell, has offered to give lessons to customers at Bedrock.

However, the hurdles Clausen faced made their way to the township.

“When I was setting up my windshield business, I wanted to sit up close to the highway where Woody used to sell golf clubs,” he said.

After the township denied him the spot near the highway, Sam Noon, owner of Noon Equipment, offered Clausen a chance to build the driving range.

“For not knowing him, he is one of the nicest people I have ever met,” Clausen said. “He’s done right by me, and I want to make this successful so that he can have a happy retirement.”

Bedrock has received a lot of people who come out close to dark after dinner, with Clausen now planning to reseed the entire range in the fall and level it out.

“First thing in the morning we get a few guys on the way to the golf course and they will stop and hit a bucket,” Clausen said. “We also get people getting out of work around 2:30 p.m.”

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on June 12, 2013)

MOVIE REVIEW: World War Z will make you go zzz…

Scene from the movie World War Z. (Courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

Scene from the movie World War Z. (Courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

By Tony Wittkowski | Contributing Reporter | The Lowell Ledger

A good zombie movie establishes the threat, maintains an air of dread and erodes the line between our savagery and that of the zombies. This film gained traction and lost it at the same time.

The zombies in World War Z sprint the way girls do when their pheromones detect Justin Beiber. I’ve never seen anything prey upon people the way the zombies do here – in great rushing rapids.

The aerial shot of a tsunami of bodies urgently piling up high against a concrete barrier until its breached is self-explanatory.

But like everything in this illogical movie, that moment conveys none of the visceral thrill you need from a zombie movie. It doesn’t even look real. Most of the film, which is available in 3-D, looks computerized like you’re watching through a glass ashtray.

Even when the sun’s out, it’s often murky. The shots whiz by even faster than the zombies do. But all the shaking and jostling and veering and all the split-second editing, produces a movie that never slows down enough to earn your fear.

This is a tale of monumental disaster, adapted from Max Brooks’ novel and starring Brad Pitt as a retired, high-level U.N. investigator named Gerry Lane. When hell breaks loose, he and his family are flown out to an airport carrier where Thierry – played by Fana Mokoena – who is the U.N. deputy secretary general, convinces Gerry into venturing off into chaos to find some kind of cure.

World War Z theatrical poster

World War Z theatrical poster

Only by accepting the mission are his wife and two daughters guaranteed safety on the carrier. So off he goes, trotting the globe, happening upon the barrier the Israelis have erected in Jerusalem to keep the zombies out.

The production of World War Z was reportedly a troubled one.

This might explain why so much of it feels so rushed and the rest is confusing and dull. It also stars Mireille Enos, as Pitt’s wife, who has nothing more to do than hand Gerry’s phone calls to Thierry.

Of course, some of that might also be a matter of the film having been made by Marc Forster, a flashy director whose past works include Monster’s Ball, Finding Neverland and Stranger Than Fiction.

When Gerry and a wounded Israeli soldier make their way to a World Health Organization laboratory in Wales, World War Z gives is one good sequence.

It’s just three characters traveling from one wing of the complex to the zombie-infested other side. But everything’s at stake in the trip. For the first time in about 80 minutes, you’re getting what you need in a zombie movie.

That climatic sequence is so well done that you resent the rest of the movie for its incompetence and incoherence. Despite its hype, the movie failed to distinguish itself as a top tier zombie movie.

Therefore I give the film two stars, with that one scene giving it a bump up from the dredded one star.

 

Running Time: 116 minutes

Movie Rating: Rated R

Critic’s Grade: 2 out of 5 stars

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on July 24, 2013)

Number of traffic citations down compared to last year

By Tony Wittkowski | Contributing Reporter |The Lowell Ledger

The number of traffic stops from January through April this year has decreased significantly from last year’s totals of the first four months.

Lowell Police Chief Barry Getzen said the main cause for the sudden decline can be attributed to the increased activity in other areas that is taking up time of officers.

“The figures show a reduction in traffic stops with an increase in total arrests,” Getzen said. “Each of those arrests requires more time to take care of than a traffic stop.”

There were 37 additional arrests in 2013, rising to 147 from the 110 in 2012. In contrast, the amount of traffic citations handed out dropped drastically from 242 to 172. With 70 less tickets handed out to Lowell drivers, traffic warnings also decreased.

Getzen said the misappropriated time for officers reflects in large part to the time it takes to make an arrest against how long it would be to write a traffic ticket.

“If you talk about traffic stops, those are brief encounters. When you get a traffic ticket it takes around 15 minutes, if you get warned it’s five to 10 minutes maybe,” Getzen said. “When you have an increase in arrests, those eat up a lot of time. Each arrest takes an hour or more.”

The ordinance violations have also increased by 19 at this point from last year. This has forced police to focus on specific areas instead of the overall city.

“We’ve tried to determine where some of our problems occur and focus on those areas,” Getzen said. “We will also respond to citizen calls and see where some people most likely run stop signs.

“That may take us away from people who exceed speed limits who come down West Main Street at 35 and 45. But in our evaluation it’s more serious when you have somebody run a stop sign. It’s far more likely there will be injury.”

The Lowell PD have been trying to cut back on assisting other agencies as well, with most of the calls being sent out to Meijer and the airport, Getzen said.

When it comes to an officer’s intention to give the driver who was pulled over a citation or a warning, it really depends on the factors an on-duty officer has to consider.

“Whether they are going to give someone a warning or a ticket depends on the severity,” Getzen explained. “If they have dealt with the offending driver in the past or any other factor.”

In the monthly comparison totals provided by Lowell PD, the 2012 rate of ticketing came to 53.5 percent. So, if a driver was pulled over in town last year through the first four months, they had more than a one out of two chance of getting a ticket.

Even with the increase in arrests and criminal activity, the 2013 rate of ticketing dropped to 41.5 percent. Drivers this time of year now have an extra 12 percent chance of being let off with a warning instead, where Getzen has explained there is no certain amount of tickets an officer must write up.

“There is no expectation for an officer to go out and write so many tickets in a shift or so many tickets in a quarter,” he said. “That’s not something that is in evaluation and doesn’t appear in performance management. It’s not an expectation in the agency.”

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on June 12, 2013)