Monday, May 26, 2014

Getting Arrested in Kent County: What to Expect

Most people have seen the arrest procedure on television or in movies, but are unaware of what happens in real life or why the process is designed as it is. 

People get arrested every day, day and night in Kent County. For the policemen, county processors, lawyers, and bail bondsmen, this is routine. For everyone else, we can hope it is not. Yesterday, Sunday, May 25, 2014, 45 people were booked in Kent County. Friday 64 people were booked, and on Wednesday, May 14, the day of the last full moon, it was 73 people. When I interviewed Lucas Spoor of Lucas Bail Bonds about the arrest process here in West Michigan, he said the full moon is always a very busy time for bail bondsmen

While policemen can, of course, arrest people if they witness them committing crimes, many times arrests are made after a prosecutor issues an arrest warrant, and for that, the police must have probable cause. Once they have made an arrest and the person is handcuffed, they transport him to the police station to be booked. If the police question a person about a crime that has occurred, they must advise him of his rights - recite the famous Miranda rights - before any interrogation can begin. 

At the police station, you will have to give your identifying information, and you will be fingerprinted and photographed. After being booked, you will be held until your arraignment before a judge. During your arraignment, you will be informed about the crime you are being charged with. The judge will determine whether there was probable cause for your arrest and what bail will be assigned, if any. If the crime you are accused of is a misdemeanor, you will plead either innocent or guilty at the arraignment, with sentencing immediately following a guilty plea. You will be able to consult with your lawyer before the arraignment, whether you hire one or one is assigned to you. 

At this point, for lesser charges, you may be released without bail, upon conditions set by the court. If the judge does assign bail, you will be held until that bail can be assembled, either by your friends or relatives directly or through a bail bondsman. Bail is the incentive the court uses to make sure you do not flee and show up on your assigned court date

So what is a common bail amount? It is not really possible to predict, Spoor said. Bail bonds can range anywhere from $100 to $100,000, depending on the crime, the criminal history of the accused, the judge presiding over the arraignment, or the county that the arraignment is being held in. Typically, bail set in Kent County is higher than bails set in Barry or Allegan. What's more, you can expect the process to take longer in Kent County; it will take between 45 minutes and 3 hours for someone to post bail for you in Kent County. 

When I talked to him, Spoor repeatedly emphasized the importance of choosing a reputable and trustworthy bail bondsman. There is so much built-in uncertainty about the costs associated with arrest and trial, and most people are not thinking clearly when they get the phone call in the middle of the night. Many of them are also very vulnerable and inexperienced in what to expect and what is legal for policemen, lawyers, and bail bondsmen to do and charge. If anything happens during the arrest process that seems like it might be illegal, do not hesitate to question or do your own research. The system has been modified (to some extent) to avoid taking advantage of people, but by the time an arrest occurs, your ability to affect the outcome is significantly diminished. 

This is why it's important to know what happens before it can happen - and also make sure it doesn't happen, if at all possible.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Westside Catholic hub St. Adalbert Has Been Restored

For parishioners of St. Adalbert, the restoration of their century-old Romanesque Revival church has been a lengthy and expensive process, and they are overjoyed to see the original beauty their Polish ancestors sacrificed so much to build cleaned, polished, repaired, painted, and restored to its original purpose of glorifying God again.

Over a decade ago, it was obvious to even a less-than-keen observer that the interior of the church needed some repair. Paper was peeling off the walls, and there was staining and plaster damage on the ceilings from water damage. But the full scope and necessity of the work required wasn't clear until a large chunk of plaster fell two stories and crashed to the floor at the back of the sanctuary. Father Thomas DeYoung, then serving, had repairmen and then architectural experts come in to assess the damage - which was revealed to be both extensive and in need of urgent attention. Thus began the five-stage process to "Restore the Glory" of the Basilica of St. Adalbert.

Construction and architecture engineering have changed considerably since St. Adalbert's parishioners began their building project of a second structure in 1907, but every attempt to maintain the integrity of the original structure was maintained. One of the most pressing repairs was the replacement of the roof gutters which were trapping instead of shedding the water that then entered the church and filtered through the plaster, causing it to deteriorate and fall. After the gutters were replaced, the roof was re-tiled with red clay Spanish tiles.

Other choices, made earlier on in the Basilica's history and meant to preserve elements of the church, turned out to be destructive long term. The exterior plastic sheets placed to cover and protect the beautiful stained glass windows did not allow the glass to naturally "breathe," which caused considerable damage over time. Each stain glass window was removed, releaded, and then re-installed. As St. Adalbert has a total of 43 stained glass windows, including the 16-foot, 700-pound "Immaculate Conception" window situated inside the interior dome, this part of the restoration was done in stages.

In 2010 it was time for the Basilica's domes to get a makeover. The original copper was removed and the wooden domes repaired and then covered with new copper shingles, fixed in place with copper nails, rivets and clips. 18,000 square feet of dome surfaces was replaced and then topped with newly gilded crosses, two of which were rebuilt completely as the originals had deteriorated too badly over time.

In 2013, in celebration of the Basilica's 100th anniversary, the altar was restored and repainted, and then this year more repairs were done within the sanctuary. The ceilings of the side aisles are now a vibrant blue, and the altar is a golden yellow. Monseigneur Louis Stasker, the current pastor and rector, has shepherded the parish through the final stages of this process.

Within the five-stage restoration process, more practical repairs and alterations were also undertaken on the parish's basement gathering spaces and bell towers. An elevator was added to make all levels of the structure accessible, and the boilers were replaced.

Although the project was begun and supported with monies raised from the "Restore the Glory" campaign initiated by Father DeYoung, much of the later repair work was also made possible by generous bequests left by lifelong parish members when they died.

Maintenance of a complex structure like this requires constant work and there are still a few projects planned, but the restoration of the facility as a whole is now complete. The Basilica of St. Adalbert is a working piece of art, a credit to our city's founders and their faith, visible to all who pass through downtown on the highways. If you have not seen it, make a point of stopping in some weekend when the church is open. All are welcome.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Is Crime in GR What It Seems?

Have you seen this map of Grand Rapids yet?

It's been passed around Facebook. Crime and proximity to crime is a concern for everyone who lives in the city and for property owners who want to maintain their investment or keep their merchandise safe. On the news there are regular reports of bank robberies, jewelry store heists, murders, sexual assaults, meth lab busts, fraud, and drunk driving. These accounts can be anxiety provoking, but they obscure what people are really concerned with: calculating the risk of living and working in Grand Rapids.

So what is the real crime rate like? First of all, as the map above suggests, it's different in different parts of the city. If you want to know the most recent police activity in your area, go to the Grand Rapids page at Crime Mapping and take a look at the rundown. The detail on various arrests is also helpful for evaluating the risks of being in certain areas of Grand Rapids if you are unfamiliar with them and don't know what to expect. You may not be concerned with arrests for "minor in possession of a controlled substance" or "vandalism" if you just want to do some shopping. You might not want to park in an area with robberies and assaults, though. Or motor vehicle thefts.

As you might assume, if you are familiar with news reports, the areas on the map with the most offenses are Downtown, the Northwest Side and the Southeast Side. Currently on the map the downtown area has a number of assaults, vandalism, car thefts, and burglaries. The Westside has also had a lot of vandalism, a number of car break-ins, and rash of assault. The Southeast Side has had several cases of arson, more assault and a spate of drugs and weapons crimes. Also there's a bit of fraud. These are all good things to know if you are thinking of opening a small business here or sending your daughter to live on the Pew campus at GVSU. If you want to know the safest places to live, the Neighborhood Scout website assesses the general safety of various neighborhoods for you.

But safety is a bit of a relative concept, at least as most individuals are concerned. We all know that crime exists and that some people will be victimized by it. But what are the chances it will happen to us, we want to know. And happen multiple times? At least in that respect, there's significant good news. Recorded crime has been dropping in the area for decades, despite a drop in police officers on the streets. Between 2003 and 2011, violent crime in Grand Rapids was down 33%, and property crime decreased 34%. Many people assumed that the hard times caused by the Great Recession would have increased crime, but that did not occur, whether from increased use of surveillance cameras or demographic change (the "aging" of America or as posited by the authors of Freakonomics, an unintended consequence of eugenics via increased rates of abortion).

So while it's good to be cautious and aware of what is going on around you - and even better to have an active neighborhood association and alert neighbors - overall, we have less to worry about than we did a decade or more ago. And that is good news. This isn't Mayberry, but it sure isn't Detroit or Flint either. 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Grand Rapids invests in its own infrastructure and success

Last week, May 6, the citizens of Grand Rapids voted 2-to-1 for a ballot proposal to extend the temporary income tax raise until 2030 to pay for the rebuilding of its streets and roads. They also approved a measure that would make the city - via taxes - responsible for sidewalk repairs.

Previously homeowners were assessed the costs of sidewalk replacement, typically upon the sale of their homes. The proposal was sharply contested by the Grand Rapids Taxpayers Association, but the 13.7% of taxpayers who made it to the polls showed significant support for the measure.

This is the second time in the last three years that taxpayers have voted for change in their transportation infrastructure. They previously voted in May 2011 for the construction of a high-speed Silver Line bus line on Division Avenue as well as extended and expanded routes.

Currently the roads in Grand Rapids are rated 60 percent poor, a fact that creates a barrier to employment for lower wage workers who must commute to their jobs but cannot afford to pay for new suspensions or shocks every year, even if these auto parts are manufactured locally. With better roads, more comprehensive mass transportation, and other options for travel, such as dedicated bike lanes, it should be easier for would be employees to hurdle that entry to regular work.

The Grand Rapids business community has also grown in tandem with the development of the Silver Line. Grand Valley State University has continued to expand its downtown Pew Campus, last year opening the Seidman Center, which includes the Seidman College of Business.

The Downtown Market also opened to great fanfare last summer. The Medical Mile continues to expand. Michigan State University is planning a new biomedical research center on the site of the soon-to-be demolished old Grand Rapids Press building.

All along the future Silver Line route, buildings have been under the hammer. Tower Pinkster now occupies the gorgeously renovated Art Moderne building at the corner of Fulton and Division. Kendall College of Art and Design has extended itself into the refurbished former Federal Building. Just off of Division, Founder’s Brewing Company added a $26 million expansion with beer garden to its amenities.

The energy downtown is completely different than it was a decade or so ago. What was an empty and derelict downtown is now bustling with shoppers and businessmen, and regularly flooded with runners, swing dancers and ice skaters in season, happy to window shop, attend a performance at the Civic, or eat at any one of the fine restaurants in Grand Rapids's ever expanding food scene.

It’s an exciting time to be living in the city and see that, despite all of the economic storms of the past decade, Grand Rapids continues to thrive, build, and innovate.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Roads Income Tax Rate Continuation: Grand Rapids Taxpayers Association vs. Fix Our Roads GR

The Grand Rapids Tax Association is really fighting back against the proposed income tax rate continuation for the repair of roads to be voted on next Tuesday, May 6. Fix Our Roads GR is hoping for a yes vote which would extend the temporary income tax increase the voters previously allowed and allocate the funds for street repairs.

If you live in Grand Rapids, it should be obvious to you that our roads are in bad to terrible condition and that driving on them means an eventual auto repair shop visit and perhaps even an accident. Drivers swerve to avoid the potholes everywhere, and no matter how often these potholes are filled, every year they come back. At this point they are in such bad shape we would need to rebuild many of them from the roadbed up, not simply patch them. The condition of the roads is not in dispute; the question is, what should be done about them, who should do it, and why has this problem gone unaddressed until now?

I talked to both Michael Farage, of the GRTA, and Ed Kettle of FORGR on Friday about their points of view. Farage and his organization feel strongly that the taxpayers have already paid for high quality roads, but the money has been mismanaged and funneled to other city needs, leaving the roads neglected. Farage looks at the long history of request for money from Grand Rapids citizens via millages or income tax increases as a sign of a city never satisfied, a city government that never will never have enough tax revenue. The issue for the GRTA is the trustworthiness of the government: will it use the monies the income tax continuation generates to fix the roads? Is it accountable for the funds we give them and have given them? Will the money ever be enough for them? And does this have anything to do with the city's pension obligations and all the money that will need to be paid out to pensioners in the next fifteen years?

Farage also looks at the list of donors to Fix Our Roads and sees groups of people who stand to benefit directly from the rebuilding of the roads: engineers, construction companies, city hall employees. He does not believe that the city will use a closed bid process when contracting for these repairs. Closed bids do nothing to prevent waste and kickbacks.

Ed Kettle of FORGR believes that the city has been very responsible with the income they've taken in from taxpayers. The reason for the state of the roads is not due to irresponsibility, corruption, or an insatiable desire for funds. The situation is complex, he says, and largely due to factors outside of the city's control. The long decline of the auto industry, the offshoring of industrial jobs, and economic collapse of 2008 created a tax revenue vacuum. The state, starved for money, discontinued all revenue sharing not legally required. Michigan cities depended on that income sharing to repair their roads. Without it, and minus property tax revenues due to falling real estate prices, they had nothing to work with.

Kettle says Michigan is in recovery, but the damage has been done. The city must have more money to address the problem, and after much study a group of citizens and experts recommended that the best and most fair way to create those funds would be a continuation of the income tax the votes previously authorized. These funds will be put into a dedicated and restricted fun, a lock box of sorts, over the next fifteen years and will generate enough income to do the work that needs to be done in a methodical way. He has no qualms about the "connections" of the donors to FORGR - they are citizens too - but does question why Americans for Prosperity is giving money to the GRTA.

Ultimately, it is up to us, the taxpayers to decide who is trustworthy and responsible with the money we do or do not give them. As a city resident I have my own questions. This is yet another ballot proposal in a long line of ballot proposals including ones for The Rapid (Spring 2011), Grand Rapids Public Schools (Fall 2011), GRCC (2012), and the city's parks (2013). This election is being held in May, obviously because voter turnout will be lower and the group who sponsored this initiative can count on mobilizing its supporters and not meeting as much opposition resistance from taxpayers who would be in the ballot box in August or November voting on other issues.

Property taxes are already noticeably higher for Grand Rapids taxpayers. Our elites and city boosters might want to make our hometown more attractive to knowledge workers and the creative class, but many of the rest of us have experienced the economic downturn personally and either struggle or can't afford to pay higher taxes.

Is there another way for us to fix our roads, then, or is authorizing the city via our tax dollars the best way to go about it? You can help make the decision by voting on Tuesday.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

New downtown co-working space will highlight the city's energy and direction

What is the energy in the Grand Rapids business community like?

Mark Custer, Director of Growth Initiatives at Custer, believes it’s a very exciting time to be in the thick of it right now. His family’s business, Custer, is well known in the area for its workspace designs and technology integration, and now Custer will be starting a new venture in June - Worklab by Custer. Worklab will be dedicated to bringing all of the best business accommodations to the hub of the city, accessible to any person or business looking for a new environment to work in. I interviewed him early in May about the specifics of this new workspace.

What audience are you trying to engage with Worklab?

We have designed Worklab for a couple of different audiences. Worklab is not meant to be a typical co-working space, the kind that is springing up right now for startups, individuals, and single workers who need inexpensive office space somewhere outside the home. Worklab is designed for the independent worker who desires privacy but also requires a higher end workspace, with shared accommodations and conference rooms. He/she wants their surroundings to make a good impression on their clients, which Worklab, with its private offices and private enclaves, will accomplish. This space will be classy and mature, better than anything that is on the market now and guaranteed to impress.

Our other potential audience is the larger West Michigan corporation that wants to provide its employees with another place to go to - somewhere downtown and vibrant, where it’s better to network, and easier to meet other people. With its comprehensive technology integration, concierge and food and beverage amenities, Worklab will be a great place to meet clients or host meetings - for a half day, a day, or longer.

What kind of memberships will be available to the public and how can you become a member?

Worklab will have a variety of memberships to choose from: monthly, weekly, or daily memberships, part-time or 24/7. Contact Mark Custer at to become a member.

Who has expressed the most interest in Worklab by Custer?

There has been a significant amount of interest from corporations that want the downtown experience for their workers. And local organizations including nonprofits and local groups have also been enthusiastic about using it for their events.
But we’ve heard from individuals too who are unhappy with their current workspaces or working from home and finding it hard to generate ideas or collaborate in that less stimulating environment.

How many people will be able work in the space available at Worklab at one time?

Worklab will be at 99 Monroe Ave. on the second floor, right off the downtown skywalk. There will be 14 private offices, 30-40 open spaces, and 6 different sized meeting rooms. It has 10,000 square feet, including a cafe area. There will be fitness center access as well for members.

How did you choose this location?

We looked at between 40 and 50 different spaces in West Michigan and felt that this one made the most sense. It’s right downtown, in the center of everything, and connected to the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel and the Marriott by the covered and heated walkways that connect the convention center with the hotels and the Van Andel Arena. As such, it gets plenty of exposure from people walking by. It will be publicly visible and, in itself, a visual space and should get a lot of activity.

This is the implementation of an idea we’ve had at Custer for awhile. We preach mobility to our customers, and real estate maximization. We ask our clients, “How are you using your space? How can your space work harder for you?” We advise them to integrate technology into their spaces for effective visual collaboration. We promote the smarter use of public space and getting rid of wasted space so that their business environments are more efficient, with full access to power and data. With Worklab, Custer is putting our money where our mouth is: we are making use of a smaller, better space for more people and more efficient use.

When does it open?

There is an open house on June 4th, with the ribbon cutting ceremony on June 3rd at 10am. Please join us. We are very excited to show you our new project!

For more information, please like us on Facebook or visit our webpage.
For more information on membership or meeting spaces, contact Mark Custer at